On the (Rest of the) Net.

Tyra Banks writes an open letter to girls in the modeling industry—and girls in general—about Vogue’s new eating disorder mandate. [Daily Beast]

Hot off the heels of his first Sydney and Melbourne shows, the beauty that is Prince’s “Kiss”. [One a Day]

Scarlett Johansson sets the “toilet paper rags” straight on her body image. [HuffPo]

I’m not a big Delta Goodrem fan, but since she’s been the victim of vitriol on The Voice, I’m starting to warm to her. I may not be a fan of Delta’s, but I do love me an underdog. [MamaMia]

Terry Richardson and “hipster sexism”. [Daily Life]

A Jezebel reporter infiltrates America’s “rape capital”, Missoula, Montana.

Are All Men Pedophiles?, asks a new documentary. [Buzzfeed]

Comedian Hasan Minhaj rips Ashton Kutcher and PopChips a new one for their brown-faced Indian impersonation. Not cool. [Best Week Ever]

In Response to Questions About “Erotic Capital”.

A few weeks ago, Rachel Hills blogged at Musings of an Inappropriate Woman about “beauty positivity” and “erotic capital”. At the end of the post, she asked these questions of the blogosphere:

“Am I on the right track with the idea that it’s not valuing beauty that’s the problem, but the fact that we’re socialised to believe that we’re never beautiful enough? Is this experience of ‘lack’ just a ‘neurotic Rachel’ thing, or an ‘other people’ thing as well?

“Moreover, is it just a female thing, or do men experience it as well?

“Have you managed to develop a positive approach to the way you look? What did it look like and how did you get there?

“How do we stop beauty positivity from turning into beauty privilege?”

So, here I will attempt to give my opinions on “erotic capital.”

Firstly, I have to start by saying that, miraculously, I feel I have come away from my media-influenced adolescence relatively unscathed. I love my body and the way I look, and enjoy dressing to reflect this. Sure, every now and then I have my “fat”, “ugly” and “bad hair” days, but on the whole, I am happy with how I look.

But, I have to agree with Hills’ summation that liking beautiful things and people isn’t the problem, as everyone has their own unique perception of beauty (the way the media tries to influence this to make it a “one-size-fits-all” lens is another problem—and blog post—entirely), but that, as women especially, we’re never good enough.

Again, I have high self-esteem and I will never let anyone or anything make me think I’m not “good enough” or deserving of the things I want. But often I will go out of my way to “prove” these things. When I go out dancing or to parties, I make an effort to wear the tightest, sluttiest thing I own. If I’ve been a bit lax on the work out regimen, I’ll double up on the control underwear, or wear something a bit more flowing.

My most insecure point is probably when I’m seeing someone new. I’ll have thoughts of, “I can’t get naked with this person until I’ve eradicated all my love handles and cellulite,” which is something that I’ve never been able to do nor am interested in doing since they appeared when I was about 13 or 14. I enjoy having a curvier figure, but I guess that’s the influence of “pornification of culture”, and all the pretty young things we see getting their kit off on TV manifesting.

But, in my experience, this isn’t exclusively a “female thing”. Two of the most in-touch men I’ve ever met are two of my closest friends, and the fact that they aren’t afraid to voice their body image concerns or the pressure put on men to look and be a certain way is a refreshing change to the stereotype of either “ripped football bogan” or “beer-bellied goofy bogan”. While it can certainly be an either/or representation of ripped men (NRL players and the True Blood stars come to mind) versus the incompetent, pudgy father seen most commonly in advertisements for nappies and spray and wipe, at the end of the day that’s nothing compared to what women have to deal with in the media. As Mia Freedman put it in her book, Mia Cupla:

“Pretend the world was full of pictures of naked men. On billboards and the sides of buses, in magazines and ads for beer, cars and deodorant. Imagine there were penises everywhere you turned and you couldn’t escape seeing them every day.

“And all the images of nude men were fake. Every male model and celebrity had had penile enlargement surgery, and afterwards, his penis had been extensively photoshopped to make it look even bigger. So now, all the penises you saw in the media every day were knee-length and as thick as an arm.

“One day, next to a magazine article about a celebrity with a foot-long penis, you read the headline: ‘This is what a 43-year-old penis looks like’. The caption underneath read: ‘Asked for the secret to his long schlong, former male model Markus Schenkenberg insists he was just born that way. “I wear cotton boxer shorts and I exfoliate in the shower,” he shrugs. “That’s all I do.”’

“After reading a hundred stories like that and being bombarded by 10,000 images of men with surgically altered and digitally enhanced penises, do you think you might look down at your natural, un-photoshopped trouser snake and feel a little… deflated? Inadequate? Insecure? Angry?”

