April 1, 2009

The woman is armed (and, apparently, possibly dangerous)

Filed under: Body Image,Gender,Media,Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Melanie @ 9:10 pm

I came across this interesting piece in the Los Angeles Times a few days ago. It explores the reaction Michelle Obama has received for her propensity to reveal her arms. The reaction has been mixed and numerous. The debate brings about issues about femininity and the beauty norm.

Here are a few excerpts:

First Lady Michelle Obama stands tall and regal in her official portrait, a double strand of creamy pearls around her neck, her figure clad in a fitted Michael Kors dress. But there’s one aspect of this seemingly benign photograph that’s causing something of a commotion, and it lies in that exposed 10-inch-or-so stretch between her shoulder and elbow. The first lady is buff, and she’s not afraid to show it.

Her curvy biceps have become something of a lightning rod for remarks from both sexes in a larger discussion of how much female muscle constitutes too much. While some praise Obama as a role model in a world gone obese, others say she’s gone too far in displaying the fruit of her workouts. Read one online forum comment: “There is nothing uglier than manly, muscular arms on a woman. Mrs. Obama should be hiding them instead of showing them off.”

Why do we care so much? The issue speaks volumes about how men and women view the parameters of femininity and strength.

“In some ways it’s kind of an old, tired way of thinking about women and power and boundary policing — when you can display that power and when you can’t, or when it’s appropriate,” says Sarah Banet-Weiser, an associate professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication.

For Obama (who told People magazine she hits the gym almost every day), the decision to wear sleeveless designs that show off her physique sends a strong message, says Janet Lee, deputy editor of Shape magazine. “If she was at all self-conscious about her body, she wouldn’t put it out there.” And that may be intimidating and unsettling to some who are used to seeing first ladies more covered up.

From the get go, Michelle Obama has brought a new vision of femininity to the public forefront, one that is confronting and challenging to many and a sigh of welcomed relief to many others.  Personally,  I like it and I like her arms.

March 31, 2009

Don't stop believing…advertisement's beauty claims through the century

Seth sent this article on a century of manufacturers making outrageous claims to the masses that they can deliver the unrealistic image of beauty coveted in that particular time period. So far, I have yet to see a product or service truly deliver on their promise.  But, we continue to buy these products and services at a fantastic rate.

As the article points out, most people know that the product will not deliver but continue to believe it might. Healthy eating habits, exercise, hydration and geneticsplay the most important role in how we look.  So, why do we continue to believe the hype?

Well, we live in a culture that relies on instant gratification and faith.  Together, instant gratification and faith, mixed with a mediated culture that churns out advertisements containing airbrushed and photoshopped images at a dizzying rate with a remarkable increase year to year and it’s no surprise that people continue to consume these promises despite the overall failure tyo deliver.

We’re trained to be consumers from the time we are toddlers and we are assaulted with glossy images at every turn.  Take a look around and make note of how many spaces and how many times a day you are NOT prone to an advertisement. As this article depicts, this is not necessarily something new.  What has changed, though, is the degree to which we are subject to the messages from advertisers, the value of physical beauty above all else and the unrealistic and unattainable definition of beauty that is being sold.

March 30, 2009

Selling out yoga

I began my yoga practice in 1996 and knew I had stumbled upon something exhilarating, insightful, challenging and delicious.  There weren’t a lot of yoga studios in 1996 and I had to truly seek out a practice that fit my personality and my needs.  My friend, Marla, led me to Bryan Kest in 1997 and by 1999 I ditched the gym and developed a dedicated and consistent practice with Bryan and Caleb Asch.

My yoga practice was a wonderful constant in a sea of change and chaos.  It also provided a truly unique place to get to know my body in a new way. It was the first time I paid attention to my body’s rhythms and desires without imposing my own expectations and will.  I became more forgiving, more loving and more in tune.

My teachers and my practice inspired me to give up my obsessive tendency to beat my body during a workout and made movement pleasurable, beautiful and loving. My teachers and my practice taught me how to respect and nurture my body, accept my body and, best of all, love my body.

As a person with a past rooted in dieting, obsessing, over exercising and generally abusing my body, this was new and welcomed territory.  The yoga mat had been one of the few places in our media-driven, thin-obsessed and youth-oriented culture that I was not subject to these distorted messages about what I should look like or who I should be.  I could just be.  Sometimes that meant happy, other times sad, often times tired and curled up in child’s posed without judgement and at other times, fierce and energetic.

