Chapter 6: In Which I Use My Expensive History Degree For Its Intended Purpose

It’s still a little odd when people recognize me.

It’s been happening more and more lately; most recently was on Saturday, when I was in the library. I was in the fiction room, and some guy came up and tapped me on the shoulder.

“Are you the Incredible Shrinking Woman? Wow, you’re better looking than I expected.”

Thanks, guy. You and your mullet really validated my existence.

In all seriousness, most of the comments I get have involved much less toe-gargling than our literary friend there. In fact, one girl told me she wasn’t signed up for the contest, but had lost 4 pounds in the last 6 weeks because she’d been playing Wiisports! I don’t have a Wii (sob), so I wasn’t able to recommend it in my electronic fitness column, but having played Wii Boxing I can totally see how that would be good exercise. In fact, I’m no longer allowed to play Wii Boxing at my friend’s house, on account of an incident involving about 5 Coronas, my fist, and a 40-inch liquid crystal television. So yeah, good exercise.

Anyway, the girl told me she liked my column because I quote “wasn’t one of those my-body-is-a-temple health nuts.” Well, obviously! Who’d want their body to be a temple? Most temples are large, dusty,  and absolutely nothing fun happens in them unless Indiana Jones drops by to chase some Nazis around. The only thing I have in common with a temple is we’re both full of smoke on Sundays.

I want my body to do absolutely anything I want it to do, and look good doing it. I guess that’d mean I don’t want my body to be a temple, I want it to be...a 1952 Jaguar Le Mans Type C, which I was going to include a picture of but unfortunately my publisher says the paper has a strict anti-indecency policy. So I’ll just put the picture on the internet, because that’s what the internet is for, right?

Look at that! I will admit, I love cars.  Unfortunately, being the beloved only daughter of some pretty serious motorheads means that you can't do anything stupid like, say, buy yourself a 1991 Mazda Miata and swap out a V6; nope, you're getting the 2001 Boxobland because it gets roughly the same gas mileage as a yak. But a girl can dream, can't she? In fact, if you look at the history of car design it pretty much parallels the changes in social concepts of beauty over the last century or so; from the solid elegance of the thirties to the space age massiveness of the fifties, with the New Look silhouette actually encouraging women to appreciate their curves.

What went wrong, America? The seventies.

I don't see why we couldn't have skipped right from the sixties to the eighties. The sixties had the Beatles and landing on the moon and the original Star Trek series. The eighties had comedy shoulder pads and Top Gun and Star Trek: The Next Generation. In fact, what is the only decade to have NOT had a Star Trek series? Yep, the seventies. I think I've made my case. There were only two redeeming features of the seventies as far as I can see – the second-generation Pontiac Trans Am and punk music – and punk music is part of the reason the western European standard of beauty shifted to radical thinness.

I shall explain.

Like many wonderful things, punk music started off in England. (No, it did. Yeah, I know about the New York Dolls, but they were about ten years ahead of their time and the look and sound they pioneered would have more influence on New Wave. Your Smirking Purist is no match for my Snob Fu, grasshopper.) Specifically, punk music started in a fashion boutique on Kings Road in London. This is important to point out, because while many later punk musicians adopted anti-consumerist stances, it didn't begin that way. It began with two pretentious former art students named Malcolm McLaren and Vivenne Westwood, who owned a clothing store called, ahem, SEX (their caps, not mine.) What kind of clothes did SEX sell, you ask? Well, did you ever notice how on old school punk clothes, there's all those straps and buckles that you just can't see a use for?

Yeah, you got it.

Anyway, in addition to interesting taste in clothing, McLaren wanted to be a band manager. After pretty much destroying the New York Dolls, McLaren's next find was a band called The Strand. McLaren moved them into the shop, got them a new guitarist named John Lydon (later Johnny Rotten) and renamed them the Sex Pistols. Yes, after his shop. It pretty much doesn't get more corporate than that – unless you count using the band members as unpaid mannequins for Westwood's fashion designs.

