Culturally most of us know that it’s inappropriate to talk about a person’s weight gain. While apparently the tabloids, gossip magazines and gutter websites missed that memo – and regularly run their pasta belly pregnancy / “beach shame” stories – most legitimate news purveyors know better. Know that there are far less tacky ways to make women hate themselves. Best go surreptitious rather than direct insult. Best plant the seeds of self-scrutiny than deploy a cheap fatty boomba slur.
But what about weight loss? What role does the news have in covering the shedding of kilos?
If body weight is understood as a sensitive, no-go topic when it’s gained, why is there an attitudinal shift when it’s lost? Rinehart didn’t join some ritualised-humiliation television contest to lose weight nor did she enlist a camera crew to follow her around to chart her “journey”, so why is her body now fair game? What makes weight loss a more politically okay topic for newspaper attention than weight gain?
Rinehart’s status as a public figure partly explains this. While being a captain of industry might have absolutely nothing to do with her waistline, nonetheless, for the same pervy reasons that we’re interested in the lives of soap stars and athletes, Rinehart fills the brief of being a public identity. And just as the media covers her family’s feudin’, her body apparently is an extension of all things Rinehart-relevant.
The coverage of her weight loss however, has other more troubling elements to it.
Losing weight is in line with the shallow expectations of our culture. In a fat-loathing society, Gina’s weight loss is a signifer of her having learnt the error of her ways and physically repented. To better herself. We don’t assume that she might have lost weight through sickness. God no. In this culture of perpetual self-improvement, we assume that she’s chosen this. Afterall what fat woman wouldn’t want to do her best to sate the standards of a vicious public? In turn, she’s become fair game because she’s obeyed society’s dictums of turning her transgressive body into something palatable.
There is of course, a very obvious gender element here. To date, Rinehart’s weight has largely remained untouched by the press. Part of this is about common decency, about political correctness, but a bigger part centres on fat as dehumanising. Our culture hates fat. We treat it as grotesque, as a sign of overindulgence, as testimony to laziness. And given that the only conversation we can ever have about fat centres on criticism, scorn or, at best, cheer-leading for reform, we mostly keep quiet.
Past tense fat however, is ripe for commentary. By slimming down to more acceptable standards, Gina is now human, is now woman and thus, according to the way society treats women, her body has become public property.
Women’s bodies have always been subjected to different and greater scrutiny than men’s. Sure, stories also run about James Packer’s weight loss. And indeed, many men like Clive Palmer and Chris Christie will find themselves at the centre of weight centre barbs and exaggerated cartoons.
Men however, aren’t judged primarily on their appearance. They aren’t appraised on the degree to which we could imagine fucking them. No, they don’t escape the tyranny of our culture’s ever-stricter mandates on appearance, but nonetheless they’re allowed to become famous for other things. To become famous in spite of their weight.
Men can – and do – make it in business and politics and the media by giving the finger to society’s expectations of attractiveness. Funniness and savvy, charisma and policy acumen are all qualities that can earn men fame and respect. A man can be smart, can be sage, can be sassy and can also be fat. And sure, he might get ribbed for it, but ultimately his weight will only ever be just one aspect of his identity. It doesn’t sabotage him with the same frequency as it does women.
It’s effortless to draft an exhaustive list of fat women who’ve made it in the public eye. Now pause for a moment and strike-off each one who has succumbed to the imperative to evolve over time (read: reduce) to stay famous. For men, weight makes only a small impact on success; for women weight invariably completely halts the recognition of their other qualities.
Talking about appearance – notably of someone whose work has absolutely nothing to do with how hot we find them – is hideous. But worse than this, it’s depressingly low-hanging fruit and dilutes criticism of the stuff that actually matters. If we’re talking about Rinehart’s weight then we’re not talking about her calls to cut minimum wage. Or her unsolicited advice to poorer Australians to cut down on smoking and drinking. Or her promotion of climate skepticism. Things that actually are in the public interest and are the real reasons her name should appear in our newspapers.
Gina Rinehart’s weight is not our business. To pretend that loss of weight makes a body-scrutiny story more acceptable is delusional, is indicative of the continued policing of women’s bodies and is proof of the rarely subtle sexism which all women in the public eye are subjected to.
July 1, 2016
© Lauren Rosewarne