Tag Archives: female image

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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#NotBuyingIt : A Feminist App To Help You Be Heard!

Just before the Super Bowl, something really cool happened. The folks over at The Miss Representation project created an app, based on a hashtag movement, to help us all call out sexist advertising. #NotBuyingIt was born.

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I was always amped on the idea, and I downloaded it back in February, but I hadn’t busted it out until just last week. And let me tell you, I picked a douzey to start. Here is the lovely Miranda Kerr, using her very naked body to sell Reebok sneakers.

 

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Using sexy ladies to sell products that have nothing to do with sex or women in particular is nothing new. We see it again and again with beer, cars, and pretty much all manner of products. Doesn’t matter who the target is, a beautiful woman in an ad can’t hurt, or at least that’s been the wisdom up to now.

But this ad is particularly icky because of the weird, voyeuristic point of view. The camera is following her from behind for most of the shots, watching her from a distance and also at weird angles. And then it randomly cuts to an across the street view from a different apartment. I was so startled that I expected that view to be part of the story line of the commercial. But it’s not. Because looking at women and visually consuming their bodies is so accepted and commonplace that even this awkward moment is just par for the course. It’s such a casual shift, you almost miss how absolutely inappropriate and invasive that viewpoint really is. I mean, who the fuck was watching her from across the street? Does it even matter? And what does her black-undies clad ass have to do with sneakers?

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Now look, I know that in lots of cities (certainly in NYC) spying on our neighbors is sort of commonplace. We live in close quarters, the walls are thin, privacy is limited. But this kind of deliberate use of a voyeuristic view point is really inappropriate and creepy. Women are not walking around just so you can ogle them, and spying on people is wrong and sometimes illegal. And while we’re at it how about we can this weird ‘undressing as we go’ scenario. No one does that. It’s super choreographed and forced.

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Seriously, why must this story line, which logically should include athletics or movement, instead focus on her undressing and showering? They could have at least shown her ‘working out’ so you can argue that the shoes helped her get that body (which is mostly untrue since super models have all hit the genetic lotto and even with these shoes and hard work many women won’t ever have that ass and THAT’S COMPLETELY OK AND WONDERFUL.) I had a similar beef when Sketchers was using beautiful women to try and convince us that they got their bodies using those dumb shoes, because not only is it exploitative of the models but it assumes that we, the consumers, are all dumb enough to believe that. I can almost picture the scene of creation for this concept: a group of dudes, sitting around a conference table, Googling pictures of Ms Kerr and pitching ideas with the the singular goal of seeing her get completely undressed. How sophisticated.

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Luckily, I had the app! And it’s totally sleek and user friendly and easy, and I used it to call that nonsense out.
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And it felt great. I felt relieved that there was  a space for me to flex my feminist muscels and vent some of my anger. And not just a space of acceptance, but a space of action where other people were doing the exact same thing. The app, when it’s working right, actually does put pressure on advertisers and companies to change their ways. And why, you ask, does this kind of thing matter? Elizabeth Plank over at Policy Mic explains:

Missrepresentation.org explains that the average teenage girl spends 11 hours interacting with media every single day and that many of the images “depict women in a degrading light, perpetuate unrealistic body ideals, or use extreme stereotypes of masculinity to define men.”

The images we see all day every day, in magazines and on billboards and on all our varied screens have a huge impact. If the only women depicted in these spaces are sexualized, degraded, silent and objectified, then we will all absorb the idea that real women are also all of those things. And only those things. And until we demand different images with different messages, young girls will continue to internalize the very damaging idea that they can only be beautiful if they fit into a very narrow physical type, and that their only worth comes from being beautiful and sexually available. Think I’m exaggerating? Check out the Miss Representation documentary to hear lots of much smarter ladies break it down. And download the free #NotBuyingIt app. It’s super easy and fun, and for now there is no shortage of sexist advertising to call out. Be heard.

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Sochi Sexism

See what I did there! Alliteration!

The buzz coming from Sochi is that, well, it’s still kind of a rough situation over there. But the games start today, so they need to get it together! Yesterday, to [distract from the below-par facilities/animal rights violations/ rampant homophobia] advertise and drum up some enthusiasm, Russia released some insane photos of their female athletes. As you scroll through, practice this fun tool for figuring out if what you are seeing is ‘gender issues’: reverse the situation. In this example, the question is ‘Would male athletes be photographed this way?’

