December 4, 2022

Impeachment, Spencer, and Katie Couric rethink ’90s weight loss plan tradition

In 2021, America’s long-building fascination with revisiting the lives of scorned ladies of the Nineteen Nineties and 2000s went completely mainstream. Collectively, the media class and inhabitants of Twitter watched viral documentaries about Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, and Brittany Murphy; we unearthed outdated Us Weekly upskirt photospreads and stared queasily on the outcomes. Our tradition is absorbed proper now within the ladies whose lives obsessed us 20 years in the past, and with how that obsession ruined their lives.

As a part of that obsession, this yr, we appear to be spending explicit time specializing in the our bodies of those ladies and their relationships with meals. This yr’s interval items had been obsessive about what their topics ate, how they considered meals, how they starved and purged and punished their our bodies, and the way the remainder of us regarded on the outcomes and shamed them for it.

On FX’s restricted sequence American Crime Story: Impeachment, Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp bond over their restrictive diets and their mutual hatred of their our bodies, proper up till their our bodies develop into fodder for his or her nationwide humiliation. In Pablo Larraín’s movie Spencer, Princess Diana starves herself, binges, and purges in fidgety sequence as her in-laws demand she take part in public weigh-ins. In Katie Couric’s memoir Going There, Couric describes her personal historical past of bulimia and the press’s swirling fascination along with her physique and its dimension.

As each Impeachment and Going There starkly illustrate, the best way we discuss fatness and diets has shifted dramatically prior to now few a long time. Fats jokes are actually thought of physique shaming, and so they need to be disguised below a number of layers of subtext to be thought of acceptable punch traces on late-night comedy exhibits. There’s a sure glib satisfaction that comes from watching the comedians of the Nineteen Nineties go to city on the query of whether or not Monica Lewinsky was too zaftig for the president: You get to suppose, “Ah, we’re so a lot better now.”

However these tales about diets and consuming problems and physique hatred are doing greater than providing us an opportunity for nostalgic smugness. By coming again repeatedly to the methods these particular ladies discovered to hate their our bodies, these tales spiral out into the methods misogyny is embodied, the way it lives in our very flesh. They provide us an area to consider the best way our bodies can develop into a website of punishment and self-discipline and internalized rage, and the way the concepts we mentioned explicitly a number of a long time in the past swim murkily below the floor of well mannered discourse now.

These are tales not simply of a now-retro type of misogyny and of how we mistreated a handful of well-known ladies means again then. They’re tales of how our tradition teaches ladies to hate their our bodies now, with a pointy, reflexive eagerness.


Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldman) and Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson) have a slumber social gathering, full with refreshments, on American Crime Story: Impeachment.
Tina Thorpe/FX

Here’s a listing of all of the meals that Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp are proven consuming over the course of the primary episode of American Crime Story: Impeachment: A grande nonfat latte from Starbucks. A Slim-Quick meal substitute shake. A single surreptitious M&M. A microwaved baked potato. A solitary glass of white wine. A fruit cup, nonfat yogurt, and miniature field of granola. Espresso with nonfat creamer. Carrot sticks. A tuna sandwich, the onions painstakingly eliminated by hand, and a facet salad. A microwaved tray of weight loss plan thriller meat. Whereas they eat this quasi-food, they discuss their diets.

Here’s a listing of all the meals that Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp are proven consuming over the course of a six-minute Saturday Evening Stay sketch from 1998: Haagen-Dazs ice cream combined with entire milk. A meatball sub. A Large Gulp. A bucket of KFC with barbecue sauce. A 40-ounce can of porter. Tortilla chips. Cheeze Balls. A pizza with extra Cheeze Balls sprinkled on prime of it. A bit of cake. A sizzling canine. A squirt of straight canned whipped cream. Whereas they eat this quasi-food, they discuss their diets.

Each the SNL sketch and Impeachment are reacting to the identical oddity. Linda Tripp taped her cellphone calls with Monica Lewinsky, throughout which Lewinsky frequently mentioned her affair with President Invoice Clinton. The tapes finally went public, and Individuals waited with delight to listen to all of the salacious particulars.

However the precise tapes are largely Tripp and Lewinsky speaking about their diets and train regimes with one another. They congratulate one another on going to the fitness center (“Good lady!”) and gossip over the quantity of weight they’ve misplaced. Tripp explains that she likes going to the fitness center on Friday nights, when “individuals who have lives” aren’t there and she will watch CNN in peace. Lewinsky affords weight-reduction plan battle tales.

“What’d you eat right now?” Tripp asks Lewinsky in the direction of the tip of 1 name from Tripp’s tapes.

“Ugh, I don’t even need to discuss it,” Lewinsky mutters, at which Tripp bursts into laughter.

“Go in your silly treadmill, then, after which go to mattress,” Tripp says.

“I believe I’m gonna go on an all-protein weight loss plan, I at all times lose after I do this,” Lewinsky muses. “God, it’s so onerous, although.”

Then the 2 of them discuss for a short time about what sorts of meals an all-protein weight loss plan lets you eat, and whether or not they need to nonetheless eat beef after a latest E. coli scare. And that’s most of what occurs on these tapes — these actual, real tapes; not a fictionalization, however the precise tapes that nearly introduced down a presidency.

The one factor Tripp and Lewinsky discuss fairly as typically as their diets is the politics of their workplace; who’s being made redundant, who’s transferring the place. It’s as if Tripp and Lewinsky have constructed their friendship across the two types of labor they share in widespread: the labor they carry out of their jobs on the Pentagon, and the labor of disciplining their our bodies.

Which could be very odd, SNL implied on the time. As a result of think about spending that a lot time and power occupied with your physique and its weight — as many ladies did, as arguably most girls did and nonetheless do — and nonetheless find yourself trying like that. All that arduous work and your physique continues to be common, which is to say monstrous and grotesque. That’s the joke.

Tripp, on the very least, obtained the message. Impeachment ends with Linda 40 kilos lighter, her face reworked by cosmetic surgery. She tells a journalist she hopes the brand new look will make folks change their minds about her. “Till all this occurred, I didn’t know the way ugly I used to be,” she says.


Katie Couric with Tom Brokaw, 1993.
Ken Regan/NBC Information/NBCU Photograph Financial institution/NBCUniversal by way of Getty Photos

Katie Couric is at all times very clear on precisely how she appears in her new memoir Going There. Couric writes candidly all through the e book about her rise to the height of daytime TV fame within the early 2000s and the misogynistic tradition she needed to navigate to get there, and she or he makes it clear {that a} disordered relationship to meals was a part of the bundle.

“Weight-reduction plan was a lifestyle in my home,” Couric writes. She describes watching her mom and sisters gazing longingly at forbidden tuna fish sandwiches, subsisting on “cottage cheese and Tab.” Her mom despatched her a letter throughout her first yr of school that warned her to watch out to not acquire the freshman 15. Couric herself developed bulimia in highschool after she was rejected from her first-choice school. She felt, she writes, compelled to take care of the frustration by “turning on myself.”

Like Lewinsky and Tripp, Couric appears to have understood her physique as a locus of self-discipline. It existed to be molded into a really perfect form and to be punished for its sins. She describes falling right into a cycle.

“Understanding meals was my enemy, I’d swear it off,” she explains. She would starve herself, then crack and binge eat, after which purge to “expel my guilt.”

In her 1993 e book Insufferable Weight, the feminist thinker Susan Bordo argues that the best way ladies with consuming problems take into consideration meals and our bodies varies solely in diploma, not in form, from the best way all ladies in our tradition are inspired to suppose. Somebody with an consuming dysfunction, she writes, “seems, not as a sufferer of a novel and ‘weird’ pathology, however because the bearer of very distressing tidings about our tradition.” The tidings are: Meals is the enemy, our bodies are sinful, and when you fail, you could flip by yourself flesh.

Couric describes touchdown a shock interview with then-president George H.W. Bush in 1992 when he crashed her interview with Barbara Bush. Couric pivoted on the spot from her deliberate softball questions and cornered Bush on the Iran-Contra affair in a significant media coup. Afterward, she recollects glowing over optimistic protection of her interview from the Washington Submit media critic Tom Shales.

“Couric proved yesterday that she’s price her weight in gold,” Shales wrote. “Truly, extra. She doesn’t weigh all that a lot.”

