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Monday, September 12, 2016

Leanness and looks

When I first saw Keira Knightley in Bend it Like Beckham, in 2002, I was impressed by her beauty. But when you look closely at her, feature by feature  --

-- it's not as if any one feature is that outstanding. The nose is straight and the eyes are level, but the lips aren't particularly curved, or even full, which is why she's never photographed without lipstick to make them appear larger, and is usually pushing them out in pictures.

Her nose is elegantly narrow, though I have no idea whether that was a result of surgery, and her eyebrows are distinct and well-shaped, though artifice undoubtedly played a role there.

Here's a better picture of her:

Knightley has made the most of what she has simply by staying thin. Because she's thin, her eyes are large, her cheekbones are prominent, and her jawline is well-defined. And that's often what beauty boils down to.

Roughly 75% of people -- both men and women -- would look good if they were the right weight. That means carving themselves down to perfection. The reason Knightley's face is so beautiful is because she's kept her body looking like this:

Now, that body may not suit everyone's taste. But it's that lack of fat that makes Knightley's face so beautiful.

Unfortunately, it's not that easy to lose weight. It seems that we all have a certain number of fat cells, and all we can do is starve them, not lose them. This is why 90% of people who lose a lot of weight end up gaining it all back within a year. Evidently, the number of fat cells is set in childhood and adolescence, and after that it never varies. 

I've scoured the internet to find out exactly how that number is set, and can't find a satisfactory answer. My guess is that it's at least partly a function of early diet. And my guess is that if you keep your kids away from sugary and starchy foods when they're young, they'll benefit for the rest of their lives. (Ironically, fatty foods make you far less fat than starchy foods do. It's all a function of insulin and speed of digestion and the hormones each type of food releases.) 

Lena Dunham got a flurry of publicity this past week with her comments about NY Giant Odell Beckham, who had evidently been seated at her table at last weekend's Met Gala. As per the NY Times:

“I was sitting next to Odell Beckham Jr., and it was so amazing because it was like he looked at me and he determined I was not the shape of a woman by his standards....He was like: ‘That’s a marshmallow. That’s a child. That’s a dog.’ It wasn’t mean. He just seemed confused.”

In Ms. Dunham’s imagination, the grid star’s “vibe” seemed to suggest he was thinking, “Do I want to have sex with it?” (she used an earthier term for “sex,” and yes, she said “it”).

Beckham evidently committed the unpardonable sin of not paying her any attention. (Don't feminists normally protest that men pay them too much attention?)

Dunham later walked her comments back. Which still leaves the question, what did Beckham think? It's doubtful that he confused her with a child or a dog. But Dunham is shaped a bit like a marshmallow, or at least as if she eats her share of them. To the extent that Beckham even noticed her, that was probably his vague impression, even if that wasn't precisely the metaphor he would have used.

Dunham frequently poses for photographs in provocatively revealing outfits. Is she mocking herself? Or is she boldly informing the world, this is what you should be attracted to if you weren't all so taken with your outdated concepts of female beauty? She's probably doing a bit of both.

Now, this may sound sacrilegious to people who read this blog, given Dunham's personality and political stances, but she would in fact be beautiful.....if she were skinny. Not skinny, as in, she'd look better if she lost 10 or 20 pounds. But skinny as in, Keira Knightley skinny.

Look at this picture --

-- and try to imagine what would happen if she were magically to suddenly become thin. Her cheekbones would emerge. Her jawline would become more crisply defined. And her neck would appear more elegant. She'd look like a different person.

Then imagine what would happen if she wore lipstick to make her mouth appear larger, as Knightley does, and had her eyebrows professionally plucked, shaped, and enhanced, the way Knightley has. (Her nose would still be a little wide, but that's nothing a rhinoplasty couldn't fix.)

Look at this picture from a Vanity Fair shoot:

It's telling that they shot her from a slightly high angle, so as to hide her second chin. But other than the mouth-widening lipstick, she's had the Knightley treatment here. And if the fat were sculpted from her face and body, she might look like Keira's sister.

I know it's a stretch, but use your imagination.

A better example of the difference weight makes is to look at what happens to faces when people get fat. Remember what Val Kilmer used to look like?

