Tag Archives: beauty standards

Obesity is a problem, yes, so is body-shaming.

This week for Role/Reboot I wrote about Maria Kang (aka “What’s Your Excuse?” fitness mom), this phenomenal piece by a Karen Hitchcock, “Fat City,” and the challenge of holding two seemingly competing ideas in our heads at one time. I contend that obesity-is-a-crisis and body-shaming-is-n0t-helpful are not, actually, competing ideas, but two separate, related problems that need big, multi-faceted solutions.

I really appreciate this comment from the always on point Marianne Cassidy:

Reducing obesity and ending body shaming are not opposing or even parallel goals. They’re the same goal. They want the same things – a healthier, happier population. They can be achieved the same way – by encouraging people to take care of their bodies and giving them the education and resources they need to make informed healthy choices.


Related Post: 1 in 4 women don’t exercise because they’re unhappy with their looks. 

Related Post: Can I have fat pride without throwing thin women under the bus?


Filed under Body Image, Media, Republished!

Dove: Pioneer or Panderer?

dove_wideweb__430x327I must admit, the first seven times someone emailed Dove’s ubiquitous new ad campaign, I got a little weepy and emotional. It hit all the right cords, all the soft, vulnerable spots that most women (and many men!) hold deep about their appearance. My nose is too big. My eyes are too far apart. My chin is too pointy. My forehead is too high. My X is too Y.  It takes all those “toos” and flips them, revealing with a clever gimmick how much we underestimate our own beauty. Here, just watch, it’s easier than explaining it:

It’s good advertising. It’s memorable, it’s shareable, it makes you feel warm and fuzzy. I literally feel prettier simply by watching it. Maybe I should go buy some Dove products….

Hold up.

It’s a testament to how compelling this video is that I didn’t bother to put on my critical hat and unpack this bad boy a little. I was so distracted by the swelling music and the teary eyed attractive-but-not-too-attractive people that I forgot that the broader implications of this video are hella problematic.

The blogs Jazzy Little Drops and Eat the Damn Cake do a great job of breaking it down, but here are a few of the key issues:

1. Beauty is still #1 – As the participants in the video experiment articulate, how they feel about themselves as friends, employees, partners, as human beings is affected by how they feel about their looks. This might be true, in the technical sense that many people do feel this way, but it’s not okay. We attribute all sorts of “good” qualities to those that possess certain desirable traits, and all sorts of “bad” qualities to those that don’t. This campaign does nothing to undermine this correlation, but rather reinforces it. As one participant says, natural beauty “could not be more critical to your happiness.” Is that really the message we want to send when we’re pushing “Real Beauty?”

2. Only certain things are beautiful: Namely, anything thin. The positive descriptions of body parts are pretty narrow, “thin nose” and “thin chin” = good. Round face = bad. Freckles = bad. Forget the racial connotations (are thin noses the only good noses?), what we see reflected in the commentary is not that beauty standards should be widened, but that more people meet the arbitrary requirements than we think. Congratulations, you’ve made the cut! Should there be a cut? Well, no… but there is, and you made it (phew! you’re not one of the ugly ones), so bravo for you!

3. Speaking of race….: As Jazzy pointed out, people of color appear on screen a total of 10 seconds. Yeahhhhh, like that’s not reductionist. Do you remember the story about the black newscaster with close-cropped hair who got fired after responding to a viewer who told her to “wear a wig or grow more hair?” The idea that one certain thing–long, straight hair, for example–is objectively beautiful is preposterous. All you have to do is watch Jessica Simpson’s VH1 show The Price of Beauty to remember that what you think is beautiful isn’t necessarily the standard everywhere. Jeez, how arrogant can we get?

So where does that leave us? Where does that leave Dove? I’ve been skeptical of those folks for a while, ever since someone clued me in that their parent company, Unilever, is also the parent company of Axe (maker of body spray and terrible commercials).

The goal of this ad is not to change beauty standards. It is not to diminish the importance we place on beauty as a measure of woman’s worth. It is not to remind the universe that the way you look does not determine the kind of person you are or the value you add to the world. The goal of this ad is to make you buy more Dove products. Period.

Related Post: Why is it okay to put 16-year-olds in lingerie ads? It’s not.

