On the (Rest of the) Net.

Once upon a time, a disillusioned Los Angeles writer bemoaned the fact that when you start getting dermal fillers and can’t speak to someone else who hasn’t, “you realise there is actually something quite wrong with L.A… And then along comes Heidi Montag and you feel normal again.”:

“The amount of women, like Heidi, I see in Los Angeles walking around like blow up dolls, victims to the horrific mental disorder of body dysmorphiais huge. Body dysmorphia is as much a disease as anorexia, as bulimia, as over-eating, as alcoholism, drug addiction. These are mental disorders which manifest themselves in physical self-harm.”

Like the compulsion to have DDD size boobs implanted on your tiny, surgically-sculpted frame that cause you constant pain and prevent restful sleep and exercise.

Girl with a Satchel asks if new British magazine “…Just as Beautiful [is] Fetishising & Sexualising Fuller Female Figures?”

From “Gender is Not Just a Performance”:

“It is a crass oversimplification, as ridiculous as saying all gender is genitals, all gender is chromosomes, or all gender is socialisation. In reality, gender is all of these things and more.”

To celebrate No Make Up Week, Rachel Hills contemplates why we feel there’s something wrong with us if we don’t go around looking flawless at all times.

Still with Rachel Hills: her “Kanye West Syndrome” article, “I’mma Let You Finish…” and “Himglish & Femalese”, about how men are women are the same, but different, are stand-outs.

The New York Times, in an article from last year, ponders the vampire’s place in fashion.

In more vampire news, Billie Doux offers up Buffy Quotes for Every Occasion”, paying special attention to librarianship, in which these gems pop up: “I love the smell of desperate librarian in the morning,” and “I mean, I can’t believe you got into Oxford… That’s where they make Gileses”.

Gender blogger Greta Christina lists the “5 Stupid, Unfair & Sexist Things Expected of Men”, in which she states that “… sexism hurts men. In particular, … our society’s expectations of men, [and] our very definitions of maleness. I’ve been looking at how rigid and narrow many of these expectations are…”, such as “being tall”! Not much a man can do about his height… much like the stupid, unfair and sexist things expected of women.

We all know how much I love professional wrestler cum author cum sexual assault crusader, and finally, Jezebel has cottoned on to the awesomeness that is Mick Foley, even going as far as to say that “we need more men like him.” Amen to that. Also, check out his blog.

There’s a lot of debate over whether a straight man and a straight woman can be “just friends” (FYI, I believe they can), and this article favours the notion that having “Platonic Female Friendships Can Make For a Better Man”.

If my love for Beauty & the Beast (the DVD is currently out of the Disney vault on re-release; I have a birthday coming up…) is anything to go by, “Brunettes Love Beauty & the Beast”. As “princess hero”-affirming as that might be, the article ends on a negative note, saying that “a brunette [is] more prone to rational expectations of life and thus… the ‘We Love Belle’ fan-club must be an awfully boring place to be… Blondes: 1 Brunettes: 0”. Ouch.

ScreenCrave on why Twilight’s Bella Swan is a Feminist’s Nightmare”.

In the spirit of such Girls Night In staples as Mean Girls and Bring It On (more on my Girls Night In to come next week), Jezebel advocates for the “5 Life Lessons Learned from The Ladies of 00s Teen Films”.

In “Print This Out & Give it to Every Boy You Know”, Jezebel debunks the myths of the feminist. For example:

“[Myth:] Feminists are angry/predominantly lesbians/man-haters/all of the above… Some women are angry, yes. Some are lesbians. And some probably hate or fear men. Some women also identify as feminists. These characteristics exist independently of each other. If there’s overlap, it’s coincidental and correlated or causal…”

and

“Feminism has more flavours than Baskin-Robbins and a hundred and one areas of focus, covering everything from reproductive rights to international development to political reform or popular culture. Beyonce is a feminist and so is Hilary Clinton. And men can be feminists, too! It’s a big tent party, y’all! Heck, some women live their entire lives according to feminist principles, but never use the term.”