I'm not going to deny that the Sex Pistols looked great or that Westwood isn't an utter genius. They did and she is. But she was taking garments not known to be comfortable or flattering to a variety of figures, and making it even more unwearable by average people. The ultimate irony of the Sex Pistols/Westwood double team is they were so brilliant, so galvanizing, that they had the power to rewrite traditional fashion mores that forced women to primp their hair and wear pumps every day. They could have broken beauty. And they did – they just replaced it with different beauty. Punk beauty meant lots of safety pins, ragged hair, and .08% body fat – and no one exemplified the look better than Sid Vicious.

Some would have you believe that Vicious was the Pistols' bassist. He wasn't. John Simon Ritchie couldn't play two notes together. Vicious was the Pistols' icon. He was scruffy, perpetually sneering, and weighed about as much as my left thigh. With Sid Vicious, Westwood had finally achieved her dream of finding a model with roughly the same dimensions as the hangers she sold her clothes on.  And just in case his status as the apex rock image of his era wasn't cemented enough, he went and died of a drug overdose at the age of 21.

Bam. Vicious is a legend, heroin chic is born, designers start working exclusively with underweight models, and the world is never the same again. Normal female dimensions become hidebound and old-fashioned at best, and unattractive at worst. Of course there are minor backlashes – the aformentioned hilarious shoulder pads of the eighties, an attempt to add visual weight to the female silhouette without having women do anything as sensible as eat – but by and large that's it. Westwood became one of the most famous designers of her generation and McLaren...well, his next band was Bow Wow Wow. I think they’re keeping his chair warm in Purgatory for that.

This may seem like an odd diatribe for a weight-loss column to indulge in, but the point is this; issues of thinness, of body paranoia, and of fashion design monoculture don't exist in a vacuum. They can come from anywhere, and they influence everything. Fortunately,  what McLaren and Westwood created got so much bigger than them. Today, punk is still as popular as it ever was, if not more so, with some truly brilliant albums like American Idiot and The Black Parade going far beyond what the Pistols were ever capable of. There's nothing that makes me laugh so hard as when people who think of themselves as true punk fans rag on teenagers for shopping at Hot Topic. Not only did punk start off in clothing stores, Hot Topics are usually the only stores in an American mall with a decent selection of plus size clothing.

Which brings me to someone I'd like to recognize as a true hero of punk; Beth Ditto of the Gossip. Like me, Beth Ditto is one of the coolest people on the planet. No, really; she was voted so by NME Magazine, in the same issue they did the nude cover shot of her. Yep, that's right. Beth Ditto is probably one of the only women over 210 pounds to have done not one, but two cheesecake sessions for major newsstand magazines. Plus, girlfriend can SING. I mean, wow. As of now, the Gossip isn't big, so you can be ahead of the curve and check out the video for their single "Listen Up," which I have thoughtfully linked. Just copy and paste it in your browser!

Can the Gossip singlehandedly save punk – and the world – from the evil clutches of heroin chic? Probably not, but, like taking a Aston Martin DB 10 around the Nurburgring, it's a nice daydream. And considering Chloe Marshall, one of the main contenders for the crown of Miss England - former stomping grounds of Sid Vicious – is a size sixteen, maybe there's hope yet.

A few months ago I was in Borders with a male acquaintance, and we stumbled on Beth Ditto's NME Magazine issue. I geeked out a bit and told him about her music, and he was impressed. He even said, "No, she's really pretty. She looks a lot like you!"
(Unnamed male acquaintance; just so you and Mullet Boy know, the address to which you're going to want to send the flowers is: The Incredible Shrinking Woman, c/o the Wayne Independent, 220 8th St., Honesdale.)

I want to lose weight, but I definitely don't think it would be a bad thing, from a karmic perspective, if others were able to acknowledge the validity of all shapes and sizes of people - that men and women, even if not thin, can be fashionable, attractive, even cool.

Because looking beyond someone's waistline is, like, SO totally punk rock.