Saturday, July 19, 2014


One of the worst things a person can be is stupid. Stupidity is one of the greatest conceivable evils. Yet it isn’t a sin at all. It is something no-one, with the exception of  novelist Hasek’s Good Soldier Svejk, deliberately chooses to be. What is inflicted on you at birth, which you couldn’t help, did nothing to provoke, can hardly qualify as sin. And yet. . . .

Right next to it, as far as I’m concerned, is obesity—right up there with thievery, mendacity, cruelty to people and animals, rudeness and dirtiness. It may even head the list, along with stupidity.

Yet it too may (repeat: may) be something glandular that you cannot help. Of course stigmatizing it predicates belief in the beauty and goodness of its opposite, slenderness. I confess that I, as a lover of women—more specifically beautiful ones—consider slimness a sine qua non. This has to do with obesity being tantamount to ugliness. And surely such overweight is ugly.

The obese person is unsightly, and therefore shunned and unhappy. Consider the attention devoted by the ABC network to tracing missing children. Most of them are girls, which in itself is noteworthy, and almost all of them are overweight. One recently was five feet tall and weighed 200 pounds.

We cannot dispute the fact that for the vast majority of people the standard of beauty is set by Hollywood. Female stars have to be slender. I recall one movie magazine long ago naming the two most beautiful actresses: Hedy Lamarr and Ann Sheridan. They were both 5’6” and both weighed 118 pounds. I agreed that they were, each in her own way, true beauties. There may be something quaint about that 118, definitely not a rounded (in both senses) figure (again in both senses). But it surely worked for both those alluring actresses.

We may well ask what is so beautiful about slimness? There have been ages and societies whose standard of feminine beauty was much more ample. Never mind the Hottentot Venus or the paintings of Rubens and, worse yet, Botero; but think of our own Gibson girls, ideals not so long ago.

The beauty of slimness has something to do with proportions, symmetry, pleasing ratios, which remain steady even if details change. Already 5’6” may seem a bit ordinary nowadays, perhaps even short; we tend to admire a woman like the tennis star Maria Sharapova, who at 6’2” might not so very long ago been considered a giantess and not particularly desirable. But she is, today, a beauty.

Too much height in a woman, however, is a bit intimidating, especially to men who are shorter than that. But too little height is considered childish, cute, like kittens, puppies, or six-year-old girls. Only one thing definitely scorned in our time is obesity.

I don’t recall reading anywhere the weight of Angelina Jolie, widely held to be one of our greatest beauties, with or without breasts. But one thing she certainly, even remotely, is not: she is anything but obese. Now if you wonder why I concentrate on a particular kind of beauty, namely feminine, it is for the same reason that painters through the ages painted beautiful, often nude, women as the high point of beauty.

I realize that this is foolishly derided by many as sexist; but others will agree that it is a good place to look for beauty. To be sure, one hears about fatty lovers (or should it be one word, fattylovers?), but they are relatively rare. The rest of us value delicacy even in a vase and champagne glass and, particularly, flower; then why not in a woman? I don’t mean undernourishment, frangibility, flimsiness; but I do mean gracefulness, the sort of thing we get in a ballerina.

Something there is that loves slenderness. Think of the women of, say, Botticelli, Manet, Degas, Modigliani, and so many other artists, almost all gazelles. And the same in sculpture: there is a Venus de Milo, but a Venus de Gaston Lachaise is inconceivable.

Reflect now on the causes of obesity. It is very frequent, for example, in black women? Why? Because many of them are poor. If you can’t afford other good things, there is one that you must: food. But food isn’t just for survival; it is also for pleasure. And what food is cheapest? Junk food, which is notoriously fattening. Now what makes poverty a bit more bearable?  Munching away on junk food. Consequence? Obesity.

Obesity, moreover, is comic. The comic is not beautiful. How many comediennes have been slender? A few; but many more have been—are--to put it politely, big. And funny is not sexy either, which is first cousin to beautiful. But funny can actually be obese, which is the reverse of beautiful. So obesity ends up being the opposite of beautiful, i.e., ugly.

Take the word porcine, which applied to a human is hugely insulting. Why? Because pigs are fat. They are, however, far from stupid, and, contrary to popular belief, would as soon not wallow in mud. But swinish, or piglike, i.e., obese, is what an unappealing person is deprecatingly called. Not equine, canine or feline. Porcine, i.e., ugly.

Americans rate very high on the obesity scale. But why are so many Americans flagrantly obese? Can you ride a bus without spotting at least one such? Or, more likely, several. This is because, compared to those in the rest of the world,
America’s poor are less indigent. At any rate, they can afford more candy and other fattening junk food. And don’t forget the proliferation and persuasiveness of American advertising plugging dubious comestibles. Result? Obesity.

Bear in mind the derivation and definition of the word obesity. In Britain, the Oxford English Dictionary points out, the word “obese” was first recorded in 1651; “obesity,” in 1612. They come from the Latin, perhaps via French, the adjective meaning, according to the OED, very fat or fleshy, or exceedingly corpulent; the noun, excessive fatness or corpulence. Note the signified more than mere fatness. Conversely, as rich a language as German, which of course has words for fat and thick, has no word for obese. This surely does not mean that Germans are less obese than Brits, but it does mean that the Anglo-Saxon, and hence also American, sensibility is more offended by vast overweight than that of some other nations. And rightly so.