As yoga became more and more absorbed by the mainstream and yoga studios popped up around town like Stabucks coffee houses, I noticed yoga’s message of unity and acceptance become filtered through the lens of the dominant consciousness and consumerism.  I began making public commentary on these changes in 2003 that I presented at  a variety of conferences and public lectures: Celebrity Yogis: The Intersection of Yoga, the Cult of Personality and Consumerism, Yoga and Popular Culture, McYoga: The Spiritual Diet for Consumer America, Consuming Spirituality and Spiritual Consuming: Capitalizing on Yoga, and the McDonaldization and Commodification of Yoga: Standing at the Intersection of Spiritual Tradition and Consumer Culture.

I was particularly interested in the reproduction of mainstream beauty standards in the pages of yoga magazines. All the models were thin and polished. After examining the mainstreaming of yoga for several years with frustration and sadness, I put down the yoga magazines and withdrew from the increasingly commercialized yoga community that had previously provided me with solace and acceptance and made my practice more personal and, in many ways, made an attempt to safe guard it.

It worked.

Recently, though, I picked up a copy of Yoga Journal and was dismayed to find advertisements for diet pills. I’d noticed more and more corporate ads before I abandoned my subscription but this hit home.  Not only had Yoga Journal succumbed to accepting corporate dollars for products that seemed unrelated to a healthy yogic lifestyle but now they had allowed the ultimate self-esteem crusher to enter: advertisements that reinforced larger cultural messages telling individuals that they must lose wight and that they don’t have to do the work of eating healthy and exercising.

Pop a pill.

In so many ways, the proliferation of ads for diet pills confirmed what I had already known for years: yoga had passed through the filter of the mainstream capitalistic consumer culture, and in passing through that filter, had emerged altered.

Yoga had come out thinner, sleeker, more polished with soy latte in hand, designer yoga bag slung over a lean shoulder and a bottle of diet pills in the belly.

March 19, 2009

Go,Meghan!

Laura Ingraham slams Meghan McCain for her weight and Meghan McCain fires back on The View. I am digging Meghan McCain.  Focus on what she has to say, not her ass.

See below.
Laura Ingraham to Meghan McCain:

Meghan fires back:

January 21, 2009

Sizing up Michelle

Not surprisingly, there was a tremendous amount of scrutiny paid to Michelle Obama’s inaugural wardrobe choices and the “message” each outfit was sending.

In addition to the fashion police riding up her train, Internet discussions tackled the question of whether or not Michelle Obama is “hot” or not.  Case in point, the website AskMen.com. The website has a series of “top” lists from that rank women.  There’s the “Top 99 Women: 2009 edition,” “Top 10: 2009 Top 99 Rejects” and “Top 10: 2010’s top 99,” to name a few.  But, you get the picture.

In each of these lists, there is very little variation and/or diversity.  Essentially, all the chosen women resemble one another and the women of color that appear conform to Eurocentric beauty norms.

Compare AskMen.com’s #1 pick, Eva Mendes, and Michelle Obama and the usual measurement of beauty and Michelle Obama’s departure and transcendence become clear.

Some of the comments to the questions AskMen.com posed, include:

Oi yiddo, you moron! She ugly as hell

OMG like a cow :-S

She kind of looks like a female version of James Brown. Anyone agree?

Baby got back, her hips are wider than my 60′ high def. She’s not even in the same ball park as Palin. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is only skin deep, ugly is to the bone

Michelle Obama, as the new First Lady, is a female role model unlike most that we’ve seen before.  It’ll be interesting what the cultural conversation and cultural response will be time goes by.

Will we see cultural changes?  Will she inspire young women to move beyond the confined boundaries of femininity that have been constructed?  Will the conversation tackle the unequal definitions and expectations that have historically existed and continue to persist in terms of which kind of women are considered feminine and what that acts and looks like?

January 6, 2009

Your ass as a social indicator

Beauty norms come and go.  As a byproduct of the cultural atmosphere, standards of beauty are bound to change as the culture changes.

Yesterday, Myra Mendible posted an interesting article on racial and sexual stereotypes and how the culture’s changing attitude and affinity for the backside is indicative of diversity and acceptance.

It may well be that America’s butt fling signals a growing acceptance of difference—a desire to broaden the repertoire of acceptable body types and beauty myths. If this celebration of fulsome booty helps women move beyond the self-hatred and anxiety attached to body fat or encourages ethnic pride in women whose bodies have historically been pathologized and denigrated—then power to the butt, indeed. But then again, in a consumer society, fashion trends are short-lived and the demand for novelty fuels profit. Will the buttocks be relegated to the margins of culture once more, disavowed and disowned by a fickle mainstream culture? Either way, I’ll still be dreaming of a time when (to loosely paraphrase Martin Luther King), women will be judged by the content of their character and not the size of their butts. Now that would be truly bootyful.

