Thursday, February 11, 2010

Real Women Have Better Things to Worry About

Ostensibly what the media tells women about their bodies is that they contain too much fat, are the wrong shape, are too wrinkly or saggy or discolored, and that one's life is not worth living unless one somehow changes this and becomes like everyone else, by which is meant everyone else who is depicted in said media.


The real message I get from media about my body? That representations in the media (by which of course they must mean all those other media, the ones that lie to you and hold up impossible standards before you) are unrealistic and that nobody looks like people in the media look (what about those very same people?), that you're better off being a size twelve and being a real person (skinny people aren't real, apparently), that the only way to be a size two is to starve yourself (which may or may not be true depending on your body type and presumably comes off as dismissive and mean to those who are actually a size two without eating disorders), that skinny people don't have curves and "real" women do ("curves" often just meaning big hips and bust, never mind that the waist is the same size as the hips and bust and thus there is not actually any curvature). The media is (or "are," but I prefer treating "media" as a collective noun rather than an actual plural) so busy telling me to disregard the media's messages that the messages they allege I am bombarded with aren't even coming through.

Methinks they do protest too much. This public-service-like message smacks to me of them telling people the politically correct message they feel pressured into disseminating but don't actually believe or don't really think anyone else will actually believe. (It's reminiscent of the "Now, children, black people are just as good as white people" message that public schools and other responsible adults are particularly fond of. In my opinion, that just makes kids who probably don't think that one race is inherently better or worse than another stop and go, "Why wouldn't they be?" which leads to "Wait, obviously somebody thinks they aren't or they wouldn't be telling us that..." and get a little suspicious. Backfire ahoy.) Now, ladies, big and slightly lumpy bodies are just as good (or better!) than thin, svelte ones. Vive la lovely lady lumps! Pardon me for not believing the sincerity of that message.

To be clear, I'm certainly not saying that we all should weigh 100 pounds or look like runway models or anything (though nothing's wrong with that), I'm just wondering who actually thinks we should in large enough numbers or fervently enough that suddenly the entire world is united in the "celebrate your curvy plus-sized (or normal-sized that you've come to feel is plus-sized) body!" message to save. I have personally never felt TV or movies telling me I'm not a real person because I am a size eight to twelve or have a jiggly stomach or visible pores. Perhaps that message comes through slightly more in magazines (though even then, the message I get is "Real women have pores; get over it...but here's what you can do to minimize them so you too can look like a model" or "Real women have fat deposits...but here are twenty-one love handle—zapping moves").

I mean, who actually thinks runway models are the goal? I don't think the fashion industry is telling humanity in general (or even the female half) that they should all be six feet tall and 115 pounds; they're just telling their models that that's what their bodies have to be like. (Which is also a problem, but not the same kind.) Runway models aren't supposed to look like real people; they're supposed to look like vaguely human-shaped hangers to display the designer's clothes. The model is so not the point; it's all about the clothes. (Hm, someone should make runway robots. I bet the designers would be fans of that—none of that inconvenient messing around with bodies that aren't quite the dimensions your design happens to be shaped like...) I mean, it seems to me most women have come to terms with the idea that runway fashions were never intended for people like them (read: people who actually go to a normal job or school or take care of children or go to the post office and the grocery store and even sometimes a party) to wear; why is it such a stretch that the same people have independently determined that runway bodies are also not for people like them (read: people whose jobs are something other than spending all their time maintaining their body or who don't have those genes, etc., etc.)?

So maybe I'm just a freak and am the only woman on Earth who is capable of thinking for herself (unlikely), but I don't particularly see a crisis of women who are trying to live up to unrealistic images of themselves that come from the media. (Is this the same poor "The Media" getting maligned from all sides politically as well? The mainstream media with its left-wing agenda wants you to know you're too fat!) Of course, plenty of women do have unrealistic expectations about their appearances, but I'd imagine most of them come from themselves or their interactions with their family or significant others or the general world population. I do suppose some of those pressures (real or perceived) are somehow influenced by who is represented in the media and how, but I don't think it's as strong an edict as the (other) media would have you believe.)

