Does Size Matter?

It depends.

I’ve been struck by the attention media has lavished on the size of two women writers: Lena Dunham and Jennifer Weiner.

Does Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham’s character in the hugely (oops) successful television series Girls, have the right to appear naked on a regular basis? Is she “too fat to qualify to have sex on cable television”?

dunhamMore pointedly, should someone whose hips and thighs are bigger than her breasts (think Renoir) play ping-pong topless, wearing only her low-rise panties over which hang a few inches of belly fat?

Should she wear shorts that emphasize the width of her rear end and the heft of her thighs? Is it plausible that lovers find her “beautiful”? Asked by an interviewer about the propensity of her character to bare her body, Dunham answers: “It’s a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive, I think, and I totally get it. If you’re not into me, that’s your problem.”

If the opening of the show’s third season that has Hannah sitting up in bed having a bare-breasted conversation with her lover is any indication, we have not seen the last of that, shall we say, problematic body? (Oddly to me―it’s generational no doubt–comments on her extensive tattoos are rare by comparison.)

renoir70Jennifer Weiner, on the other hand, has not by any account appeared naked in public, but she has been forthright in her defense of plus-size women’s right to be fictional heroines in stories with happy endings. Weiner’s 2001 debut novel Good in Bed has been referred to as “the first ‘chick lit’ novel featuring a large protagonist.” Rebecca Mead, New Yorker, January 13, 2014. Weiner, herself, is said to be “full-figured.” Weiner has entered the fray of conversation about the literary media’s bias “against female writers, and against books written by women.”

The criticism leveled at Weiner’s best-selling novels does not address matters of size entitlement per se―neither the author’s, nor her characters’―but it’s interesting that it seems impossible to discuss either without the subject coming up.

Weiner’s recent talk at a conference focused on eating disorders was titled: “The F Word: On Growing Up Big, Speaking Out Loud and Raising Betty Friedan Girls in a Britney Spears World.”

A recent session at the MLA (Modern Language Association for those of you lucky enough not to recognize the acronym) was titled: “Girls and The F Word: Twenty-First Century Representations of Women’s Lives.” During the discussion period, we wondered what exactly the F word meant in the title: Feminist? Female? Fucking? or Fat? Maybe FAT stands for the intersection of those little f words.

Does size matter? It does not seem to matter for Governor Chris Christie. I have been fascinated by the fact that in all the rightfully horrified speculations about the man’s possible involvement in the George Washington Bridge scandal, no one brings up the man’s significant weight in relation to this performance as an elected official.  I don’t mean to suggest that Christie’s fat caused the lanes to be closed, but in the current discussions of his desirability as a presidential candidate who may recklessly have thrown his weight around, no one seems tempted to add insult to injury, which surely would happen in the case of any woman of size. But if Hannah is thought to be too fat to have sex on cable television…. then I think that Christie is too fat to be president (even if he may weigh less than President Taft, no one seems to know exactly, according to my Internet research.). Imagine that profile on Mount Rushmore!

Finally. It’s not only about size, of course, but is still always open season on women, either for their appearance or their behavior. Remember the snide remarks about Hillary Clinton’s “fat ankles”?

Of all the people who worked for Christie and who might be the ones responsible for the lane closings, only the woman Bridget Kelly, who is thin, gets called “stupid” in public by the boss who once valued her competence.

Where is Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Rosannadanna when we need her? She was always hilarious on New Jersey complaints.

Girls Write Now

This past Saturday, I took myself down to the journalism workshop at Girls Write Now. This month’s topic was travel writing. Since I like to travel and report about my adventures abroad, I thought I might get some tips from an expert. In this case the craft talk was given by Heidi Mitchell, a journalist and editor based in New York, who, as her bio puts it, is “on a plane once a month.” I hope that some of what I learned will help me focus my travel writing–or rather, the travel writing part of my blogs and memoir.

girlswritenowcrop

In the discussion period, a question was asked about the differences between memoir and journalism. How does each genre balance the role of self and setting? In memoir, Kate Trebuss, a mentor suggested, the setting functions as a lens for the self, in journalism, the self provides the lens or frame for the setting. I found that an extremely apt distinction, and also an excellent description of what I try to do in my Paris memoir, Breathless: An American Girl in Paris, where the city recomposes the character who is myself in unexpected ways.

Welcome

I’ve always been attracted to the margins of the main story, anecdotes, sidebars, and especially footnotes. Now that my books appear without footnotes, I miss them. I’ve been looking for a way to recreate them, and I may have found it, here in this online diary.

I thought I’d begin with incidents related to Breathless: An American Girl in Paris to be published by Seal this Fall. The memoir chronicles my life in Paris in the early 1960s when girls were not Lena Dunham’s adorable HBO Girls, but just girls in our twenties, nice girls from good schools with conflicting desires. These nice girls (in my case, Nice Jewish Girl) wanted freedom from convention—usually sexual—and made many bad choices with bad boyfriends along the way.

Besides a few stories, I plan to share some images of the book re-imagined as a graphic memoir—a side project that is close to my heart—as well as photos of some of my Paris haunts from the 60s taken on a recent trip.

And then, I’ll take it from there.

Please join me as I try to find my way through this virtual labyrinth.