Saturday, January 23, 2016


Any discussion of obesity comes down to the not particularly friendly contest between thick and thin, with the body as the chief battleground. Mostly the female nude, because that has been the main interest of heterosexual men, the principal arbiters. Women and homosexuals had far fewer votes in the matter of svelte versus corpulent, in art as in life. Thick or thin has been the great divide, as the expression “through thick and thin” encapsulates. Between them, they subsume the world
Let me state right off: I am a partisan of thin in human bodies as well as many other things. But let me make clear: slim, trim, slender, yes; but not spindly, emaciated, frangible, anorexic. It is, I believe, the majority view, excess being, as usual, undesirable. That majority view is exemplified in the history of painting and sculpture, but is the majority always right? Or do you think that intelligence lords it over stupidity, that sagacity outnumbers benightedness?

All right, you say, forget about majority, but what is so attractive about slimness? I suppose it is partly its suggestion of moderation, elasticity, embracableness. Also the practicality, the implication of flexibility, of not hogging too much space. And also gracefulness: how does a somersault by a fat woman compare with that of a slender one? Which one would you rather share a bed with or have plunk down in your lap?

And further: don’t clothes fitting snugly but not constrictingly look better than those stretched to bursting? But where exactly lies the boundary between just right and too much? Is the eighteen-inch waist so striven for by the girls in “Gone with the Wind” the correct ideal or is it exaggeration? Finally, are angels ever depicted as anything but slim, and what man would not cherish an angelic woman?

However, let us look at specific instances of thin versus thick. Even among animals, plants and objects, isn’t slim generally preferable? To be sure, among trees, a sturdy oak is as fetching as a willowy willow, merely in a different way. But that is a case where thickness means dependability in storms, a joy to be climbed up on, a potential for a tree house. In other words, function, even when merely implicit, may unconsciously color our aesthetics.

Consider another example of where thickness may beat out thinness. I am thinking of the beloved ante bellum Negro mammies of the era leading up to the Civil War. Their attraction lay in the capacious bosoms on which a hurt child might find refuge and solace. I am not thinking of the Hottentot Venus.

It may be argued that there were times and societies in which ample females were in favor: think Junoesque, think Rubens. But may it not be merely the consequence of some important personage, say a queen or some powerful aristocrat, having been stout, though she could just as easily have been thin as a rail.

Language, too, may play a role. The notion of “fat cat” seems to have an appeal beyond the mere rhyme—otherwise “bitty kitty” might have been the cat’s meow. But language does have emanations: if “large” did not have some positive connotations, would “largesse” be such a good thing? And does not “portly” carry fortuitous implications of “port,” something we all seek in our tempest-torn lives?

For my part, however, the capital sins are, in that order, wickedness, stupidity, cowardice, and obesity. To me, they are the Four Riders of the Apocalypse. I find relatively few things more painful than sitting on the subway opposite a truly obese person. I would risk an uncomfortably averted head just to avoid having to look at the fatso.

To be sure, there are the charitable souls who speculate that it may be a glandular matter over which the obese person has no control. I tend to think that it is rather a case of laziness: a careful diet and steady exercise are simply too much trouble. Yet even assuming that it is a problem of recalcitrant metabolism, it hardly makes fat acceptable. After all, stupidity is also a guiltless infirmity, yet we do not pardon it.

Now take dogs and cats. Doesn’t obesity in some of them—a belly that hugs the floor—strike us as offensive? Isn’t much of the beauty of leopards and panthers in their lissomness? But then what about elephants, whose bulk we do regard with admiration? There is something proportionate about their structure and a kind of lumbering grace in their movement. And their size itself fills us with awe akin to that with which we view loveliness. As for the whale, we may well want to save it, but not for its obese looks. And dolphins, however intelligent, are downright homely
in their chubbiness.

There are many things in nature that are obese. A melon, for example. But we do not value it for its looks, which it takes a still-life painter to make, conceivably, beautiful.
I personally find a well-made barrel attractive, but it may be only a transference from the good potables it contains. Usefulness may simulate sightlines.

