Beauty Theory

Womansize: The Tyranny of Slenderness

Womansize: The Tyranny
of Slenderness
Kim CherninThe Women’s Press1981

In this challenging book, Kim Chernin argues that our society’s increasing demand that women should be thin is no accident of fashion but has a political meaning. It is, she insists, an unrecognised aspect of male violence against women; it has to do with the male-imposed image of the child-woman, and the threat to male culture that a mature woman, and a mature woman’s body, represent.

When we starve ourselves, she reflects, or stuff ourselves with food, we reverse problem and solution: we need to understand not only that dieting may be dangerous to our health, but that it may also represent giving up on the attempt to change the patriarchy which denies us the right to grow.

Kim Chernin quietly and thoroughly undermines – one hopes forever – the popular, widely endured tyranny of “thinness” over women’s bodies and souls. To read her is to experience an immediate and distinct feeling of liberation.

Alice Walker

Table of Contents

The Hunger Song by Kim Chernin

Chapter 1: Confessions of an Eater
Chapter 2: The Flesh and the Devil
Chapter 3: The Skeptic
Chapter 4: The Hunger Artist
Chapter 5: The Oldest Cultural Issue
Chapter 6: Sisters
Chapter 7: The Matriarch
Chapter 8: The Boutique
Chapter 9: Why Now?
Chapter 10: Man and Wife
Chapter 11: Clues
Chapter 12: The Primordial Female
Chapter 13: Boy and Girl
Chapter 14: The Mysterious Case of Ellen West: For Ellen West, Mental Patient and Suicide by Adrienne Rich
Chapter 15: The Obsession
Chapter 16: Alma, the Soul

When we attempt to determine the size and shape of a woman’s body, instructing it to avoid its largeness and softness and roundness and girth, we are driven by the desire to expunge the memory of the primordial mother who ruled over our childhood with her inscrutable power over life and death. And we are driven by the longing to erase the past when we decide to impose our will over a woman’s body, inventing an ideal slenderness that will spare us a confrontation with whatever reminds us of the helplessness of our infancy. Above all, in an age when woman asserts her right to autonomy and power, we may be driven to evolve a cultural ideal that will release us from the dangers of remembering.

Kim Chernin / Womansize / page 143