Curling.
Curling. Alex Saitova
Figure Skating.
Figure Skating. Ekaterina Bobrova
Freestyle.
Freestyle. Catherine Carpenter
Hockey.
Hockey. Svetlana Kolmykovan.
Short track.
Short track. Tatiana Borodulina
Skelaton.
Skeleton. Elena Nikitina

Look kids, these women have great bodies. They are bodies they work hard to maintain for their high level, outrageously difficult athletic endeavors. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be photographed to appear sexy, but do they have to take all the ‘athletic’ out of it? I can’t tell these aren’t lingerie models, and that’s selling them short (so is the tacky aesthetic, but that’s another story for another day…) I want to see how powerful they are. I want to see what their bodies are capable of, other than sitting on a bed in heels.

Here is a sexy shot of Andy Murray:

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Shirtless, yea, but in action.

Or how about this beast shot of Kenneth Faried:

naked and alluring but still 100% athlete
naked and alluring but still 100% athlete

And here is a link to Sports Illustrated Sexiest 25 Male Athletes. No undies, all either clothed or in their gear. Sexy, but not posed like underwear models. Not that there is anything wrong with being a lingerie model. But female athletes work incredibly hard to have the skills and stamina needed to compete at high levels. I don’t want to see them stripped of that work in a photo that reduces them so being eye candy. Why can’t they be athletic, strong and powerful eye candy? Because, duh, they are. And women can be lots of things (hot, smart, funny, sexy, powerful, assertive, vulnerable, caring, ETC) all at the very same time. Cause all humans are complicated. And unique. And exquisitely, complexly wonderful. Well, most humans…

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lets keep it real
lets keep it real

Miss Representation: my fav documentary featuring dope women & fabulous content

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There is so so much to say when you talk about how women are represented in our culture. This 90 minute documentary covers a variety of topics connected thematically by how women are seen, heard and manipulated in the media, and really each topic could be its own movie. However, the film does an excellent job showing us how each idea is connected by a huge web of bias and power, and this is a major step in understanding how deep the rabbit hole goes. And it’s not just about the big flashy issues like abortion or Beyonce or equal pay (although if you are not furious that women today right now make 77 cents on the dollar of men then you need a serious jolt), it’s more insidious than that. They are targeting all women, across all races and classes, and they are doing it in subtle, inconspicuous ways. And it’s affecting women, and our girls, in both mundane and profound ways, shaping our thoughts and actions when we wake up and while we are at school or at work and when we interact with other women, and with men, and the thoughts we think about ourselves and others. There were two topics that spoke to me personally, that stood out just a little more than the other also super important points. Honestly, I’d love to discuss the whole freakin’ thing in lots of detail providing my own examples but ain’t nobody got time for that. Plus it’s available on Netflix and I know you all have your parent’s account info so go watch it! And while you are munching your popcorn and becoming more informed and righteously angry with each new statistic, you can keep these thoughts in mind.

The topic that hit closest to home for me, as a story teller, was the fact that women are not given power or autonomy in the stories we all consume. In movies, on television, even in kids shows/films, there is a serious dearth of heroines. When stories are about women they are usually about finding love or romance, or motherhood. There is less variety and complexity among female characters. They are not multi dimensional. They are eye candy, they are sex objects, they are love sick or lonely. Let’s look at an example given in the documentary: The Star Trek franchise. I am talking specifically about the new movies and not any of the series (which for the record show incredible diversity and some amazing female characters in leadership roles. I’m looking at you Captain Janeway!) But the new movies focus primarily on the bromance between Kirk and Spock. Do not misunderstand me, I love a good bromance. I love witty banter and friendship of all kinds. And I enjoyed this movie, and their relationship, a whole lot. But you can’t help but notice that the guys get to be cowboys and misbehave and save the day and be roguishly charming. And what does the main female character, played by Zoe Saldana, do? She is Spock’s love interest. I know I know, who wouldn’t wanna be Zachary Quinto’s  main squeeze? And she is wicked smart, so there is at least that. But mostly we watch her kiss him and worry about him. She isn’t involved in the main action, or a part of the film’s major theme;  finding one’s destiny. She follows him there. Her destiny is entirely linked to his.

