More insanity from the front line of the US health care debate….
Last week, the Senate subcommittee on finance met to discuss the controversial issue of whether the federal government should be allowed to define what sort of health care provision should be included in private insurance coverage – a subject which was always going to bring the Republican dingbats out of the woodwork.
And so it did…
Meet Jon Kyl, the Republican Senator for Arizona, a man who clearly hasn’t quite got his head around his own responsibilities as a father and grandfather. How else can you explain this comment?
“I don’t need maternity care, and so requiring that to be in my insurance policy is something that I don’t need and will make the policy more expensive.”
Well, Senator Kyl, you may not personally need maternity care, but, as Debbie Stabenow, the Democrat Senator for Michigan pointedly interjected:
“I think your mother probably did.”
Yes, Senator Kyl, and your wife, and your daughter, and your daughter-in-law – and probably also eventually your two grand-daughters too. Of course, Senator Kyl doesn’t have to worry his pretty little head about these things himself; as a US Senator, he gets free health care. That’s right, free health care. The stuff that the vast majority of Americans will never, ever get if he and his Republican cronies have their way.
*WARNING: POSSIBLE TRIGGERS BELOW*
I was interested to note yesterday that film director Roman Polanski has been arrested in Switzerland. Most reports seem to concur that he has been detained over a thirty-one year old outstanding arrest warrant, connected to the 1978 scandal in which Polanski pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful sexual intercourse (read: rape) with a 13 year old girl – after which he fled to Europe to escape justice, and eventually became a French citizen.
There has been an awful lot of distinctly male hand-wringing over Polanski’s arrest, with the French culture minister Frederic Mitterrand commenting that he “strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them”. In a way, Mitterrand does have a point, but only sort of – Polanski’s life has not been a bed of roses by any stretch of the imagination, but no amount of childhood ordeals excuse his later behaviour in any way, shape or form. There is NEVER any excuse for rape, not even this kind of hellish childhood…
Born in Paris of secular Jewish parents in 1933, the Polanski family moved back to their native Poland in 1936. They were living in the city of Krakow when the Nazis invaded three years later, and were forced into the Krakow Ghetto soon after. Polanski’s father survived the camps, but his mother died in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942. Polanksi himself only just survived the war in hiding with Polish Catholic families (which may explain why he was so drawn to the idea of making a film of The Pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman’s memoir of life in hiding in the Warsaw Ghetto), before moving back to France and subsequently the US.
“Hips. Tits. Lips. Power” – Silverfish, early 1990’s
There have been some interesting goings-on in the world of modelling this week. Now, normally I would have absolutely no interest in this whatsoever, but when it concerns the desirability (or otherwise) of so-called ‘plus-sized’ women as models, I can’t help but take notice. As a ‘plus-sized’ woman myself (5ft 10ins and a UK size 16-18/US size 14-16), I was fascinated by the decision made by the US edition of Glamour magazine to feature a nude picture of a healthy-looking and non-skinny woman (with a bit of a tummy on her) in their latest edition. In some ways, the lovely picture of model Lizzie Miller printed in Glamour is a step forward for all of us girls who don’t look like the painfully thin stick insects normally seen in fashion magazines and on the world’s catwalks. Not all of us are size 0, and not all of us want to be. But, despite being described as ‘plus-sized’, a term with clear undertones of ‘you’re fat’, Miller is not actually that big – she’s a healthy, normal size. She actually looks like a woman, with curves and a soft body. She’s not ‘plus-sized’; she’s real, like so many women out there, models and non-models alike.
In an interview in today’s Observer, the Icelandic model Inga Eiriksdottir makes this point very vividly, describing how she was told she was fat and was pressured into losing weight by her model agency, despite the fact that she was 5ft 11ins and a UK size 8. “It was awful,” she says, “I couldn’t make myself the shape they insisted on.” So she started eating properly, went up to a UK size 14 (a normal, healthy size), and became what she describes as a ‘real-sized’ model and hasn’t stopped working since. Her jobs have mainly been for well-known department stores, which, like most high street chains these days, tend to stock a relatively wide range of sizes anyway – but major designers still seem to focus on the uber-skinny, emaciated women. The likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Donna Karen don’t design for bigger, real women – in fact, I recall Lagerfeld throwing a very undignified tantrum when he discovered that the range he designed for the high street chain H&M would also be available in a size 14 and above. This is something confirmed by the stunning British model Kate Smith, who is a size 16 and looks pretty damn good on it. “What does my head in,” she points out, “is that I’m a model and I can’t buy designer clothes that fit me.”
