Looking for a little schadenfreude-style self-esteem boost? Look no further than the brand new Thursday Styles section in the New York Times.
Don’t be confused by the big bold word “Styles” up there at the top; this section isn’t at all like the Times’ Sunday Style section, with its uncanny knack for leaving you feeling somehow both underpampered and overweight. This is different, we promise. These are not the tales of young mothers who have trouble juggling their accustomed tasks — you know, working out, shopping and getting manicures — once the baby is born. These are the tales of a very different bunch: all the people that it never occurred to you to be happy that you’re not. Or rather, a group we like to call the shorties, fatties, dorks and nerds.
First up, the shorties. This lead story exposes us to the plethora of hard times and disappointments endured by … short men. (Headline: “Measuring Up: In a world where bigger is better, short men have few fashion alternatives.”)
It isn’t easy being short. (For that matter, now that we think about it, this whole section could be more accurately retitled “It Isn’t Easy Being …”)
Take, for instance, the issue of shirts: “In this world, shirttails hang so ridiculously long that short men are sometimes forced to tuck them beneath the crotch in the manner of onesies.”
See, aren’t you feeling more fashionable by the second, appreciating the fact that you haven’t been doomed to the wardrobe of an oversized baby?
Just below the doleful saga of short males, we’ve got the tale of the overweight fashion reporter. This one is bound to make all readers feel just a little bit happier to be themselves: Skinny people can be glad they’re not fat, and fat people can be glad they’re not fashion reporters. It’s a win-win!
But short men and fat fashion reporters aren’t the only ones with a cross to bear. Take a moment, if you will, to consider the plight of the lone male in his gym’s cardio dance class. He’s surrounded by women! What fresh hell is this? Listen to the words of Martin Vahtra, who actually endured a full six or seven such classes, and lived to tell about it: “There were these glass windows looking out on the rest of the gym. The guys on the weight machines were looking at me doing these silly moves to ’90s house music. I felt like a weenie.”
And the real doozie of the Times’ “People It’s Tough To Be” line-up is still to come. You may know them from such movies as … well, they’re not really in any movies, or TV shows, or books, or historical records … but they exist, really they do. They’re the asexuals! And, man, is it hard being them. Sure, they’re free from such stressors as sexually-transmitted diseases, performance anxiety, and all the drama that comes along with just about any sexual relationship, but they are nonetheless slaves — sexless slaves trapped in a sexually charged society!
To be fair, the piece does raise some interesting questions. Is asexuality a disorder? Something to be fixed? One psychologist argues that “Sex is a natural drive, as natural as the drive for sustenance and water to survive. It’s a little difficult to judge these folks as normal.” But that’s a slippery slope; once you declare that zero libido is a “disorder,” you’re on your way back to the days when homosexuality, for one, was labeled an affliction in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual. And just as gay people aren’t looking to be converted, neither are asexuals. One woman complains to the Times that people “can understand if you don’t like country music or onion rings or if you aren’t interested in learning how to whistle, but they can’t accept someone not wanting sex. What they don’t understand is that a lot of asexuals don’t wish to be quote-unquote fixed.”
However, even after reading the Times’ exhaustive exploration of asexuality, we’re still not totally sure what it means to be asexual. And it seems like some asexuals aren’t sure either. The founder of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (you know, AVEN) says that “asexuals might have sexual urges and even masturbate” and admits that they have “people in AVEN who get into a relationship where suddenly they enjoy sex, and we have many people who say they used to enjoy sex but really not anymore.”
Sounds like a pretty blurry line to us — or a pretty good description of high tide and low tide in the ever-shifting world of hormone secretions. But not to some. Cijay Morgan of Edmonton, Alberta, for instance, tells the Times that along about age 15, “I realized I was asexual about the same time I realized I was short.”
Aha! It all ties together! Those without height and those without sexual desire have come together, both here on the pages of Thursday Styles, and in the tiny body of Cijay Morgan. It’s a theme!
We spotted another theme too — the Thursday Styles section feels like it was slapped together by Larry David, in an odd attempt to recreate the quirky balance he struck with the TV show “Seinfeld.” You’ve got George, short and difficult to please; Elaine, woefully out of place at her fashionable clothing catalog job (I mean, look at her outfits!); Jerry, feeling like a weenie in his puffy shirt; and Kramer, who periodically is set upon by an adoring female, but who, for the most part, seems curiously indifferent about the whole sex thing. Excellent! In its much-ballyhooed brand new weekday Styles section, the Times has managed to … reinvent a 16-year-old TV sitcom, only in the person of real people!
No wonder it’s so hard to keep up with those edgy editors and reporters pushing the envelope this way and that over there on West 43rd Street … but, alas it is our burden to bear.
Samantha Henig was a CJR Daily intern.
Hey! Maybe we could get a sympathetic profile in the “It Isn’t Easy Being …” section. Why not? We have to put up with journalism like this! Every day!