THE OBSESSION: Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness by Kim Chernin

THE OBSESSION: Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness

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It's either anorexic or amazon for Chernin in this wholesale attack on the cultural obsession with slenderness. While Chernin aims higher than Susie Orbach (Fat is a Feminist Issue), ringing in the likes of Kafka, Faulkner, and Faust, she lacks Orbach's basic balance and redeeming good sense. For Chernin, the obsession is ""one of the most serious forms of suffering affecting women in America today."" Its victims are deceived by doctors pushing the health angle (she cites authorities who believe slightly overweight is healthier); by lovers (is it merely coincidence, she asks, that weight-watching programs mushroomed just when feminism began taking hold?); and by weight-watching organizations with their reliance on hard-and-fast weight charts--at odds with her conviction that for every woman there exists a mysterious ""correct weight."" ""If we should evolve an aesthetic for women . . . it would reflect this diversity, would conceive, indeed celebrate and even love, slenderness in a woman intended by nature to be slim, and love the rounded cheeks of another. . . ."" Chernin herself prefers the rounded cheeks of the matriarch, the dancing woman, the mother whom we all love and fear, to the ""haggard look, the lines of strain around the mouth"" that characterize the serious dieter. For one thing, fat appears more congruent with feminist logic. ""In the feminist group it is largeness in a woman that is sought . . . to acquire weight, to widen her frame of reference . . .""--whereas in weight-watching groups women are ""trying to make themselves smaller, to narrow themselves . . . to be-little themselves. . . ."" And so forth. Anorexia is indeed a serious issue; of interest also are the more routine aspects of weight-watching. But statements like, ""Trivial items such as low calorie cottage cheese must be understood symbolically"" get us nowhere. Lots of intellectual and feminist meringue; nothing very fulfilling.

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 1981
Publisher: Harper & Row