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!