Magazines: Just Because You’re Beautiful Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Have an Opinion.

 

I’ve encountered this thinking before.

At a feminism debate this time last year, Gaye Alcorn scoffed that Mia Freedman, Sarah Murdoch and Kate Ellis shouldn’t be the faces of (and brains behind) the Body Image Advisory Group because they happen to be physically attractive. Like, sorry that they have good genes, but should that make them any less qualified to comment of feminist issues? I thought we were working towards an all-inclusive feminism…

Anyway, similar views were brought up in last weekend’s Sunday Life magazine by Vivian Diller, who wrote in “Face Values” that perhaps Kate Winslet, Rachel Weisz and Emma Thompson aren’t the best advocates from Hollywood’s anti-plastic surgery movement because they don’t need it.

Diller writes:

“Women like Winslet, Weisz and Thompson can afford—financially and otherwise—to oppose surgery. They were blessed with good genes as well as limitless opportunities to care for their physical selves.

“… Do these famous—and gorgeous—celebrities need to be so sanctimonious about it all?

“… Surely this anti-cosmetic surgery movement is related to larger issues that go beyond film stars, celebrities and the morality of altering their images in life or on the screen…”

I’m sure most actresses, models and regular people don’t need cosmetic surgery, per se, but it seemed like everyone else was doing it. Now there’s an outlet for those who have similar outlooks to beauty as Winslet et. al. to just say “no”.

Thoughts?

Related: Has Feminism Failed?

Is There Really a Beauty Myth?

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 Class Boundaries of Veronica Mars.”

Why the Body Image Advisory Group’s voluntary code of conduct didn’t work.

Rachel Hills on the internet, artifice and being fake.

“The New Middleton Class”.

Speaking of the Middleton’s, Melinda Tankard Reist takes issue with the admiration of Pippa’s ass online:

“The FB site provides an opportunity for men everywhere to share their sexual fantasies for the young maid of honour. Knock her up, bash her in, cause her injury such that she would not be able to walk. Wrecking and shredding a woman’s anus is a popular porn script.

“And all this is supposed to be accepted as a compliment. Of course there are no ‘Pippa the Wonderfully Supportive Sister Appreciation Societies’ or other pages lauding her gifts and character and other non-body related attributes.”

Bret Easton Ellis on the spectacle that is Charlie Sheen.

“Filling the Gaps” in the online feminist community’s “call-out culture”.

In what was Elizabeth Taylor’s last interview, with Kim Kardashian for US Harper’s Bazaar, she divulges her thoughts on living like a queen, the Krupp diamond and Twitter. I was never a fan of Taylor, but this interview made me one.

What does it mean to be a feminist today?

Is the male body “Repulsive or Beautiful?”

Ever been hollered at in the street as you walk past a construction site? “Why Men Cat Call” sounds interesting, but is disappointingly dismal.

Amélie sex (noun): intercourse undertaken in the classic missionary position which, by itself, is not objectionable—during which the male is impervious to the female’s lack of enjoyment.”

The bromance VS. Bridesmaids“Homance”.

Don’t give up your day job: “Freelancing on the Side.”

Images via I Just Have So Many Feelings, Sydney Morning Herald.

One Year On: The Jennifer Hawkins/Marie Claire Scandal.

 

Here are my thoughts on the topic in the form of a (edited) comment on  a since-deleted post on Girl with a Satchel:

“This really is a double-edged sword, huh? All magazines are a medium that can make you feel bad about yourself only if you let them, which I agree with 100%.

“I don’t believe the media is the ‘hypodermic’ needle we all heard about in media studies at school; turn off the TV or don’t buy the magazine if you believe they facilitate negative body image.

“However, my first thought when seeing the Jennifer Hawkins cover, was ‘oh, her thighs are obviously her problem area. There are a few shadows there and some discolouration’. HORRIBLE, I know, but it just goes to show that I, along with almost everyone out there, am a product of our perfectionist culture and our unrealistic expectations of women.

“Now, in reality, Hawkins looks AMAZINGher face is stunning, her chest and torso look toned and terrific, and if I had her thighs, all my problems would be solved (according to the hypodermic theory, at least). I don’t agree with all the negative comments out there regarding Hawkins as unrealistic and damaging to women’s self-esteem. Nor do I agree with those who say porn stars, strippers, prostitutes, bikini and lingerie models, supermodels, catalogue models, plus sized models, regular girls on the beach or in the club or on the street who are scantily dressed or ANY WOMAN who enjoys flaunting her best assets are victims of objectification by the media and the male species’ desire to view women as sexy playthings and nothing more.

“I regard myself as a feminist, however, and feel that if any woman is proud to show off their bodies, faces, brains, WHATEVER, then that’s empowering and I say to them, ‘you go girl!’.”

My feelings have stayed much the same as I look back on the controversy from a more enlightened perspective, having been reading a lot more and writing blog posts on such topics in the past nine months (I could have had a baby in that time!) that The Scarlett Woman has been out there in the blogosphere.

Satchel Girl Erica Bartle responded to my comments above, saying that “I don’t think any woman should be excluded from the body image debate on the grounds of her appearance,” even a “hot model” like Hawkins.

