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I’m a nearly fifty-year-old overweight depressed woman who, very literally, can’t get laid and… stop the presses… a good-looking young tv star doesn’t want to fuck me.

I don’t know where to take this. I tried writing a couple of people privately yesterday, but I haven’t gotten any replies. I put a post up on the depression subreddit, but the only reply I got made me feel worse. I know the internet is a rough place for anyone who is not on the top of their social hierarchy.

Anyway, I don’t know what I’m saying, really. I read some of Trevor Noah’s tweets about fat women and they made me feel really bad. Its been about twenty-four hours now and I haven’t been able to shake the bad feeling. Somehow, it’s really making me feel awful. The fact that all these people are defending him makes me feel worse.

I can’t help thinking about what I was saying the other day about stories. One of the things people always say about liberals is that they hate the United States and that they hate most Americans. The Daily Show is generally associated with liberals. Now, they’re going to have a good-looking rich foreigner telling jokes about stupid, fat Americans as the host? Thanks, Daily Show, for making the U.S. even more conservative. Really, I have to ask liberals if they have any fucking sense at all about how they sound to other people?

I’ve never liked the punching up/punching down phrasing because, as I’ve said before, it’s not so clear who is up and who is down. However, one thing is clear, Trevor Noah is “up.” There aren’t too many directions in which he can punch without punching down. He makes fun of atheists. He makes fun of women. He makes fun of gays. He makes fun of Jews. His humor reminds me of the popular good-looking kid in middle school who makes fun of all the freaks, nerds and the kids that can’t afford the latest sneakers.

I don’t know. I’m not going to do anything stupid right now. Although the fact that the last time I got laid the guy was drunk keeps circling around and around my head. Of course, he was a fifty-something overweight guy from England. We actually got together a second time, and I think it was my fault there wasn’t a third. It was probably my turn to text. I’m not good about texting. I was ambivalent about him anyway. So, I’m probably not really that desperate. Still, the joke cut a little too close to home. Yeah, when you’re overweight fewer men are interested in you. Thanks, Trevor. You’re so fucking funny.

I’ve been crying intermittently ever since I read about him. I’m not being the PC police. This isn’t manufactured outrage. It is genuine, and it isn’t outrage. It’s shame, embarrassment, depression, sadness, isolation, loneliness and sexual frustration.

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Two years ago, a doctor in an emergency room officially diagnosed me with depression. For me, it was hard to say at what point the usual negative feelings we feel all at times slid into what could fairly be characterized as clinically depressed. I was in my mid-forties and I had long before been diagnosed with anxiety, although I didn’t take that too seriously. I had seen psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals for what had been, for most of my life, mild symptoms. I was an underachiever, easy to anger, low self-esteem… these things were comparatively mild, but I did feel that they were enough beyond average imperfections to hamper me in life. There were days when I wondered if there was really nothing wrong with me but living in an environment where an individual’s self-worth was almost entirely based on achievement. Then again, I had difficulty maintaining relationships. So, I sought professional help. We explored various possibilities, all of which were eventually eliminated except for anxiety and episodes of anhedonia. Although the possibility of clinical depression was raised on several occasions, my symptoms always seem to fall short of being diagnosed with that.

Flash forward a few years…

As some point that’s hard to identify, I began sliding into a depression. Now, I wonder whether or not I have always had a proclivity, but I can confidently state that my recent depression is qualitatively different that previous times when I felt unmotivated. In the past, when I’ve felt myself sliding into a funk, I’d kick myself in the ass, as people like to say. I’d exert my willpower to eat better and exercise more and make sure that I got good quality sleep, some time out in the sun during the day, I would do some meditating, and in general engage in all those good, healthy habits intended to make you feel better. Since I already had a lifestyle most people would consider healthy, during a period like this I’d be a veritable model of clean living. Usually, after a few day, my funk would lift. Was it what I did or just the passage of time? I don’t know.

This time it was different. No amount of kicking myself in the ass was making me feel better. This time, seeking professional help, I knew something was seriously wrong. However, since I had moved, I had to seek out a new therapist. I had a hard time finding one. Once I did, I found I had a hard time convincing him just how serious my problem was. I felt like I wanted to die. I didn’t have a plan to kill myself, but I really, really wanted to somehow just fade from existence. I could barely do the dishes. Always an untidy person, my apartment became shockingly messy and disorganized to the point that I had more and more problems just functioning. I continued to apply my usually de-funking habits, especially the dieting and exercise because now I was beginning to put on weight. I exercised for an hour and a half a day instead of my usual hour. I kept a diary of everything I ate with a goal of twelve hundred calories a day, which I most succeeded in doing, and I never broke down and “binged.” That just isn’t a habit of mine. I was using the same nutrition reference I had used for a number of years. My weight stayed stubborn, my lack of motivation continued, and I still felt like I wanted to lie down and be swallowed by the earth never to be seen again.

