September 21, 2010

Heidi Yourself? There’s an App for That.

This is just creepy. Plastic surgeon, Dr. Michale Salzhauer, launched a new app for iPhones allowing users to “Heidi” themselves by choosing from a menu of surgical treatments similar to the 10 procedures Heidi Montag endured while under the knife last year. This follows his previous app, iSurgeon, one of several do-it-yourself-first editing tools used by plastic surgeons to promote their services. Apparently, the plastic surgery industry has been hit by the recession and the ability to see what you might look like post-op is a way to strike up business.

In an age when younger women are seeking cosmetic surgery and the new horror show, Bridalplasty, the show that Jennifer L. Pozner calls “a headline-baiting reality show combining the desperation and body dysmorphia of Fox’s cosmetic surgery competition The Swan with the unbridled hyperconsumption hawked by wedding industrial complex series such as TLC Say Yes to the Dress, and WeTV’s Bridezillas and My Fair Wedding with David Tutera,” debuts on E! and even Heidi Montag has expressed regret about her procedures, the last thing we need is yet another way to bait women and profit off their insecurities.

Thanks to Karina O for bringing this to my attention.

May 17, 2010

Tabloid Talk, week 4

Week four of Tabloid Talk features more of the same:

Relationships rank high in the tabloid headlines: 5 references, including beginnings, endings and pregnancy.

Heidi Montag appears on both covers this week and the focus is on her lack of individual agency as related to her body project gone wild through the relentless pursuit of “perfection” by continuously modifying her body.

The “body,” focus on women’s beauty and their assorted body projects have been a leading theme week to week. Dina, of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, is featured to the far left of the Life & Style cover and explains “Why I got a breast reduction.” Juxtaposed next to Heidi Montag’s looming headline, “Forced into more plastic surgery,” Dina appears to be a claim to body sanity. After all, Heidi Montag has been turned into a circus freak, an emblem of the industry’s standard of beauty gone awry.

And, of course, in addition to body talk and a focus on heterosexual relationships, no tabloid would be complete without the girl feud. This week, the “nasty feud” is between Kate Hudson and Cameron Diaz. The main issue? A guy, natch, and Kate thinks its Cameron’s way of paying Kate back for Kate’s hook-up with Justin Timberlake.

Looking at the pop culture landscape, women are rarely shown in authentic female friendships or in solidarity with one another. Women seem to be endlessly competing with one another in hot pursuit of the beauty myth, an unrealistic image of perfection sold to women as the primary indicator of worth, and men. Of course, I have stated time and time again, the former serves to nab the latter.

This article reinforces these ideas about “mean girls” waging war:

There’s plenty of bad blood between the two professionally. “Kate thinks that Camewron is an aging old-lady actress struggling to remain sexy and relevant,” the insider says of Hudson…

In a cultural environment that prizes female beauty, youth is a primary component in the way that beauty is constructed. Taking aim at Cameron’s age is a classic example of the way in which women are devalued as they age and the derogatory comments hurled at one another in spite, envy and competition.

May 5, 2010

A letter to Hollywood and its beauty myth

Written by Dororthy Snarker. Originally posted at Cross-posted with permission.

Dear Hollywood Dream Factory,

For decades you have been the Pygmalion to our humble lumps of clay. You have molded us, cajoled us, berated us and pretty much forcibly formed us into whatever shape you wanted. You have made us feel bad about our bodies, made us nip and tuck and enhance and suck ourselves to meet your standards. We’ve plumped and sculpted and even paralyzed vast swaths of ourselves to win your approval. Quite frankly, all this trying to look like Barbie is exhausting.

Now that some of us have reached the zenith of Plasticine perfection, are so taut and shiny that we stretch the bounds of reality, you decide you want something else. Plastic is out, according to a new article in The New York Times, and natural is in.

And so, for the first and possibly last time in my life, I feel bad for the Heidi Montag’s of the world.

Now, of course, I applaud any championing of normal and natural beauty standards. Women come in so many different and beautiful sizes and shapes that to expect us to conform to one singularly strict standard is not only absurd but unconscionable. Perfection is boring; flaws make us special.