This is what he looked like more recently:

The cheekbones have disappeared, the eyes have gotten smaller, and the jawline is indistinct. And he's unrecognizable.

Fat loss always seems to be defined by how many pounds you lost, and what size clothing you can now fit into. But it's always more fascinating to see what effect it has on the face.

Now that we've established that there's a skinny beauty trapped inside Lena Dunham, here's a more interesting question: if Dunham's parents had raised her on the paleo diet, and she had far fewer fat cells, and had grown up looking somewhat like Keira Knightley, what effect would that have had on her personality?

And in which direction might it have nudged her politically?


Justin said...

Also worth noting are the effects of hair length.

John Craig said...

Justin --
True. The Prince Valiant haircut, a signature look for lesbians, tends not to be that flattering.

gambino dellacroce said...

Agree 100%. What feminists forget in the male apparent obsession with looks is that probably 75-80% of a woman's look *is* controllable: hair length, style and colour, make up, diet, training, limited sun exposure and yes body weight. You could argue even a higher percentage, with the accessibility of cosmetic surgery these days. Keira, although at times a bit too thin, has maximised her career because of it (she can play the mysterious waif or do classical period dramas).

I'm approaching my 20 year University reunion and I am confident I am the only one who looks less than their age. Why? Lots of water, limited exposure to harsh sunlight (we have the highest skin cancer rate in the world), a simple healthy repetitive diet, weight and other gym training.

The likes of Lena Durham however have based on their personal identity and fame on being the fatty, so they are boxed into a corner. They couldn't bear become those they resent.

John Craig said...

Gambino Dellacroce --
I've seen Keira in other types of movies too, from silly movies like the Pirates of the Caribbean series to the most recent Jack Ryan movie (the one set in Russia) to Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which I thought was pretty good.

You've got the right formula for preserving yourself. Caucasians didn't evolve to live on a tropical desert like Australia, so it ages them quickly.

I suspect you're right, Lena wouldn't know what to do with herself if all of a sudden she were beautiful. I think a lot of her perceptions about gender politics would change.

Steven said...

I know its not the main point but I'm skeptical about the paleo diet.

I bet what modern day Paleo dieters eat would not be very recognisable to Paleolithic people.

Most of the vegetables we eat today didn't exist in their present form in the stone age and were bred by neolthic farmers. Tomatoes and potatoes were tiny; the only cabbage that existed was sea kale, the ancestor of broccoli,cabbage,brussel sprouts and cauliflower. Peas were not at all as they are today.

As for meat consumption, that probably varied dramatically between tribes in different locations, ranging from near vegan to almost total meat consumption (eg eskimos) as is the case with tribes observed in recent times. The animals paleo people ate weren't the species we eat today.

Our closest ape relatives are at the 95%+ plants end of the spectrum, which to me challenges the idea that more primitive versions of ourselves would necessarily eat a lot of meat or that paleolithic people were eating tonnes of meat (in ice age Europe maybe, out of necessity- humans are flexible and opportunistic eaters). Even if they did eat a lot of meat, it doesn't mean it was great for them to do so, although most probably never lived long enough for it to matter anyway.

To my knowledge, the healthiest and longest living populations ever studied have been not vegan but at the vegan end of the spectrum (Okinawa, Hunza, Abkhasia, Vilcamamba, parts of Africa before colonisation). Those populations largely lacked our chronic diseases and obesity.

We've had plenty of time, especially in Europe, to adapt genetically to grains just as Tibetans have adapted in 5000 years to living at high altitudes. I feel fine eating grains. In fact, as far as I can tell they make me more energetic. Why deny yourself carbs if they don't make you feel bad and when its absolutely certain you can eat bread and pasta and still lose weight?

The problem with the western diet is processed grains and refined sugars, high salt intake and probably too much saturated fat (while it may not be harmful as previously thought, there are healthier fats with positive benefits). Almost any programme that gets you to eat a more natural and less processed diet and combines that with exercise will lead to weight loss and much better health markers.

Well that's my two cents on the 'paleo' diet.

Anonymous said...


