February 16, 2010

Bodysnarking

Filed under: Body Image,Gender,Media — Tags: , , , , , — Melanie @ 11:56 pm

Lani’s recent post on Christina Hendricks’ curves prompted me to point out that the public scrutiny of and derogatory comments about women’s bodies (celebrity or not) is referred to as bodysnarking.

Miss Jay says that social-networking sites mean teenagers now focus even more on how they look. “I know girls who have entire photo albums just of their face at different angles. On the flip side, the unflattering photos can’t just be tucked away somewhere. They become the basis for publicly displayed ridicule,” she says.

It sounds a lot like the way we treat famous people. “The conventions that a lot of these celebrity magazines use have trickled down to everyday conversations,” says Claire Mysko, the author of “You’re Amazing! A No Pressure Guide to Being Your Best Self.” She mentions celeb sites like PerezHilton.com, TMZ.com and photo-rating site HotorNot.com that obsessively scrutinize people’s flaws and assets.

“I remember sitting at a restaurant with a friend who made a comment to me that the waitress shouldn’t wear shorts because of the way her body was shaped,” says Sharon Lamb, co-author of “Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketer’s Schemes.” And few women seem immune from being the objects of such scrutiny — from people of both sexes. New York magazine columnist Kurt Andersen, commenting on the political prospects of Hillary Clinton, noted that she has a “Wal-Mart shopper’s bad hair” and a “big bum.”

Bum, however, is just the beginning of the bodysnark lexicon. Jezebel’s Ms. Holmes, who has worked at InStyle, says that 10 years ago people would have looked at you weird if you used such now-common and harshly descriptive words and phrases as “pooch,” “muffin top,” “fugly,” “cankles” (fat ankles and calves that lack definition) and “whale tail.” Also, she notes: “In the ’90s, magazines weren’t really publishing unflattering photos. Today we have been trained to look for the potentially mockable thing, whether it’s of a celebrity or of someone we know.”

It seems counterintuitive, somehow, that ugly pictures sell magazines. But according to Ms. Holmes, stories about celebrity weight-loss with before-and-after photos now fly off the shelves.

As the article notes, bodysnarking as sport among women along with fierce competition is nothing new but the rise of social media has propelled this mean-spirited and hurtful pastime to epic, and public, proportions.

Placing women — especially celebrities — under the microscope is certainly not new. Neither is the fact that women can be mean to each other. What’s different now is how new media — blogs, social networks and YouTube — have encouraged and escalated public participation. Where it might once have been considered déclassé to remark on someone’s appearance, at least publicly, today it’s done with the same ease as sending a text message.

And the impact of this public body hazing has tangible consequences. Women and girls understand at a gut level that their bodies are public property and not entirely their own. They understand and expect people they don’t know to survey their bodies, dissect and comment on their appearance. This creates an incredibly vulnerable place to be inside one’s own skin. That vulnerability tends to breed insecurity and insecurity too often leads to dangerous, costly and time consuming body practices.

The next time you feel compelled to call a stranger or your best friend (!) a “skinny bitch” or comment on the size of her ankles, remind yourself that these comments aren’t benign and that we have the ability to create change in our lives and the lives of other women at every moment. Ultimately, this creates cultural change and, perhaps, that shift will foster a healthy, happy environment for our bodies and minds.

February 15, 2010

For the Love of Christina!

Admittedly, I do have a disturbing, and probably diagnosable, addiction to “Mad Men.” From the word go I was stoked about the presence of the self-assured, beautiful, quietly defiant, and, of course, red-headed (!) female character, Joan Holloway. She was not so defiant that anyone would call her a bitch, and not so promiscuous to provoke the use of slut. Not an out-right activist or poster girl for any one’s feminism, but all the same she was fabulous. I remember being surprised that her body hadn’t been the topic of more hushed chatter. Well, until now it hadn’t. 

After this years Golden Globe Awards ceremony, New York Times blogger, Cathy Horyn, blogged/critiqued “you don’t put a big girl in a big dress. It’s rule number one.” Being one who automatically jumps to the defense of people I love (it’s a flaw), I was pretty irritated. Her husband, Geoffrey Arend, came to her defense discussing how hurtful the comments had been to her. As for Christina, in a recent interview with New York magazine she says that all the questions about her body “put a bad taste” in her mouth.

