This week, Sean Macaulay at the Daily Beast penned an ode to the "power paunch," which he describes as "the most exquisite of all male accessories."
There's fat, and there's fat. In the male hierarchy of overweightness that runs upward from baby fat to morbid obesity, the paunch is the glorious exception. Why? Because it's deliberate. It doesn't come from neglect or shame or dietary ignorance. It comes from self-adoring devil-may-care confidence.
So if fat on men is a sign of power, why is fat on women a sign of the absolute opposite? Even when a large woman carries herself with that "devil-may-care confidence," what's the likelihood someone will describe her as "powerful?"
Very low, I think.
Overweight and obese Americans (of all genders) face serious discrimination in employment and education. A worrying new study found that doctors were more empathetic to their normal-weight patients, and weight has a serious effect on individuals' self-confidence.
But when you look at who is being vilified in the media for their weight, it's much more often women. Female celebrities from Kim Kardashian to Jessica Simpson to Melissa McCarthy to Carla Bruni have been fat-shamed in the press.
I have yet to see anyone claim that a woman gaining weight is a sign of her power. Even content intended to combat fat-shaming -- stories and blogs promoting fat acceptance, self-love, and health at any size -- rarely discusses weight as being a source or sign of a woman's success. Or confidence. Or status. Weight is something women come to terms with, not something they are encouraged to wear with any pride.
How many men actually think of their extra belly fat as proof that they're ballers? Who knows. But the possibility that they could is a reminder of how differently men and women are still socialized to think about their bodies. Men are raised to assume their bodies are okay, and not connected to what they have to offer the world. Women are taught something very different. This is a culture in which people stare at fat women in public, one that holds young girls to impossible beauty standards. The message: having a body is never easy, never okay. Basic acceptance depends on your appearance, and being attractive is, at least until childbirth, the female body's main job. As RuPaul put it, "Girl, you better work."
What would it be like if women's bodies could signal something other than sex appeal, or lack thereof? I hope we'll get to find out.