August 25, 2005

Why the fixation on abdomens?

I've got two fashion posts today, so let me go with a third, which is already bulging out in the comments to the shorts post. Haven't we seen enough of the female midsection for a while? The look-at-my-abs style has lasted way longer than was ever justified. I understand a fixation on breasts or legs, by why are we going on for years and years looking at ladies' tummies? It's rather strange, isn't it?

IN THE COMMENTS: More discussion of Barbara Eden than you might have predicted. I'm thinking there are a lot of boomerish men out there who have Jeannie deeply imprinted on their brains.

30 comments:

Tom said...

I, too, have been wondering a lot recently when exactly paunches became the latest fashion accessory for women.

Nick said...

I suppose that depends on the relative attractiveness of said tummy. I'm sure most would agree that a flabby one sticking out isn't the most attractive one to look at... but then again... that can be said for most visible body parts.

Eddie said...

I certainly like them. I guess this is mostly because good abs are very hard to get. I certainly don't have the best abs in the world!

Jeff said...

Unlike hair or breasts, a lean abdomen is hard to fake.

It is a siren call of healthy nubility.

Jack said...

Exposing the midriff by women here in Europe (well, France anyway), including the hips and back, is still very popular.

Fortunately for me, the number of trip, attractive midriffs is still very high relative tot he flabby ones here.

Pancho said...

I agree with the proprietor, let's get fashion back where it belongs, focused on the chest.

Ann Althouse said...

See, you're bringing out the point. An abdomen, to be bared attractively, must be in great shape. So the fashion sets up a big competition and takes a hell of a lot of work (or bad judgment) to participate in. So, okay, for a while. But is that what people want? To inspect the health of every stray woman who walks by, with few meeting the standard? If the focus is on breasts or legs, many more women will have something good to offer. Leg and breast-focused fashions yield more beauty!

Meade said...

Blame her.

Hey said...

You can't fake abs.

Yoga pants are also hot right now, combined with tight yoga shirts that are cut short. If you can wear that, it doesn't matter how big your breasts are. If you can't, it doesn't matter either.

So 3 cheers for abs. Backless is also nice, and can be dressed up for formal occasions too. Big fan, as long as its classy.

Ann Althouse said...

Can we stop using the word "midriff" to refer to the lower abdomen?

XWL said...

I don't think displaying paunch was the original intention, rather displaying youthfulness and rippling fitness (a la early Britney Spears) was the original intent.

No woman who wasn't over 18, under 25 and (notice, not or) incredibly fit should have ever attempted this style, and even then that style always connoted more stripper/hooker than schoolgirl/cheerleader.

Just as the Dolce & Gabana ultra low rise jeans for men (currently a hot topic) scream prostitute and are only suitable for the very fit, young and willing to be judged/used for their sexuality, the expanses of exposed belly was/is a massive mistake.

I suspect too that there is a class component to the equation though it is hard to suss out, cause currently being extremely trim and fit is a marker of high status (shows the means and time to devote to excellent diet and exercise, while flab is now associated with fast-food, TV viewing and poverty) but the willingness to display that toned flesh will always have a connotation of trashiness (even when the flesh being bared is of an heiress, reminds me of driving on Robertson and seeing what looked like a sickly transvestite hooker, but no just Paris).

The fact that so many women were/are untroubled by displaying less than perfect physiques (look no farther than the Dove firming cream ad campaign) could be viewed as empowering or just plain misguided.

I fall on the misguided side, and when it comes to allure, the suggestion of what might be underneath, rather than the brazen display of flesh, has always garnered my attention (while expanses of flesh at inappropriate settings just garner my embarrassment).

Ann Althouse said...

lmeade: It's fascinating that Barbara Eden's abdomen, which must have been considered perfect at the time of "I Dream of Jeannie," do not meet today's standards! She would need to spend a lot of time with a personal trainer before she could wear today's styles.

Meade said...

Ann: As someone who was a boy just reaching puberty when "I Dream of Jeannie" premiered, I'd have to say, yes, Jeannie's belly was perfectly...um...considered.

This style will fade but as a personal trainer I know that regularly spending a moderate amount of time strengthening and conditioning one's abdominal muscles yields myriad health benefits for women and men. Pilates, for instance, is not a crazy fad -- every human activity is enhanced by developing and keeping a strong "core." Fundamental strength, flexibility and health tend to be attractive.

XWL said...

Now that the subject is Barbara Eden I seem to remember a snippet from an interview with Sidney Sheldon (probably an E! True Hollywood Story, and yes I'm a loser) where he said part of why they cast her as Jeanie was that she has an unusually low belly button (and not necessarily the most perfect body) and network standards and practices wouldn't allow an exposed belly button (too obscene afterall, and the picture previously linked was from a much later costume, not one from the original run of the series, also, hard to fathom things like that were still an issue while all those dirty hippies were already running around) so they chose a woman with whom they could show the most flesh while still meeting the requirements of the decency police.