I really didn't want to get into an OT discussion about diet, and still don't, but I'm with Steven. Just saying. We can argue about this later (why are the Japanese lean?) but for now --

This is a good post. I'm sick and tired of the fat-positive messages all over the internet. Being fat sucks. I was a plump teenager and it fucking sucked. I cannot imagine how much it sucks to be really fat. I lost weight as an adult and the difference between life as a chunkster and life as a skinny girl was NIGHT AND DAY. My self confidence bloomed and yes, as the feminists say 'the personal is political' - they aren't wrong about everything - my attitudes towards life and politics changed. She'd be more satisfied with the game of heterosexual love because the cards would be stacked in her favor, and not against her. A good looking woman says 'no' a lot. She is rarely overlooked, and when she is, she's almost relieved, because there will always be another chance. It's like the expert at the gaming table. Next.

Agree that Lena really has a pretty face - I saw a photo of her the other day before this post and I said, 'wow! her coloring is lovely.' She has beautiful caramel colored hair and very striking brown eyes. If she lost 25 pounds she'd be fine. 25 pounds of pure fat on a woman is a lot of weight.

I saw a joke website that photoshopped fat onto skinny celebrities. Most of the photoshops sucked, but there was one good one: Jennifer Aniston. They did a great job of showing a fat Jennifer Aniston, and it was hilarious. Jennifer Aniston is the anti-Lena Dunham: a mediocre looking woman (look at that nose, please, not even surgery can make it classic) who is superbly groomed. She is 47 and keeps herself up brilliantly, is ALWAYS seen looking great, and the secret of her success is her slenderness. If she gained weight she'd be a nothing.

It' funny that you followed up this post with one about DWTS, because dancers are a great example of the pared down look, and most of the time this is what makes them so striking. Most dancers aren't as cosmetically attractive as Keira Knightley, but their bodies make them stunning. I've seen dancers on the street, and I always stop discreetly and stare. Those legs! Stunning muscle tone on a woman's legs is breathtaking. I guess for a swimmer it would be shoulders. I've never seen a female swimmer in person but I imagine it's pretty remarkable.

OK I'll stop drooling now. I'm happy to be of normal weight. But I'll never look like a dancer or a swimmer. The entire West is now a bunch of fat slobs.


Anonymous said...


John has approval so if this hijacks the discussion, so be it, but I agree with you. I was one of the original Paleo dieters, and then transitioned gradually to a more plant based diet. I eat small amounts of meat and fat and dairy but only on weekends. My bloods improved, cholesterol, everything. I lost weight, but that wasn't the point, I'd already lost the majority of weight I needed to by eating less, sometimes radically less.

I like to compare the West with the Japanese because they are an example of a thoroughly modern society that eats mostly carbs and still has a low obesity rate (although rising, alas). I think that their secret is that they fat shame shamelessly.


John Craig said...

Steven --
I don't know enough about the groups of people you mention to be able to comment on them, but I agree with you that processed grains and refined sugars are the biggest problem. I'm less sure that it's "absolutely certain" you can eat bread and pasta and still lose weight. From what I've seen, both the paleo diet (which, admittedly, can't duplicate what the cavemen actually ate) and the zone diet, which is similar in principle, work best for those who are dieting.

There are also genetic differences between people which probably account for more than most realize.

John Craig said...

Puzzled --
Thank you. And yes, fat has been politicized, just as everything else has. But you can't legislate human desires, and the Left, which is constantly telling us that homosexuality is not a choice (which I entirely agree with), ought to realize that being attracted to slender women, which most men are, is not a choice either.

Thank you for your honesty in that second paragraph. Yes, self-perception to a large extent determines our politics. It's always far easier to say that something is society's fault than your own fault.

I'm not sure I'd say that Lena has a pretty face, merely that it has the potential to be pretty.

Couldn't agree with you more about Jennifer Aniston; I wrote about her looks here:

And yes, dancer's legs are something else. They move nicely, too, they walk the same way sprinters do, as if they're padding along the ground.

Anonymous said...

Keira's body has excellent muscle tone. That's my definition of too skinny - women who really are too skinny have lousy muscle tone. Of course you can be fat and have lousy muscle tone. Lena Dunham is an example. Part of her problem is that her fat covers her muscles but you can see that Keira's muscle tone is better than Lena's.

