Tag Archives: beauty standards

Female Bodies: Endlessly Contested Obsessions

There have been a few things on the internet this week that made my spidey senses tingle, reminding me that women are first and foremost things for people to judge and argue about. Never mind that they are also humans that work and breathe and make completely autonomous decisions on the reg. As far as our culture, especially digital internet culture is concerned, they should always be pretty and ready to be appraised.

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This week Calvin Klien launched a new campaign. It’s typical for them, black and white and slick. But there is something different, although when I first saw the photo I myself didn’t notice it.

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That’s Myla Dalbesio. She’s a model. She looks pretty great in that simple black lingerie. NBD.

A Twitter-storm erupted when Elle tweeted:

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Because some people think that a size 10 isn’t plus size. I would agree. And some people say ‘Well it’s fashion and for the fashion industry she is large.’ And yea, I guess. But ew. And of course there were a range of other lewd and vapid comments, but what stuck out to me is this need to define what she is. I mean, can’t she just be a model? Like, a beautiful model? I of course agree that we need to see a wider range of body types in the media, but it’s about so much more than that. Because redefining beauty is not just about expanding the range of sizes a woman can be while still being hot.

And then, well, then there was Kim.

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She ‘broke the internet’. She ‘did it again.’ Kayne tweeted his support:

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And everyone has an opinion. Some shamed her, because she ‘is someone’s mother’. Which is ridiculous cause babies are made with sex. Right? That’s not new news, is it? And some people are sick of her, and I’ll admit I am sick of her. And I’m sick of how her butt is always emphasized, and I’m uncomfortable with the racialized history of this type of photo. And the amount of photo shopping that I’m guessing happened here, to tip this photo over the top, is also problematic.

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But it’s not new. Is it? I mean, the whole shoot was recycled ideas the photographer already did. And haven’t we seen this before, in general? Is this so shocking? Is it really necessary to argue about what she should be doing with her body, if mom’s can be sexy (duh), if she has no talent (duh), etc? Why can’t we look right past her (I know, I know, ‘that ass tho’) and talk about the culture we all perpetuate that allows this photo of this actual famous person to exist? Because this photo, of a sexualized backside and a shiny shiny white-ish woman, this is what we push as an ideal of beauty. This is what we encourage young woman to aspire to.

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Quick, name a female scientist (that is alive, not Marie Curie.)

I’m gonna go with Emily Graslie, seen here reading her mail and talking about gender gaps in STEM fields.

Now name a female novelist (again, who is alive.)

Here are two dope women writers, chatting with each other and positively thrilling me. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian American novelist, and Zadie Smith is British and too smart for me.

Quick, think of 3 female role models that aren’t role models because they always look perfect and seem to have it all (this unfortunately leaves out Beyonce although her work ethic makes her worthy of role model status in my humble opinion.) Feel free to leave your pics in the comments.

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Because one of the important things to remember is that no matter what else we require of women, we require them to be beautiful. And I get it, we all like to look at beautiful things. But people aren’t things. And men don’t have these same kinds of standards. They can be professional or smart or powerful or parents or hardworking or famous or entrepreneurial, without also having to look flawless all day every day. But women must always exist in these contested spaces. Is she pretty enough? Is she a good mother? Can she be a feminist icon while also being sexy? Is she too sexy? Too crude? Can women be funny?

The topic of ‘is she good enough’ is always up for debate.

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All of this chips away at women’s humanity. We are not objects to be argued over. Our bodies are our own. So too are the choices we make. If Kim wants to get lathered up with baby oil and let them photo shop her waist so she can continue to make money off her ass, that’s her choice. I don’t wanna talk about it, but she’s allowed. And she should be allowed without all the subsequent chatter. Like the photo or don’t, but remember that she is an actual human, with a family, with friends, with a real life. Same goes for Myla. Why should she have to deal with the ‘is she or isn’t she plus sized’ conversation? Plus sized is a made up thing. It’s not real. People are just people, with bodies of different shapes. Who. Cares.

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And before the ‘they put themselves out there to be judged’ brigade starts in, I will remind you that these kinds of arguments do not happen around men. Even male models, who make money off of their body and image do not occupy the contested spaces their female counterparts do. We do not pick apart male actors or celebrities in the same way. Because we don’t feel ownership over male bodies. We don’t feel entitled to enjoy or critique male bodies in the same way we do with female bodies. This entitlement contributes to the endless arguments, it contributes to internet harassment and street harassment and rape culture. And I’m sick of it. It’s exhausting.

