Laurie Toby Edison

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Amateur and Professional Eye Candy

Lynne Murray says:

My name for the way television culture skillfully and constantly tells us what’s beautiful, sexy, and hot–and what isn’t–is “Team Entertainment-Fueled Eating Disorders,” a team whose only goal is to dominate and destroy our traditional cultures and our own personal perceptions, which I call “Team Just the Way We Are.”

Recently while messing around on YouTube I found a particular kind of short video created by and shared among mostly female fans using still photos of their favorite actors, set to music. I saw several for the male lead of the Twilight films, Robert Pattinson. Most of these videos are aimed at the sensibilities of a heterosexual female audience. The shifting focus returned to the actor’s eyes, mouth, hands, full body shots, glancing torso shots and occasional lingering views of the belt buckle and crotch.

The points of focus reminded me of the first segment of the movie New York Stories: “Life Lessons,”  directed by Martin Scorsese. Notice how whenever the painter hero, played by Nick Nolte, examines something–be it his paint-encrusted palette, his lover’s foot or the lips of his next conquest, the camera narrows its focus down to a tight close-up of that object.

This demonstrates both how many artists see, and precisely how Team Entertainment-Fueled Eating Disorders trains our eyes to zero in on certain physical characteristics as hot and desirable–and others as disgusting–and constantly reinforces these lessons.

Lest you think that “hotness” is purely frivolous idea, consider that Facebook, a multibillion dollar business and networking tool, stemmed from a college kid in a dorm room putting together a version of “hot or not” that captivated fellow students. Much of what we consider “hot” is brought to us directly by state-of-the-art creative talent for surefire psychological manipulation.

Let’s do a little fluff dry on the brainwashing:

The connection between what our eyes have been trained to define as beautiful, or sexy, and body size, brings up a disturbing study we’ve discussed earlier on how three years of Western television created eating disorders and body hatred among young women in Fiji who had previously shared their culture’s traditionally positive attitudes toward generous body proportions.

Thinking about how mass media affects our perceptions shows me just what those three years might have looked like on the ground by dissecting the unequal contest between the two teams. Team Just the Way We Are was severely outgunned. Team Entertainment-Fueled Eating Disorders employs highly studied image manipulation to create entertaining and continually changing dream worlds (in which nothing important ever changes). The choice between a new, sexy, professionally produced version of reality and the same old everyday life as endorsed by older relatives is going to pull most viewers, including the young women of Fiji, toward the flashier option. Slow-moving, non-aggressive, self-accepting real life can’t compete.

Team Entertainment-Fueled Eating Disorders’ hard-core media salesmanship engages with Team Just The Way We Are’s self-acceptance, which is subtle, private and not easily commodified.

So am I arguing for a hopped-up, sexy, fat, beautifully produced appreciation of the fat figure?

Yes. Training the eye to see beauty is a dynamic process.No one will finance it, but with the currently available software it can be done free of charge. It will take real digging to find the images to create it. When a fan of a conventionally hot actor puts together a YouTube clip, she can find glamour shots, candid shots, and stills from his films with ease.

Glamour shots of fat actors and actresses are harder to find. There just aren’t that many fat movie and television performers, and many of them are only seen in comic settings. No fat actor in recent memory has evoked the kind of intense interest Edward Pattinson does.

As I posted here in 2009 on fat actors and actresses, Hollywood has barred and marginalized fat people from the beginning. The only real difference over the years has been the continuously shrinking dress size of the leading ladies and the increasing call for leading men to display the kind of conspicuously defined abdominal muscle architectural mass that once was only seen in professional bodybuilders.

In a moment of curiosity, I decided to go looking for some objectification material for fat movie or TV stars. Chubster (mainly a fashion site) has a nice shot of Jorge Garcia. Men in Full also features Jorge Garcia and is a good resource for a generic set of images of fat men. Other than that, the closest thing I could find for fat men was simply a list of fat actors, hardly a sensuous appreciation.

