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June 16, 2011

An Open Letter to Ilana Angel

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/an_open_letter_to_ilana_angel_20110616/

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I wrote a post called You Should Get Skinny which suggested in its most reductive form that to date in a certain pool of men, you have to get thin.  (I hope you read the nuances to this premise in the post here before proceeding because a lot of the debate misses my essential point.) 

I posted a follow up to address the plethora of nasty comments I received, which you can read here.

Yesterday, a popular blogger on this site, Ilana Angel wrote some critical thoughts on my post here which were at times a bit confusing (when she talks about being rejected by men for her weight), genuinely funny (when she threatens to sit on me if I don’t change my mind), and a bit mean spirited (in the comments section she says of me: “her views of other women make her ugly. She might as well weigh 1,000 pounds because that is the weight her ugliness puts on her soul.”

I have not communicated with her at all until now and thought I would use my blog today to respond to her with an open letter.


Dear Ilana,

You seem like a very sweet charming person who writes honestly about her life.  I appreciate your thoughts and your sharing of personal struggles about this sensitive subject.  But my opinions remain unchanged.

I’m sorry you think my soul is ugly.  It’s not easy for me to tell this truth but I can’t make it go away by ignoring it.  You seem to be perpetuating the idea which we have all heard before: love your body the way it is and someone great will come along and love you regardless of the way you look.  It’s a nice sentiment and perhaps genuinely useful for women who hate their immutable body type (ie – hating your curves, wishing your breasts were bigger or your butt was smaller.)  But for millions of girls, this sentiment is just promoting a hypocrisy that frankly I’m tired of pretending doesn’t exist.  We can go into every high school in the country and tell overweight girls to love their bodies, but when the guy they like time and time again chooses to date girls that are in shape we’re sending mixed messages.  When every female movie star, musician, every woman on billboards and magazines and in advertisements looks slim, how can we expect otherwise?  The world we live in is not always the world we want to live in.  I’m not trying to pass judgment on these facts and say that any of it is right, but merely that it is true.  Thin women are rewarded in today’s society – why not make yourself thin and reap those rewards yourself?  (Did you see this recent CNN article about a study showing thin women make more money than their heavier counterparts?)  After I read your post, I was discussing it with a friend and I asked her to name a celebrity that was a size 16 cause I wasn’t too sure what that necessarily looks like.  She couldn’t come up with one.

Of course, for every generalization, there are the non-conformists who choose not to abide by the rules society has set.  Choosing not to buy into this may be the higher ground here.  Choosing not to buy into the “thin aesthetic” of today’s world may be the more moral way of life, but you have to recognize that the majority of people and by extension the majority of men don’t or can’t feel the same way.  Telling yourself otherwise is simply being in denial.  You’re date with Dean, seems like a good example of this.  Of course, the guy sounds like a jerk and the note he sent you was tacky, but the fact remains, many other men in the world want to date someone thin but are just too polite to voice it.  It’s like we all have to pretend that this practically universal American truth doesn’t exist so that we don’t hurt people’s feelings.  I don’t see how living this truth but pretending it’s not there is the answer to all of this.  (Since my first post, I have had many women come up to me or write me saying how true this all is but how they would never admit it publicly.)  Telling everyone to love their bodies no matter what, without recognizing the consequences of that in today’s society is dangerous and hypocritical. 

A common criticism of my generation is that when we were growing up in the 80’s or 90’s, all children were told that they did a great job on everything regardless of their actual performance for fear of giving children low self-esteem.  Years later it turns out we have the highest self-esteem of any generation but we’re generally lazier and less productive than previous generations.  But when you get to the real world, just believing you’re good at everything isn’t going to get you very far – there is a very real cost for not working hard.  So now we’re telling all women to love their bodies and that love will come to them regardless of appearance.  But the fact is rewards don’t come equally to women for loving their bodies.  If you’re choosing not to buy into any of those rewards, again, good for you!  But you can’t pretend we live in a world where all you have to do is love your body and expect to be treated the same as the people who take care of their bodies.  Winston Churchill said truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it, but, in the end, there it is.  We can keep telling every woman to love their body no matter what, but every time millions of American men choose the pretty thin girl, well, the proof is in the pudding.

Now, this is the hardest part for me to say.  Actually, I feel terrible saying this directly to someone but again I believe truth deserves to be addressed and discussed.  But there’s another element to this all.  You and I move in different worlds.  You are in your forties, a single mother, and a professional organizer.  One day I too hope to be a mother in my forties with a career that makes me happy.  But right now, I’m not and as you acknowledge we are in different places in our lives.  Would we run into each other at same bars, same events, same concerts?  No.  Which is as it should be - I don’t want the life I have now in twenty years.  But the fact is we do move in different circles, which means we’re going to be looking at different pools of men.  I don’t want to offer a strong opinion about how to date as a divorced mother because I know nothing about it – I can only speculate that most of what I think is important now will get turned upside down and be displaced by things most mothers and wives want in their forties which I imagine is to be happy and healthy and have the same be true of your family.  But for now, I am who I am and I love the life I lead.  It sounds like you love yours too!  That’s great and I’m happy for you.  But my advice and previous blog entries were really addressed to women in a different place in their life and simply may not apply at other times in a woman’s life. 

