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Barbara Kay: Jordan Peterson finds himself in rough waters in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit controversy

It’s not fair to force people to actually claim that they see beauty in what they find repulsive

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Canada’s most notorious cultural gadfly, Jordan Peterson is a brave guy. He glimpsed full-bodied swimsuit model Yumi Nu on the cover of last month’s Sports Illustrated (SI) swimsuit issue and without hesitation, said on Twitter“We’re sorry. Not nice. No amount of authoritarian tolerance will change that.”

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The backlash was so quick and so harsh that Peterson announced he was leaving the social network. Society’s preoccupation with “fatphobia,” it seems, is back. In its original form, fat phobia was associated by feminists with patriarchy. Her theories led to a field of inquiry called “fat studies,” which underpinned the notion that fat was unhealthy “part of an oppressive, patriarchal beauty myth that pressured women to be conventionally attractive and petite and not take up much space.” ”

Women, it seems, are resisting this supposed patriarchal pressure in large numbers. A Johns Hopkins University study found that more than half of college-age Americans are overweight or “obese,” a word anti-fatphobia activists find so evocative that the University of Illinois School of Public Health called it “obese.” Chicago says it should be banned and replaced with “larger bodies.”

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Peterson announced that he was leaving the social network

Unfortunately, vocabulary manipulation cannot alter material reality. It is accepted science that weight and health deficits are closely related. A poignant example: A US study found that nearly 80 percent of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 were either overweight or had the O word.

I have “lived experience” in this issue of larger corpses walking in my mother’s family. Jealousy of slimming has plagued me my entire life. I sympathize with all the losers in the genetic lottery, which plays a big part in weight gain. I agree that obesity is an outdated vehicle for humor. I understand that the obsession with losing weight is a class or 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 mistakenly obsessed with body perfection (not just women), our understanding doesn’t automatically translate into admiration for amplitude.

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Height trends can change from time to time and from place to place. Kings and queens could be fat up until Edwardian times, but skinny royals are a must today. A 16th-century painter of voluptuous female bodies might have found the average SI model uncomfortably angular. What is considered beautiful in Samoa is not considered beautiful in France.

Popular fashion catalogs started featuring older women a few years ago as their boomer clientele got older. But her silver-haired models are still slim and beautiful for her age. This is a marketing decision. Now they offer plus-size models as weight tends to go up across all demographics. That too is a marketing decision. (But her plus-size models wear modest, concealing swimsuits.)

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However, unlike a company like Lands’ End, SI does not sell swimsuits. It sells feminine beauty (at least its annual swimsuit issue does). The magazine’s Yumi Nu cover aggressively declares: Women of any weight can be beach beauties, and we dare you to say otherwise (Peterson dared). If the SI editors really believed that, they would make such covers a habit. The chances of that happening are slim (excuse the expression).

In extension of this complaint about a virtuous magazine, it is also unfair to push the boundaries of plausibility in the name of diversity in the entertainment business. Sometimes implausibility is inevitable. There isn’t a large pool of recruits for high-profile operatic talent, so opera audiences have had to get used to losing faith when, for example, in the German opera Elektra, Orestes’ plaintive cry of ‘What have they done to you? ? Did they starve you? Your cheeks are so hollow,” is delivered to an overweight Elektra. (But interestingly, if you’ve noticed, both male and female opera singers are a lot slimmer than they used to be.)

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But in other forms of entertainment – stage, screen, television – the pool of actors is enormous, and there is a buyer’s market for quality acting across all racial, gender, ethnic and linguistic boundaries. Diversity and plausibility can easily coexist. When the acting is superb, I can forget that it’s a woman who plays Cassius in Julius Caesar. Black, white or brown makes no difference. But she must be slender, for “Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry appearance”.

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

It’s a good thing that larger actors are no longer automatically relegated to the role of comic foil. Why shouldn’t a tall 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 played by a very pretty but overweight actor. Her character is smart, lovable, powerful and likeable. Her weight is never mentioned, as befitting the film’s message. All well and good.

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But in real life, she wouldn’t get along with her on-screen boyfriend, Charlie, who is played by an actor so tall, fit and gorgeous, with sparkling black eyes and a dazzling smile you can’t take your eyes off of him. Why couldn’t her boyfriend look more average?

If they really believed that weight didn’t make a difference, Millie wouldn’t come out from under the covers after a tastefully choreographed love scene that’s completely covered up. It was an exercise in gaslighting, just like the SI cover.

We should strive to suppress value judgments in our speech on obesity. But it’s not fair to force people to actually claim they see beauty in what they find repulsive, or to deny that weight is irrelevant in the mating market. We must recognize and respect the cultural hand that has been given to us.

National Post

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