We hate a walking tub of lard more than some other nationals do. We could be satisfied with fat and thick, with plump and pudgy, chubby and overweight, but no; we also want, for the greatest repulsiveness, the greatest shock, obese. Or is it that we have more fatties, greater unappetizingness (or bigger appetites) than other peoples? “Obese” is a word that exudes stricter disapproval, elicits stronger repulsion than any of those other synonyms or near-synonyms.

It does not help that we now know how unhealthful such superfatness is. Even the similarity in sound to the word “obscene” should give warning. Or the rhyming with “grease.” Or the negativity of most words beginning in “ob”: obscure, obscurantist, obstacle, objectionable, obsolete, obnoxious, obstructionist, perhaps even obligatory, which is at best indeterminate: some obligations are worthy, many restrictive and tedious. An irredeemably damning word then for an irredeemably damnable phenomenon.

Observe also how unwilling “obese” is to join up with something remotely positive as “fat” and “thick” can do, as in “fat and sassy” and “thickskinned,” which in today’s brutal world stands for something rather handy. Obese, however, stands alone and is bad business however you slice it, and, given its adiposity, is very appropriate for slicing.




  1. "One of the worst things a person can be is stupid. Stupidity is one of the greatest conceivable evils."

    Now, that's really stupid.
    It was smart people who've the most harm. Lenin and Hitler were smart. And it wasn't Beavis n Butthead who invented the H-bomb.

    1. The same goes for laziness: lazy people don't push through hyperambitious projects that end up making things worse than they were before. Although I do acknowledge the iron law of history: "Some things get better, some things get worse."

  2. Stupidity can be wise. Beavis spoke more truth with one word than Freud did with all his books.

    1. Wasn't Butthead the brains behind the operation? Beavis was more like a Hermann Goring to Butthead's Hitler. Butthead had the more original ideas while Beavis pretty much followed Butthead's lead. Wasn't it Butthead's idea to peek into the back of the rocking van at the drive-in theater thus glimpsing a view of the two gay lovers? Remember, both lovers had long hair which made the two heroes THINK that it was women but in fact they were men. When they saw the gay guys they still had a good laugh however.
      It was Butthead's idea that Lemmy Kilmister from "Moterhead" was cool just because he had the huge wart on his face. That wasn't Beavis' insight, my friend!

  3. "I don’t recall reading anywhere the weight of Angelina Jolie, widely held to be one of our greatest beauties, with or without breasts. But one thing she certainly, even remotely, is not: she is anything but obese."

    See, this is what I mean. Did you have to point out that she lost her breasts due to fears of breast cancer? That borders on gratuitous cruelty.
    Worse, it's like a snide comment, which is dishonest cruelty.

    And no, no one thinks she's a great beauty. People find her appealing because she has strikingly unique features and a strong personality.

    But she's no Ashley Greene or Audrey Hepburn.

  4. "Funny is not sexy." One exception springs immediately to mind: the luscious Kay Kendall.

  5. I like Simon, I do. His writings on film as art are among the most provocative and true that I know of. But this blog is, as far as I'm concerned, just a waste of time, being a stew of truisms and subjective opinions unuseful for anyone who doesn't already agree with him. Ugliness, like beauty, inhabits the eye of the beholder; there are men (certainly but a tiny percentage of them, but they exist), for whom a fuller-figured woman (not necessarily obese, but not slim) holds greater fascination and appeal than the conventional. I confess I'm among them. I can appreciate both the traditional, slender beauty of classic Hollywood actresses and models, yet am attracted to other types of female figures as well. I always knew Simon couldn't abide fatness, but I'm saddened to read this and be reminded anew that his appreciation is narrower than my own.

    1. Each partner should be the key
      That fits the other partner’s lock—
      Great beauty could be essential,
      Or it could be a superfluous crock—

      For varied are the aspects
      Of a healthy human creature—
      Solicitude, the meeting of needs
      Matter more than fairness of feature.

      In addition, there is an advantage that the big girls have over the small ones -- George Gurley explains:

  6. There are so many subjects, musical, artistic, cinematic, philosophic, and the like, I still want to hear from Simon about before he and I both are gone from the planet, that this entry disappoints me, to say the least. We get it: fat bad/ugly, slim good/beautiful. The culture is telling us that already, Mr. Simon. Please don't wait another month before your next blog post.

    1. Yes, for example, a blog post about this remarkable one hour documentary on the wonderfully human Curaçaoan composer and pianist Wim Statius Muller:

  7. “…[T]he simple truth is that though so much is made of the woman’s beauty in love stories, passion does not require it. Plato’s idea that lovers were originally one person, the two parts having become separated and desiring to be joined, is as good an explanation as any for what cannot in the mind of an outsider ever be convincingly accounted for.” —William Maxwell, form his short novel 'So Long, See You Tomorrow'

  8. If each word served up about obesity were a calorie we'd all be filthy fat. The problem with our various "national conversations" is we get suckered into offering an opinion then berated for offering the incorrect opinion. The only acceptable way to criticize anything nowadays is to call it a healthcare issue, which, thanks to Obamacare, is one-size-fits-all. "You wear that 300 pounds beautifully darling, but do you know how much you are burdening our healthcare system?"

  9. "Americans rate very high on the obesity scale. But why are so many Americans flagrantly obese? "

    It's unfortunate to see Mr. Simon lapse into a bit of a politically correct reflex here. Actually, the world figures on obesity show dozens of countries around the world having a higher incidence of obesity than the U.S.A. This graph, for example, makes the point vividly clear: