Tuesday, August 09, 2011

An impossible standard

One of my Facebook friends linked this article today, and I posted it on my wall.  It's definitely a RTWT sort of post; an epic rant on the subject of femininity, which is as fraught a topic as you'd ever hope to find.  I'll excerpt a small amount of it here, but again, RTWT:

Real women are feminine and smell good and they are masculine and smell good and they are androgynous and smell good, except when they don’t smell so good, but that can be changed if desired because real women change stuff when they want to.

Real women have ovaries.  Unless they don’t, and sometimes they don’t because they were born that way and sometimes they don’t because they had to have their ovaries removed.  Real women have uteruses, unless they don’t, see above.  Real women have vaginas and clitorises and XX sex chromosomes and high estrogen levels, they ovulate and menstruate and can get pregnant and have babies. Except sometimes not, for a rather spectacular array of reasons both spontaneous and induced.

Real women are fat.  And thin.  And both, and neither, and otherwise.  Doesn’t make them any less real.

Now, this is the take-away message of that post, and one which is applicable to men and women both:

There is no wrong way to have a body.

Had a pretty interesting bit of conversation with Breda about it when posting it.  She brought up one of my favorite soapbox topics: Much as we blame the media for unreasonable standards of beauty, we mostly do it to ourselves.  To one another, that is.  I can't speak for boys, never having been one, but I can tell you that girls are nasty, hateful little creatures by & large. If you don't fit in, woe be unto you.  My oldest daughter, who is tall and blonde and thin, is on the receiving end of no amount of BS from short brunette classmates because of her looks.  There are girls who hate her for no reason other than that she is pretty.

Society's standards are Mean Girls behavior writ large.  The above-linked rant is a tirade against the saying "Real women have curves."  This saying gained popularity because fat chicks like me got heartily sick of an endless stream of being treated as lesser and women much thinner than average being held up as an ideal.  (Some other time I'll rant about the fashion industry and how they value models who resemble coathangers.)  There's some skinny-girl hate out there to go with the fat-girl hate.

The end result of this backlash, by the way, seems to have been a doubly-impossible standard: women are expected to simultaneously be very thin--a size 8 is no longer OK; you've got to be a size 4 or smaller--and "curvy", with big breasts and a Pippa Middleton-quality rear-end.  I'd say Jessica Rabbit, but I suspect her thunder thighs would be wildly decried.  (On a related sidenote, women are still roundly attacked for having big thighs and wide hips.  No explanation of how one is to manage the bubble butt without correspondingly large hips, but there ya go.)

Now, all of this is bad enough, but it gets worse.  I StumbledUpon an article called Whose Ideal Was This, Anyway? which traces some changes in the ideal woman's figure over the years.  These were the photos used to illustrate just how bad it is:

At first glance, they don't look too different, do they?  Both Hollywood elite of their time, both thinner than most American women.  But, look at their stomachs.  See the difference?  In case you still don't get it (because I didn't, to begin with), I'll share the paragraph which followed the photos:

The thing that disturbs me most about these two images is how our daughters must feel about themselves when they see them. The girls in 1962, seeing Ursula rising from the waves in Dr. No, knew that what they were seeing was a real woman, something they could aspire to (if that was what they wanted). Seeing Halle Barry, above, holds no such comforts, particularly when digital film has so much option for smoothing out those flaws. Such perfection is absolutely outside the realm of anyone who is honest with themselves. They might as well throw themselves against a brick wall, because you can't live, and breathe, and be that perfect. It's impossible, and our daughters know it.

The issue of retouching digital film had never even occurred to me, although it should have.  Shit, I retouched my profile photo to even out my skintone and get rid of a couple of pimples.  (Of course, I also regularly post photos of myself I haven't fixed, so if I've some subconscious need to thoroughly control the way y'all see me, I've failed miserably.)  Of course, I am not decrying any use of photo retouching--we've been doing it nearly as long as we've been making photos.  But it is much more widely used now than it used to be.  Don't believe me?  Check this out:

Everyone knows this poster, right?  Farrah Fawcett, 1970-something-before-I-was-born.  Look at her.  Critically.  Now, I am not knocking her--this is an iconic bit of erotica for a very good reason.  But: look at her mouth.  She has smile lines.  She has lines under her eyes.  Her skin is imperfect.  Look at her right arm.  There's a crease just below her elbow indicating her skin as a bit loose there.  There's a shadow on her right leg that indicates some curve to her thigh.  All of this is as it should be.

Now, look at this:

This is presented as an updated version of the Farrah Fawcett poster.  Certainly, the similarities are obvious--same background, same color swimsuit, essentially the same pose.  But.  Look closer.  It's been edited.  Not too heavily--she has smile lines too, that have only been somewhat reduced.  But that's not all.  Look at Fawcett's stomach & then at this model's.  See the wrinkles on the first swimsuit, and how they're not there on the second one?  Granted, the material is different (which also tells you something about how society has changed), but certain things are inalieable--if you hunch over, there will be some bunching of fabric.  That's just how fabric works.  That this is not in the latter picture gives you some hint of the retouching that went on.  Overall, it's pretty light stuff, but if you've ever cracked open a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition--or, hell, Cosmopolitan's swimsuit issue--you've seen much more heavily-retouched photos.  Enough people get carried away enough with it that there's a website called Photoshop Disasters that documents the stupidity.

For whatever reason, which I strongly suspect is related to the ubiquity of theme parks and shitty pop music, we've more or less swallowed this unquestioningly, and adjusted our ideal to something which is quite literally unattainable.

Oh, and guys?  This shit's happening to you too.

See this dude?
Cover model for Men's Health magazine.  They've got a whole bunch more just like him.  This is Men's Health, y'all, not Playgirl.  Which is to say, it's aimed at straight men.  This is the new male ideal.

Welcome to our hell.


peter d said...

Chloe's tummy looks like Ursula's and she still tries to say she's fat. But then she also says she's not fat. I keep telling her that six pack abs are not natural. She kinda goes both ways with the whole fat thing. Occasionally I think she does it just to be annoying. Still, it's sad that girls feel that way.

Dave said...

My stomach actually looks very similar to the Men's Health guy. Mine is just covered by 15 or 20 pounds of camouflage.