And speaking of decency police and exposed flesh, how is it that no woman has successfully sued a public beach into allowing her to go as topless as the men (it would seem to be an equal protection issue, but maybe not, and I remember in the mid 70s parts of Venice Beach had become defacto topless optional due to lax enforcement).

Smilin' Jack said...

But is that what people want? To inspect the health of every stray woman who walks by, with few meeting the standard?

Yes--sigh--that is the burden we men must bear. But would you really want it otherwise? If we lower our standards, we deprive women of an important incentive to stay fit and healthy. Only a misogynist would do that.

Ron said...

LeRoy: I can just imagine the ad in the trades for that Jeannie part: "Must have low belly button."

ROFL

Ann Althouse said...

Re health inspection: all this Spartan emphasis on health and athleticism — when did that become sexy? Marilyn Monroe would fail!

Simon Kenton said...

No one has mentioned the loathesome 'muffin top,' when you wear pants so tight and so low that a pasty roll of flesh wells over the top, as the dough from a baking muffin. I spent an amused session with two little girls in a restaurant, supressing our glee as we went on periodic muffin-top alert.

Meade said...

Lighter weights, higher reps - atta girl, Norma Jean! One more? Perfect form... now go for the burn! Sturdy flexible muscles with just enough subcutaneous adipose softness... what could be more physically beautifully feminine?

Way to earn that premium milk chocolate bar! Now let's do our squats and crunches before stretching. Feelin' good? Lookin' great!

EddieP said...

Breasts, legs, and butts, mmmmmm! Don't forget hair! I never did see the interest in Barbara Eden's tummy. She had a the best pair of legs since Betty Grable.

Good abs are OK, but there is so much more to feast on before one gets there.

Never having seen much of the rest of her, when I think of Ann, my first thought is "What magnificent hair!"

Slocum said...

Living in a college town we probably see more than our share of that. I don't have a strong opinion either way, but it is surprising that a lot of college age women wear that style without caring that it makes them look dumpy. Bellies hang out, love handles bulge over tight, low waistbands. Or don't they realize they look bad? Or do college guys of 2005 think this looks hot? And the thing is, these women, being 20 or so, aren't really fat--in almost anything else they'd probably look really good. Mystifying.

Ann Althouse said...

Slocum: Maybe the idea is to express a kind of freedom and love of one's own body, which could translate, for some viewers, into a message of great sex. That toned abs girl, on the other hand, has to be quite austere and rigorous with herself. Who should you infer is the better lover?

Slocum said...

Maybe the idea is to express a kind of freedom and love of one's own body, which could translate, for some viewers, into a message of great sex. That toned abs girl, on the other hand, has to be quite austere and rigorous with herself. Who should you infer is the better lover?

I don't think the toned abs girls are generally rigorous, just young and fortunate. I have a teenage daughter. She doesn't get a lot of exercize, eats quite a bit of junk (despite our best efforts), and still has a flat tummy and no trouble carrying off midriff-baring clothes without unsightly bulges. Same with some (but not all) of her friends.

Crank said...

It's all about the obsession with youth, and the same goes for the 'abs' craze with men. If you look for women with big breasts and men with bulging biceps, your average 30-35-year-old will have a fighting chance, if not a decided advantage over teenagers. Whereas if the standard is washboard abs, suddenly there's no substitute for being 19, or 17 for that matter.

Slocum said...

Maybe the idea is to express a kind of freedom and love of one's own body, which could translate, for some viewers, into a message of great sex.

Of course, I should have said, "You mean like men in shorts?" ;)

Ann Althouse said...

I think the more masculine man is attracted to real women, not teenagers. And that man is wearing pants.

Meade said...

Well, Ann, speaking of brain imprints - for this boomerish man, it all started with Annette and her friends. Of course, that was when I was a young boy still in short pants but drinking my breakfast from a glass, no longer from a bottle. Annette wore her bikini slightly too high but sometimes let it slip a bit. Heaven!

Jeannie fulfilled the promise of Annette. Exposed pierced bellybuttons on any paunch simply fill the void of good taste.

Beldar said...

Think Darwinian and male reptilian hindbrain: "Look at those jutting hipbones. There's no baby already there."

Ann Althouse said...

Beldar: Actually, this is NOT good Darwinian analysis. A very thin woman is less fertile. Many extra thin women stop having menstrual periods. And in the natural state, someone in that condition would face death at the next famine. Primitive man did not exalt the thin woman. All the early fertility figures are fat. Often absurdly fat by our standards. Thinness as the standard of beauty only emerged in a world that conquered famine. It is not an instinctive reaction.

Ron said...

Ann: aren't a lot of activities that we now view as 'healthful' viewed considerably differently in the recent past? In the era just before Jack Lalane, a man who worked out with weights too much was viewed as homosexual! 'Real men' didn't want to pump iron!

Someone riding a bicycle in a '30's or 40's film (if not a European) is viewed as infantile, not health conscious.

This transition would be the good subject of a book.