If I can judge by what other people have told me about themselves, my normal diet is a bit healthier than the average. Since I was not athletic as a teenager, I started exercising for health at a young age and as an adult I continued, and added to, that routine. In terms of drug use, I tried cocaine once and didn’t like it. I’ve probably smoked pot a good twenty or thirty times. I didn’t drink in high school, nor did I drink regularly in college, but I do recall getting drunk at parties a few times, falling-down drunk only once, usually just thoroughly tipsy. In my twenties, I was something of a weekend drinker, having several beers while listening to bands. Around the time of my depression, I had long since settled into a habit of drinking wine with dinner a couple of nights a week and my social life no longer contained weekends with lots of alcohol. In short, I think my use of mind altering substances has been rather minimal. Alcohol would be the only one I’ve used regularly, and that was never out of control and have never even briefly wondered if I had a problem. If I feel that I’ve been drinking too much, usually due to the calories not the inebriation, I just cut back. It’s never even felt like an effort.

For much of my life, I’ve had people compliment me for my willpower, for my ability to say no to unhealthy foods that taste good, for the regularity with which I exercised, for the fact that I was self-employed and could arrange my own schedule and stick to it without anyone reminding me. So, when I first started seeking help for my depression, which wasn’t yet diagnosed, when I found therapists telling me to exercise, eat well and try to work harder, I was flabbergasted at first. Then I became frustrated when I realized that that was about all the help that was on offer.

What I was feeling was that I had done all the “right” things my whole life, and there I was in my mid-forties, single, back in school for the fourth or fifth time trying to make myself employable, with no social life, and just finding little to enjoy in life. I had already experienced in my attempts at online dating that a failure like me is examined for what I’ve done “wrong.” Now, obviously I’ve made mistakes or I wouldn’t be in this situation, but I haven’t made any of the big, obvious mistakes. Suddenly, I found that I was under suspicion of possible drug use, excessive drinking, loafing, a lack of self-discipline and so on. After all, we live in a meritocracy so I must somehow have been lacking in merit. Throughout my late thirties and early forties, I’d been in a cycle of trying harder and continuing to fail. As I expressed it at the time, “I feel like my wheels are spinning and I’m going nowhere.”

The inherent unfairness in life is not great, but I could live with it and alone it wouldn’t make me depressed. However, the general attitude that if you’re not a success it’s because there’s something wrong with you and the chilling effect that had on my social life was a problem. I began dreading social situations that involved meeting new people because of the question, “What do you do for a living?” It’s a bit old-fashioned these days, but growing up I was told that that was an impolite question. I can understand why it was once seen as rude. Worse yet, I started feeling that I didn’t know what to do. You know what they say about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results… Well, that was the place I was at. I wanted to improve my social life, my work life, my love life, but I didn’t know how. All the recommendations from other people were things I’d been doing my whole life and which had failed to get results. This is when my lack of motivation started. I had gone back to school, yet again, in hopes of getting something of a career going while I still had enough years left in my life to enjoy it. I found that I no longer had any confidence that this would yield any results. I was doing more of the same and I started to ask myself why I was expecting different results this time.

So when I started to see a therapist and he suggested that I exercise, diet and get myself back in school, it felt like a slap in the face. It felt like an insult to my entire life as a good, clean-living, disciplined person who had done all the right things. Worse yet, I felt as if he wasn’t listening to me. I felt as if I had wasted my entire life doing things I hated in order to please other people, in order to be seen as worthy in this society.

A few months later I would ask some police to take me to the hospital, which they did and where my symptoms were finally taken seriously. (Much thanks to all the helpful people in the emergency room at Bergen Pines.)

