I’ll Have What He’s Having

An add to my post on Stuever’s ability to turn the minutiae of  contemporary culture into fascinating repartee. One time Stuever and I had lunch in one of those $18-a-salad restaurants. We had some business to discuss, but I don’t remember what. What I remember is that we very quickly fell into what I always considered the real business of lunch with Hank: a far-ranging discussion of movies, books, celebrity cults, political pretensions, cubicle culture, whatever. About halfway through the entree, a woman dining at the next table leaned over and said: “I’ve never been so entertained by an overheard conversation. I need new friends.”

A Real Beaut

In the world of Entertainment, even the ugly people are beautiful. A script demands an unattractive character? No problemo. Just stick a bad haircut or glasses on a supermodel. Producers seem to feel that, as a plot point, homeliness can be endearing. But in the flesh, it is unforgivable.

Pay attention to the extras wandering around in the school corridors, hospital waiting rooms, even the truck stops as depicted in movies and TV shows. All gorgeous. As are the hairdressers, cable guys, dental assistants and high school guidance counselors who wander briefly into the shot, if only to speak a throwaway line like, “How often do you floss?”

Of course the feminist movement of the past generation has had some impact on our collective babe addiction. Used to be that in popular novels female protagonists were distinguished by a single attribute: their beauty. Today, I’m glad to say, the heroines are multifaceted. Every last one is now described as, “brilliant and beautiful.”

So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by the revelations about the edition of Self magazine now at grocery checkout counters. The issue, devoted to “Total Body Confidence,” features a gleaming image of Kelly Clarkson

The cover text conveys the impression that Self is Selflessly speaking out against the beauty Nazis in our culture who would devalue all humans marred by cellulite or deficient cheek bones. Inside, Clarkson talks about her heavily chronicled fluctuations in weight, and insists they are nobody’s business. “My happy weight changes,” the magazine quotes her as saying. “Sometimes I eat more; sometimes I play more. I’ll be different sizes all the time. When people talk about my weight, I’m like, ‘You seem to have a problem with it; I don’t. I’m fine!’

That point is emphasized on the blurb beside her photo: “Stay True to You and Everyone Else Will Love You, Too!”

The editors must have been on a tight deadline, because they forgot to add, “Unless You Are Fat!”

Kelly Clarkson may be fine with her weight, but despite all the P.C. packaging, Self magazine definitely has a problem with it. Unretouched photos taken at the time of the cover shoot showed her packing maybe 30 extra pounds. You’d never guess it looking at the cover photo: the flab was so thoroughly airbrushed away they might as well have just pasted her head on some other (very buff) woman’s body.

The irony was delicious enough on its own, but ironists everywhere got a special treat when Self magazine editor Lucy Danziger showed up on the Today Show this morning to defend/promote the Clarkson cover.

No matter what question was thrown her way, Danziger just kept spouting versions of the official statement: “Kelly Clarkson is a strong and healthy woman and is working out regularly, and all our magazine did is to display that confidence, self esteem and beauty. We love this cover and we love Kelly Clarkson.”

She alternated that non-denial denial with affirmations of the issue’s alleged feel-good theme, that beauty came from the inside and that women needed to feel good about their bodies and refuse to be repressed by unrealistic visions of the female form.

To Meredith’s credit, she kept pressing: Then why did they feel compelled to airbrush Clarkson into a Vargas Girl?

“We just wanted her to look her best!” Danziger chirped.

Now, that’s beautiful. In an ugly sort of way.