Monday, October 1, 2018

Lying to ourselves social justice style

I've been thinking a lot about fashion lately. I've lost weight (on purpose) since last Christmas. And that has changed the whole fashion equation for me. Clothes look better on me and they've gotten cheaper. I can dress better for less money this year than I could last year.

I love Brooks Brothers. When I got down to my target weight, the suits I had been wearing no longer fit correctly. So I went out and bought two new suits. Like a lot of other companies, Brooks Brothers classify their suits according to various fits. In general, "fitted" means the clothing fits close to your body shape. Sometimes, a contrast will be made between "fitted" or "tailored" meaning close to body shape and "relaxed-" or "comfort-"fit which means looser. Brooks Brothers, however, have not done that. They've classified their suits according to the desired image. They have four names Madison, Regent, Fitzgerald, and Milano. If you have a sense of history, you will be able to conjure up an image to go with three of these. Madison is the classic American 1950s suit, sometimes called the "sack suit". Think Don Draper. The Fitzgerald is a 1920s look. They say, "inspired by our archives" and that is no doubt true but they also have the clothes designed for the Gatsby remake in mind. "Fitzgerald" is meant to rccall F. Scott Fitzgerald. Milano refers to the very slim fit jackets and pants favoured by European tailors that were big in the 1960s. Think of the suits the Rolling Stones wore on early album covers. Missing is Regent and is because it's just a variation on Madison; it's a slightly more fitted Madison-look suit. Don Draper again.

Here's the thing though: You won't look good in any of these suits unless you're slim! That's what makes Brooks Brothers more honest than their competitors. No matter what anyone tells you to the contrary, your clothes won't lie for you. They won't make you look better than you are. The key to happiness is to decide what life you want and then get the body type to go with it. Unless Falstaffian or Monopoly-Community-Chest guy is your desired image, that's going to mean slim.

And that's a problem because we're collectively much fatter than we used to be. I'll be blunt: we're too fat. It's much more of a problem because we are only collectively fatter: there are still enough slim people among us to remind us that we don't measure up. I live next to a university campus where 60,000 students attend. Most of the men and women on campus are largish. You might think the problem can be solved by simply revising our ideals so that beauty will mean bigger. Just try it though and you fail. Especially with women. Walk across campus and you will see that there are still lots of slimmer women and you cannot pretend that bigger is as beautiful. You could try and no doubt many do but you'd only be lying to yourself and everyone else. Everyone knows who is hot and who is not. It's trickier with the men because men can be very big and muscular and attractive. Women also are less selective about fat. But even there the inescapable truth is that no man looks good carrying a lot of fat.

Everyone knows this but the temptation to lie to ourselves is strong. And that is where social justice comes in handy. If I can lie to myself but claim I'm only being fairer by doing so, well, who could contradict me. And thus Time magazine's Eliana Dockterman comes along with a regular feast of dishonesty.

My favourite of the lies she tells herself (and she's lying to herself more than she's lying to us) comes when she brings race into the discussion:
But America is home to women of many shapes and sizes. Enforcing a single set of metrics might make it easier for some of them to shop—like the thinner, white women on whom O’Brien and Shelton based all of their measurements. But “we’re going to leave out more people than we include,” Boorady says.
What? Because white women are slimmer than non-white women? That is so ludicrous a claim that you don't have to go further than the same paragraph the above sentences come from for evidence to refute the claim.
Universal sizing works in China, for example, because “being plus-sized is so unusual, they don’t even have a term for it,” says Lynn Boorady, a professor at Buffalo State University who specializes in sizing.  
It's a neat trick: associate the thing you don't like with raaaaaaaaaaaaaacism!!!!!

The thing about lying to ourselves, though, is that while it might succeed in de-legitimizing the thing we don't like, it only does so at the price of making us stupid so we do more damage to ourselves than to anybody else.

Here's a line from a little earlier in the story  worth thinking about.
They’re also discriminatory: 67% of American women wear a size 14 or above, and most stores don’t carry those numbers, however arbitrary they may be.
It's important to remind ourselves that everything is discriminatory. To discriminate, which used to be a compliment, can mean a lot of things but the definition Dockterman  is hoping you'll settle on this one: "to make a difference in treatment or favor on a basis other than individual merit." (Merriam-Webster)

There is a very simple reason most stores don't carry sizes above 14 and it's the same reason jockey outfits don't come in extra-large. Most stores carry clothing made for slimmer women. Just as only a light-weight jockey is going to have a chance at winning on the track, only someone size 14 or under has a chance of looking good in those clothes. And,whether we like it or not, the inescapable truth is that there is something wrong with us and not with the clothes. Collectively speaking, we have gotten to be unhealthily fat.