Well, all that is the necessary preface to understand what I have to say. A few days ago, in the wake of my more recent crisis, I found myself saying to someone that I hadn’t learned coping skills for living with depression. After I wrote that in an email, I started searching for information on the internet. What I found reminded me that I had done this search two years ago after I got out of the hospital with my diagnosis and I remembered why I abandoned the effort. The advice was mostly diet, exercise, meditate, don’t drink too much, don’t take drugs, get out and socialize, do some creative work, all the damn things I’ve spent my entire life doing from adolescence onwards, and most of which I fucking hate. I’m going on fucking fifty and I feel like I’ve spent my entire life doing what other people have told me I should do. I hate exercising, truly hate it. For much of my adult life I’ve exercised an hour daily, assuming the occasional missed day, realistically that’s about five hours a week or two hundred and sixty hours a year. I spend two hundred and sixty hours a year doing something I truly hate. One of the bit of evidence contributing to my “anhedonia” was when my doctor asked if I enjoy food. Of course I don’t enjoy my food. I’m on a fucking diet. I’ve been on a diet since I was twelve. I could enjoy food, but I don’t eat anything that’s enjoyable to eat. I’ve never not enjoyed a pile of quality french fries, but I almost never ate them. They’re fattening. I don’t actually enjoy meditating either. I can’t say I hate it, but I’ve only ever done it out of a sense of obligation, the idea that meditating might make me a better person. Maybe, but then again who knows. Remember that anxiety I mentioned earlier, well a lot of that is social anxiety. I find socializing with strangers to be very draining. It’s difficult and not enjoyable. As far as the creative work, what can I say, may I laugh in the face of people of the good people who make that suggestion. Not only was I doing all these things during my slide into a depression, I swear that these were the behaviors that made me depressed. When I hear these suggestions, I get a crazy thought in my head I that I want to take an exacto knife and carve into my flesh little hatch marks for each day I spend living someone else’s idea of a good life, like a prisoner in a medieval dungeon. Then I remember that the only person I would be hurting would be myself.

I wish all those well-intentioned people with their good advice would just acknowledge that they don’t have a fucking clue. One thing that irks me is realizing that I could diet and exercise and get thin, find a guy who I don’t really like that much but would be willing to play the role of boyfriend, find a job that still wasn’t a career but at least satisfied other people that I was “trying,” and be not one iota happier, still be wishing that I could die, but if I did all those things no matter what kind of internal pain I was in a therapist would think we were making progress.

Anyway, I’m going to publish this and then put on my sneakers and go for a jog, not because I like jogging but because I desperately don’t want to feel depressed anymore and despite the fact that I believe it doesn’t work I can’t quite bring myself to stop doing it because who am I to disagree with all the supposed experts. That will be about an hour and twenty minutes wasted doing something I hate on the off-chance it will help.

Also, I would like to kindly ask that no one comment unless you feel that you can relate to where I’m coming from, as they used to say back in the seventies.

I’ve been trying to read Eliot Rodger’s, the Santa Barbara shooter’s, 140 page suicide note. In the year following the Newtown Massacre, there were at least 16 mass shootings, defined by the FBI as killings involving four or more people. Since the shootings in Santa Barbara there has been another mass killing in Florida. (H/T Skip Intro at Little Green Footballs.) Only a small portion of these capture the public’s imagination. For that reason, I wanted to write about it, but I felt that before I did so I should do my homework and, among other things, read the long autobiography the killer left behind. Doing the necessary background work has taken more time than I expected and the final result will probably come in two parts, one addressing the autobiography and another addressing the public’s reaction. Interestingly, the event seems to have functioned like a Rorschach test with various commentators projecting their own preconceived notions on the event.

In the meantime, I thought I would put up a few random thoughts.

Needless to say, I have abandoned my attempt to help my mother get into better shape. Her doctor has said that it’s necessary for her health and that was why I was willing to make such a big effort to help her in the first place. Unfortunately, the usually mother/daughter relationship dynamics kicked in and were exacerbated by the fact that we were spending so much time together. She seemed to forget that I was there for her sake, not mine. However, since I got on the exercise and diet kick, I’ve decided to continue it on my own. I guess one good thing came out of those two weeks was that I’ve started going to the gym again. It’s always, for me, the first couple of weeks that are the toughest. My first day back I was barely lifting any weight at all. At my peak I was bench pressing about sixty pounds (slightly more than 27 kg), which was about half of my weight, so doing curls with a twenty pound barbel was a little frustrating. When exercising cardio workouts are only one part of what I do because I really need to feel that it’s about health and overall fitness, not appearance. The looks-weight-health equivalency is something I really try to avoid, although subconsciously I’m subject to the same incorrect assumptions as most people in this culture.

