los thingeles.

I live in a city of thin people.

Let me clarify.

I live in a city filled with thin and beautiful people.

Let me clarify again.

I live in a city filled with people of all shapes, colors, and sizes, but the people I live near, work amongst, and see parading around the hip streets of central Los Angeles are thin and beautiful and cool beyond anything you have ever seen.

Now, the coolness thing I can handle. Nothing is so uncool as the parade of coolness, and whenever I see a scruffy-necked, long-haired, aviator-besunglassed, dirty-jeaned, beautiful-mouthed boy or girl lounging over their espresso or their ginger-infused carrot juice at a cafe or restaurant or sometimes just sitting in the street, I feel fond and sisterly and immensely cooler since I don’t have to try to be cool. I just am. I’m not bragging, it’s the truth. (There’s a certain amount of irony riddled through this last paragraph. Just so’s you know.)

And the beautiful thing I can handle, too. I like beautiful people. I surround myself with them for a reason. The thing is, beautiful isn’t qualified for me by thinness or coolness or regular features or typically Caucasian phenotypes. For me beauty is created by a certain combination of radiant health, personal carriage, clarity of mind and a glowing sense of humor. So I don’t walk around with a cartel of Christy Turlingtons, yet I still think I live and play with beautiful people and one day I hope to have the esteem skillz to count myself among them.

It’s the thinness that doesn’t work for me.

Los Angeles culture, white Los Angeles culture at least, is so heavily invested in thinness and so heavily equates thinness with general prosperity, beauty, and humanity that I’m finding it hard to maintain a mantra of size-doesn’t-equal-health. You know all those commercials and films and fashion magazines that so relentlessly deny worth in any body but the thin one? Yeah, living in Los Angeles is like living IN those commercials and films and fashion magazines. This isn’t a phenomenon for women only, either. A couple of days ago I was eating lunch with some friends at work and a colleague of ours stopped in to chat. He sneaked a sweet potato fry from my plate (which were delicious, mind you) and then moaned, thumped his flat stomach, and said, “Look at this gut! Time for a cleanse.”

A cleanse? Did he mean fasting or an enema? Because either answer proves that the man has an eating disorder if he thinks he needs to radically purge a single sweet potato fry. It also proves that he might have body dysmorphia on top of it, if he thinks his flat stomach is a “gut.” I’m not trying to diagnose him, but I do remember being flabbergasted at his suggestion that day and ready to contradict him (probably a pointless exercise but what can I say) except that my friends responded first with emphatic nods and quick delineations of their own expanding bodies and derailing diets. What? Not a single one of them, from what I can tell, are overweight. They may indeed be unhealthy but no one was talking about health in any real terms – it was all about the size of their bodies. In fact, it was all about certain parts of their bodies, as if their guts or their flabby thighs or double chins were somehow disconnected from the rest of them. The word “health” was tossed around plenty, but it was mostly accompanied by such phrases as “good power cleanses” and “healthy raw food diet recipes” and not about living a happy, active life.

So there’s a certain amount of performance involved here. It’s something I’ve noticed a lot from people who’ve been living in LA for a while (including me): this need to perform one’s health-consciousness or diet-consciousness for the sake of others. Diets and strategies for diets are easily the most discussed subjects at my work outside of politics and general moaning about the workload. People can negotiate their anxiety about their bodies by acknowledging their anxieties (fat thighs, double chins, guts) and then quickly assuring their listeners that they’re about to start a diet to take care of those imperfections. “I know I’m eating a sweet potato fry and that you might associate me with reckless eating and fatness because of the one sweet potato fry, but rest assured, I’m on it, I know I’m fat, and I’m on a diet.”

I’m not absolving myself of this phenomenon myself. I often feel the need to explain to people that I haven’t been fat all my life and that really I’ve been either thin or in a cycle of expanding and contracting the size of my body. That narrative is true, but doesn’t the repetition of it scream thou dost protestest too much?

Just a thought. More of them a-coming.


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October 2008
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