‘Gilmore Girls’ Revisited Vol. 7: The Lorelais and Junk Food
Arieanna over at GilmoreNews.com has posted an interesting discussion question based on a line from The Gilmore Girls Companion: Are you mad about the amount of junk food the girls eat without suffering adverse reactions?
Even more interesting than the question is the answers she’s received so far: everyone seems to take this as just one more interesting quirk about Lorelai and Rory, which really surprised me. Yet, this quickly got me to thinking about the context of the question. My guess is that most of the people replying are either from outside the US or under the age of 30, or both. As American culture is the only one I’m intimately familiar with, I must focus on that.
(At this point I should say that if I could get to the heart of, and solve, this problem, I would not be writing books about popular culture.)
America’s Body Image Problems
For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard from people, either in person or through various newspaper and magazine articles, that Hollywood’s overabundance of impossibly skinny actresses and magazine cover models has damaged the self-image, and in many cases the health, of thousands of young women throughout the U.S.
Now as problems go, my knee jerk reaction is to say this is pretty low on the list of irritants that life can throw at you, especially when you stop to consider that people in many countries barely have enough to eat, and the predominant problem in this country is obesity, not its opposite. There is the tremendous urge to say don’t worry about what other people are doing, stop eating crap and get some exercise. And if that doesn’t work, accept the fact that we all get dealt a bad hand genetically in some way; there are worse defects to be hit with.
However, there’s also something to be said for all problems being relative. If the challenge of physical survival has been taken off the table, as it has been for most in the U.S., we’re left with second-tier challenges, within which the problem of body image neatly falls. And if you’re a young girl growing up in a society that worships slender women, your vision of your own body could well be negative if you don’t measure up. And to the little girl throwing up during gym class to meet an unobtainable ideal, her problem to her is as real (and potentially life destroying) as any other.
Yet the problem isn’t necessarily the thin actresses or the magazine covers or even the “worship” of slender women — there’s an argument to be made that the real problem is other young girls.
The Problem: Point by Point
Before we get to the root of the problem, it might be a good idea to take a look at how we got here.
Worship of Slender Women: We should probably say from the outset that this “worship” has been created and perpetuated by the media for the better part of 50 years or so. Many point to “Twiggy,” thought by many to be the West’s first “supermodel,” as the starting point for this obsession.
Yet few ask why print and film have tended to go after thin models and actresses to begin with. After all, you don’t have to go back too far in history to see that more realistic body shapes were all the rage for painters and sculptors back in the day. What happened?
In a word, technology. Painters and sculptors were in absolute control of what their models looked like. However, with the introduction of photography and filmography, the medium itself dictated what they would look like.
We’ve all heard that “the camera adds 10 pounds” or more; thanks to the mechanics of the equipment involved, that’s about right. As a result, women of so-called “normal proportions” tended to look huge on screens big and small, as well as on magazine covers. Since there was no way to tinker with this in the early days of the technology, the Powers That Be tended to look for uber skinny women to photograph. After years of getting used to a certain body type, those who make the images found themselves instinctively searching for women who fit that mold.
The short answer is they do. While young girls are comparing themselves to the latest roster of thin-as-a-rail CW beauties and the latest Cosmo girl, young boys are trying to live up to the pumped-up dude on the cover of Men’s Health magazine, the latest wrestling star, or Twilight hunk. While girls are constantly hit over the head with diet ads in magazines and on TV, boys are likewise inundated with Bo-Flex commercials, sports stars telling them what they need to do to be sports stars, superheroes with impossibly muscular builds, and buff action movie stars. (Back in the day, it was Charles Atlas ads in the backs of comic books and even a musclebound superhero toy called He-Man.) Quite simply, both sexes are equally inundated with impossible images.
Young Girls and Body Image: The problem may not be that girls are singled out by media with impossible body images, but that girls are more likely to verbally compare each other to them than boys. While few members of either sex tend to get through school without taking a few beatings, it’s fairly clear after decades of sociological research that American girls are more likely to verbally and emotionally abuse each other than resort to physical punishment.
Boys take their fair share of ridicule (I could tell you stories), but are also more likely to ramp up to out and out violence (I could tell you stories). Girls are more likely to play the humiliation card, be it spreading vicious rumors or name calling, which is where the body image problems come in. If you’re the tiniest bit larger than the rest, you’re screwed. Then again, if you’re not as well endowed as the rest, you’re screwed, too. In other words, you can’t win.
None of this really means much. As rough as things get, this is all part of growing up. The real problems begin if the young girl, pushed to her limits by the dove mentality (real doves, as in dove behavior, not the misbegotten notion of “peace doves”), slips into health-threatening, and in some cases life-threatening, eating disorders to try to change her circumstances.
As in many other cases, it strikes many as being far easier to blame Gilmore Girls and its junk food obsession, and the media as a whole, for causing what is a very complex problem. Nothing is resolved but a scapegoat is found, and increasingly scapegoats are all anybody is really looking for anymore.