Tag Archives: body diversity

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.

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Aerie Announces an End to Retouching

‘What the hell is Aerie?’, you might be asking. Well, Aerie is a sister brand of American Eagle, their lingerie line, targeting customers ages 15-25 . And they announced recently that they will be using unretouched photos from here on out.

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Ok, now I know that letter seems kinda corny and contrived. Because corporate America is heartless and doesn’t care about your feelings and this is most likely a response to a consumer driven desire, and they think this will make them more money. I get that.

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But you know, the pictures do have a different vibe than the totally spotless photos we usually see.

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Look, I know they aren’t breaking any huge barriers when it comes to beauty standards. These are all able bodied models with conventionally beautiful features and long hair, and they are all on the lighter end of the skin color spectrum. But I can see belly wrinkles, freckles, and out of place hair in these photos. Even tattoos!

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I read an article about this that was a complete criticism. They see no value in this incredibly small step in the right direction. And I do think, of course, that there is room for much much more race and size diversity, and maybe even one day a girl with short hair (DREAM BIG), etc. But I think throwing complete shade on this move is a mistake. The level of airburshing and digital changes made to photos of women are causing a cognitive dissonance in the culture. Even though you know that no one looks like that, not even the subject in the photo, you never see the real image. It’s hard to convince ourselves that what we see isn’t real.

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I know that seeing slight skin discoloration and freckles and tattoos on models isn’t exactly earth shattering, but consider that most photos are edited to within an inch of their lives. Even women who’ve won the genetic lottery, and fit the nearly impossible standards in place, are airbrushed to a truly impossible standard, leaving us all chasing an ideal that doesn’t exist in real life. I do not expect a company selling lingerie to just abandon beauty standards in one foul swoop. We should not scold them when they take little steps, or else they will stop taking any steps at all. And if this is profit driven, purely a reaction to what consumers say they want, then that’s AOK! Let’s respond with, ‘Good job! We want more! More size diversity and more racial diversity! Short hair! Throw in a differently-abled body and we’ll be life long customers!’

I mean listen, hopefully one day the beauty standards will explode and there will be space for a truly diverse array of people and bodies. And hopefully one day women won’t be so focused on chasing an ideal, and everyone can learn to love and appreciate themselves as they are. But this whole airbrushing thing is an extra insidious layer to the struggle, because it messes with our actual grasp on reality. It’s disingenuous, it’s irresponsible, and it’s damaging our collective beauty world view. So let’s pat Aerie on the back for now, offer some friendly advice about how it could be even more awesome, and go about our business. This isn’t the moment to throw our hands up and declare that we’re free from all gender norms and constraints, obviously. But it is a small victory in what often feels like a sea of setbacks and regression. For today, I’ll take it.

(all images belong to Aerie!)