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Real Women Have Curves - The Life and Thoughts of Zach

Oct. 20th, 2003

11:46 pm - Real Women Have Curves

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Last night my parents and I were watching the movie of Monterey Pop. The smaller west coast hippie music festival that predated Woodstock. Apparently the movie came out before Woodstock and was the first widely seen movie featuring "hippie culture". According to my dad, all the poser fashion hippies that went to Woodstock basically learned "how to be a hippie" from Monterey Pop. I'm always very interested in the roles played by media (independent and mainstream) in forming the overlapping countercultures of the '60s. Even in that near-rebelious time...perhaps the largest growth of the movement stemmed from media (movies about music festivals) and culture (music festivals) rather than from protest (but of course the culture and politics of the movement were deeply intertwined and mutually supporting).

I thought it was cute that the small west coast hippie fest had a humbly decorated stage with big sheets of flowing cloth. The giant east coast hippie fest had a big barebones utilitarian stage of unadorned plywood and scaffolding.

Ravi Shankar's performance was as always mezmerizing. I've gotta get more of that shit in my life.

Anyway, none of this is the point of my post. The point of my post is that Mama Cass, the lead singer from the Mamas and the Papas, who has an awesome voice, is a big woman. That in and of itself is mostly unremarkable: she has a beautiful voice and seemed perfectly healthy. Of course she would be on that stage with that band.

But then I started thinking about it and I realized that I can not think of a SINGLE even slightly popular contemporary female singer that could be classified as anything other than "skinny". Not a single one. What is with that? How is it that there are more women in music but they've ALL gotten skinnier? I can easily name a dozen popular male singers who are large. We all know about the horrible body type norm illusions perpetuated by marketting images and magazine covers and mainstream pornography and television and hollywood and the fashion industry and the local TV news and the diet industry and the cosmetic surgery industry and and and but are we aware that it is even happening on the semi-popular folk music and indie rock stages? That makes me so sad.

So then tonight we happened to rent Real Women Have Curves. That movie rocked. So now I'm even more obsessed about this topic.

I wish I was a girl so that I could say something like "Fat Chicks are Hot" and have it sound as rebelious and empowering as I want it to. Instead, because I'm a boy this whole post sounds very uneasily worded to me. I'm such a poor excuse for a male feminist.

Comments:

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From:spillshercoffee
Date:October 20th, 2003 11:26 pm (UTC)

incoherent rant and babble in response

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First, I adore Mama Cass.

Second, the problem with saying "Fat Chicks Are Hot", is that the statement already includes the rather socially negative connotation allowed to the word "Fat". Unless we can reroute popular usage to a meaning such as "being rich with" or "abundant", I think that "fat" just begs for a more adverse effect when it falls on the ear of modern populace.

I know there are those out there who use "fat" with pride and joy. And I applaud them. I wish I had half their self confidence and esteem.

But you're right. It's frightful how gaunt the women in the media have become, and continue to maintain this level of "beauty".

Oh, but there IS Queen Latifah. By no means a small woman. But even she has been shedding the pounds rapidly as of late. There are some health risks involved with weight, but at both ends of the spectrum.

I'd just be happy to see some NORMAL women in the media.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 20th, 2003 11:55 pm (UTC)

Re: incoherent rant and babble in response

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Oh I know "fat" has plenty of bad connotations which is exactly why I didn't use the word at all in my post except in my final paragraph.

Women can say it because it is usually obvious that they are reclaiming the word rather than falling back on it's negative connotations. Men can't do that because it isn't obvious, it is dangerous and possibly hurtful. I really like the whole idea of changing culture through positive usage of negative language (reclaiming) and I just wish I could help with that process. I just wanna be a grrl, is that so wrong?

The thing is, the "standard" media look for women is SO FAR skewed towards skinny that "normal" women are considered "fat" by comparision which is OUTRAGEOUS. I mean have you ever met a woman who doesn't spend time thinking/worrying that she is fat? So, used as a freeing rebelious battle cry "fat chicks are hot" can apply to EVERY woman, it's about attitude, it's about deciding to just not give a shit what the cover of the magazine says because that shit is bullshit. I like that attitude, but it is a movement that I, as a boy feminist, can not be a part of.

