April 16, 2010

Add this to your list of unacceptable body parts: your armpits

Rachel O:

The media, in a series of editing moves, has now deemed them unacceptable and unfit for public consumption.

I’ve wanted to write this piece for awhile and, in light of Britney Spears releasing unretouched photos of herself for the Candie’s campaign, decided it was time.  Unfortunately I wasn’t very surprised by the things “enhanced” on Spears’ body – the usual suspects: cellulite, tattoos, blemishes, bruises, slimming of hips, thighs, waist, etc.  But lately there’s been a new body part deemed unacceptable by the photo editors at magazines, record labels, etc. – armpits.  That’s right ladies, the area under your arm, even when clean shaven has been deemed far too hideous for general public consumption.

I first noticed the trend, while reading Jezebel, as is usually the case with these kinds of things.  They posted the cover of British GQ where Anne Hathaway seems to be missing something.  Her armpit isn’t just hairless and smoothed by some moisturizing deodorant – it’s not there at all.  Just completely gone, just torso side and…arm, with nothing in between.  Since then, I’ve come to notice it in other places as well:

Photo stills of Lady Gaga’s music video Telephone:

A Kim Kardashian exercise line campaign:

A photoshoot for Harper’s Bazaar with Megan Fox:

and finally a Sports Illustrated spread:

Apparently that pesky underarm area hinders exercising, dancing, posing, and uh, swimming.

Now it’s just another thing that’s been added to a list of things for the resident photoshopper at any magazine, PR firm, etc. to check off their list, but I think the issue is much bigger than that.   Men don’t have to deal with the same “image enhance everything” that is so prevalent when it comes to actresses and pop stars.  For example, when Leonardo DiCaprio appeared on the cover of Esquire Magazine, all his stubble, lines, and wrinkles were left intact.  For women, this new underarm thing is another flaw that someone in a board room somewhere has decided is not worthy of publication – it must be fixed.  It is another issue for women to worry about – another thing for girls to look at and wonder “why don’t I look like that?” and “what can I do to fix it?”  These images eventually become the norm, what we think women really look like, or are supposed to.

Anyone who thinks it’s not a big deal? We’re living in a world where  Jessica Simpson going without make-up is a big deal.  And Glamour publishing a picture of a woman with a belly roll is considered a revolution.   So, yeah it’s a problem.  We’re in a publishing age, where someone in charge somewhere, looked at a Jennifer Lopez magazine cover, a Ralph Lauren ad, and an image in Maxim Mexico and said “perfect, send that to the printer!”

We need a lot less this:

And a lot more this:

"The Great Underarm Campaign" 1915-2010?

So, of course it would fall to me to write this piece as I am the hairy feminist of the bunch. I never shave my armpits and so rarely shave my legs that it’s a special occasion to my partner. Literally. I present my freshly shaven legs as a gift (oh, you only think I’m kidding). As a woman who doesn’t shave AND is a feminist, I feel like it’s incredibly taboo to even be having this discussion, but here it goes.

On Monday an article was published in the New York Times “Unshaven women: Free Spirits or Unkempt.”  It was prompted by Mo’Nique (winner of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “Precious”) lifting her dress at an awards ceremony to reveal her unshorn legs. She is not the first celebrity to make this decision (mistake or not): Julia Roberts, Alicia Silverstone, Gillian Anderson, Britney Spears and Amanda Palmer of the Dresdon Dolls have all done it. I was kind of excited both to read this article and to see what responses it elicited from bothmen and women…the most annoying of which are men complaining about how it’s gotten so hard for men now, as well. I’m not even going to validate that with a response. Of course, the vast majority are men who basically say, “Do what you want, but you and your hairiness would never have a shot at me.”  How about this one:

I’m sorry. I will vote for a woman for president. I will work for a woman. Women should be priests, soldiers, equal pay, whatever. But hairy women are seriously unappealing.

Well, in all your glory, I can only imagine what we’re all missing! There are also a great many women who share a similarly grossed out sentiment, and have been indoctrinated to believe that it is somehow dirty or unsanitary to not shave your body hair. And, not just the ‘pits and the legs….ALL OF IT HAS TO GO! But, I’d like to backtrack and review a little bit of the history of shaving. Here’s a condensed timeline for you……

Around the time of dinosaurs OR 100,000 B.C.E.     -     Neandertal men first start pulling body hair and tattooing (they also enjoyed filing down their teeth. Enjoyed? Yeah….right.)
3,000 B.C.E.      -     Invention of metal tools; Egyptian & Indian priests use copper tools to shave their heads
400      B.C.E.     -      Alexander the Great advocates shaving to prevent “dangerous beard grabbing in combat” (also, Alex hated the five o’clock shadow)
Middle Ages, Rome, and The Crusades OR 300 B.C.E. to 1603     -     Various strange and painful methods of hair removal from plucking eyelashes, to using resin, pitch, white vine, ass’s fat, she-goat’s gall, bat’s blood, and powdered viper to remove body hair are employed
1603 – 1700′s     -     Both women and men shave/remove their eyebrows and forehead hair, and wear artificial wigs and mouse fur for eyebrows…..again, really? : /
Late 1700′s – 19th century      -     Shaving becomes something that only “dandy’s” engage in…and, mostly in London; as well, as “women of the night,” but they only shave to prove to their sirs that they don’t have lice.