As I said before, it is amazing that I managed to emerge from adolescence without a lingering negative thought about my body. Sure, I don’t like my legs or my stomach, but I dress to reflect this, and try not to get too paranoid about it. I prefer not to lounge by the pool in a bikini all day, and won’t wear a miniskirt without stockings or pantyhose to hold everything in place, but I won’t let these insecurities stop me from having fun.

My mum was very insecure about the way she looked, and this was projected onto my sister who, I believe, suffered the beginnings of an eating disorder a few years ago. Considering I was the one who was very into movies, TV, magazines and pop culture in general, it would be more likely—at least in the eyes of body image scaremongers—that I would be the one with the eating disorder.

One thing I did inherit from my mum, though, was her bad skin. She’s had skin conditions like dermatitis, allergies and surface veins all her life, and I was (un)lucky enough to get these, too. However, while she’s had relatively clear skin, pimple-wise, I suffered for several years with huge, painful zits which left scars, some of which I still have today. After years of trying to find products to prevent and get rid of these pimples, I finally realised that simple is best when it comes to skincare. I still get a large pimple every now and then (unfortunately, it’s large or it’s not there at all), but I’ve learned how to manage them. But the scars on my face are my biggest insecurity, and the humiliation was exacerbated by both the media, where the aforementioned pretty young things would frolic “make-up free” at the beach or when they woke up, and by people I encountered in my everyday life, who wouldn’t look me in the eye, but rather in the eye of my pimple.

Sometimes I look back on my younger years and I want to kick myself for being so typically self-conscious. I would apply a mask of makeup every day when I didn’t need it at all. I think age and wisdom are the only ways to really appreciate what you’ve currently got.

Finally, I have no idea “how to stop beauty positivity from turning into beauty privilege”. Personally, I don’t think the media plays the most important part in this. I think it starts at home: if parents, teachers and close family and friends can encourage “critical thought” about representations of not just beauty, but stereotypes of women and men, in the media, then young people have a better chance of understanding that what we see on TV, in magazines and advertisements isn’t real. This can be found elsewhere, in books, on blogs and using resources such as the Body Image Advisory Group, chaired by Freedman.

Of course “beauty privilege” is something we see more of in the media than in real life, as beauty campaigns and the lead role in movies like She’s Out of My League depend on the calibre of physical beauty a person woman possesses, whereas friendships, romantic relationships, business partnerships etc. involve other aspects.

So, I will now pass on Hills’ original questions to you, reader: what are your thoughts on “erotic capital” and beauty privilege?

Related: Mia Culpa: Confessions from the Watercooler of Life by Mia Freedman Review.

Is There Really a Beauty Myth?

Will Boys Be Boys When it Comes to Objectifying Women?

Elsewhere: [Musings of an Inappropriate Woman] Some Questions I Have About “Erotic Capital” & Beauty Positivity.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

 

“The Fashion Industry’s Anorexia Problem.”

Gala Darling offers an interesting take on pageantry. It seems not all beauty queens are vapid glorified prom queens with “miles of hair extensions, industrial-sized cans of hairspray and gallons of butt glue”.

Do you have to be a mother to be empathetic?:

“The reason Queensland Premier Anna Bligh was able to handle the flood crisis with such competence [is because she is a mother], according to a fellow mum. How true, how true, clucked a host of TV talk show mums the next day, as the commentators all agree that Anna won the ‘image’ war over Julia in the aftermath. Then of course she would—only a mother can cry with conviction for lives lost.”

90210: “The Sexist Postcode”?:

“So 90210 was an important early building block of enlightened sexism because it insisted that the true, gratifying pleasures for girls, and their real source of power, came from consumerism, girliness, and the approval of guys…”

My friend Anthony and I were discussing the benefits of cheap Coles milk when we paused and though, what exactly does cheap milk mean for farmers and why all the fuss? Rick Morton of MamaMia is here to answer our questions.

Also at MamaMia, the defence force sex scandal.

Speaking of, MamaMia’s 3.0 launch is the only blog redesign I’ve liked in recent months (Jezebel, I’m looking at you).

“Wait? What? This is where it gets interesting for me as a sex positive parent. My son just went from wishing he was sexy to shaming a girl for being just that? I rolled up my sleeves and got ready to do some unpacking.” The unpacking the primary school backpack on “Slut-Shaming on the Playground”.

This is just plain wrong: “The 15 Most Inappropriate Baby Outfits”.

The cigarette packaging reform.