We did note in our discussion last night that there are notable exceptions to this trend in the Black community, though most of them are historical rather than contemporary. However, I fear that this is simply because the media juggernaught of skinniness has for some reason made it's impact on some of the Black cultural norms of beauty more slowly (which is to say, it may be getting worse rather than better in that community too).

Now it seems to be getting better in some isolated pockets of some media (though whether this is some demographic being thrown a bone by the media or a real change of cultural ideals is suspect). I mean there is an awareness of it. There are a number of non-skinny women who are celebrities and celebrated by women as the vanguard of the end of the reign of skinniness. It just happens that few or none of them are popular singers.

On the subject of body image, I thought Chia's post on the subject was awesome.
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From:domystic
Date:October 21st, 2003 04:43 am (UTC)
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fat chicks ARE hot. this is the literal truth. girls need to know that most of us out here prefer the butt you can grab with both hands; prefer the belly you can roll your face in; love the boobs beyond all reason. the only way they can know that is if we all TELL our lovers, i love love love your luscious luscious luscious body. this must be said out loud on a daily basis, as a simple matter of public health.

boys need to hear it too. little boys in particular need to know not only that they are smart or funny, but that they are beautiful too.

my final directive: quit angsting about whether or not it's okay for a man to say "fat chick". it's unseemly. do you bite your nails about whether to say "black" or "african american"? you do not. as you know, it's what happens before and after the choice of terminology that matters.

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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 21st, 2003 10:37 am (UTC)
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Heh. Thank you.
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From:juvenilia
Date:October 21st, 2003 06:50 am (UTC)
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there is a part in monterey pop when there is a cute little waif-like girl setting up chairs and she's talking to the camera and says, "yeah, we just got in this morning from champaign, IL."

did you catch it?
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 21st, 2003 10:37 am (UTC)
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Hell yes! I actually wondered out loud at that point whether she still lives in town. I'm sure she was just here for college and left like everyone else though.

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From:goytoy
Date:October 21st, 2003 06:53 am (UTC)
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I was going to mention Aretha Franklin, Queen Latifah, Missy Elliott, but someone else already made a good point about Black culture.

I was thinking about something similar the other day while watching Identity – John Cusack is getting to be a little seedy, but he still does it for me. But I doubt a female actress who was that age and had not maintained herself as ultra-buff would get those kind of leading roles. Of course, it is odder in music because we are generally listening, not watching. I wonder if MTV had anything to do w/ this?

But while I think the typical starlet is definitely thinner than the typical woman, I also think that most men want women who are more thin than heavy. Not necessarily a toothpick (though some guys do like those, just as some guys like really big women) but fit and trim. And most women want guys who are the same.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 21st, 2003 10:46 am (UTC)
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See, I don't know about "most men" and "most women" (I strongly smell a media myth when I hear those phrases) but for _me_ this just isn't true. YES I am more attracted to _healthy_ people, but healthiness has little to do with muscularity or weight.

I think a conversation that I had in Oregon with my friends there about breast size is equally relevent to the whole body. I find myself attracted to smaller because I look and I say "wow! small. that's interestingly different!", I find myself attracted to larger because I look and I say "wow! large. that's interestingly different!" and I find myself attracted to somewhere in the middle because I look and I say "wow! medium. that's a wonderful balance between two interestingly different ends of the spectrum".

There are a number of women I know who society deems non-skinny that I find INCREDIBLY sexy. And it isn't _despite_ their body shape.

Looking around the world, I think that if "most" people want "fit and trim" partners that "many" people are going to be disappointed. Given that "many" people find themselves in happy relationships with partners they are attracted to, I'm guessing that the standards are much more relaxed than our media and training would have us believe.

