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When I meet the father of my children, he is muscled and brown-skinned with freckled shoulders from swimming in the ocean in the midday California sun. I am a protozoan. Soft and open. Absorbing everything. When I change, we change. This pattern will repeat. By the time our children are born, my husband is shaped like the Buddha. I don’t mind the change in his shape. He doesn’t mind the change in mine. There are other things that will come between us and end us, but the shape of our bodies is inconsequential. Later there would come the confusion of how my body would be regarded as it aged, what my shape would telegraph to the next person who loved me. When our marriage ends, I am lean and shrewd. An apex predator.

Stag by Arv Miller In 1949, Marilyn Monroe, then an obscure starlet, posed for a beer ad at Tom Kelley‘s commercial photography studio in Hollywood. According to some accounts, a Chicago-based calendar manufacturer, John Baumgarth, saw the ad while visiting Los Angeles and inquired about the model: would she pose nude for a calendar? In other accounts, Tom Kelley recruited Monroe for the calendar job on the day he shot the beer ad, knowing that Baumgarth was shopping for nudes. Either way, nude photos could wreck a Hollywood career at the time, as Monroe was keenly aware, so she only accepted the job after being persuaded that nobody would recognize her. To further protect her anonymity, she asked Kelley to schedule the session for night, with no assistants save for his female business partner. Kelley agreed, and Monroe arrived at the studio at seven p.m. and posed for two hours on a red velvet theater curtain that covered the floor and complemented the color of her hair, then a reddish blonde. Twenty-four shots were taken, and Baumgarth chose one of them for the calendar he marketed as Golden Dreams, a name suggested by Monroe’s blondness, though it also inadvertently referenced the nighttime shoot.

Woolf_Emma

As my second book The Ministry of Thin comes out this month, the question I keep being asked is this: what does a ‘recovered anorexic’ have to tell us about body image and feminism?

Quite a lot actually. I believe that, as women, our desire for thin is getting way out of control. I believe that many women who do not have an actual eating disorder have profoundly disordered eating; diets such as 5:2 are normalising deeply abnormal habits. You may roll your eyes (as I do) at the crazy tongue-patchers, drip dieters, intermittent fasters. You may laugh at the Werewolf or Vampire or Caveman devotees. But no matter how feisty or feminist you think you are, I bet you’d like to lose weight. 

The Ministry of Thin_FINALAlice and I are walking down the aisle marked Dairy. I take four small tubs of Total 0% Greek yogurt, a couple of raspberry-flavor Müller Lights. I add a four-pack of vanilla probiotic Activias, then a two-pint carton of skim milk. My sister grimaces at the red-top milk—“Skim? That stuff looks like dirty water.” I nod cheerfully, “I know, tastes like it too.” We turn the corner into the aisle marked Meat, where it’s Al’s turn to stock up: bacon, chicken, and some kind of fish.

At the checkout line, we look at our baskets: butter, bacon, and eggs in hers; muesli, pita bread, Greek yogurt in mine. I also have apples, broccoli, bananas; Al has sparkling water, salmon, avocado.

See what she’s doing, and see what I’m doing? Without even thinking about it, we both have our forbidden foods—or, if not entirely forbidden, substances we steer clear of. Al never buys coffee or wine, although she will have the occasional cappuccino or glass of wine when she’s out. I literally don’t go near butter, and I wouldn’t know how to cook any of the meat she buys. Odder than her wariness of caffeine, and my strict vegetarianism, is our avoidance of whole food groups. I don’t do fat; she doesn’t do carbs. A few decades ago these might have seemed strange rules to follow, but these days they’re pretty normal. In the twenty-first century most women police their diets in some way.

Pretty

By Wendy C. Ortiz

Essay

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This is a pretty essay.

In the beginning, the word was chula. Que chula was cooed and gasped at me. My mother and grandmother fawned over me with these words, as though they were astonished by me every time they said it.

I went to kindergarten believing I was a princess, enough to quarrel with Debbie Holly. She, too, believed she was a princess. Together we believed we were, each of us, pretty. But there could only be one princess, the prettiest one of all.

lena-dunham-girls-TVAttention people in your twenties: I strongly urge you to elect Lena Dunham as the voice of your generation. She knows what she’s talking about. Trust me. Get out your journals and start taking notes. Let go of everything your mothers and your grandmothers taught you about physical beauty. Silence the self-critical voice that you so carefully nurtured, the one that still dominates the conversation late at night when you’re trying to fall asleep. Reject all that brainwashing media nonsense you were bombarded with during your formative years. Stop those stupid diets. Do not buy a juicer. Gluten is not your enemy; it’s time to wise up.  Just hit the reset button, ladies and gentlemen, sit back and watch the TV show Girls. Lena Dunham is talking to you. She doesn’t have all the answers but I think she does have the solution to one of your biggest problems if you will just listen to her.