Still this recent about-face from you, Hollywood, smacks not of an earnest belief in the underlying value of everyone’s true self, but a trend as fickle as flapper dresses and fake tans. While the Times article touts the “small but significant” wave of filmmakers and casting executives who are “beginning to re-examine Hollywood’s attitude toward breast implants, Botox, collagen-injected lips and all manner of plastic surgery,” if you read a little deeper you realize why.

It’s not that they suddenly grew a conscience. It’s that “the spread of high-definition television — as well as a curious public’s trained eye — has made it easier to spot a celebrity’s badly stitched hairline or botched eyelid lift.” Basically, the seams are showing.

So now instead of favoring the cookie-cutter American beauties you have so long demanded, studios has started casting overseas actresses – where there is less of a penchant to go under the scalpel – to pretend to be all-American girls. Over the last few years the influx of imported talent has been obvious including Anna Torv (Australia), Lena Headey (England), Rose Byrne (Australia), Yvonne Strahovski (Australia), Anna Friel (England – and as long as I’m ranting, I miss Pushing Daisies, dammit!).

And again, this is all fine and good. I’ve often praised our overseas counterparts for their fastidious refusal to futz with their faces. If you need to see what aging gracefully (and sexily) looks like, look no further than Helen Mirren. Wrinkles are hot, pass it on.

But instead of telling overly enhanced actresses the reason they’re being passed over for parts (and therefore stopping the cycle of unending alterations in its tracks), executives seem to be snickering behind these poor women’s backs. They are purposely not telling women with too much plastic surgery that that is the reason they aren’t being cast. Yet still they have no problem telling a newspaper that they think that “everyone either looks like a drag queen or a stripper.” This is an instance when being kind to someone’s face is really the cruelest thing you can do.

Look, Hollywood, you created this monster. This is your doing. You can’t just stuff it back into a box so simply. And you can’t pass value judgments on these women who were only doing what they thought you wanted in the first place without some serious soul searching. What is beautiful shouldn’t be based on the latest trend or the emergence of high-definition TV or anything but actual beauty. Is it good that you’re finally tired of the silicon and stretched faces? Yes. Is it your fault they exist in the first place? Big fat yes.

Gabourey Sidibe – beautiful. Meryl Streep – beautiful. America Ferrera – beautiful. Amanda Seyfried – beautiful. All different, all beautiful. Beauty isn’t a trend, it just is. Get it together, Hollywood.

Ms. Snarker

May 2, 2010

Heidi Montag: Pop culture fall-out

Filed under: Body Image — Tags: , , , , — Melanie @ 10:46 pm

Heidi Montag continues to be a tabloid focal point, prompting ridicule, cruel jokes and derision. After she unveiled her new self to the horror of many (including her mother), I  was impelled to blog on her surgical transformation in a way that didn’t simply chalk her up to a freaky circus sideshow or Franken-barbie, a name commonly used in the tabloids and blogosphere.

Lets be honest, she is not the only woman (of any age) to pursue multiple procedures at once or over a period of time. Unlike most women who keep these “beauty secrets” precisely that, secrets, Heidi exposed herself and helped fuel the initial media feeding frenzy in the pursuit of exposure and publicity. Clearly, Heid’s revelation wasn’t necessarily an intentional revelation to critically examine the truth behind women’s insecurities, beauty pressure and the often horrifying consequences of elective cosmetic surgery (she is half of the fame mongering duo formely known as Speidi, afterall). But she did pull back the curtain on a beauty reality for many women. That reality is the incessant pursuit of unrealistic and crippling images of beauty. This candid and uncomfortable reality doesn’t sit well with most of us. It forces us to confront the emotional and physical fall-out that the beauty myth leaves in it’s wake, a wake made large and wide thanks to the proliferation of streams of images that fan the flames of the all-consuming beauty norm. And, lets face it, most of these images are perpetuated in the seemingly benign environment of pop culture, a cultural environment dominated by mindless “reality” shows that depict women as stupid, superficial pop-tarts consumed with the reflection in the mirror and their relationships with men (the former used to secure the latter).

Perez Hilton recently blogged on the “Franken-Heidi” in training, the 15-year-old UK girl regularly injecting Botox as preventative maintenance.  Perez acts surprised but “botox babies” are nothing new. The New York Times published an article on this phenomenon in 2005 and this is the cultural landscape Montag came of age in, an era in which young girls seek extreme measures to maintain their looks before they’ve even developed a line. As much as her new face and enormous, overly-round implants make me cringe, I recognize her as a pop culture casualty that is held up as some sort of freaky novelty because it is too uncomfortable to admit that she represents the insecurities so many of us face on a daily basis (and the measures many are silently willing to take).