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From:swank76
Date:October 21st, 2003 08:55 am (UTC)
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There are a number of very active political groups, support groups and websites for BBWs (Big Beautiful Women). Some are funny (http://www.cafeshops.com/hapygrl) and there are many great resources at places like www.everythingbbw.com. There was a great fashion mag called Mode put out a few years ago, but it was wiped out in the 9/11 aftermath.
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From:herbivorous
Date:October 21st, 2003 01:05 pm (UTC)
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I gotta say, while I support the general idea, that I really dislike the whole "Big Beautiful Woman" phrase, for two reasons:

One, how about just "beautiful woman"? You don't hear people saying "Thin Beautiful Woman", they just say "beautiful woman".

Two, it's often code for men who are termed "chubby chasers", that is, men who have either a prediliction for fat girls OR guys who have made it into a fetish. The first, if it's just a preference, doesn't especially bug me TOO much, but I find the second to be extremely icky. I don't want to be a fetish object to ANYBODY, thankyouverymuch, as I prefer to have relationships based on less superficial things.

But even if it's just a preference--why on earth would you just focus on one type of women? I find all SORTS of men to be sexy--big men, little men, skinny men, buff men, black men, Asian men, white men, etc. I've dated guys that could pass for "Viking" and am currently involved with a skinny little goth boy who is about 1" taller than I.

So I would feel a tad confused, if not downright uncomfortable, with somebody that had a very restricted idea of what "sexy" is, even if that idea of "sexy" makes me look good in their eyes.

I also get kind of snarly when I realize that some people are so f**ked over by this sort of nonsense that then need a SUPPORT GROUP to deal with their daily lives. Geez, folks, do we really need to support a culture in which people are so damaged just for being on the heavy side that they've gotta join a support group? Sheesh.
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From:swank76
Date:October 21st, 2003 09:04 am (UTC)
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As for the movie itself, I loved it. I thought it was a great piece of work. It's hard to find a film with a great message that's subtle. Usually get crap like the films made from that guy who was Mork From Ork, Patch Adams and what-not. All the subtlety of a hammer to the scrotum.

As always, I blame whitey.
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From:culfinglin
Date:October 21st, 2003 09:36 am (UTC)
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definitely, more positive feedback from the men around us would be helpful. it's extremely difficult to believe you're beautiful if you're a large woman, because nearly everything you hear and get told about your body is negative. if no one's even smiling at you nicely, how can you believe you're decent-looking, much less attractive to someone else?

all that junk about self-love and positive body image coming from the inside doesn't cut it when you've got to overcome years (or in some cases decades or a lifetime) of being disapproved of by the society you live in. you end up with no building blocks to construct a good self-image. NONE.

so men, throw us a brick or two, huh? ;)
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From:swank76
Date:October 21st, 2003 09:55 am (UTC)
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An excellent point. Women, regardless of body type often lack truly positive feedback or images from society at large and men in particular.

Dennis Miller once described women's magazines as a no-win, mind-fuck parrallel universe where every article is about changing everything about yourself, but also how it's important to love yourself just the way you are. In some ways, that can be true. I read my wife's magazines and even the tame ones are unbelievably bizarre at times.

On another note. This reminds me of a joke in the Cuban-American community.

What are the 3 best things about being Cuban in America? Big Fat Steaks, Big Fat Cigars, Big Fat Women.

A bit crass, but it illustrates that some cultures DO find big women attractive.
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From:corvus
Date:October 21st, 2003 11:11 am (UTC)
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The Monterey Pop three disk set is fucking amazing. Seek it out. If you can't find it or don't feel like paying the $30 or whatever, let me know and I'll burn or dub you a copy.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 21st, 2003 11:31 am (UTC)
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That is what we were watching. Didn't get to the two extra discs yet.
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From:herbivorous
Date:October 21st, 2003 01:09 pm (UTC)
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p.s. zach, stop saying things like "I'm such a poor excuse for a male feminist"

bull-friggin-shit.

You bother to think about these things and attempt to do so with intelligence, compassion, and a genuine desire to see things get *better*. This makes you about ten zillion times better than the average lad because you are actually making an attempt, from the heart.

To my eyes, that makes you a pretty damn good "male feminist", period.