I was looking in the mirror to make sure my form was correct and I couldn’t help notice that I looked like I had a ridiculously little pinhead on top of my body. Most of my adult life, I’ve kept my hair very short, although being a lazy slob it often is an outgrown shaggy mid-length mop. Since I gained weight, I’ve really been struggling, not just with a loss of prettiness, but with a shift in my self-image. For instance, I’ve always seen myself as being somewhat androgynous and have always incorporated lots of menswear, frequently actual men’s clothing picked up in thrift stores, like my favorite red satin smoking jacket, into my wardrobe. Once upon a time I looked kind of cute in that. However, now that I’m heavier, feminine dresses are more flattering to my figure. I feel between a rock and a hard place. What is flattering doesn’t fit my personality, or so I feel. More recently, I felt that it would be mentally healthier to dress in a way that suits my taste and to hell with whether or not I look attractive. For instance, I’ve been wearing more pants even thought I think I look dumpier. So when I was in Paris last year I walked by a salon and saw a photo that looked like the kind of haircut I liked when I was young and could wear anything I chose. I walked in and said, “I want that.” Humorously, I later read some text under it that said that it was a “retro-style” meant to evoke the eighties. Dang.

This morning, when I walked into the bathroom and saw my short hair plastered against my head, I remembered the pinhead look in the mirrors at the gym. I know that once I take a shower and fluff it up it won’t look quite so bad. This led to a bit of musing about my appearance. Short hair like this can actually look stylish when I’m fully made up, however when dressed down I look like someone who doesn’t care. Somehow this put me in mind of dating. For a while, when I had a profile up on a dating site, I got so many emails from men saying that they liked women who wore high heels that I added to my profile that I don’t wear them. After that, I started getting notes from men saying that they liked the “type” of woman that wore jeans and flip-flops. This made me equally frustrated because I’m not a type. Sometimes I dress up and sometimes I dress down. Some days I’m somewhere in between. I’m still the same person. I’ve had boyfriends in the past who have significantly preferred one version of me more than the other. It’s frustrating because I want to have both modes.

So, I’m headed out to the grocery store. I probably won’t put gel in my hair or blow it out, although I’ll probably fluff it a little with my fingers. I’ll put on some causal pants, my sneakers and whatever short-sleeved shirt is clean at the moment and I’ll look like the type of woman that goes to the grocery store, which is inevitable for all of us who are not the type of woman who has a full-time housekeeper. At another moment, I’ll be the type of gal who takes photographs while wearing practical clothes with lots of pockets that I picked up from REI. Sometimes I’m the type of gal who wears gym clothes while lifting weights. Or I’m the type of gal with a full face of make-up, dainty shoes and fashionable dress in a trendy restaurant. All of these things are me. I’m even a blogger in a bathrobe sometimes.

It’s probably inadvisable to keep putting up these diary-like posts, but body image and the shame associated with it are not anything therapists will actually talk to you about. All they will do is give you pills because it must be a “chemical imbalance” because this isn’t a “real” issue. Still, I find the subject almost impossible to escape. At the same time I feel guilt and shame, shame on top of shame, for even being concerned about it. I say to myself, “People are starving in the world how can you possibly worry about being too un-thin.”

I’m going to use the word “un-thin” because it’s important to recognize that I’m not talking about a health issue but an aesthetic one. I haven’t weighed myself in a while because it makes me feel bad, but since my clothes fit the same way I can pretty much assume my weight hasn’t changed much over the past couple of years, which means that I’m just a little bit above the top of the recommended weight on the doctor’s height/weight chart. In fact, I might be an ideal weight in terms of life expectancy. I’ve be criticized in the comments for calling myself “dumpy”, but I think that’s the most accurate description to give readers an idea. I’m not fat and I happen to be short and only have average curves, so I’m not curvy or zaftig.

I’m wondering how much withdrawing from the world is necessary to keep myself on an even keel, at least for a few days until I feel better. Anyway, today I came across an article about an opera singer. I happen to like opera. I can’t sing myself. I have volume, but there’s something about my voice that is just ugly. Too deep for a woman and a little gravely. Actually, I sound a lot like Marianne Faithfull. The first time I went to see an opera I was just amazed that sounds like that can come out of a human body. I was totally and utterly enchanted. I haven’t seen half as many operas as I would like because it’s entertainment for a class to which I wasn’t born, and now I live in a town without an opera company. I used to like the New York City Opera and am incredibly saddened by its closure. Its audience has been driven out of the city by rising rents. On the one hand, it might have been inadvisable to click on an article with “sexism” in the title, but it also had the words “opera singer” in the title.

