Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Good Eats


Like most women, I fret about my appearance. It's a good thing I work at a job where showing up in jeans and a t-shirt is normal and showing up in a button-down shirt counts as getting "dressed up". Otherwise I'd never leave the house.

Oddly, though, since moving here, I've become a helluva lot less neurotic about my appearance. I attribute this to two things: a) Vogue costs too damn much to be anything more than a yearly eye-candy treat (the September issue, of course), and b) the Dutch are a lot less neurotic about being skinny. Some people might say, "Of course they're not as neurotic, because they're all skinny!" but, in fact, they're not. They are probably more healthy than their American counterparts, but they're not all waifs, either.

Which is not to say that women's mags don't abound with diet tips and pictures of pretty ladies. They do. But the pretty women aren't airbrushed pixie sticks, the way they are in the US. I mean, gods above, they have wrinkles, and the Dutch sense of style is many things, but above all not French. Even models on the show "Benelux Top Model" (Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxemburg--cool abbreviation) have more to recommend them than their skinniness. Not much, admittedly, but they're not the wax-faced puppets you see in the States, either.

The book Wasted, besides giving a horrifying account of anorexia and bulimia, also posits a few interesting reasons why food and women are such antithetical ideas in the US, the most damning of them being that women need to be in such total control over themselves that they can't be human--i.e., can't eat. I wouldn't go quite so far, but it is interesting to note that the phenomenom of diets and "you are what you eat" is distinctly American, in the sense that dietary fads in the past two centuries have had an unusually strong presence in the United States. For instance, breakfast cereals--the ultimate anti-masturbatory food, according to Dr. Kellog. The writer Tocqueville attributed the need to improve oneself through food as the only outlet for improvement in an otherwise functionally egalitarian society. Maybe he was onto something--keep in mind he wrote this in the 1800s, and this is certainly the case today. Food in the US is intrinsically linked to moral standards, rather than being merely something to enjoy. If I were feeling more intellectual I might try to make the case that the Dutch, as a whole, are less neurotic in general than Americans, as a whole, but Geert Wilders getting elected last month kind of throws that thesis for a loop.

So you'll just have to take my word for it, that Dutch society as a whole is a lot less neurotic than the American people, as a whole. Part of it is that the Dutch have learned that when you cram 16 million people into a country the size of Maine, the only way to avoid all-out war is to talk reasonably with each other--you can't just pack your bags and ship out to the other side of the country. This has important ramifications for one's sanity. I think, if I were still living in the US, I'd still be obssessively counting calories and thinking about fiber. I've let most of that go. Part of it is that it's so difficult to count calories, Most of it is that I've stopped caring, because nobody else seems to.

BTW: No, that is not our baby. Much as though some people *ahem Mom ahem* would love to know that I am incubating another little humanoid, I'm afraid that that will have to wait.


  1. My impression has always been that the Dutch tend to be thinner than other Western European groups (Scandanavians possibly excepted). I took a look for BMI data, but wasn't able to find much to confirm that guess. Also, the generally tall stature of most Dutch (compared to me) might contribute to my seeing them at a different aspect ratio. I agree with you that it's easy to cross over from trying to stay healthy to trying to stay thin, and that the media tend to blend the two in ways that are bad for kids (and many adults).

  2. It's something about those bicycles, I swear :-)