You also suggest that at one time you were married to one of these “top-tier” men of which I speak despite being on the more corpulent side.  But you also said that you divorced him soon after because he was abusive.  I’m sorry you had to go through that and inspired by your story about ending up so happy on the other side of it all.  But, a top-tier guy is not abusive.  Nor does he cheat.  I don’t care how good-looking he is, how much money he makes, or what kind of job he has.  I’m not looking for a walking check-list; I’m looking for love that lasts which requires finding a man who respects you, honors you, and walks the journey of life at your side till death is the only thing in the world that separates you.

But really, I just use “top-tier” as an inadequate shorthand for the type of men in the world of young professionals in which I am looking.  You are looking to date men in their forties possibly with kids.  I’m not.  I came under a lot of fire for admitting that I have expectations for a mate.  You and many others think it’s superficial for me to want these things, but I happen to think it’s more practical than anything else.  I want him to have gone to a good school or at least be well-educated and smart so that he can challenge me intellectually.  I want to share common interests such as travel, politics, an ongoing desire to learn, plans for a family, so that we are stimulated by each other.  A man who likes similar activities means we can spend time together doing things we both enjoy such as being active, being outdoors, listening to npr, dining out, drinking bold red wines, sharing life with friends, seeing indie movies and listening to good music.  I want him to be successful enough to be able to provide for a family.  I want him to value the things I value such as being ambitious, working hard, education, certain social issues, dreaming big and accomplishing a lot, and cultivating a good relationship with your family.  And yes I want to be attracted to him –he certainly doesn’t need to have an overly toned ripped vaseline-slicked body.  Just cute enough that I genuinely desire him.  Does that really make me more shallow than anyone else?

Lastly, I will posit this to you.  Do you wear make-up?  We all just want to be the best versions of ourselves.  I have grown to love the features I have.  When I was 16 and saw every other girl at Calabasas High come back from winter break with their noses bandaged from a “non-cosmetic” rhinoplasty they needed because of sinus trouble, I went through a period where I desperately wanted a nose job.  I got over it, thank god!  But I still wear concealer under my eyes and mascara almost every day.  I like the way I look better with it on and I feel like the best version of myself when I wear it.  Men are going to be more attracted to you, the prettier you are.  Again, this is the world we live in.  I would never have plastic surgery on my face to become someone else’s perfect ideal.  But I don’t see the problem in recognizing that we all want to be attractive – for me to be the most attractive version of myself, I wear a bit of makeup and I exercise.  There are always exceptions, but in broad general terms, women usually appear prettier to men with at least a touch of make-up on.  Likewise, in broad general terms, women usually appear more attractive to men if they look toned, fit and in shape.  I’m not saying everyone should have surgery and starve till you can count all your ribs.  But I really don’t understand why I’m being villainized for speaking a truth that we all inherently know and live out every day.  More men being more attracted to you = more men in the dating pool to choose from.  There are always outliers and I hope you do find yours.  The faith that you will and your confidence will only help you, I’m sure.  But if you’re less risk averse, why not appeal to a broad section of men?

The moral aspect of this all, may be hard to grapple with.  Paying thin women more obviously is a prejudice that should be addressed but you can’t ignore that there are very real subtle subconscious reactions people have based on your physical appearance.  Just because we “shouldn’t” have them or we think “it’s wrong” doesn’t make them go away.  It’s time for us to face the facts of the world we have created.  Pretty young thin women get a disproportionate amount of society’s attention. Do they deserve to cut the line at a club?  Who knows but probably not.  But the fact is, when I want to get my friends comp’d to an event I’ve been invited to, it’s much easier if I mention that they are hot single girls.  We all know this.  It’s in movies, on tv shows, happens in front of us, happens to our friends, and is what we expect from life.  So if we all know this, why then are we better off convincing the heavier girl who wants to get into this club that she should love her body despite the fact that she will never get to cut the line as opposed to saying, in a few months you could easily tone up, and get to cut the line yourself?  WHY OH WHY?  Why can’t we just be honest with young women about that?  You can try to convince the girl that the club’s not that cool and it’s probably not (it never is), but if she still wants to get in, why is telling her to love herself over and over better than telling her that if she really cares she could probably be one of those girls.  If she doesn’t care, good for her!  Go home, love yourself, and watch Sex and the City reruns.  But if you’re standing in the back of the line saying to yourself I wish I were one of those girls, why do we women respond by lying to each other and saying just love yourself and you’ll stop wanting to get in and you’ll be happy ?  Hogwash!  Take care of your body, throw on a dress that’s flattering and then return to the front of the line and get what you wanted!

Faith is an amazing thing.  But sometimes, faith can be a poor substitute for logic and reason.  Here, the logical conclusion is that you’re looking for the rare exception.  Faith that you will find the exception no matter what, may prove to be true for you.  But pretending that it’s the likely outcome is illogical.

If you are still interested in having lunch, I’d love to take you up on the offer - contrary to popular belief I have been known to eat once or twice a month.  And if you want a sandwich with a big delicious piece of bread might I suggest Bay Cities Deli in Santa Monica?  We can even get coffee after so you can be sure I don’t throw it up!

Sincerely yours,

Tamara

“He who dares not offend cannot be honest.”  Thomas Paine


Tamara Shayne Kagel is a writer living in Santa Monica, CA. To find out more about her, visit www.tamarashaynekagel.com and follow her on twitter @tamaraskagel. © Copyright 2011.

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