But now take the case of pigs. Full-grown they are obese and unsightly. But piglets, even if you haven’t read “Winnie the Pooh,” may strike you as pretty. And so they are, not merely for their winsome smallness and roseate color. Isn’t a piggybank a pleasing object? There is a shape involved, and the shape is geometrically articulate.

This is the beauty of curves, which we find enticing. It suggests the undulation of a fair-weather sea, the hand-favoring rotundity of a perfectly designed pitcher. But they are beautiful only on a slender person, where they are perceived as such. On an obese person, we see curves only as lard. They function best in conjunction with firmness, say the firm flesh of youth or the perdurability of marble. Which makes a statue such as the ever-young Venus de Milo a paragon of beauty, even without a full complement, or armament, of arms.

And please don’t talk to me about inner beauty being more important than outer.  So it may be, but it is the outer that usually leads the viewer to the inner. It is the pursuit of the outer beauty of youth that lures the aging virago and still cruising homosexual to desperate stratagems that turn them into grotesques. You cannot be young forever, but you can try hard, and more often than not successfully, to eschew obesity.


  1. John,

    We have totally opposite tastes. I was never attracted to slender women and cannot understand their appeal!

    Ever since I was a boy I had an oddly strong predilection to women with wide hips; plump, rounded buttocks; and large, bulbous breasts. I find myself drawn to these features like a moth to a flame. But what I can't figure out is: why? Why do I like this so much? I assume there is an evolutionary explanation, but I'm not quite sure what it is.

    As far as the wide hips, I assume that is related to successful child-bearing and getting the baby's large head through the birth canal. As far as the plump, round butt and large breasts, I assume that is related to a woman's resilience during time of food shortage. But as for the specific reason for why I am attracted to these things, I have narrowed it down to two hypotheses:

    (1) In the past, some males were born with an arbitrary attraction to these features, while some males were not. The ones who had this attraction would mate with women with these features and as a result those men's sons were more likely to survive childbirth, and their mother's were more likely to be able to produce milk for them during food shortages. Thus those sons would tend to survive more often and then they would carry on their father's arbitrary predilection for wide hips, plump butt, and large breasts. These males will begin to dominate the population.

    (2) Women with wide hips were more likely to survive childbirth than women with narrow hips. Women with plump butts and large breasts had more fat reserves than women with flat butts and chests; thus women with those features would survive more often during food shortages. Therefore, women with wide hips, plump butt, and large breasts were overall more hardy than other women. Because they live longer and survive childbirth better, they will be able to give birth to more sons over the course of their lifetime than women lacking their features. Naturally, the sons will have inherited the genes of their father who was attracted to wide hips, plump butt, and large breasts. These males will begin to dominate the population.

    In the first hypothesis, the focus is on the survival of the male babies. In the second hypothesis, the focus is on the survival of the mothers.

    What do you think? Which of these hypotheses do you think is correct? Or if neither, what explanation would you propose?

    1. I'm wondering, are you plump yourself? Don't fat people like to hang out with each other? If so, they would more than likely hook-up with another fat person.
      Any time I'm in Walmart, I see fat people and they're always walking with other fat people. Husband, wife, kids, are all fat. It's like a clan of cave dwellers hunkering down the aisle-way looking this way, looking that way, all of their heads rotating in the same direction at the same time; their grubby, greasy hands will always be touching everything on their way by. This is the reason they put those hand sanitize clothes at the front of the store, so we don't have to touch the same carts that the fat people touch.

  2. From George Gurley's immortal piece of journalism, "My Vagina Monologue":

    I called Dian Hanson, the former editor of ‘Leg Show’ and ‘Juggs’, another woman who’s has seen a lot of women up close.

    “Of course there’s vaginal variation, and probably as much as penile variation,” she said from Los Angeles, where she’s an editor at Taschen books.

    “I think women can pretty smugly go about their lives not worrying about it,” she said. “Because, historically, guys are so happy to be allowed in there that if the walls are a little loose, they’re just going to adjust their thrust and think they have a small penis.”

    She did say that heavy women tend to be tighter.