December 14, 2008

Your happily ever after comes after the knife, baby

I’ve known for years that gyms are not health clubs.  As Lester Burnham declares in American Beauty, he works out “to look good naked.” And, that idea of “looking good” has become even less attainable without the “aid” of cosmetic surgery. Equinox Fitness is quite candid about it’s true aim with it’s tag line “It’s not fitness.  It’s life.”

The following ad makes a bold cultural statement about girls and women in the 21st century minus the insecurities, side effects, risks or money costs.

October 12, 2008

40 years after the Miss America Protest and the creation of the "bra burning" myth

An ode to my foremothers!

As more and more women, from all social locations (age, race, class), pursue unrealistic and dangerous standards of beauty and a cultural era that reinforces the rewards of achieving this beauty ideal  throughout the cultural landscape, I give a proud nod to the women of the New York Radical Women that publicly challenged the prevailing beauty norms.

As more and more young women are seized by the collective amnesia of their generation, it becomes imperative to promote the learning of women’s history.  In the words and actions of the women that form the continuous lineage we are part of, we find sources of inspiration, empowerment, and examples we can utilize in our current challenges and issues.

While the stereotype of feminist “bra-burning” is a myth, there is no doubt that this event and its protest left an indelible impression, for better or worse (depending on who you ask), on the nation.

NPR interviews: Miss America 1968, Debra Barnes Snodgrass, Alix Kates Schulman, Carol Hanisch and Kathie Sarachild. Listen here.

As a small group of feminists prepared to launch their emerging women’s liberation movement onto the national stage by protesting the 1968 Miss America pageant, they had no idea that the media was about to give them a new moniker: “bra burners.”

In reality, no bras were actually burned on the boardwalk in front of the Atlantic City convention hall that hosted the Miss America pageant, says Carol Hanisch, one of the organizers of the protest.

“We had intended to burn it, but the police department, since we were on the boardwalk, wouldn’t let us do the burning,” says Hanisch. A New York Post story on the protest included a reference to bra burning as a way to link the movement to war protesters burning draft cards.

Women threw bras, mops, girdles, pots and pans, and Playboy magazines — items they called “instruments of female torture” — into a big garbage can.

“The media picked up on the bra part,” Hanisch says. “I often say that if they had called us ‘girdle burners,’ every woman in America would have run to join us.”

Read the full story here.

October 8, 2008

More sexy girls…ugh!

On September 11 and September 24, I wrote about the gender socialization of young boys and girls, specifically the construction of sexuality.

One of my students turned this advertisement for House of Dereon’s (Beyonce and Solange Knowles’ clothing company) children’s line.  This is the first I had heard of it.  Apparently, it made a debut back in May and there are numerous responses to be found online that echo the same sentiment: disgust.

I can’t help but think of the obscene childhood photos of JonBenet Ramsey and the infamous spoof in, “Little Miss Sunshine.”

October 7, 2008

Highlights at Feministing on Palin's attract factor

In keeping with my recent posts on Sarah Palin’s looks (Palin porn, Palin sexy action figures, Maxim’s nomination of Palin and Hefner’s offer for Palin to appear in Playboy), I thought these posts at Feministing were relevant and thought-provoking:

Palin as a ploy to attract male voters: read here.

However a lot of men, especially older men see her as hot. She’s a fantasy come to life. She’s the naughty librarian ‘MILF’ who they’d love to get with. This manifest itself in the form of male talk show hosts giving her a pass. Many actually spend valuable time talking about her looks and small time stuff and not her scary politics. It manifest itself in people actually giving John McCain props for picking such a nice ‘looking babe’ versus’s focusing on his shortcomings. It sort of like him having a trophy wife. Except this one will have serious impact on US policy. It manifest itself in male producers who are behind the scenes spending time editing film and audio tape giving her a favorable look as she is a welcome break from the daily onslaught of old wrinkly white males who they are usually editing.

Journalistic focus on how attractive Palin is: read here.

Reporting that includes inappropriate observations about the attractiveness of candidates, threatens to turn political campaigns involving female candidates into beauty contests.  We must remain vigilant to sexist language in political reporting, and we must protest every infraction.

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