There is a Facebook group/event called "Tell Her She's Beautiful." Some guy sees that all the women he knows are depressed every day because the media tells them they should be something they're not and wants to fix it all by telling them how beautiful they are:

It has come to my attention that as I grow older, girls get more and more self conscious of themselves. [The obvious solution to this problem is for you to stop getting older.] This hurts me, because every girl is beautiful in their own way. They all want to live up to standards that the media has set for them, like being paper thin or double Z breasts. It really breaks my heart to see all of the girls to wallow around and hate who they are and think they aren’t worth something.

I’m making this event so everyone can tell anyone that they think is beautiful, that they are beautiful. Just tell them. They don’t hear it enough, and they want to hear it. Tell anyone; tell your friend, your mother, your sister, your cousin, your dog for all I care. Let’s show girls that we don’t care about the standards that they set for themselves and that we like them the way they are.

Let’s show every girl that they really are beautiful. So tell them, it’ll make their day.

Girls, you ARE beautiful.

Yes, I'm slightly offended by someone who has the best of intentions. But I kind of doubt that he can tell that it's the media that is making his friends self-conscious. Even if he can and it is, that's still an awfully large leap to generalize to "all of the girls." Honestly, it makes me feel more marginalized to have people think that I spend that much of my time and energy wallowing around being sad I'm not "paper thin" with "double Z breasts" than it does to have TV shows only cast women under 120 pounds as leads. The latter? If I notice it, it doesn't really affect me terribly. The former? Yes, it's offensive to imply that I have nothing more significant or real going on in my life than concerns about my body shape and that I don't think I'm "worth something" because I'm too dumb to tell the difference between real life and digitally altered photos in a magazine. Thank you, I'm perfectly capable of assessing my appearance for myself and, if I feel the need, comparing it to my coworkers' or classmates' or friends' or women on the streets' bodies to see where I stand, if I'm concerned about where I stand in comparison to others. Why would I compare my body to the perfume ad girl's in Cosmopolitan? She and I don't frequent the same circles, so if nobody else is comparing my body to hers, why should I? (Not that I necessarily should even if someone else were, but since they're not, I definitely shouldn't.)

Also, I imagine this is just unfortunate phrasing, but it angers me as well: "Let’s show girls that we don’t care about the standards that they set for themselves." Excuse me, but you sure as hell had better care about the standards I set for myself, as those are the only standards that matter. Are you suggesting instead that I should be concerned about the standards you set for me, even if they're low ones because "every girl really [is] beautiful"? My body is mine; the only opinion about it that matters is mine and then perhaps the opinions of those (doctors, significant others) who have a legitimate stake, but that stake is still granted by me and can be revoked by me. You, random sir, can have an opinion about my body or my beauty if you like, but it really doesn't concern me and I'd be much happier if you didn't share it with me. If you're not my significant other, it's really just kind of awkward to hear you judging my appearance anyway, even if it's with this non-judgmental all-inclusive mood-boosting 'real beauty' spreading.

It comes across as terribly patronizing for men to think they (as, presumably, the judges of all things feminine and attractive, the approval of whom every woman is desperately and single-mindedly seeking) have the ability to magically blast away years of (presumed) media bombardment and repair we fragile ladies' self-esteem and body image.

Anyway, blanket statements like "everyone is beautiful" are pointless and seem insincere. Pronouncing someone beautiful is supposed to be a judgment actually based on their appearance (or, if we're talking "inner beauty," on some evaluation of their inner state). Making a pronouncement that everyone is beautiful is tantamount to saying "beautiful" is a meaningless term. It's not even true. Everyone is not beautiful. Everyone has inherent worth as a human being, but that's not at all the same thing. If you're using the word "beautiful" to get across that fundamental idea, well, use your vocabulary better; "beautiful" already has a meaning, and that's not it.

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