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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 21st, 2003 02:10 pm (UTC)
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Yah yah I know. Just enumerating my hangups, not being entirely serious about that.
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From:aces219
Date:October 21st, 2003 01:40 pm (UTC)

you bet we do

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I think the best thing men can do is tell the women in their lives (significant other or not, though you might want to skip the coworkers unless you're really close) that they are attractive. Yes, it's silly that we don't all have amazing confidence from the get-go, but what someone said about overcoming years of societal ickiness is true. When someone first started telling me that he thought I was beautiful among other things (you know who you are, and years later I still appreciate it) it took a little while to get used to, but it definitely carried into my interactions with other people. Even now, when I'm riding the El to work, I'm finally able to think to myself "that guy is staring at my face because he thinks I'm pretty" not "oh, they must think I'm such a fatass". The latter may be somewhat true, but if it's not in my consciousness on a daily basis that's something. Overall I think we could all spend more time building each other up. After all, who doesn't want to hear nice things about themselves?

I still need to see "Real Women Have Curves". I think my mom said she taped it and wants to watch it together.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 21st, 2003 02:09 pm (UTC)

Re: you bet we do

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See it on DVD if you can, the soundtrack is excellent.

Anyway, I'm pretty self-conscious about telling anyone that I think they are attractive (or even the less suggestive "pretty") because (as discussed elsewhere in my LJ) I fear having it be perceived that I am "just saying that" because either I'm hitting on them or something. There are SO MANY people that I find to be awfully pretty, it'd get kind of cliche and meaningless if I started telling them all so.
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From:swank76
Date:October 21st, 2003 04:07 pm (UTC)
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On a note unrelated to the current discussion of size and acceptance, your comment on the fashion hippies further serves to confuse and frighten me regarding hippies. My folks grew up in the 60's but working class South Side Mexicans did NOT become hippies. There was more Motown and Atlantic Records soul than anything else.

Hippies. Argh!
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 21st, 2003 04:27 pm (UTC)
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Is it really a surprise that the majority of so-called "hippies" were just in it for the drugs and sex and being part of the "in-crowd"?

Most of the folks who were really a part of changing social attitudes or of the political movements did NOT call themselves hippies.

I think nowadays when some people call themselves hippies it is EITHER because (like me) they're sarcasticly pidgeonholing themselves (as if I were to call myself a "dirty commie rat") OR they are part of the modern day equivalent in terms of fashion and cliquishness (pot smoking, Phish following, etc).

Just like with Punk culture today, you could spend hundreds of dollars on your "hippie outfit" in the 60s. What started out as a bohemian look neccessitated by a rebeliously impoverished lifestyle became a "fashion" accessible only to the cool kids with money from their parents. Lots of the kids who formed communes or spent all their time following the dead or going to woodstock type festivals were being bankrolled by their rich parents.

Folks like my parents who actually faced economic hardship and had to hold real jobs didn't call themselves hippies. They lived in big group houses where everyone chipped in to do the work but those weren't called co-ops or communes. They hitchhiked all over the southwest but that was just a fun vacation, not some kind of special spiritual journey. They liked the same music as a lot of "hippies" but their musical tastes continued to change and grow over time and they didn't buy into the commercialized popularized homogenized crap that passed as "hippie music" in the early seventies. They never put flowers in their hair. They both opposed the war but not as a lifestyle.

So everyone tells me that I have these great "hippie parents" and I'm just like "ehn, hippie, whatever. I have great parents."

And none of this is to say that BEAUTIFUL ideas and wonderful movements didn't come out of the 60s. But, there's a reason that little utopia in the making didn't last and so many of the posers ended up becoming the materialistic yuppie bosses of our generation. They ran out of allowance money and went out and "grew up" into the mainstream culture.

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From:kateorama
Date:October 21st, 2003 05:44 pm (UTC)

monterey pop, real women

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I *love* _Monterey Pop_! I saw it for the first time at home in CT, probably in the late '80's; was up late and it was on TV. It was one of the movies that convinced me I was born in the wrong decade (something I no longer believe, really)... should've been there, dammit! Is it that one or "Festival at Big Sur"(?) that has the hot tub full of musicians like CSNY & Janis Joplin?