And, that brings us to the juicy stuff (no, not the lice)…..the important stuff…..the stuff that still matters and compels me to write this blog. In 1901 King Camp Gillette along with MIT engineer William Nickerson patented their first safety razor. This was the beginning of the creation and domination of the shaving market. In a large and profitable marketing venture, Gillette teamed with the U.S. Army and gave every enlisted man in the army a razor during World War I (for those of you who were asleep during history class, that was 1914-1919). During the same time, Gillette was trying to find a way to expand his reach. He was motivated, of course, by the same thing that motivates any corporate campaign. Greed. That coupled with a seemingly mundane development in fashion - the popularity of sleeveless dresses marked the beginning of “The Great Underarm Campaign.” In 1915 Harper’s Baazar published the first advertisement featuring a woman with shaved “underarms.”

    

From this point the campaign turned female body hair into something “objectionable,” and “the woman of fashion says the underarm must be as smooth as the face.” And, by 1922 (two years after women won the vote), Gillette and the advertising barrage had won the underarm hair fight. They didn’t win the leg hair fight as easily as the length of skirts didn’t mandate shaving. However, by the 1930′s we’re not only shaving it all off we’re waxing it off!

Okay….so almost 100 years later why are we STILL shaving? Why do a lot of women shave, pluck, wax (which can actually be very dangerous), burn, trim, bleach, dissolve, laser or otherwise remove every inch of body hair?? It is not dirty, unsanitary or unfeminine. Contrary to everything you have ever been told, that hair is there to hold in your essence and protect the skin (note: your skin doesn’t develop those annoying little red bumps for nothing). This may seem counter intuitive due to all of the bad press your body hair gets! It has become such an ingrained, unconscious part of our culture that it’s an assumed responsibility as opposed to a choice. The first time a former boyfriend of mine commented on the fact that I hadn’t shaved my legs in a couple of days….it hit me. How ridiculous! And, how dare you! To be rebellious - I stopped shaving. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you have to be hairy to be a feminist. I like the way Amanda Palmer summed it up…..wake up every day and make your decisions. But, I’ll take it a step further and say wake up and make informed, conscious decisions.

April 15, 2010

For every Britney there are countless Kates

I was still reveling in Britney’s unaltered Candies photos circulating the feminist blogosphere, specifically, and the internet, in general, when I read at HuffPo that Kate Hudson celebrated her birthday with a new set of breasts (story at UsMagazine, too). As I was digesting this bit of disheartening news, @RevoltRealWomen posted the link on twitter (I told you information travels quickly out here).

Why am I disheartened? When a woman as beautiful and as “perfect” (by mainstream cultural standards) feels insecure enough to get breast implants, there’s a big fucking problem out there for women. It’s an example of how impossibly perfect, and utterly *unreal*, these standards are. I’ll be blogging more on this topic in the next few days.

This also explains my skepticism on the importance of Britney’s photos. As I blogged last night (full post here):

Do these efforts matter? Well, yes. Of course.

Do they represent “change?” Not exactly. Real change will occur when these images are not the exception but the norm and these images do not represent a handful of images and in a sea of millions of taken-for-granted but absorbed images that counter their positive message.

For every body image “victory” like curvy French Elle or Britney untouched, we have countless Kates altering their bodies and succumbing to the endless pressure exerted by a merciless industry, body snarking as sport and beauty standards that can only be reached through outrageous and dangerous body practices such as going under the knife for elective plastic surgery.

April 14, 2010

Britney Spears un-altered: does it matter?

The Daily Mail posted an article along with a series of photos of Spears for an upcoming Candies campaign, unaltered and altered.

I agree that it is a “brave” move, especially since Spears continues to be taunted for weight fluctuations.  As stated in the article:

Celebrities, and the industry around them, are often accused of producing images that affect young people’s body image.

Which is why it’s so refreshing to see one of the world’s most famous pop stars allowing all of their imperfections to be highlighted.

One thing that I think is important to note is that Britney Spears looks good *unaltered* yet, according to industry mandate, must be altered to remain within the unrealistic, nonexistent beauty standard that has been created and is maintained incessantly.

Spears’ decision to release the unaltered photos next to the altered versions is to be applauded along with French Elle’s recent “Curvy Girl” version (or their make-up free issue last year). These efforts correlate with Dove’s ongoing Campaign for Real Beauty which gained attention (not all positive, mind you) in 2004. Since their campaign launch they have produced several campaigns and videos ironically critiquing their own industry (not to mention Dove’s use of “real women” to sell firming cream and the fact that they are owned by Unilever, a company that also owns sex AXE).

But…

Do these efforts matter? Well, yes. Of course.

Do they represent “change?” Not exactly. Real change will occur when these images are not the exception but the norm and these images do not represent a handful of images and in a sea of millions of taken-for-granted but absorbed images that counter their positive message.