Related Post: Models without make-up.


Filed under Advertising, Body Image, Media, Really Good Writing by Other People

Model Behavior and a Train of Thought

MODEL-MORPHOSIS - T Magazine Blog - NYTimes.com

Model Hannah Gaby Odiele for Marc Jacobs

Confession: There are few things I find more engrossing than model “before and afters.” There’s a whole genre of this stuff, with variations like “Celebrities without makeup!” and “They have cellulite too!” and “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” and I can’t pull my eyes away.

The example above is from the New York Times Magazine in a series called Model-Morphosis (It’s interactive! Yippee!) but here are a few other examples from the blog I Waste So Much Time

Supermodels without makeup.-2

Supermodels without makeup.-1

Supermodels without makeup.I think the word “engrossed” is the right one. It’s not “fun” per se, to sit and parse the appearances of beautiful people looking less beautiful, but I do find it some twisted combination of mesmerizing, fascinating, horrifying, reassuring, and enlightening. I see pictures like this and in quick succession I think:

a) Wow, she is not attractive

b) That was mean. Stop judging.

c) But like, really, that is all make-up and hair and lighting and photoshop…

d) Maybe I could look like that with make-up and hair and lighting and photoshop?

e) Hold up. Why do I want to look like that?

f) This is fucked. Why is our standard of beauty so far outside the spectrum of what actual humans look like?

g) I want no part of this.

h) Except… look how much bigger her eyes looked like when they added mascara…

i) Maybe I should invest in some good mascara

j) But why are big eyes a good thing? What’s wrong with the size of my eyes?


l) Except not as perfect as they are… with make-up and big hair and lighting and photoshop…

m) But if people don’t know about the make-up and hair and lighting and photoshop…

n) Then they just think that these women are abnormally beautiful,

o) Which they are not, because they are just normal looking humans.

p) What does it mean if we think these women are normal?

q) It means we start doing things like shaving our jaw bones

r) and getting eyelash extensions

s) and injecting collagen into our lips.

t) That shit is scary.

u) So…maybe it’s okay if everyone knows that this not what they really look like?

v) So… maybe these “before and afters” are actually kind of an educational tool?

w) We should teach media literacy in schools. There should be warning labels on magazine covers.

x) I hope I don’t have daughters

y) That’s a really sad thing to say.

z) I hate everyone and we are doomed.

Related Post: Average-sized fitness models. Who knew?

Related Post: How old is she really? Underage models.


Filed under Advertising, Body Image, Gender, Media

The Lena Dunham/Patrick Wilson Conundrum

Lena Dunham and Patrick Wilson (Girls)

Lena Dunham and Patrick Wilson (Girls)

I know you all watched Girls last night and have some seriously complicated feelings about it. I know I do! Most people have been talking structure, since this strange little episode was such a diversion from the show’s loosey-goosey multi-character narrative flow. But, when Lena Dunham spends so much time naked, we know we can’t just talk cinematic decision-making, we have to talk about the body politic.

Jezebel headlined their recap (which I thought was mostly on target) with “What Kind of Guy Does a Girl Who Looks Like Lena Dunham ‘Deserve’?” and I think they’re asking the right question. To sum up, she spends the weekend banging an older, blindingly handsome, chiseled Patrick Wilson. He looks like he just stepped off a yacht in the Vinyard while filming a Land’s End spot, and she looks like a very average, very pear-shaped girl who probably sat next to you in the library and tried to surreptitiously eat a donut while reading Foucault. Mismatch made in heaven? Apparently not, according to many a commenter, who go as far as to say this pairing is so farfetched it must be a dream sequence.

But is it that farfetched? Let’s grant that if you polled Americans, Patrick Wilson is about a 9.7 and Lena Dunham is, say, a 5.5. I am making up these numbers, but the point is that they are more than a standard deviation or two apart. Does that kind of perceived aesthetic mismatch ever work out?

