Barbara Kay: Jordan Peterson steps into troubled waters in Sports Illustrated swimsuit controversy

It’s not fair to force people to claim that they see beauty in what they find off-putting.

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Canada’s most notorious cultural gadfly, Jordan Peterson, is a brave man. He glanced at bodied swimsuit model Yumi Nu on the cover of last month’s Sports Illustrated (SI) swimsuit issue, and without hesitation, review on twitter“Sorry. Not beautiful. And no amount of authoritarian tolerance will change that.

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The reaction was so quick and so harsh that Peterson announced he would be leaving the social network. Society’s concern for “fatphobia”, it seems, is back. In its original incarnation, fatphobia was linked by feminists to patriarchy. Their theories produced a field of investigation called “fat studies”, which took for premise the idea that fat being unhealthy is “part of an oppressive and patriarchal beauty myth that has caused women to be conventionally attractive and delicate and not take up much space”.

Women, it seems, are resisting such alleged patriarchal pressures in large numbers. A study from Johns Hopkins University found that more than half of college-age Americans are overweight or “obese,” a word considered so triggering for anti-fatphobia activists, the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health says it should be banned and replaced by “larger bodies”.

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Peterson has announced that he will be leaving the social network

Alas, manipulating vocabulary cannot change material reality. It is an established science that weight and health deficits are intimately linked. For a poignant example, an American study revealed that nearly 80% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 were overweight or the O word.

I have “lived experience” in this issue, as larger bodies ran in my mother’s family. The desire for slenderness has tormented me all my life. I sympathize with all the losers of the genetic lottery which plays a big role in weight gain. I agree that obesity is an outdated vehicle for humor. I understand that the obsession with losing weight is a class thing or a culture thing. I know some guys are attracted to bigger girls.

But I have a healthy respect for reality. While we can all agree that our culture is wrongly obsessed with bodily (not just female) perfection, our understanding won’t automatically translate into an admiration for amplitude.

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Body size trends may change from time to time and from place to place. Kings and queens could be fat until the Edwardian age, but thin Royals are de rigueur today. A 16th-century painter depicting lush female bodies might have found the average SI model unpleasantly angular. What is considered beautiful in Samoa is not so in France.

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Popular fashion catalogs began featuring older women a few years ago as their baby boomer clientele grew older. But their silver-haired models are still slim and lovely for their age. It’s a marketing decision. Now they feature plus size models due to the increasing weight trends across all demographics. It is also a marketing decision. (But their plus-size models wear modesty-themed concealed swimsuits.)

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Unlike a company like Lands’ End, however, SI does not sell swimwear. It sells feminine beauty (at least its annual swimsuit issue does). The cover of Yumi Nu magazine aggressively states: Women can be beach beauties at any weight, and we dare you to say otherwise (Peterson took up the challenge). If the editors of SI really believed that, they would get used to such covers. The chances of that happening are slim (pardon the expression).

As an extension of this complaint about a virtue magazine, it is also unfair to push the boundaries of plausibility in the name of diversity in the entertainment industry. Sometimes implausibility is unavoidable. There isn’t a huge recruitment pool for high-end opera talent, so opera audiences had to get used to suspending belief when, for example, in the German opera “Elektra”, the plaintive cry of Orestes, “What have they done to you? Did they starve you? both male and female opera singers are much thinner than they used to be.)

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But in other forms of entertainment – ​​stage, screen, television – the pool of actors is huge, and it’s a buyer’s market for quality acting across all racial, gender, ethnic and ethnic lines. linguistics. Diversity and plausibility can easily coexist in harmony. If the acting is superb, I forget that it is a woman playing Cassius in “Julius Caesar”. Black, white or brown makes no difference. But she has to be thin, because “yon Cassius has a lean, hungry look”.

Why shouldn’t a great woman play the romantic lead?

It’s good that great actors are no longer automatically relegated to the role of comedic foil. Why shouldn’t a great woman play the romantic lead? No reason at all. But make it plausible. In the charming Netflix film “Falling for Figaro”, the protagonist, Millie, is portrayed by a very handsome but obese actor. Her character is intelligent, graceful, efficient and sympathetic. His weight is never mentioned, as befits the purpose of the film. Everything is fine.

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But in real life, she wouldn’t be paired with her movie boyfriend Charlie, played by an actor so tall, fit and gorgeous, with gleaming black eyes and a dazzling smile, you can’t leave him for a while. eyes. Why couldn’t her boyfriend be more average?

If they truly believed weight made no difference, Millie wouldn’t come out from under the covers after a tastefully choreographed love scene that was entirely covered up. It was an exercise in gaslighting, just like the SI blanket.

We should strive to remove judgment from our discourse on obesity. But it’s not fair to compel people to assert that they see beauty in what they find off-putting, or to deny that weight is irrelevant in the mating market. We must recognize and respect the cultural hand that we have received.

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