“In a bit overflowing with reward,” Couric says, “that final sentence may need been my favourite half.”

The sentence is an inverse of the purpose Impeachment was making an attempt to make about Linda Tripp. When Tripp did one thing terrible, the nation reacted by shaming her for her physique, so she reshaped it and introduced herself again to the general public for a redemption that by no means got here. When Couric did one thing nice, the world reacted by praising her for her physique, and that was the reward that mattered most to her. All the time, the physique retains the rating.


A maid stands behind her and clips a necklace of pearls around Princess Diana’s neck.

Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana, carrying her pearls, in Spencer.
Courtesy of Neon

Midway via Spencer, the folks’s princess eats her pearls.

Diana, portrayed by Kristen Stewart, is sitting at a proper dinner, carrying a necklace of pearls from her untrue husband, Prince Charles. She is staring sickly down on the bowl of pea soup she is anticipated to eat; she feels unlovable, repulsive, grotesque; all of the extra so as a result of she is aware of logically that she is gorgeous, desired, beloved. She can’t stand her husband, she can’t stand her husband’s household, she can’t stand to exist in her personal physique.

The digicam closes in on Diana’s glassy, staring eyes, and we enter into her head. She locks eyes along with her husband and rips at her necklace till the pearls tumble into her soup. Then she begins spooning them luxuriously into her mouth, spoon by spoon and pearl by pearl, crunching down along with her tooth.

Regularly her spoonfuls velocity up, turning frantic. Then we reduce to Diana stumbling down the hallway, able to vomit up all that pea soup that she did eat, the pearls she didn’t actually eat nonetheless clasped round her neck.

Diana, in keeping with the movie, has spent the previous three days affected by meals. She was weighed upon arrival at Sandringham, the queen’s vacation escape. She’ll be weighed once more when she leaves, with the expectation that she can have gained three kilos by the tip of the weekend as proof that she loved herself. The movie begins with a nightmarish procession of meals into the Sandringham kitchens, their colours blaring luridly off the display screen; we’ll later see Diana binge consuming below the sullen mild of the fridge at midnight, and collapsing onto the toilet flooring in exhaustion after purging. The one factor Diana eats with any proof of enjoyment all weekend is her pearl necklace, and that’s in a fantasy.

If meals in our world is a sin and a temptation, Diana’s fantasy of consuming her pearl necklace carries a definite tone of hedonism. It’s additionally an act of vengeance. Charles gave an similar pearl necklace to his mistress Camilla with out seeming to comprehend the duplication. Diana tries to beg off carrying her model of the pearls, however her workers insists: it’s anticipated.

And when Diana imagines consuming the pearls, she’s imagining making the largest scene of all, insisting on her personal anger, her personal pleasure, and her personal proper to be fed abruptly. The considered it’s so appalling that she instantly has to pressure herself to vomit.

Spencer is in some methods a horror film, and Diana’s physique is the locus of its horror. She harms it repeatedly, chopping and prodding and purging. She displays with terror that when she is queen, she goes to develop into a head on a coin; she can have misplaced her interiority; she is going to develop into foreign money. How insufferable, the movie appears to be saying, to be trapped inside a physique that can’t belong to you as a result of it’s a image for different folks.

The distinction between Diana’s plight and the plight of different ladies is, just like the distinction between ladies with consuming problems and different ladies, one among diploma fairly than of form. Beneath our present system, all ladies’s our bodies are foreign money. Corporations extract wealth from ladies’s our bodies via the sale of these Weight Watchers meals and Slim-Quick meal replacements; highly effective males condescend to speak about ladies’s achievements in the identical breath that they use to debate their our bodies, the place their worth is known to lie.

Diana was simple to like partly as a result of she regarded so skinny and fragile and stylish, like a fairy story princess. Linda Tripp was simple to despise partly as a result of she didn’t.

“Femininity itself,” Bardo writes in Insufferable Weight, “required the holding of breath, the lack of air, the choking down of anger and need, the relinquishing of voice, the denial of urge for food, the constriction of physique.”