I saw this woman on the street a year ago and noted that her face, while pretty, was not spectacular, but her legs were gorgeous (she was wearing a mini skirt). Maybe you can't see from a photo but trust me in person they were gasp-inducing:

The muscles were defined, perfectly sculpted. If she didn't have those legs you wouldn't give her a second glance. But she does have those legs. So you do.

I just read your post on Aniston. Couldn't agree more. What's sad is that even for the girl next door standard, she doesn't even rate. Young Jane Seymour was the beautiful girl next door:

I purposely chose a more casual less made up photo to prove my point. Look at how pretty she was. So was Nigella when she was young:

Now, that's a girl next door beauty, complete with too much eyeliner. Think of what Aniston grooming would have done with these girls.


Steven said...

My step brother went vegan and went from 220 pounds to 160. I know he was eating a load of cabs because he wasn't eating a whole lot else. Going vegan and losing weight is a normal experience and those guys really are not skimping on carbs. The Australian guy who went on a diet of only potatoes lost 70 pounds in 3 or 4 months. If you're not eating enough food, you'll burn fat.

Steven said...

as for the main topic, I read about this Lena Dunham thing so I googled her naked (she's been naked in lots of stuff). I don't think she is totally without some sex appeal but my thought was if she lost 20-30 pounds, grew her hair and maybe put on a bit of makeup, she'd be way more attractive and that's in her power.

there is still a huge variation in looks though among people who are all slim.

I've never been that attracted to Keira Knightley but I do think she's above average looking, even for a skinny girl. She is pretty. Its not just features, its the shape of the face too.

John Craig said...

Puzzled --
Yes, Keira's actually built like a runner. And while she's slender, she's a healthy slender.

Agree about Megan Fairchild's legs, but disagree about her face: I think she's quite pretty, at least from that picture. I know ballerinas slather on the makeup, but even apart from that, she looks good.

I'd never seen a picture of Jane Seymour that young before, and yes, she does look wholesome in an appealing way. She aged quite nicely, too.

Not as familiar with Nigella Lawson, but she doesn't really do it for me.

John Craig said...

Steven --
The problem with most vegans I've seen is that while they lose weight, they seem to lose a lot of muscle, too. Most of them don't pay much attention to protein intake (I'm not saying it can't be done, I've seen a picture of that vegan bodybuilder), just saying it usually isn't done.

If someone eats only potatoes (and no protein) for months, he'll lose a lot of muscle.

John Craig said...

Steven --
I think it would take more than 20 or 30 pounds to make Dunham attractive. But the bone structure IS there, waiting to be uncovered.

Yes, it's more than just weight, and I'm not saying 75% of women -- or men -- would be great-looking at the right weight, but at least they'd be attractive.

Steven said...

I just worked it out. You'd have to eat 2695 calories of potato to get 70 grams of protein. The idea that you have to combine different plant foods to get all amino acids is a persistent myth. There's even enough protein in plants when you take into account the lower digestibility of plant protein. The numbers pretty much say if you eat enough calories, you get enough protein. (For muscle gain, you'd probably have to use protein shakes).

...and our digestive system is closest to a herbivores.

I'm not advocating a vegan diet. I just don't think we need a high intake of meat. In fact, I think we're better off with a high intake of plants and less meat. I think I'd feel sub par on either a vegan or paleo diet.

The traditional Okinawan diet produced the greatest verified longevity of anywhere in the world. The diet is actually relatively low in rice and wheat and potato as they ate a lot of sweet potato but they also ate vastly less dairy and meat than Americans, favouring seafood and soy.

Sorry to go on...its just one of those areas I find interesting.

John Craig said...

Steven --
Yes, the Japanese have alway favored seafood and tofu (soy), but some seafoods are actually high in fat, like shellfish and colder (deeper) water fish, like salmon. I suppose in the old days Okinawans would not have had access to much i the way of cold water fish.

One argument against this dietary theory is that Asian-Americans have life expectancies even higher than that of Asians, even though their diet is closer to that of other Americans (who have lower life expectancies):

Anonymous said...


I can't vouch for these stats, but here:

We eat on avg. 900 cals a day more than that Japanese.

Occam it.


John Craig said...