I took a while reviewing Diana Spechler’s new novel, Skinny because I was too busy trying to fit into itty bitty shorts at Banana Republic. I tried to do double-duty—reading some of the book while I waited in line—but it was too confusing. All those size zero mannequins that looked like Gray Lachmann, the protagonist of Skinny and her co-counselors at “fat camp” telling me to go to work out, while a new, blank document in MS Word sat on my desk at home saying feed me!

Although I am loath to admit it, I am a prude.  I never would have thought myself to be uptight before now but being faced with the Freikörper Kultur has brought me up to speed.  I am 100% American prude.  What is the Free Body Culture, you might ask?  Why it’s the Society of Naked Germans, of course!  And with the advent of summer, the parks and lakes are overflowing with frolicking, happy nudists.

I have never before been even slightly weirded out by the thought that anyone would want to lie naked in the sun.  It sounds rather naughty and delicious, actually.  That being said, I have rarely been faced with an entire city of people who can’t wait to publicly shed their clothing at the slightest opportunity.  Summer is here or at least June is and even though it hasn’t been anything even approaching warm enough to be called bathing suit weather, anything above 60 degrees Fahrenheit is apparently warm enough to bare it all.  Nobody worries about shrinkage.  One day I was happily cruising around Berlin admiring the greenery and suddenly the next, the view had changed entirely.  One might have fancied oneself in a veritable Garden of Eden were it not for the tattoos and lack of strategically placed fig leaves.

In truth, this year I was well prepared.  Last summer on a visit the boyfriend took me to a lake to replenish our vitamin D deficiency.  He had warned me that everyone would be nude and that was fine, I’d said, but it wasn’t going to be me.  I’m not sure what I was expecting but it certainly wasn’t what was.  We were surrounded by everyone and anyone you could imagine, as long as you could imagine they were all white; Germany not being the most color diverse country in the world.  There were tall, short, fat, thin, old, young, beautiful, those not traditionally considered good looking, some obese folks, someone going through chemo, someone who’d undergone a double mastectomy, someone who was clearly anorexic, spider veins abounded, cellulite glistened in the sunshine, waxed and unwaxed, shaved and unshaved, if you can think of it, it was there.

As I looked around I was overcome with admiration for the group of people so comfortable in their own skin.  So unashamed of their bodies as they existed; a foreign concept for most Americans, let alone New Yorkers who are constantly under pressure to stay at the forefront of the fashion and body beautiful trends.  And I realized I was more conspicuous as the only one with clothes on than I would be if I just let go of my Puritanism and freed my body from its spandex confines.  It was elating to lie naked and unnoticed in a park full of people doing the same.  But I didn’t kid myself either.  The only reason I could do this at all was because other than my equally naked boyfriend, I didn’t know a soul.  There is courage in anonymity.

This year for my birthday, he took me to a spa to relax a little.  Once again I was prepared ahead of time for the lack of clothing.  Given the park experience, I no longer felt the need to take a suit.  But when we got to the spa and into the co-ed dressing room I found I was a little bugged out.  I mean, yeah it makes sense.  We’re all about to be naked together anyway, why separate us for the donning and removal phase?  But regardless of the rationality, I somehow felt more exposed fully undressing that close to strange men.  Then in walked the Swedish bombshells who parked themselves directly next to my boyfriend and proceeded to disrobe.  Wait, what happened to all the every-bodies I saw at the lake?  Where were they?  Why was I wobbling my sizable nether parts next to Sweden’s Next Top Model?  This wasn’t what I’d signed up for.

But we wandered down to the sauna anyway.  Walking through the rooms filled with spa-goers, I felt awkward and uncomfortable.  I couldn’t understand why at first.  It shouldn’t feel so much different than it had the last time, after all I didn’t know anyone there.  But as I took a seat in the very crowded sauna, I began to be conscious of the people around me.  These weren’t the naked folks I’d been at the lake with.  Nearly everyone there was under 40, somewhat toned or put together and were all painfully, horribly, nakedly close together.

I am a natural voyeur, a people watcher.  I love to openly gaze and wonder at the happenings around me.  But when you’re sweating together in a small room packed full of fellow nudists, you somehow lose the freedom to do that.  If you spend too much time looking at someone, you could be quickly labeled a sicko letch and excommunicated.  So there we all sat, carefully avoiding each other’s eyes, peeking out of the corners of our own to somehow get the bearings of our surroundings and not talking.  It was awful.

Today I went to a beach with some friends and was shocked to see the sand bursting with colorful bikinis and trunks.

“Where are all the naked Berliners?” I asked.

A fellow sunbather indicated a sign that said in big, black lettering, Freikörper Kultur, and pointed down the beach.  In that moment I knew.  I knew I was a prude because I was relieved.  I was so relieved not to be faced with the pressure to be naked with my friends.  I knew I couldn’t do it.  As they say, some things are better left unsaid, but there are an equal number of things better left dressed on my body and I decided to agree with my friend Juan’s assessment.  There’s something sexy about a little guesswork, even if it is just a little.  So although I may again lie naked in the sun it won’t be anywhere I might run into someone I know and you can rest assured my blanket will be far enough away from the next guy so I can take in the beauty of a park full of everyone basking in their own glory.  Just don’t tell my mother.