That says it all, really. The widespread attitude (amongst males and females) that to be a sexy woman you have to be unnaturally skinny is a dangerous and insulting one. When well-toned and definitely not ‘plus-sized’ women like Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez are described as having ‘fat arses’, I start wanting to throw things. Not only does that have dubious and near-racist undertones, it’s also a huge insult to those of us who are naturally curvy. Some of you may remember when The Gossip’s Beth Ditto, no small lady herself, posed nude for the front cover of a British music magazine a couple of years ago. I cheered her to the rafters for doing that – it was a brave and liberating move on so many levels – but the response from a number of quarters was that a girl as big as she is should have kept her clothes firmly on in front of the camera. Why? Because Beth Ditto is not Kate Moss, and thus, by definition (whose?), curvy/fat/real women are not sexy.
I find this sort of dangerously discriminatory attitude distinctly disturbing, particularly as there is now a whole generation of young women who have grown up not knowing anything different; who have been force-fed (unpleasant pun intended) the ‘rightness’ of the dangerous equation that skinny = sexy and curvy = ugly. I recently read an article by a female journalist in one of the daily papers (I forget which one, possibly The Guardian), which nearly made me weep for this new generation of women. The journalist had sat down with two teenage girls to watch Billy Wilder’s truly wonderful classic comedy Some Like It Hot, which stars one of the greatest curvy film goddesses of them all, Marilyn Monroe (a UK size 14 – at least). Instead of marvelling over Monroe’s undoubted talents as a comedienne, the girls were appalled by her curves, repeatedly commenting on how ‘big’ and ‘fat’ she was. For me, that’s incredibly sad – one of my formative cinematic experiences was seeing this film for the first time; the scene where Monroe, shot from behind, wiggles her way down the train station platform, followed by Jack Lemmon’s stunned gasp of “Will you look at that! Look how she moves! It’s like Jell-O on springs…” is forever seared into my memory as being synonymous with gorgeous, sassy, curvy, real female sexiness…
In my time, I have dated both men and women of all shapes and sizes. One woman, in particular, sticks in my memory. She was most definitely what the fashion world would call ‘plus-sized’, but she was also one of the sexiest women I have ever met. Why? Because she was intelligent, funny, and utterly comfortable and at home with her size and shape. Her confidence in the fact that she was a real, curvy woman made her very, very sexy, and it is such a shame that outside influences continue to characterise non-skinny women as ‘other’ and as not attractive.
I am well aware that some women are naturally skinny, and it is not them I am criticising here, of course – an individual’s height, build, genetics and metabolism play a major part in whether they (naturally) have non-stop curves or a more boyish figure. However, the fashion world and the media need to remember that skinny is not the natural, default state of womanhood per se, and that by declaring that it is they are setting dangerous precedents. Starving yourself to be skinny is dangerous to anyone’s mental and physical health, whoever you are. That old cliché of ‘childbearing hips’ is very true indeed; the genetic make-up of a woman is different from that of a man for a very good reason. Women give birth. We nurture a child inside us, and our bodies continue to feed the child once it has been born. That’s why we have curves, hips, breasts. In the dim and distant past, men would choose a woman as a mate at least partly on the strength of her curves, seeing them as an outward sign of her ability to carry and nurture healthy children, to continue his lineage (an example of Dawkins’ ‘selfish gene’?). Despite the fact that in this modern era, women now have the choice whether or not to become pregnant and have children (and many of us have chosen not to), we should not forget that our curves are an integral part of who we are as women. They give us power.
“I’ve been trying to show you over and over
Look at these my child-bearing hips
Look at these my ruby red ruby lips
Look at these my work strong arms and
You’ve got to see my bottle full of charm” – PJ Harvey, ‘Sheela-Na-Gig’