The Meat of the Matter

Lately, I’ve noticed some tabloid posts that have attempted to champion meat-eating diets by contrasting shrewdly edited photographs of meat-eating and vegetarian celebrities.  The implications are irrational; but that doesn’t matter to the editors or their readers.  Readers rather infer a fib than reason a riddle.  Or rather, nonsense makes hotdogs easy to digest.  But I digress.
These posts have focused especially on photos of two particular middle-aged women, nutritionist Gillian McKeith and TV cook Nigellea Lawson.  I don’t get quite the same vibe from this match-up that the tabloids intend.  I already know that McKeith’s views don’t really represent those of most other nutritionists—even of many vegetarians and vegans.  Isn’t this just a case of placing the worst sample of one particular, peculiar life-style next to the best sample of a life-style that is more conventional?  McKeith might be in even worse shape if she followed a different diet.  Who knows?  Though she would certainly look better in front of good lighting and a friendlier photographer.
Nigellea, on the other hand, doesn’t look good just because she eats meat, butter, and desserts.  She looks good because she has a savvy fashion consultant, a fitness coach, a shrewd publicist, great genes (esthetically speaking), financial security, and a knack for showing up in front of the right cameras at the right times.  She can include meat, butter, and dessert with her vegetables because she exercises and has a healthy sense of moderation.  She also is intelligent, capable, and driven and has a bright and confident personality; but that doesn’t matter to most men (nor many women).
McKeith and Nigellea are both statistical outliers.  If they traded lives, they might change looks—but they wouldn’t trade looks.  No woman will ever look like Nigellea just by including meat, butter, and desserts in her diet.  And who’s to say Nigellea would look any worse if she followed a sensible vegetarian diet.  Hell, she might even look better!  Looking better is what this is all about, isn’t it?
Or is it?  It’s a shame we work so hard to parse the regimens and ingredients which should comprise ideal beauty in women, only to leave a default list which defines what seems to make other women ugly.  We work badly at this.  And it’s more than a shame.  I don’t mean to seem patronizing—as a man, I know that it isn’t just women who have to deal with this.  I also know that most normal women and men wouldn’t mind at all if others thought of them as beautiful or handsome.  I wouldn’t mind.  But women and men each have to deal with this differently, and with different consequences for not matching certain ideals.  Worse is that we all like to think we’ve seen the light (we really have!), and we promise to change (we really will!), but we do little (really, very little).
I’m not surprised.  I’ve seen the light—burned onto my retinas by my laser-wielding mother.  She meant the best for me.  But did you notice I’ve referred to Ms. McKeith by her last name, and Ms. Lawson by her first?  That mistake was a genuinely accidental deference to Nigellea’s physical beauty.  Obviously, something inside me desired to be on a first-name basis with her.  I make apologies and promises, yet I commit the same old sins every day.  Those tabloids know their audience.  If this is our only nature, we’re doomed.

Dec 17, 2011



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