As anyone who’s read my last few posts knows, I’ve had a great deal of difficulty lately with a low sense of self-worth. I should mention that it is not my own set of values that is the primary problem but the sense of occupying a low space on the social hierarchy. My psychiatrist doesn’t understand why I care what other people think. It seems to me that that’s more than a bit myopic on his part and an easy thing to say for a man who occupies a fairly enviable position in his profession. However, as I see it, human beings are social animals. Our location in the social hierarchy is integral to our sense of well-being. This is a cruel fact, but a fact nonetheless. However, we have multiple, overlapping social environments. We go to work or school, sometimes both. We have lovers and friends. We have our families. Frequently we have other groups to which we belong due to our interests. We may be low in one environment, but high in another. While we may feel devalued by the broader society, we may at the same time feel highly valued by our friends and families which offsets that. I’ve complained quite a lot about my social isolation. Needless to say, I don’t have those friends that can make you feel valued despite feeling devalued by the larger society.

I haven’t had a boyfriend in a few years, but I’ve stopped trying to meet men. Although I know that I’m not so heavy that no men would find me attractive, most ways that I can think of to meet people put me in a position in which I have to open myself to emotionally difficult exchanges. A few years ago, back when I had a profile on a dating site, a man wrote and asked me my weight. I wrote back, “135 pounds.” He was no longer interested. This is of course just one example that happened to be very clear. I got quite a few inquiries that asked about my weight, my body shape, how recent my photos were. In fact, I never put up photos that were more than a year old, however I was accused of lying about that. If these questions were coming from hunky men with whom I had nothing in common, it would be less discouraging. Frequently, these were the obsessions of men older than I was who had put similar interests in their profiles. It all just reinforced the sense that a woman’s only value lies in her appearance.

When I bring up my sense of worthlessness as it relates to my appearance and weight to therapists, they recommend dieting and exercise, as if that wouldn’t have occurred to me. What I would like it to develop a sense of self-worth that isn’t as fragile, that a change of ten pounds in one direction or another can have such a significant effect. Yet, try as I might, my self-esteem seems to be closely linked to my appearance, particularly my weight. For that reason, there was something especially discouraging about seeing the article about Tara Erraught.

A young woman in a sweatsuit.

Tara Erraught

Opera singers are rare people. It requires a combination of both natural abilities and lots of hard work. Acting, to use another performing art as a way of contrast, requires mainly hard work. A great many people have the natural prerequisites, so requiring an actor to be both capable and handsome is not a tall order. Even still, given the chance to see a good-looking bad actor and an ugly good actor, I’ll opt for the latter, however we don’t often have to make that choice. In Opera, frequently we do.

Two photos of Deborah Voigt, one very heavy and another about average.

Deborah Voigt before and after gastric bypass surgery.

There’s been a growing complaint about opera becoming more focused on looks and less concerned with ability since Deborah Voigt was fired by the Royal Opera House in London for not looking the way the director would like in “a little black dress.” At the time, Anthony Tommasini wrote:

The Royal Opera is not just replacing one of the leading dramatic sopranos of the day with a little-known German singer (Anne Schwanewilms). It is replacing the greatest living interpreter of this demanding Strauss role. Ms. Voigt first came to attention in a 1991 production of ”Ariadne auf Naxos” with the Boston Lyric Opera. I was there. Her triumph was total. The audience was awestruck.

Furthermore, as Joshua Kosman wrote in SFGate,

It isn’t just that Voigt is one of the great lyric-dramatic sopranos of our time, and that Ariadne is her signature role — though that alone should have sufficed. San Francisco audiences have to think back no further than the fall of 2002 to recall how stupendous Voigt can be in the part.

It’s that Voigt’s artistry encompasses more than just a magnificent set of pipes. She’s a superb singing actress — expressive, responsive, witty and deeply intelligent. And although she’s overweight, she moves onstage with utter elegance and poise.

However, in that  same article Kosman also says:

Have we really reached the point where only the slim or the beautiful (the two terms are far from synonymous) need apply? Does artistic prowess now count for less than comeliness? Must every other consideration be subsumed to the visual?

Well, no — although some of the rhetoric that has been thrown around recently has tended toward such apocalyptic extremes.

No sudden apocalypse perhaps, but rather a creeping change.