I would like to tell that to a certain “I hate feminism” espousing lady I know…

REPUBLISHED: Is There Really a Beauty Myth?

 

Following on from Monday’s post about the Feminism Has Failed debate, I thought I’d republish an entry from earlier in the year, when I went to hear Naomi Wolf speak at the Wheeler Centre about her book, The Beauty Myth, which led me to ask: Is there really a beauty myth?

Last night I went to see prolific feminist author Naomi Wolf speak on her book, The Beauty Myth, and how images of beauty in the media are used against women at the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing & Ideas in Melbourne.

The common perception about “feminists” is that they’re all—to borrow a quote from Bring It On—“big, dikey losers” who burn their bras and don’t shave under their arms. But at the risk of sounding cliché, I don’t believe you can be female and not be a feminist.

There was an overwhelming amount of people packed into the Capitol Theatre, off Swanston Street, and the majority were your average woman on the street, most coming from work or uni, with the odd flanny-wearing, mullet-rocking stereotype. And a few men, too, one of whom posed the question as to whether women’s magazines facilitate the media’s ideal of what a woman should look like. (More on that later.)

I also don’t like the notion, and nor does Wolf, that to be a “feminist”, or to even be interested in the topic without adopting the extremist views that some “second-wave feminists” espouse—Catharine MacKinnon, I’m talking to you—is to be a Germaine Greer tome-thumping man-hater. She touched on this when she mentioned that whenever there’s a move forward for women (ie. the right to vote, the availability of the birth control pill meaning women could have “sex without the punishment of pregnancy”, Jennifer Hawkins posing nude and unairbrushed on the cover of Marie Claire), there is the inevitable backlash.

It was interesting to note the fact that that the three most important pieces of literature on feminism—The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, Greer’s The Female Eunuch, and The Beauty Myth—each have twenty-one years between their publication dates, a “coming of age” of sorts in understanding the “lexicon of feminism”, the MC said.

Another point of interest was the beauty and vivacity of the author herself, not to mention her fab shoes!

Wolf said she loved Australia because we’re so candid and unselfconscious in our responses to the issues she raises, and that nowhere else do “visiting feminists get treated like rock stars.”

Speaking of rock stars, an certain icon in history has been not only a rock star, but a gymnast, teacher, astronaut and mother, amongst many other occupations. This icon is Barbie, and she was a hot topic on the night.

Barbie represents the “universal ideal” of “transcendental beauty”, in the Western world in particular and, according to Wolf, she is a valuable media tool in the cosmetics, dieting and plastic surgery industries.

Wolf asked why we never see women who are not under 40, thin, tanned, blonde, blue-eyed and Caucasian (ie. Barbie) in the media (which I personally disagree with; Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek, Ellen DeGeneres, Christina Hendricks, Kim Kardashian, Meryl Streep, Oprah Winfrey and the Grey’s Anatomy women are a few examples that counter this theory). Here is the one word answer: advertisers. They are the reason the Barbie-stereotype is on the cover of magazines every month.

Sure, magazines get most of their revenue from the advertisers, and if they think their brand ideal will be jeopardised by running an ad in Glamour magazine, which has been running a lot of plus-sized photo shoots recently and garnering a lot of attention for it, for example, they will not give their ad money to that magazine. So therefore, Glamour has a lower budget to promote itself to readers every month. Then its loyal readers receive less of the content they keep coming back for, ie. women who look like them, and will stop buying that magazine.

On the other hand, as Mia Freedman talks about in her memoir, Mama Mia: A Memoir of Mistakes, Magazines & Motherhood, and editor of Shop Til You Drop magazine Justine Cullen writes in this month’s issue, women don’t buy the Ellens, Meryls and Kims, they buy the Jennifers and Kates. So, Wolf said last night, “it’s something you’re doing” as media consumers.