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Here is a newsflash: adding your voice to the endless debate over who is beautiful and who is worthy will not end the centuries of violence and control enacted on the female body. If we spent half the energy we expend on judging women on thinking about how we could change the conversation and change the world, then we could actually get down to the work of making this world a better, safer place for  all those that are currently being disenfranchised by ‘the man’. Stop staring at Kim’s ass and arguing over which number size is too big for models, and let’s make our voices heard about the stuff that matters.

Celebrity Nude Photo Leak: Scandal or SEX CRIME OBVIOUSLY UGH

Some low life leaked photos of female celebrities this weekend, notably the wonderful Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Ariana Grande. And it’s being covered as a ‘scandal’.

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It’s not a scandal. It’s a sex crime.

Lena Duhnam succinctely sums up my feelings about the most oft used excuse for viewing the leaked shots:

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You shouldn’t be viewing these photos because you don’t have permission. They were not taken for you. These actresses have not chosen to share the images, they were not shot in a professional setting, no one was compensated. They are not ‘for sale’. They are private. Say it with me: PRIVATE.

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Listen, real talk: obviously I would love to see Jennifer Lawrence naked. I think she is beautiful, and bodies are beautiful, and that would be dope. But I won’t go find those pics, and I won’t link to where to find them, because this incident is a part of a clear pattern of misogyny and the policing of female sexuality and bodies. Celebrities give up a lot of privacy to have a career. Some of that I believe is part of their job, but some of it is a clear invasion. Women in particular, models and actresses and pop stars, are policed at a very high level. We speculate about their romantic lives ad nauseum (Jennifer Aniston etc) and we obsess over their bodies, circling supposed problem areas if they get too large (Jessica Simpson etc) or speculating about their health if they become too skinny (Nicole Richie, Angelina Jolie etc). This level of scrutiny is cruel, and it serves no one. We expect these women to hold to the standards we’ve all set for them, otherwise they face the wrath of tabloids and fans who will withhold their adoration until the standards are once again achieved. We hold them up as goddesses, but are quick to snatch them back down to earth if they ‘let themselves go.’

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But talent is not linked with a particular body type. This is why Christina Aguilera can belt at any size, and why Adele is effing glorious. The same applies to actresses, who needn’t be under 120 lbs to give a performance that is moving, convincing, funny or deep. Our adoration should be about performance, about the ability to consistently BRING IT. And yet instead of pledging our alegiance to those that move us, we worship goddesses of beauty and glamour. And I get it, because beauty and glamour are extremely appealing and alluring. But the standards are too rigid. The definitions of beauty of too strict and too immobilizing. The demands can never be maintained. And we are all just waiting for the slip up, so we can point out the flaws and I suppose feel some kind of catharsis or redemption because they are like us? Because perfection is an illusion, and we need them to prove it to us?

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This instance, though, can be spun as part of that worship. Which is gross. Because the naked body is private. It is for sharing only with those that you wish to share it with. This is not the same thing as to say it is shameful. It’s not shameful. Bodies are beautiful. The difference between what is private and what is shameful is not well articulated in our culture, and so we mostly teach girls that their bodies and their sexuality and their periods and their desires are shameful, when really those things are just private. Shaping them as private things has a much different connotation, because it is up to you to decide the boundaries of your personal privacy. Things are are private are under the purview of your own agency, subject to decisions that you are empowered to make for yourself. Shameful things have already been decided on for you, by someone else (your mother, your peers, the culture at large.) These photos were stolen and released without consent to shame these women. And the most common response is ‘Well if they don’t want them seen, then they shouldn’t take them’ which is indeed victim blaming akin to the ‘she was dressed provocatively’ or ‘don’t drink so much’ defense hurled at rape victims. The assumption is that if you take naked photos you are acting as a sexual being and if you are a woman that makes you a slut and you deserve to be exposed for what you are. She was asking for it. The only people responsible for crimes are those that commit them. In what realm of reality would it be unreasonable for a person to take intimate photos for themselves or a partner, and expect that only the person intended to see those photos would see them? Why wouldn’t a person imagine that their privacy be respected? If you believe that celebrities owe us even this, even their most intimate moments, then I think you are a delusional and unreasonable and not nice and unclear about what consent is and means. (Also: What are you hoping to find in those photos? Cause I’m pretty sure the fact that celebrities are naked under their clothes is not exactly revelatory information….)

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Women do not owe anyone access to their bodies. Famous women don’t owe you access to their nudity. Women in public don’t owe you access to touch them, to comment on their appearance, and they don’t owe you a smile. This incident highlights the way in which our culture functions to remind women that their bodies are not their own. It’s all connected friends, from street harassment to reproductive rights to the constant scrutiny and hunger for ever more provocative and revealing images. Don’t look at those pictures. They don’t belong to us.

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