Jorge Garcia as Dr. Diego Soto

I couldn’t easily find bear or chub sites by and for gay men who like fat men. For myself, material tailored to gay erotic fantasy often doesn’t synch with my vanilla heterosexual female fantasies.

One generalist site lists “hot fat men” including Presidents Taft and Cleveland–and Kublai Khan! Seriously, Kublai Khan died in 1294, and he may have been a hot fat guy but it’s really hard to know!

I wondered if fan videos existed for any fat actresses. I did find one with Camryn Manheim, which  appears to be composed by a person heavily invested in cleavage. I personally think it doesn’t do her justice; I’ve seen her in person and she’s breathtakingly beautiful. You don’t have to go to Les Toil’s pinup site to find gorgeous pictures of Manheim. Curvy Her offers pictures of several curvy women–models, musicians and actresses including Manheim.

Robert Pattinson looks to me like a young Marlon Brando. For a few crazy minutes I thought about finding some free software and images and making my own YouTube appreciation of the older Brando, who was as sexy at 300 pounds as he was in his thinner days. Because he’s a cinema icon so there would be images of him around even at a larger size.

Then sanity dawned and I realized that I lack the fire-in-the belly fannish obsessiveness needed to fuel the task. Also, words are my area of expertise. I can’t afford to derail my fiction writing into a graphic project that I would likely abandon in frustration after wandering for days down the Primrose Path of Procrastination. Sorry, Marlon, I still think you were hot all along!

We finally have some tools at our fingertips to fight Team Entertainment-Fueled Eating Disorders on something like their own terms. Hotness is a social construct and anything constructed can be broken down into its individual components, retooled and rebuilt differently. Go Team Just The Way We Are!

4 Responses to “Amateur and Professional Eye Candy”

  1. Sue Trowbridge Says:

    Lynne, there were some interesting articles posted after Phyllis Diller’s death about how Phyllis was actually a very beautiful woman — Playboy was going to do a photo shoot of her as a joke back in her 1960s heyday, but they dropped it because once she took off her ever-present muumuu, she had a conventional “hot body” — in other words, not funny! I think an examination of funny fat ladies through the years would be very interesting. That is the one area of show biz where large women are increasingly finding acceptance. Of course Roseanne Barr was there several years ago, but now we have Melissa McCarthy (“Mike and Molly”), Rebel Wilson (“Bridesmaids”), and new “SNL” cast member Aidy Bryant. This marks the first time “SNL” has had a large woman; there’s almost always been a large man in the cast. Not sure if that represents progress or not, but it’ll be VERY interesting to see how she is used during her first few months on the show.

  2. lilacsigil Says:

    Another place where unconventional bodies are considered hot: the Paralympics. It’s just ended (with major coverage here) and it was amazing to see that, while some athletes were posed as conventionally hot with disabilities hidden, others were posed as conventionally hot with disabilities on full and proud display.

  3. Lynne Murray Says:

    Thanks, Sue, that sounds like a topic well worth exploring! The ways in which a fat actress or actor can move into the spotlight from playing the traditional, peripheral “fat friend”–who typically exists as either a sounding board for the hero or heroine and/or comic relief.

    At least one reader told me that my Josephine Fuller character was “arrogant” (I think she meant “delusional”)because she “imagined” that men were attracted to her.

    I didn’t mean it, or write it as the heroine’s delusion, her experience reflected my own–sometimes the fat protagonist can be the leading lady in a romantic as well as a sleuthing context. That reader’s remark told me a lot about herself and also about how some readers interpret the role of fat characters in fiction. Movies and TV, of course, because of the visual component are a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

  4. Lynne Murray Says:

    Interesting, Lilacsigil, that the press coverage of the Paralympics could find “conventional hotness” (cool phrase) in disabled athletes. I think the focus on achievement in sport allows reporters to get past stereotypical views of disabled people in general as neutered, saintly, and/or marginalized.

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