This sounds a lot like the arguments that were put forth at the “Feminism Has Failed” debate which I attended a few months ago, and have blogged quite often about here:

“Controversially, [Gaye] Alcorn referenced the Body Image Advisory Board and its chairwomen, the ‘gorgeous’ Mia Freedman, Sarah Murdoch and Kate Ellis, saying that of course they had beautiful women to front the campaign, because it wouldn’t have gotten any publicity with Plain Janes. Out of everything the affirmative team said, this was the only thing I took issue with. ‘Like, sorry those women happen to be genetically blessed, but they have as much right to talk about body image and beauty as a less fortunate-looking woman does. You can’t help the way you’re born,’ I said to my friend, who satirically replied, ‘Well, it’s about beauty, hello?!’ Gold.”

Another argument from the affirmative team harkens back to Bartle’s point: Hawkins “can’t be all things to all women”, just as “feminists can’t be accountable for all feminist issues at all times”.

Again, just because Hawkins looks the way she does doesn’t give the general public the right to criticise her for her decision to pose un-airbrushed for Marie Claire, nor does it give them the right to speak about her body as if she is somehow disconnected from it; as if a celebrity’s body becomes public property.

I’m not sure what the “publicity stunt” has done for body image in Australia one year on, much like the publication of Lizzie Miller’s plus-sized tummy in UK Glamour last year. Personally, though, Hawkins’ show of body love has ignited in me the courage to stand up for others who are objectified for their smaller size (just as I would for a larger person), and Miller’s pot belly instilled acceptance of my own.

Related: Has Feminism Failed?

Body Image: Skinny-Shaming VS. Fat-Shaming.

Elsewhere: [Girl with a Satchel] Girl Talk: Glamour Gives Good Belly.

[Let’s Drink Tea & Get Laid] The Lies That Link Us Together.

Has Feminism Failed?

Last Wednesday evening, I went to a debate about the state of feminism and whether it’s failed at the Melbourne Town Hall on Swanston Street.

Entitled “Feminism Has Failed”, I went into the debate with my own preconceived notions about feminism’s success and came out of it with similar feelings, as I think most of the attendees did, if the vote before and after the debate was anything to go by.

I felt that for someone like me, a young, white, middle-ish class Australian female, feminism hasn’t failed, but for most other women around the world who don’t have access to such things I’m afforded (education, employment, food, water, shelter, the ability to do/be almost anything I want), feminism has certainly failed.

And that was the basis of the first speaker for the affirmative team, Virginia Haussegger’s speech.

Instead of feminism working for women all over the globe, the rest of the world has waged a “global war against women”, or a “gendercide”, if you will. An example of this is the recent Time magazine cover in which an Afghani woman, or girl rather, was depicted with her nose and ears cut off by her husband, after trying to flee his abusive household.

To rebut this argument was Jennifer Byrne, who said she was taking a “working girl’s view” of feminism, and mentioning a phrase we’ve heard a lot of in third-wave feminism“wonder woman”. (Funnily enough, Haussegger has published a book of the same name.) She noted that we have so much choice now that we “scarcely notice feminism” now.

Stephen Mayne, the only male on either debate team, took a business point of view, and harped on about the dismal number of women on ASX publicly traded company boards. He mentioned that his fellow team member, Gaye Alcorn, who spoke last, editor of The Sunday Age, is only given one day a week, as opposed to the six other days of the week in which a man edits the newspaper. Mayne said that feminism surely HAS failed if a phenomenon such as Britain’s Page 3 girls exist, and if “this country came this close to electing Tony Abbott.” All in all, Mayne was the best speaker of the night and really brought it home for his team, in my opinion.

Next up was Monica Dux, whom Haussegger verbally attacked during her speech as “the snooty head girl [of feminism] with the key”, who wouldn’t let her become part of the club because she has views that aren’t necessarily Dux’s own.

Dux addressed the negative connotations feminism sometimes has, asserting that feminism doesn’t have a Bible, as it’s “constantly evolving and changing”, and is “not a cult” with Germaine Greer at the helm.

Gaye Alcorn confuted Byrne’s former assertion that “we hardly notice feminism anymore” with “sexism has become so embedded in our culture that we no longer notice it”, making reference to the David Jones sexual harassment suit that Mayne also spoke about.

Alcorn also mentioned Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth and the great porn debate (more on that to come this week), and that in some ways it’s harder for womenbody image-wisebecause the culture that young people grow up in has changed.

Controversially, Alcorn referenced the Body Image Advisory Board and it’s chairwomen, the “gorgeous” Mia Freedman, Sarah Murdoch and Kate Ellis, saying that of course they had beautiful women to front the campaign, because it wouldn’t have gotten any publicity with Plain Janes. Out of everything the affirmative team said, this was the only thing I took issue with. “Like, sorry those women happen to be genetically blessed, but they have as much right to talk about body image and beauty as a less fortunate-looking woman does. You can’t help the way you’re born,” I said to my friend, who satirically replied, “Well, it’s about beauty, hello?!” Gold.

Finally, Wendy McCarthy spoke, saying that “feminism is the most significant social movement” of the last fifty years. She mentioned that feminism has “created space for men to be better fathers” which, to me, signals that perhaps feminism has failed if that’s the main point she can come up with; that it benefits men.

The debate ended with the final vote, in which the results stayed pretty much the same. While the affirmative team definitely won the debate, in the minds of the audience members, at least, feminism has not failed, and is still alive and well in our culture.

But as the affirmative team mentioned, Western feminists need to stand up for women in less fortunate countries, and by the same token, “feminists can’t be accountable for all feminist issues at all times.”