Tomassini, in discussing the implications of Baz Luhrmann’s Broadway production of La Bohème in 2002, traces the beginning of this trend to a much earlier date:

The operating assumption of this [Luhrmann’s] approach is that opera remains an anachronistic performing art, in which tubby singers who can hardly move portray young heroes and tubercular heroines. Even in Ms. Tebaldi’s day, this was an unfair generalization. The visual component of opera has increased in importance since the late 1970’s, when live television broadcasts from the Met started attracting millions of viewers. Today, opera houses routinely recruit bold directors from theater and film (like Mr. Luhrmann), and many younger singers are as beholden to personal trainers as to vocal coaches.

The article is worth reading in its entirety. However, it should be noted that this attempt to make opera appeal to a broader audience in fact lost money, so the notion that audiences actually would prefer beautiful singers and would result in opera becoming a popular art form is not necessarily correct.

Deborah Voigt underwent gastric bypass surgery, lost over one hundred pounds and was allowed to appear before English audiences.

Now, a decade later, a new scandal has erupted over another opera singer and her weight, in another opera by Strauss performed in England, no less. This time it’s Tara Erraught who sang the role of Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier at the Glyndebourne Festival, an opera festival in East Sussex, England. This time, it wasn’t the director who complained of her weight. She did perform. It was the critics who complained. Andrew Clements writing for The Guardian, Michael Church in the Independent, The Telegraph‘s Rupert Christiansen and Andrew Clark in the Financial Times were all far more concerned with her appearance than with her voice. The photograph of Erraught accompanying the Salon article showed only her face. My morbid curiosity immediately made me search for other images of her. Scroll down her Facebook page where she has posted many pictures of herself. It’s not an apocalypse, but it is a creep. Erraught appears to me to be no less thin now than Deborah Voigt after her gastric bypass surgery, possibly thinner. It would seem to me that the standards for women opera singers’ appearance have gotten stricter.

This distresses me on a few different levels, not the least of which is what this could mean for opera if these critics are taken seriously by the people who run opera companies.

In an attempt to be fair to the critics, I did read their actual reviews. The complaint about Erraught’s appearance seemed least jarring in the review in The Guardian, probably because the critic seemed to be unenthused about the production overall, calling it “brittle and sometimes mechanically shallow, with real emotion in short supply.” Also, by using the phrase “this stocky Octavian” it seems less a criticism of Erraught’s body than of the way the overall portrayal of the character, perhaps including the costuming choices as well. I have to say that I was at least as jarred by the compliment paid to Kate Royal’s physique as I was to the criticism of Erraught’s.

A woman in costume sitting in a chair.

Margarethe Siems who first performed the role of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. “Royal looks very much the 30-something Marschallin that Strauss and Hoffmannstahl envisaged but is too rarely seen onstage.”

Kate Royal

With or without her clothes, Royal looks very much the 30-something Marschallin that Strauss and Hoffmannstahl envisaged but is too rarely seen onstage. And it’s hard to imagine this stocky Octavian as this willowy women’s plausible lover.

Royal’s physique is relevant since the production opens with her full frontal nudity, a bit of staging that was very appreciated by Rupert Christiansen in the Telegraph.

Richard Jones’ staging of Der Rosenkavalier shows us a garishly wallpapered empty room with an alcove, where the Marschallin stands in a cockle-shell bath, tastefully nude and showered by golden rain – a Botticelli goddess of beauty, at once alluring and forbidding, holding Octavian in rapture.

At this point Jones wonderfully encapsulates both the sublimity and vulgarity of the opera: it’s a startling but enchanting moment, charged with the music’s slippy, voyeuristic eroticism as well as a brilliant coup de théâtre.

He notes, in the creepy preceding sentence, that the recently deceased George Christie “was a keen aficionado of the female form.” This is the kind of statement that has made me want to wear nothing but potato sacks ever since I was old enough to understand the intense and disturbing judgement of one’s body made by such “aficionados.” A form is not a person. It also left me wondering why Christie didn’t dump opera for exotic dancing. Christiansen’s criticism of Erraught’s physique seems all the more jarring because he seems to have enjoyed the production.

The other problem is Tara Erraught’s Octavian. There is no doubt of the talent of this young Irish mezzo, based in Germany, who sings with vibrant assurance and proves herself a spirited comedian. But she is dumpy of stature and whether in bedroom déshabille, disguised as Mariandel or in full aristocratic fig, her costuming makes her resemble something between Heidi and Just William. Is Jones simply trying to make the best of her intractable physique or is he trying to say something about the social-sexual dynamic?