Here is the trailer. Zoe is shown just twice on screen, and the second sighting is a kiss, duh. The guys are, well, being awesome characters.

As you might imagine, the film really is this exact trailer blown out into 2 hours, and I could go on for days about films and TV shows that follow this pattern. My conclusion is that a more diverse group of storytellers is needed. We need women to be creating content. We need you to tell your stories, speak your truth and raise your voice in whatever medium you are passionate about. That is how we are going to get more Hermoine’s on the screen to inspire and empower young girls. (If you wanna argue with me about how incredible that character is I’m happy to do that, but at a later date. Also, she’s fierce and integral to the story and smarter than any other character and sees plenty of danger and action and so if you don’t see how amazing that is then, well, I politely but forcefully dis concur.) We need to read more books by women, see more art created by women, hear more stories by and about women. If kids only read male authors, how much harder is it to imagine that women can write, and write well! If we never see female characters go on quests and discover their destinies, how are we to imagine that we can have adventures in our own lives?

Here is a fun clip about symbolic annihilation and who has power in the media. Board members, directors, heroines… all hard to come by. Rosario Dawson speaks my heart.

So women telling stories is likely to result in stories of women having adventures. Which sort of leads in to the second important point: they don’t want you to see yourself having adventures, or being capable. The content we are shown is controlled, in a very direct way, by the advertisers who want to sell you stuff. And they do this by making everyone feel constantly inadequate. This is true for all people, but women are targeted in particularly vile ways. All of the images we see are meant to be an ‘ideal’ that we should want and work towards, but that ideal is fake. That woman has features and a body determined by genetics, and she spends lots of time and money on physical upkeep. She has a team of stylists, hair and make up experts, and great lighting. And then after all that, she still isn’t good enough, and so that image is digitally altered. Significantly altered. No one looks like that. I repeat: NO ONE LOOKS LIKE THAT. But since we all learn early on that a woman’s worth is inextricably linked to how she looks, we strive. We buy the creams and the whiteners and the hair goop and the push up bra and the stilettos and the diet stuff. And it’s time consuming, financially consuming, and emotionally damaging. And while we are all running around chasing this ideal (which, for the record, is an arbitrary aesthetic determined and disseminated by a select few who are well aware that it is unattainable), the men are running the fucking world.

I’m not saying you are lame if you like to look good. Most people do. Personally, I feel super accomplished and grown up when I’m able to line my lips perfectly on the first try. And having fun with make up, or wanting to look professional for your job or sexy for your partner is not behavior that is all together harmful. But if you are always on a diet, spend hours getting ready, if you feel ugly without make-up or you’re constantly striving to go down a size, then I have a message: you are perfect the way you are. From the moment you get up. The bill of goods they are selling you is horse shit. You don’t need anything that you don’t already possess to be a whole, beautiful, and worthwhile human. And if people in your life make you feel otherwise you should run the hell away from those people and spend time with people who love you unconditionally and want to help you achieve your dreams and not just pick out the perfect outfit to go with those uncomfortable shoes.

So yea, I ranted a little bit there. But it boils down to this: don’t make your appearance the paramount struggle of your days. That is exactly what they (the vague, insidious they) want. Just think of all the time and energy you could save! Time and energy that could go towards discovering your passions and building loving relationships. Let achieving your dreams be the focus, and your lip liner the fun distraction. What a different world we’d be living in if women weren’t so busy trying to be beautiful/thin/successful/lovable/perfect all the time, and instead were focusing on their own love and adventures. And if your true calling is in any way about communication or story telling, then be fierce and true to yourself and don’t let your voice be drowned out. And if you have younger family members or work with kids, mentor those girls and show them that there is more to life than waiting for a prince while wearing the right dress. There are adventures to be had and new friends to be made and experiences to share. If we don’t see ourselves this way, we will continue to be disenfranchised and underrepresented.

Go watch it, comment with your thoughts/fav parts or whatever. And coming soon there is a new documentary from these same folks about how men are affected by the harmful and limiting portrayals of masculinity, and I am AMPED.