Amber Valletta and Kevin James (Hitch)

Amber Valletta and Kevin James (Hitch)

Adam Sandler and Salma Hayek (Grown Ups)

Adam Sandler and Salma Hayek (Grown Ups)

Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogan (Knocked Up)

Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogan (Knocked Up)

Wait, weren’t you saying it’s ludicrous to even think that a vaguely unkempt, less sophisticated schlub might land a smoking hot partner? Oh I seeee, it’s only ludicrous because she’s a lady and ladies are supposed to be the smooth, shiny ones. I get it now, this is just your basic old-fashioned double standard. Got it, glad we’re all on the same page.

But Seth Rogan is so scruffy and adorable! But Adam Sandler is so hilarious! But Kevin James is so cute and cuddly!  Women have other reasons for falling for these dudes in the movies, so it all makes sense. Actually, doesn’t that seem about right? We all want to end up with someone we find physically pleasing, but most adults acknowledge that there will inevitably be a thousand other things we love about a person too. Even though not everyone can look like insert-your-dream-hunk-here, we will “compromise” because they are delightful and lovely in all of the ways that really count. You know, kindness, smarts, humor, that kind of lame “personality” stuff.

Why is this such a shocking concept when the genders are reversed? I find it both offensive to the ladies (you are nothing if not decoration!) and insulting to the dudes (you are shallow and only want decoration!) Why is it hard to imagine, in theory, that Patrick Wilson might have found this overly earnest quirky hipster girl on his doorstep sweet, cute, funny, or interesting? Or also hot? Which brings me to my second point…

I would like to brag about something now. It will seem like just straight-up patting myself on the back, but it is in service to a point, so stick with me. I have slept with some good looking gentlemen, some if-you-polled-America-they-would-tell-you-that-he-is-fiiiiiine kind of men. Here’s the kicker: back in the day (young, naive, blah blah blah), I used to be surprised that they wanted to sleep with me. Not like, “oh poor little old me, I’m not a supermodel” surprised, but just kind of curious, the kind of curious you are when you’re a plus size girl who is most definitely in the Lena Dunham camp, the she-of-the-thunder-thighs camp, not the Salma Hayek/Amber Valletta/Katherine Heigl camp.

So here’s what I know. People like all kinds of things. They like all kinds of bodies. They like all kinds of people. This is in spite of the Esquire Hot 100 list, or the Maxim Ladies We Love, or the Bro Mag Chicks We Dig column. There is certainly a segment of men who would only go for the willowy model-types (just as there are women who won’t date men under 5’9″). But there are also men (more than you think), that have a wide ranging palate. We are deluding ourselves if we let the beauty mags tell us what men like, because men will tell you that, yeah, that 36-24-36 is nice, but so is this, and this, and that, and sometimes this, and when I’m in the mood, that too. Human sexuality is a complicated thing, yo, and it’s pretty freaking arrogant to think your taste is the only one that makes any sense.

So I guess what I’m saying is no, I don’t think it’s impossible that Patrick Wilson went for Lena Dunham, and yes, I do think y’all are seriously narrow-minded if you can’t see that.

Related Post: My kind of porn tumblr (NSFW).

Related Post: Does being fat-positive mean you have to throw skinny girls under the bus?


Filed under Body Image, Gender, Hollywood, Media, Sex, Uncategorized

Rock and a Hard Place

This will be the last thing I write about the Facebook page “12 Year Old Sluts,” unless, of course, it’s taken down, in which case I will crow from the rooftops.

This time, for Role/RebootI didn’t write about my rage at Facebook, or my petition, or why these men are sick and twisted. We (the collective progressive, feminist, feminist ally, sex-positive “we”) take for granted that this page is horrifying. We think the level of its heinousness is just too obvious ignore. For this piece though, I wanted to think through specifically what makes it so damaging, why it’s only an extension of existing double standards, and why some people think it’s just A-ok.

The “12 Year Old Sluts” page is just the most extreme example of the double bind that teenaged girls (and adult women) deal with all the time. It’s the worst incarnation of what happens when you’re stuck between wanting to be attractive and sexy, but not wanting to be thought too sexy (ready slutty). The sweet spot is small and hard to find, and it’s no surprise to me that teenagers get it so so wrong. Don’t we all from time to time?

Related Post: Don’t take my picture! Come on, you’re at the beach!

Related Post: Bras for children that “1000% cute!”

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Filed under Gender, Media, Republished!, Sex