How good could the production be if one of the leads is so bad, one wonders.

It would certainly be legitimate for someone to comment if a singer was miscast in a role, yet how much does appearance play in determining whether or not the singer is appropriate? I hope I will be pardoned for turning to Anthony Tomassini again. Regarding the earlier scandal with Deborah Voigt and The Royal Opera House he wrote:

The Royal Opera would seem to have forgotten the most basic truth of the genre. Yes, opera is a form of drama. But drama in opera has never been dependent on literal reality. Great music and great voices take you to the core of the drama and the essence of the characters. Naturally it’s wonderful to hear fine opera singers who also look good and act well, and the new generation who grew up watching opera on television seems increasingly concerned with staying in shape and looking the part.

I remember being unexpectedly overcome by a student production of ”La Bohème” at the New England Conservatory in Boston, sung in English and performed in an intimate theater. The endearing young cast clearly identified with Puccini’s Parisian bohemians. They even looked a little tired and hungry, as haggard students often do.

But my first ever ”La Bohème,” a Met production that I attended as a teenager, starred Renata Tebaldi as Mimi. Ms. Tebaldi did not remotely resemble a consumptive and penniless seamstress. She looked like a pleasant, well-fed Italian lady. But her lustrous and poignantly beautiful singing was the embodiment of youthful desire, of sudden love coupled with a wariness of heartbreak.

Next week the Met introduces a new production of Strauss’s ”Salome” with Karita Mattila in the title role. Ms. Mattila, a strikingly lovely and slender woman, has apparently slimmed down even further for this role. Attractive as she is, Ms. Mattila will probably not resemble the adolescent Salome of the Bible. It won’t matter, though. Opera creates its own kind of reality. What will matter is how well Ms. Mattila sings.

 

Karita Mattila as Salome

 

I’ve included all these photos so people can see exactly what we’re talking about. I can’t help wondering, would Karita Mattila be called “strikingly lovely and slender” by English critics if she performed for the first time today? Which brings another question to my mind, it was the English who fired the American Deborah Voigt and it has been the English who have been so harsh on the Irish Tara Erraught who is currently a member of the ensemble of the Bayerische Staatsoper in Germany. I am quickly put in mind of page three girls and the strangely excessive obsession with the bodies of female celebrities running down the right hand edge of the online versions of British tabloids. Is this something specific about British culture, and should the rest of us give a damn?

I feel hesitant to jump to Erraught’s defense since I haven’t seen this production. It will be aired online on June 8, although I must admit that I enjoy opera significantly more in a theatre. Perhaps, she is wrong for the role and would be wrong for the role at any weight. However, a prominent opera singer has achieved more in his or her life than most of us ever will. If it truly comes down to her weight, then women are not valued for anything more than their bodies. A few months ago, I wrote a post about the U.K. making blocking pornographic sites on the internet the default setting. One supposed concern was gender roles. This example, that it matters not in the least what you achieve because you will always be reduced to the desirability of your body, tells girls more about their role in society than a porn flick ever could. Most people understand that a porn film is fiction. This is real. To criticize pornography while giving these critics a pass would be, as my grandfather would say, like wishing in one hand and shitting in the other.

Eva von der Osten as Octavian

Tara Erraught has a career outside of Britain. If it’s only the British who don’t want to see her perform, then I hope she says to herself, “Well, then fuck ’em.”

This blog might take some unusual turns over the next few weeks.

About a week ago, my mother asked me about when I was thirteen and put myself on a diet for the first time and lost weight. After that, I was thin my entire life until I moved to Baltimore. My mother has gone up and down her whole life and, after a period of being anorexic in high school and college, she has been heavier more than not and has sometimes been quite obese. When I went on a diet in junior high school, as my mother noted, I told no one nor did anyone notice until I started to lose weight. She asked me a few questions about that.

First, I said, that one thing I’d come to realize about being thin was that that and two fifty would get you on the subway. Sure, there was a small increase in the number of men who were interested in dating me, but the sort of men who will only date you when you’re at the low end of the doctor’s recommended weight range rather than the upper end tend to not be men I care to date. However, despite the fact that I have tried to care less about being as thin as I can without fainting regularly from low blood pressure, I’ve still been concerned about keeping my weight from spiraling out of control because diabetes runs very heavily in my family. So even now that I’ve tried to suppress my concern for my appearance, I still make an effort on account of health. I joking said to my mother, “The one thing I know how to do is to be thin.”