Michael Cole, WWE announcer, tweets a gay slur. GLAAD faux pas or staying in character?

Are disability jokes really that bad? Or are we all just going PC crazy? (Just ask Laura Money and Kieran Eaton at their Unfinished Business stand-up show for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.)

The meaning of Sucker Punch according to io9:

“1. Insane people and sex workers are interchangeable.

“2. Women can only triumph over adversity in their dreams.

“3. Action movies spring from the imaginations of enslaved, mentally unstable prostitutes.”

“Do You Know What a Normal Female Body Looks Like Anymore?”

Francine Pascal as feminist literature pioneer?:

“In the beginning, that wasn’t enough for many booksellers, who deemed Sweet Valley too ‘commercial’ for their readers. The Times snubbed the series; librarians fought to keep their stacks free of the ‘skimpy-looking paperbacks,’ as one library journal put it. It was Pascal’s fans who defended her: buying a dizzying 250 million copies before the series published its 152nd and final title, in 2003. The series even became a case study in how to get young girls to read. ‘Sweet Valley changed the dynamics of the industry,’ says Barbara Marcus, who, as former president of Scholastic’s children’s business, published The Babysitter’s Club, Goosebumps, and Harry Potter. Sweet Valley spawned seven spinoff series, a TV show, a board game, and dolls. Not until Twilight came along have girl fans been so loyal.”

In this vintage post from the time of Jersey Shore’s debut, Irin Carmon discusses the cast’s views “On Beauty & Not Even Looking Italian”. Quite interesting, actually.

It’s time to go, Betty Draper.

Forget menopause; say hello to “manopause”.

First the video music world, now the movie world: Rebecca Black’s film debut in “Sunday Comes Afterwards”.

Porn WikiLeaks: damaging the reputation and safety of porn performers by publishing addresses, personal documents and hateful HIV diatribes (SFW).

The ugly step sister?

Images via Jezebel.

Men on Chapel Street.

Even though I live quite close to Chapel Street in Melbourne, I try to avoid going there as it is not my scene at all.

The other night I ventured as far down as I’ve been in years, to Lucky Coq, on High Street, for drinks with a friend.

The outing reminded me of the last time I’d been that far down, which was back in 2008 for a uni project. Odd, I know, but stay with me.

One of my final units was a media subject entitled Men & Masculinities. I was hesitant to take on the course, but it was my final year and I’d already done all the good ones. Aside from my inept teacher, the unit was really fun, and some of the topics I studied have influenced me to this day.

The reason my study group and I trekked to Chapel Street was to examine the different types of masculinities we observed there. With the National Institute of Circus Arts and the multitude of gyms and boutiques located there, I was expecting to see a lot of buff, fashionable men concerned with their appearance. In short, I expected to see the “metrosexual” in his natural habitat.

After a bit of rummaging through my hard drive, and a quick Google search, I managed to find the articlean interview with Professor of English, Sociology & Women’s Studies at the University of California, Toby Miller, by Jenny Burton and Jinna Tayby which I used to establish some theories about men on Chapel Street.

Keep in mind that these observations were collected two years ago, and I have tried to keep my notes as close to the originals as possible (present day annotations in italics). A lot of the subject matter discussed then has entered our current vernacular; or at least, the vernacular of this here blog, and the ones I frequently read.

Metrosexuality.

“… The phenomenon of the new man, which tends to annex beauty to the wider theoretical works of fashion, with grooming making fleeting, untheorised appearances.”

That’s not so true anymore, as fashion and grooming are becoming as equally important to men who want to look good and take pride in their appearance. Even something as simple as shaving is classed as grooming, and most men we observed on Chapel Street were clean shaven, or at least were doing something different with their facial hair (such as “designer stubble” and goatees instead of a full beard). [Had it been November when the study was done, perhaps I would have seen some mo’s out there?]

“Is the metrosexual a middle- rather than working-class phenomenon?”

I think typically the metrosexual is viewed as upper- to middle-class, and we certainly did see men of these demographics whom you could call metrosexual. However, the working class (tradies, construction workers) could also be seen as metrosexual, because even though they were engaged in manual labour and had “hard” bodies [muscly; evidence of working out], they were still well-groomed and took pride in their appearance.

“Taking pleasure in one’s body, nurturing it, caring for it, protecting it from the elements and so on kind of loosens those old bonds of conventional masculinity, which forbade these behaviours for men and made them taboo.”