Puzzled --
Makes sense. Though I still think genetics has a strong influence.

deplorably deplorible said...

what is the opposite of butterface?

keira knightley.

John Craig said...

Deplorably deplorable --
Oh come on.....You'd turn her down?

The Ambivalent Misanthrope said...

Great blog post stating the PC-incorrect obvious. A lot of people who age gracefully basically age thinly. It tends to take years, even a decade, off their looks.

Not meaning to sound morbid, but one of the most beautiful/attractive pictures I have of my first husband is when he was undergoing aggressive chemotherapy. It was about a month before he passed away, and between the chemo and the cancer (which, according to his oncologist, by itself also causes weight loss), he had lost all of his fat weight. By the time that photo was taken, he looked like an angelic being -- not just on account of being so close to death, but because he looked a solid twenty years younger yet somehow wise beyond those apparent years. Anyway..

Not sure what to make of the paleo vs vegan diet debate. I think it's important to keep in mind that the meat we are eating today is vastly more fatty than the lean game meat our Peleolithic ancestors would have eaten. Regardless, eating too much of any food is going to get stored away as fatty 'energy banks' for the assumed famine times. Our fundamental problem is a complex of two factors: we eat too much (usually of the wrong foods, in the sense of processed) and our lives are too sedentary. Let's not forget that those Paleolithic ancestors of ours were constantly on the move, too. It may not have been the kind of moving seen in a decathlon, but it was always movement. I don't care how ultra vegan you are, if you don't move a muscle all day, you're going to come down with the dreaded metabolic syndrome (characterized by a heavy midriff). Ironically, you can see it on some well-known Indian gurus who sit and meditate all day.

I do think that metabolic type is partly genetically determined. My daughter has always been a 'grazer,' has never liked meat or dairy, and has never been able to sit down to a full meal. On the one or two rare occasions when she has overeaten, she was made sick, to the point of vomiting. She burns calories fast, but she can't really 'stock up.' This has made her a skinny kid, without either my or her I conscious intention. On the other hand, I have watched, with mouth agape, as parents have set down large plates of fatty foods in front of their mesomorphic children and seen those children munch down on the entire contents in one sitting. These children, to the best of my observation, were somehow temperamentally/physiologically different, in that they seemed to have a much lesser inclination to 'squirm' or get distracted away from their plate. They would simply consume everything on the plate and moved on to something else only when the food was gone.

John Craig said...

Ambivalent Misanthrope --
Thank you, yes, older people who've managed to remain lean have a certain grace about them that even thin young people don't have.

Condolences about your first husband. Yes, I know what you mean about someone who has the weight carved from his face looking both angelic and wise. It can also make them look very intense, but those things all overlap.

And yes, genetics do seem to have an awful lot to do with it. I've known thin people with horrible diets and fat people who seemed to subsist on salads, though I always suspect that the salads are for public consumption and that there are bonbons aplenty in private. (I think you mean endomorphic, not mesomorphic, very few children are real mesomorphs.) And yeah, I've seen that too, people who seem to just inhale their steaks and fries. It's almost impressive, actually. I'm a slow eater myself, but that may be partly a function of me talking too much.

The Ambivalent Misanthrope said...

John --- Yes, I meant endomorphic children, not mesomorphic. I was confident you'd spot that, too. :-)

You talk too much during mealtimes? I wouldn't have guessed. :-) But it's a wonderful habit --- don't slack on it. Not only is it good for human contact and social interaction, but yes, it also slows the rate of food consumption. I suspect that may be the French 'secret' to staying thin and living long, despite all those croissants and buttery sauces...

John Craig said...

Ambivalent Misanthrope --
"m afraid the French secret to staying thin is (A) the fact that they all smoke like fiends, and (B) the fact that all those rich foods actually slow their metabolisms down and they don't get as hungry as often. Plus, they tend not to have a lot of sugary foods the way we do in this country.

Anthonyhehasnoname said...

Cultural appreciation for fat exists in certain parts of the world as an adaptation. In Oceanian islands obesity is seen as pretty due to the fact it was common for islanders to cycle from bone thin to obese during different seasons. Although they often carry a lot of muscle in the past due to an active lifestyle which is now lost, the implementation of year round food and overabundance of fattening food has caused them to always be on heavy mode.