American Dream meet American Dream No. 2

In Weight-Loss Maintenance on July 14, 2011 at 8:29 am

“You can accomplish anything you want with hard work.”  

You dare not criticize it.  You dare not suggest that light skin color may convey an advantage, that already having resources or growing up in a home where the parents are educated and speak proper English may help.  You will be whomped squarely with an anecdote that breaks that rule, you Negative Nelly, you!  People pull themselves up by the bootstraps every day, and if you temper your celebration of their achievement – by citing statistics or expressing compassion for the people who don’t succeed despite trying – then you will be put in your place.  It’s downright unpatriotic to suggest that the playing field isn’t even.  That’s just an excuse for laziness.

Well, the American Dream will be the platform of Miss South Carolina in this year’s Miss America pageant.  (Be sure to click through to the video.)  Technically, Bree Boyce’s platform is “Eating healthy and fighting obesity,” but the subtext is the American Dream.  Bree weighed 234 pounds when she was 17.  Now, at 22, she weighs 122.  She uses her life story as the example of the obesity-curing benefits of hard work and rugged individualism.

“I did it all on my own.  I did it for myself.”  She tells the Today Show’s Ann Curry.

She conflates being fat with being unhealthy and she conflates “it” (weight loss) with the American Dream:

“I had so many dreams and aspirations for myself.  And I knew that being so unhealthy I wouldn’t be able to accomplish any of those dreams.  So by changing my lifestyle completely, I did a 180, and it’s been completely amazing, and I’m just so excited.”

From what I can tell, however, her dreams and aspirations have been to get thin and win beauty pageants, like her older sister Tiffany.  In a family that supports those aspirations.  And she has done it. 

She works out two to three hours a day when preparing for contests and she “maintains” her “lifestyle” with half- to one-hour of daily exercise.   But she hasn’t spent much time in “lifestyle” mode, methinks.   She’s been working hard.  She loves looking at her swim suit competition pictures, and, indeed, there’s no denying that she is ripped.  She tells Ann that when she did her swim suit promenade, to keep the butterflies in her stomach at bay, she was just thinking about herself, her hard work and all the people she could inspire.  She kept herself focused on how she is “a confident and successful woman.  And to strut my stuff on that stage was the proudest moment of my life.” 

In the end, it’s all the American Dream.  She sums it up:

“Whatever it is in life that you want to do, it takes hard work.  There’s no secret.  It’s hard work, and determination and perseverance.  All those things.” 

Sweet, dear girl.  She’s only 22 and I don’t hate her.  I’m sure her competition coaches have encouraged her to declare herself an inspiration.  That’s the “hook” that will distinguish her from the other competitors.  They do not trouble her with old proverbs about pride preceding falls, or other nonsense that will get in the way of winning.  She keeps talking:

“And I want to be that inspiration for people to know that anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it and keep it up every day.  I know that there’s days that I want to give up.  But I can’t, because I look for the future.  And I look for making my dreams come true.  And getting on that Miss America stage and hopefully winning the swimsuit title there.”

She looks to the future.  A future that is just another pageant a few months away.  Is anyone else just a wee bit sad?

Score one more win for cultural mythology, likely at this sweet girl’s expense.

  1. Right now, it seems all she can talk about is winning the next pageant. She says it’s about being a “size healthy”, but I think she means that “size healthy” is thin, which is a huge mistake for everyone who makes it (conflating weight with health is usually a mistake). She’s so focused on her looks, what is going to happen to her when she starts to age and her looks change? Is she going to be able to accept that? What happens when the real world hits and she has to actually get a job that isn’t winning pageants? What happens if/when she meets someone, gets married, gets pregnant, gains weight, and maybe can’t lose that weight? Is she going to be devastated because she thought she had all the answers and suddenly someone changed the questions? And Maude forbid that something should happen and she should end up with a disability of any kind. I’ve seen these things happen to people and it’s turned them into bitter, despairing recluses who want nothing to do with life, the world, or other people.

    • Vesta, you are spot on.

      And BTW, I’ve got to put “Maude forbid” on my list of perfect expressions. Just the term this die-hard agnostic needs to use under the certain circumstances.

  2. Well, good for her for working so hard at what she wants. And it IS hard work to focus so intensely on anything. Very few of us have such intensity and focus – it’s a talent in itself. Whether or not winning a beauty pageant is a good way to use that talent is a different question.