I’m not sure exactly how the conversation flowed after that, but I said, “Do you want to be thin? I can make you thin.”

She said, “No one has ever said that to me before.”

I said, “I can, but you have to do everything I tell you.”

So, now I’m staying at my mother’s place several days a week and we’re going to the gym and exercising. I’m planning and cooking all the meals. After chowing down last night on some fish prepared Veracruz style, she asked, “Am I really going to lose weight like this?” I told her that her problem was a cycle of dieting and bingeing. I said, “The trick is that we never stop eating like this.” I altered the recipe slightly because she has to limit salt.

Last night, over dinner, she said to me, “My computer is so slow, I get frustrated trying to do anything these days.” Her computer is about nine years old. She said that she did know if she should get a laptop or a tablet. I happened to have with me my portable laptop which converts to a tablet. I had her try to write emails to friends using it in each mode. She said the laptop keyboard was very difficult because of her arthritis. In tablet mode, it was less painful to use the on-screen keyboard, but she didn’t like how slow it was.

She said, “Why can’t I just get one that sits on my desk like I have now?”

As it happened, a few months ago, my sister was complaining about how her neck was hurting. I saw her working on her laptop one day all hunched over and I said, “How is your neck now?”

She said, “It’s killing.”

I said, that’s because you’re working all hunched over. A few years ago, I got a laptop and I’ve since switched back to a desktop. I offered to put one together for her. We came up with a budget and, with the help of the kind people on the buildapc subreddit, I picked out and purchased all the parts. By the time all the parts arrived, my sister seemed to have lost her enthusiasm and every time I say, “How about we put together your computer this weekend,” she says, “Aww, I’d rather do something else.”

Although it was a pretty modest build because my sister didn’t need anything too powerful, that’s still a few hundred dollars of computer parts sitting in her spare room going to waste. So, I called my sister and asked if she still wanted the computer. Anticipating my reason for calling, she said, “If Mom wants it, let her have it.”

So, later today, we’re going to go to my sister’s, pick up the parts and assemble it either today or tomorrow. I’ll have fun. My mother will probably curse a lot.

I try to remember to take some pictures this time.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression, my parents were both pretty good about most things. However, I spoke to my sister on the phone today and she reminded me that our mother had once been anorexic. That’s easy for me to forget because for most of my life she’s been obese. She has told us many times that she feels that she suffers from an eating disorder.

The poem by Philip Larkin that I quoted in the title goes on to say

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

For most of my adult life, I had a BMI of approximately 20. Unlike my mother, I was never anorexic. I first started dieting at about the age of twelve. As far as I know, I was not officially overweight and the doctor had said nothing. I dieted for my appearance. That began years of being obsessed with my weight. Although I was not anorexic, I do think I suffered from what is called body dysmorphia. I wore a size zero dress and a size two pant, but I thought I still needed to lose weight and felt ugly. I weighed myself everyday and kept a diary tracking my weight. I could probably tell you my weight at any given life milestone. How much I weighed the day I met my ex-husband, when I graduated from college, when I got married, and so on.

My blood pressure was eighty over sixty and I would get dizzy if I stood up too quickly. Probably I never became anorexic because the symptoms of low blood pressure would become problematic when I dropped below one hundred and eight or nine pounds.

Although I’ve never been diagnosed with body dysmorphia, I have been diagnosed with some of the illnesses with which it is associated, general anxiety, social anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. I was hospitalized for a major depressive episode about two years ago. My mother, of course, knows about the hospitalization.

A few years ago, before I got depressed, I made a resolution to stop weighing myself daily. Somehow, one day I woke up and looked at my behavior and said to myself, “This is a little too much. This isn’t healthy.” Since then, I’ve been trying to detach my sense of self from my weight. My “beauty strike” came a couple of years after I stopped weighing myself on a daily basis. I stopped taking an interest in my appearance after I got depressed and asked people, including my mother, not to talk to me about it. Part of the idea behind the beauty strike in the first place was to attempt to distinguish between how I wanted to look and how other people wanted me to look. Within the past few months, I’ve started to be interested my appearance again. In a way, this is one of the most vulnerable moments for me. Far more vulnerable than the turning inward that the strike represented. I should have known better than to involve my mother.

One thing you may have noticed is that I haven’t said a word about health other than mental health. It must be understood that all this dieting as been entirely about appearance. I may very well be healthier now than when I was thinner and I am not medically obese now. I actually exercise more now. I was not thin because I exercised. I was thin because I didn’t eat.