I call myself a hippie, or sometimes a "latter-day hippie," because I share some of the values that are said to have been a part of that cultural movement -- and that are, in fact, part of its still-growing offshoots in places like Eugene. And it is meant a little ironically, but it also helps give people some idea of how to place me politically. As for the hippie fashion thing, well, whatever. My tie-dyes are wearing out, I need to make new ones. :)

----

As for "fat chicks are hot," well, I try to use "fat" to describe people when they are fat, just to avoid using euphemisms -- because I think using the euphemism implies agreement that "fat is bad." It's a physical description like any other; possibly helpful for good story-telling (so people can imagine what you're talking about), and for locating people in a crowd ("next to the skinny/fat lady in blue"). Red hair, dark brown skin, looks Asian, blue shirt, fat body, long legs... they *could* just be physical, value-free descriptions if we let them.

In terms of my own body image, my beliefs (that I'm "somewhat fat") don't match with the opinions of many progressive friends ("you? fat? no way!") or some heavily mainstream acquaintances (e.g., Charley's mom, who won't say the word "fat" but has made it clear that she thinks I am (She is wonderful in most other ways, thank goodness, and I'm training her to have better boundaries with me on this issue)).

And yes, it has always helped to get positive feedback from people about my body, just the way it is. At my age, I know who's saying it because they mean it and who's "just saying that." Also gratifying is finding clothing that not only fits my bigger parts, but is tailored for a body like mine. The woman who made Charley's and my wedding clothes suggested I should get a catalog targeted to black women, because "you have a waist AND (big) hips." Lots of "fat woman" clothes assume that over-size-14="colossal woman", so everything is huge, from leg-length to belly-size to "rise" (i.e., the waist of the slacks goes up to my boobs).
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 21st, 2003 06:55 pm (UTC)

Re: monterey pop, real women

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No hot tub in this one.

I should host a 60s music festival movie fest.

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From:boannan
Date:October 21st, 2003 10:45 pm (UTC)
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I think that one thing that's always been helpful for me in dealing with the whole "Fat Chicks are Hot" issue is that the Women's Studies stuff I did in college introduced me to the idea that bigger women could be healthy and beautiful, and also to the movement that treats being fat as a political statement (witness magazines like "Fat! So?"). So I got to see the other extreme of perspectives on weighing more than the social norm -- not only is it OK, it's a way to be politically radical.

From what I hear, the culture difference thing is key. It totally does not matter in the salsa club (as far as I've seen) if you're what mainstream culture would consider fat (in fact, it's better to have something to shake!) A friend of mine who spent some time in Ecuador was just telling me that her boyfriend there used to call her "gordita" (which I guess means big girl) but it was a _good_ thing, a definite compliment. Almost all the women who've traveled outside the US who I've talked to say one of the best ways for women to get over a weight hang-up is to head to some countries where "women who look like real women who could actually give birth to a baby" are appreciated!
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From:stuffedsheep29
Date:October 22nd, 2003 07:09 am (UTC)
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No longer able to resist bandwagon...must comment...

In my opinion, the underlying problem of attractiveness has nothing with physical appearance or body image. Yes, people like to look at things that are beautiful. But that doesn't mean that they *like* things that are beautiful. On the reverse side, just because someone believes that they are not beautiful, well it doesn't mean that they are not so in another's eyes.

The war cry of "fat chicks are hot" doesn't do any good because it's what's inside that should be hot! As a culture we need to move past any kind of judgment based on appearance. That just makes an ass out of you and umption.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 22nd, 2003 08:54 am (UTC)
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Yah, I guess the underlying meaning of the wa r cry to me is more like "fat chicks [can be] hot[, too]!" but that's just so much less war cry-like. :)

I can't believe how many awesome comments everyone is posting here. This is great.

You are of course absolutely right. All this talk of physical appearance is indeed very shallow. It isn't something that I personally spend a lot of time worrying about wrt who I find attractive. However, it is something that our culture assumes is important which is why I made the initial observation about cultural trends in the appearance of musicians. It was a narrow point that has blossomed into a broad (and great) conversation.


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