    It’s true that if you have aptitude and you work incredibly hard, you will get a long way towards your goals IF you have an environment that supports that. The IF is the biggy. Social mobility is the worst it’s been since the 1950s and fewer and fewer people have the paths to their dreams open to them, regardless of how much aptitude they have or how much work they’re prepared to put in.

    I realise the focus of your blog is weight and so she seems an ideal exemplar, but the real example of this kind of toxic thinking are the bankers and financiers who feel entitled to use the economy as their own personal cash machine because they think they’ve worked so hard, when they don’t credit their private tutors, prep schools and ivy league contacts for what they have achieved in life.

  3. She’s a great spokesperson for capitalist mythology and therefore will probably ride the wave of social approval/support for quite awhile; she’ll use the system and the system will use her (already is), in her future: probably a book deal, advertising gigs, corporate representative/consultant work, inspirational speaker tours, etc. She’ll be awesome! And happy! And wealthy! (I’m being serious, not sarcastic, okay?) And, in the end, those are the values capitalist myths keep reconstructing. It’s what we have as an option for women and men in our culture, now, who have particular physical and psychological attributes. Her body is a commodity, to use, buy, sell, trade and loan. Her body is what creates her value as a thing of exchange in our capitalist culture.

    It’s impossible to know what price she pays (ugh, to borrow again from capitalism) in exchange for the life she will experience. It’s easier to contemplate the life she would have had if she had remained fat–or is it? Seems like she has many more options for employment now, given our current culture, but who knows…

    I hope she enjoys her life and finds some lasting security. I wish she wouldn’t have to become a commodity to achieve that though.

    • Since everyone has such insightful things to say, I won’t repeat them. I’ll just say “thank you” as they come in. So…thanks, h/and/f. Excellent, excellent analysis.

  4. Yes, indeed. These are all good thoughts.

    You are right, Annabelle, that I keep this blog focused on weight, but in this culture it is metaphor for so many things. People like Bree hold it up as metaphor for the dream, but as you and Vesta point out, the dream requires luck and support.

    And Hopeful, you’re right too. I hesitated to publish this sourball post, because I really don’t wish the girl ill. (And I remember the last time I was a bit of a sourball, the subject’s cousin found the site.) On the other hand, I guess I hold out hope that someday, when she realizes she’s a “commodity” (brought to you by Clairol!) she’ll become a ferocious reformer. Sigh. Now, I’m having an American Dream of my own.

  5. It occurs to me that being a beauty pageant contestant is one of the few dreams that requires thinness. I guess that being thin and conventionally attractive makes everything a little easier in life, but in general it’s not a requirement. Dream of being a successful businessperson, scientist, novelist, journalist, or philosopher? Thinness is not required. Dream of having a wonderful relationship and loving family? Thinness is not required. Dream of living in different countries, seeing the world, and connecting with all kinds of people? Thinness is not required.

    But for someone who isn’t naturally thin, the mental, emotional and physical effort it takes to become and stay thin takes away from the resources available to pursue other dreams.

  6. I dropped by to make an amends, of sorts. I don’t want to single out the human being in question, a real person with dreams as valuable as any of ours. Also, i didn’t mean to suggest that she is somehow more of a commodity because of her particular assets–because of the attributes that bring her value in our capitalist/materialist/nihilist culture. (Wow, didn’t see that coming.) Well, mostly i want to say that it is easy to see her as a representation, as a thing, and to speak of her that way because we are so limited by language and so encouraged by culture to see the representation and forget the loveable person, and so forth. *sigh* It’s such a small world, and it would be tragic if she felt judged for her choices or her views, or felt diminished because of stranger’s comments. Tragic. We have not walked in her shoes, we know not what is in her consciousness or what she has truly overcome to be here, just to be existing still, and i need to make it clear that she has no need to feel ashamed of her life or her choices. For her, and for all of us, i hope we feel loved and able to love.

    That’s all. ❤

  7. She is in the honeymoon phase of recent weight loss. I was there once too and tried to be inspirational and uplifting also. But eventually she will realize, as we all do, that maintaining a large weight loss is a lot like battling a beast. We may develop strategies and coping mechanisms, but the beast never goes away. That’s OK. But not easy. She’ll see that if she’s lucky enough to keep the weight off for a while.

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