As the viewing public, we feel entitled to pick her out and discuss her body because she’s in the limelight and stands out from the normal, Hollywood-sized 22″ waist. The fact is that we are not entitled. We have to understand no matter how benign the comment seems when it first rattles around in our tiny, little brains these kinds of issues are a sensitive and contentious topic for most, if not all, American women. So, from the most seemingly innocuous, to the most obviously offensive we have to think twice before we speak these kinds of words as they breed insecurity and potentially harmful habits. We have to actively encourage and advocate for positive body image and self-confidence in our sisters, girlfriends, wives and daughters every time we have the chance.

So, for Christina, you are a stunning, confident, and talented woman! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, sister!

May 8, 2009

Food doing gender

This advertisement campaign isn’t new but it still makes me laugh each time I see it.

Nutrisystem says that “real” men can diet, too….as long as they can eat “mmmmm…man food” consisting of meaty burgers and pizza.  Man food is hearty cuz real mean are hearty and beefy, too.

Think Carl’s Junior.  Enough said.

Food as an expression of gender has been around for centuries.

Victorian women were urged not to be seen eating by their mothers because eating led to defecation and women didn’t have and still shouldn’t have bodily functions.  Furthermore, food and the act of eating is sensual, physical and pleasurable.  The Victorian women was not supposed to be sexual, sensual or carnal.  If she did eat, she should steer clear of “heat-inducing” foods such as spices, caffeine and…meat.

Nutrisystem and Carl’s Junior are simply playing out gender rules that are more than 150 years old. And, Nutrisystem has found a way to target men as a new demographic to increase their profits. It does so by allowing men fret over their appearance without losing their manhood. Dieting has long been considered a feminine trait. In order to sell diet food to men you must make commercial that promise these men that they will not be emasculated.

What’s the ultimate message? Diet by eating  “man food” (and we can make money off your new weight obsession without appearing to be a like silly girl).

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 5, 2009

Who's a Bimbo?

The Miss Bimbo website made headlines back in March 2008.

A website that encourages girls as young as 9 to embrace plastic surgery and extreme dieting in the search for the perfect figure was condemned as lethal by parents’ groups and healthcare experts yesterday.

The Miss Bimbo internet game has attracted prepubescent girls who are told to buy their virtual characters breast enlargement surgery and to keep them “waif thin” with diet pills.

Healthcare professionals, a parents’ group and an organisation representing people suffering anorexia and bulimia criticised the website for sending a dangerous message to impressionable children.

In the month since it opened the site, which is aimed at girls aged from 9 to 16, has attracted 200,000 members. Players keep a constant watch on the weight, wardrobe, wealth and happiness of their character to create “the coolest, richest and most famous bimbo in the world”. Competing against other children they earn “bimbo dollars” to buy plastic surgery, diet pills, facelifts, lingerie and fashionable nightclub outfits.

The website sparked controversy when it was introduced in France, where it attracted 1.2 million players.

Dee Dawson, the medical director of Rhodes Farm Clinic, which treats girls aged from 8 to 18 who suffer eating disorders, said: “This is as lethal as pro-anorexia websites. A lot of children will get caught up with the extremely damaging and appalling messages.”

Susan Ringwood, the chief executive of Beat, an organisation that supports those suffering eating disorders, said that the website could make girls believe that weight and body size manipulation were acceptable.

The Miss Bimbo site was set up by Nicholas Jacquart, a French entrepreneur. He moved to Tooting, South London, recently and with a 30-year-old businessman called Chris Evans set up Ouza Ltd to promote the website in Britain.

From the way it looks, the site has managed to maintain it’s 1.2 million registered users or “Bimbos.” In fact, the site is offering several special promotions for 2009. Upon registering for the site, you can become a trendsetter, a socialite and find the perfect boyfriend. This allows you to become “Queen of the Bimbos.”

December 8, 2008

Alba is airbrushed

Filed under: Body Image,Gender,Media — Tags: , , , — Melanie @ 7:46 am

As reported in The Mail Online, here’s yet another reminder that the current cultural image of beauty is truly unattainable because it isn’t real.

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