The theory here is that men taking pleasure in their bodies and wanting to look physically attractive, for example by going to the gym, is taboo. Do the men we see going to the gym look ashamed of, thereby succumbing to the taboo, or proud of, their hard or soft bodies? (Hard bodies at the gym; soft bodies in certain subcultures like emo, punk, grunge etc.) I wasn’t expecting to see men ashamed of their bodies, especially in a trendy, affluent place like Chapel Street. However, older, out of shape men were a bit more self-conscious than their younger, better-looking counterparts because they tended to look at the ground when they were walking and didn’t make eye contact as much as the more confident men.

“Given all the effort women make to look okay, it seems only fair that men should have to go through something approximating to that level.”

As we expected, there weren’t really any significantly out of shape, badly-groomed or badly-dressed people on Chapel Street. The women took great pride in their appearance, both in their body shapes as well as how they dressed and groomed themselves. This was echoed in the male population, who all were well-dressed, mostly in shape, and well-groomed. In that respect, it could be seen that men are taking a leaf out of the females species’ book.

“… I think it’s [metro sexuality] pretty peculiar to Australia.”

The typical Australian man is seen as a “blokey bloke” in footy shorts and a bluey, doing manual labour and playing sport recreationally. The younger generation of Australian men are challenging this stereotype by being well-dressed, well-groomed and having more unconventional jobs (according to the stereotype) like consulting, fashion, etc. There wasn’t a typical “blokey bloke” that I saw on Chapel Street; even the construction workers, who have the most “Australian” occupation, weren’t physically reflective of the stereotype. In terms of metrosexuality being unique to Australia, it’s true in that a lot of younger men are taking care of themselves, but false in the way that Australia isn’t the only country that has metrosexuals: the US does with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the abundance of men in the media who take pride in their appearance and endorse beauty and fashion products, like George Clooney endorsing watches, and Matthew Fox from Lost is the face of a new L’Oreal beauty range for men. I’m not so sure about the UK, because on one hand you’ve got really metrosexual men like Hugh Grant and Jude Law, but on the other there are quite scruffy men like Rhys Ifans, who was engaged to Sienna Miller, and the downright disgusting, like Pete Doherty.

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

“… One way to analyse Queer Eye [for the Straight Guy] is as a professionalisation of queerness; a form of management consultancy for conventional masculinity.”

This can be seen in some of the shops on Chapel Street (and Church Street). We saw gyms and health food stores selling protein shakes, etc. in clusters, as well as a beauty salon specifically for men on Church Street.

“… Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is actually about re-asserting, re-solidifying very conventional masculinity.”

Because it separates the “queer” guys, who are fashionable, neat, well groomed, from the “straight” guys, who are messy, unkempt, in need of “styling” by the “queer” guys. Men on Chapel Street challenged this idea. You could speculate about which men were straight and which men were gay, but the stereotypically “straight” ones weren’t messy or “blokey”. There were a lot of business men who needed to look tidy and well-groomed for their jobs, but there were also construction workers whom you would think were typically very masculine and therefore untidy, but even they were taking pride in their appearance, both in terms of their physically hard bodies as well as their grooming.

Sport.

“… While it’s still about toughness, sport is equally about beauty, with the NFL now marketing its players as sex symbols.”

While there weren’t really any “sports” men on Chapel Street (apart from the circus/dance performers), the masculinities we observed were as much about being physically attractive to attract a mate as they were about looking tough and hard-bodied.

Eating Disorders.

“… Clearly there are big problems with eating disorders and performance enhancing drugs amongst men… These are partly narcissistic, psychological worries to do with an image to the outside world in general… Male beauty consciousness is primarily a marketing creation… Do men use toiletries and cosmetics because advertising tells them to?”

There were a lot of advertisements on Chapel Street that would support this notion, specifically the ad in the window of a gym/health food store that promotes an unachievable body type for most men. There weren’t as many hard bodies as we expected to see, however the ones that we did see in no way reflected the extreme ideal that that specific advertisement promoted. The men who worked in fashion stores on Chapel Street succumbed to the ideal that that specific store promoted.

“… Eating disorders, insecurity about looks and image, men now being oppressed by the ‘beauty trap’ and so on, but for me this doesn’t allow for the possibility that this may also be a good thing for individual men and conventional masculinity, allowing men to indulge in some self nurture.”

The men on Chapel Street who were well-groomed obviously took pride in their appearance, and weren’t ashamed of the fact that they looked after themselves. The majority of men looked healthy, which therefore supports the claim that male grooming and “metrosexuality” (men taking care of themselves) is a good thing.

Related: The Underlying Message in Glee’s “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” Episode.

Elsewhere: [Media Culture] Metrosexuality: What’s Happening to Masculinity?

[MamaMia] Male Models: Inside Their Straaaange World.