Bardo is writing there concerning the Victorian period, when the unattainable constrictions of femininity might manifest in ladies’s minds and our bodies as hysteria. Nevertheless it’s price asking whether or not that sentence would possibly simply as properly describe the calls for of femininity in 1993, when Bardo was writing — and even proper now, right now, in a time after we can’t appear to cease speaking about what our tradition has executed to ladies’s our bodies.


Sarah Paulson as Linda Tripp on American Crime Story: Impeachment.
Tina Thorpe/FX

There’s extra to our fascination with the physique ideology of the ’90s than the smug certainty that we’re doing higher now. The fascination says: Possibly we’re not doing higher. It says: Possibly we’re nonetheless doing this horribly improper. It says: Possibly we’re all frogs in a pot boiling to dying and if we glance again far sufficient we’ll have the ability to see once they first began cranking the warmth up.

Within the ’90s, ladies’s our bodies had been anticipated to be skinny as popsicle sticks. It was the period of Kate Moss and heroine stylish; of jutting clavicles and distinguished hipbones; of low-fat SnackWell’s cookies and Oprah trundling her wagon of fats out in entrance of a stay studio viewers.

In Insufferable Weight, Bordo argues that the obsession with weight-reduction plan that developed within the second half of the twentieth century emerged as a backlash to the ladies’s liberation motion. “On this historic period, when the parameters defining ladies’s ‘place’ have certainly been challenged, it’s disturbing that we’re spending a lot of our time and power obsessed, depressed, and fascinating in makes an attempt at anxious transformation (most regularly, discount) of our our bodies,” writes Bordo. “It’s onerous to flee the popularity … {that a} political battle is being waged over the energies and sources of the feminine physique, a battle by which at the very least some feminist agendas for ladies’s empowerment are being defeated (or, at a minimal, assaulted by backlash).”

The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was, amongst different issues, about making an attempt to redefine the parameters of a lady’s “place.” It was about whether or not ladies ought to count on to be harassed on the job; whether or not it was applicable or certainly aspirational for ladies to have intercourse on the job; whether or not a primary woman belonged within the West Wing; whether or not extra ladies in cupboard seats than ever earlier than canceled out accusations of sexual harassment and assault in opposition to the president.

The identical stands for the Katie Couric and Princess Diana zeitgeists. And but an infinite share of the discourse round these tales was dedicated to policing the our bodies of the ladies concerned.

Lewinsky and Tripp had been each thought of too fats, which rendered them mockable. Additionally mockable was the quantity of effort and time Lewinsky and Tripp manifestly put into their weight loss plan and train routines. To care about such issues was frivolous, fashionable tradition stated; and anyway, it clearly didn’t work, so what was the purpose?

What that SNL joke ignores, and Impeachment makes clear, is that Lewinsky and Tripp are caught in an unattainable lure. They know their our bodies made them simple targets for mockery, so they’re diligently working to remake them. They eat their microwaved Weight Watchers meals and their Slim-Quick meal replacements; they fill their our bodies with simulacra of meals on the understanding that they don’t deserve the actual factor; they make remaking their our bodies right into a pastime and a type of social bonding. After which the work of remaking, too, grew to become ripe for mockery.

However Impeachment approaches this concept awkwardly, via the layers of prosthetics Sarah Paulson wears over her face to play Tripp. Paulson wears Tripp’s fatness as a fancy dress for many of the present, approaching every second with such exact mimicry of Tripp’s mannerisms that you just start to really feel you’re watching a mime fairly than a personality.

Within the closing episode, Paulson shucks her layers of pads to disclose Tripp post-weight loss and post-plastic surgical procedure. The second is supposed to be cautionary: America shamed Linda Tripp so terribly that she grew to become satisfied that the factor that was improper along with her was her physique, fairly than her betrayal of a susceptible younger good friend. She obtained it improper as a result of we shamed her for the improper factor.

However the artificiality of the fats go well with means it performs as a revelation as an alternative: Look, right here’s skinny Sarah Paulson, out from below all these prosthetics, revealing her true physique eventually.

Inside each sinful fats lady, the pondering goes, there’s a good skinny lady, simply ready to return out.


Correction: An earlier model of this text stated that Spencer takes place at Highgrove Home. It takes place at Sandringham.