    “You’re going to see the most cavernous ones on little, tiny, slender women,” she said. “This is where, to the pornographer, these things become apparent: You say to the girl, ‘O.K., bend over, put your chest on the bed and let your butt stick up in the air.’ These little skinny girls? That thing will blow up like a balloon. She gets in that position, her belly drops forward--you can hear the suction. It will open right up.

    “Let’s hear it for the fat girls on this one!” she added.

    1. At the risk of moving this conversation into a weird territory, I haven't found that to be true. Thin women are. . .more squeezable, if you will.

  3. Love the new font, but how about asking your webmeister to add a "Recent comments" column? Then if someone adds a comment to a blogpost from years back, "We the Readers" can get a heads-up and one-click access to it.....

    1. nooch, if you check the "Notify me" box on that conversation you'll get an email notification when someone makes a comment.

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  5. How does John Simon do it after all these years? He’s just as good, if not better, than he was 50-60 years ago! How many writers can say that? John Simon is one of the greatest American writers of the last 75 years. Period. Case closed.
    I have a feeling he’s an excellent poet. I’d love to see some of his poetry (I know he has verse squirreled away somewhere)

    Agree totally. Slim is better. I like a little meat on my women, though. Scarlett Johansson is my perfect woman; thin with a little extra meat in all the right places.

    Who would you rather have?

    Thin Marlon Brando (Streetcar Named Desire)
    Fat Marlon Brando (Apocalypse Now)

    Ralph Kramden (fat, cantankerous, wife beater)
    Ed Norton (thin, funny, wears plain white T-shirts)

    ‘Cheers’ Kirstie Alley (sexy, knockout, funny)
    Nowadays Kirstie Alley (fat, sexy, knockout, funny)

    Politician John Kennedy (thin, sexy, great leader)
    Politician Chris Christie (fat, gross, binge eater)

    ‘Citizen Kane’ Orson Welles (thin, genius, a little creepy)
    ‘Touch of Evil’ Orson Welles (fat, genius, EXTREMELY creepy)

    1. Speaking of Orson, get if you haven't already 'My Lunches with Orson: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles'. So many quotable lines, such as 'Anyone who wears white socks after 5 PM deserves whatever he gets' -- or something like that....

    2. I love books about the movies. I have hundreds of them. I don't have that one, though (I'll get it). Of course, Simon's are my favorite. One of my other favorites is 'Hitchcock and Truffaut'.

    3. Another great exchange is when Jaglom mentions a name and Welles says, "I don't like him." Jaglom asks why, and Welles says, "There's no reason, I just don't like him. Why do I need a reason?" Welles also says that right-wingers, despite their crazy politics, make for more loyal friends than lefties do. I'm tellin' ya, this book is fantastic, you'll tear through it in a day....

    4. Just ordered it from Amazon. Be here in 10 days. 3.19 used. he-he!

    5. Another great site to order books is -- they have a copy of 'My Lunches with Orson' for $3.48, including shipping!

    6. Damn, I could have saved 29 cents!

  6. If memory serves, this is the second entry Mr. Simon has written, since he began this blog, devoted to the topic of obesity. It seems rather a weird obsession of his. More power to him for having his preferences, and passionately held ones, but do we need to hear from him twice, and at length, on the same subject, and obesity the subject at that? For my money, we don't.

    1. Obesity is a large topic (he-he!). One could easily do 15-20 essays on it---to cover the entire girth of the subject.
      The obesity issue is meaty indeed. It effects everyone. It's a theme that requires fleshing out. The worst part is the name calling."Fat-ass, Butterball, Lard-ass, Blimp-butt, Blubber-butt" The list goes on and on.

    2. The subject of physical appearance is near and dear to his heart -- and he's not getting paid to write here, so he should focus on what excites him...

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  8. John , I would suggest you put aside your famous elitism and You Tube the song Fat Man by Jethro Tull

    1. Good song. Here it is:

  9. Here's a fascinating blog I just stumbled over, about Alpha-males, beta-males, and the continuing crisis of sexual relations -- it doesn't have much to do with obesity, but is fascinating nonetheless:

  10. What is obesity? I want to know about this procedure and much more.

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