So it’s a double-edged sword. We complain that we want to see more “real women” in magazines, however we’re not willing to shell out for them, therefore sales go down, advertisers move elsewhere, and “we don’t know what we’re missing” because “women doing interesting things are omitted” from the mainstream media, and instead we get another story on Jennifer Aniston’s desperation over Brad and Angelina’s marriage, or some crap. I think Wolf is right in saying that we need to consciously refuse to buy into those kinds of stories and look towards other instances of women in the media.

However, I don’t agree—and this seems to be the consensus, especially amongst those who don’t actually consume women’s magazines on a regular basis—with the belief that all women’s magazines try to sell us are diets, $350 beauty products that don’t actually work, and low self-esteem. To people with this view, I say, try picking up a copy of Cosmopolitan, Frankie or Girlfriend magazines. These are all publications that are geared towards different demographics of females—sexually active and assertive women in their late teens to mid-to-late twenties; alternative, crafty women, most likely studying design or politics; and the teenage set, respectively—that DO NOT run diets, do recommend fashion and beauty products at the affordable end of the spectrum, and present women of all shapes and sizes in a positive light. Not all women’s magazines are at the crux of this “beauty myth”.

Another major point in Wolf’s theory is the abundance of pornography in today’s society, which she also talks a lot about in this past weekend’s Sunday Life supplement in Melbourne’s The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. She argues that this lowers the sexual confidence of both men and women, but young women, in particular, feel they have to offer an array of sexual activities they’re not necessarily comfortable with in order to “feel competitive in the sexual marketplace”. Because men, in particular, have such “strong, Pavlovian responses” to porn, excessive consumption can lead to desensitisation to the real thing, which is why there is such a surge in impotence in young men.

Where once it were supermodels who determined the sexual ideal of women, it is now female porn stars, with their svelte, childlike torsos, fake breasts and meticulously trimmed pubic region, society uses as the benchmark. Bodies that share similarities with— who else?!— Barbie.

One could argue that Brazilian and XXX waxing is a way for the male-geared porn industry to beat women into submission, so that they become childlike and are able to be dominated. Another intriguing point Wolf puts forward can be traced back to the dieting industry, in that striving to look the way of the porn star, with a super-slim body and low body mass index actually diminishes the libido. Is this really what society wants whilst pushing such a sexual culture? Or is it in tune with the subservient nature of females in porn?

Wolf also addressed the perception that women with eating disorders and negative body image are “crazy”. As an anorexic in her teens, Wolf debunked this, saying that “physiologically, low calorie count causes mental impairment,” and is a “form of control” by the dieting industry, the media, and society to control and suppress women’s ambitions. Because when you’re thinking about food and exercising and the way you look, you’re not thinking about education and work and your future.

She added that a way to counteract this is to form “active critical thought” about images of beauty, which apparently 33% of women do. Another 18% become obsessed by these images, which in turn leads to eating disorders and body dysmorphia. The rest of us hover somewhere in between.

During question time, one audience member asked why she—who comes from an educated, loving and supportive background; is surrounded by encouraging and non-judgemental friends and family; who does form critical opinions about the media’s portrayal of women—feels ugly, fat, not good enough and constantly compares herself to other women, in the media or no, and how “active critical thought” can really alter this.

I thought this was a very brave and fascinating question put to Wolf, however her response was more disheartening. In a nutshell, she basically said that at the end of the day, if being open to different images of beauty, both from the mainstream and non-mainstream media worlds, and being able to confidently and objectively realise that not everyone looks like that and that is not the real-life ideal, still makes you feel like crap, there may be some underlying issues that only a therapist can fix.

Which poses another question: how far have we really come? From the 1920s “flapper body style” that emerged when women first won the vote and somehow felt they had to look more masculine to adapt to this, to an auditorium full of beautiful, successful, smart and “critically thinking” independent women in 2010, does this notion of the “beauty myth” really exist? Is there a beauty myth that we have to expose?