This recent Gawker post, articulates the toxic terrain Montag rides on and the frightening and sad result.

When The Hills premiered, in May of 2006, Heidi Montag was 19 years old. Which could very well mean that she signed her first MTV contract at 18. The network snared this kid, this real genuine kid, into their glossy trap and then just let her hang herself, over and over again, claiming some sort of documentarian remove when asked if they’d intervene. They simply couldn’t do it, couldn’t even acknowledge the swirling Oort cloud of Us Weekly frenzy that surrounded the cast, because then it wouldn’t be real. Only of course they do intervene, all the time, when it is convenient for them. It’s pretty much common knowledge at this point that the show is staged to within an inch of its life — nearly every look, conversation, relationship is false. So the audience at home is never quite sure what to believe. “Oh look how awful Heidi acts on this show, let’s be cruel to her. It doesn’t matter, it’s just a made-up show!” Which, sure, may have seemed, or been, true at some point. But now, with all of these surgeries, this willful and terrifying mangling of her body, Heidi has emerged as a deeply troubled and emotionally damaged lost soul, one who childishly offered herself up to a reality camera crew and watched, feeling helpless to do anything but not fight the riptide, as they stripped her bare, took everything off her, mocked her for taking what they’d offered her, edited her however they wanted, threw her family into the mix and tore them apart too.

And then in a final act of desperation, the old innocent Heidi finally kicking out the chair, Montag got something like ten plastic surgeries at once, changing her entire face and body to something immovable and unrecognizable. She became some sort of version of Heidi as she imagined the show defined her — pretty, booby Heidi with her shallow, fake husband — and MTV saw it, they saw it, and said “OK, let’s roll cameras!” anyway. So we watched last night as she went home to Crested Butte (that name, that name) and her family tried to mask their horror, until it was finally too much. Until the presence of the cameras was so looming and demanding that her parents felt they had to try to sputter out words and just ended up hurting her feelings. Heidi tried to chew, she tried to cry, but she couldn’t. So she just sat there, her eyes wild with the recognition that she can never go back, and you realized that MTV ruined this kid’s life. They gave her a platform to indulge her greatest insecurities, to stoke her deepest unhealthy desires, and they encouraged it and filmed it and sent it out to world while saying Ha Ha.

Heidi isn’t any different than the girls watching at home, just worse off. She was watching the show, watching herself, and seeing something distant and faraway. And she wanted it, wanted desperately for it to be real. So she’s just chasing her tail forever, while MTV films and makes bundles in cellphone advertisements. They pried open that hole in Heidi’s heart, and they basically put that shit in her face. At least they certainly funded it [italics mine].

March 19, 2010

On Jessica and the opportunity lost

Filed under: Body Image,Media — Tags: , , , , — Melanie @ 4:11 pm

Frankly, I can’t say I’m surprised even though I was hopeful (see my post from March 5).

Here’s the word on Jessica Simpson’s Price of Beauty via Ms Online:

I had felt a bit optimistic about this show’s potential, although the network’s track history in its reality shows–and in its treatment of women, particularly women of color–made this wishful thinking. In fact, Jessica and pals were immature at best and offensive at worst. They laughed through a Buddhist monk’s illustration of meditative practices in Thailand. They gagged as their beauty ambassador showed them a few Thai delicacies,  and Jessica remarked that she was disappointed she didn’t get a “happy ending” at the end of her Thai massage.

Like myself and many others, Young was hopeful despite the network hosting said Simpson series. Based on the summary above, things are worse than expected and positively embarrassing. As Jezebel describes it the episode showcased the “ugly American,” the ethnocentric, superficial and immature American. Ugly, indeed (and entirely disappointing given the amount of viewers this show reaches and *could* inform thoughtfully and intelligently).

The best part of Courtney Young’s review and analysis, though,  is her suggestion for episodes that examine our own bizarre, if not perverse, obsession with manufactured and surgically enhanced definitions of beauty:

Why waste such an opportunity to engage folks in thoughtful programming about the impossible beauty standards that torture women worldwide?

Although the premise of the series involves going around the world, why not just start in the U.S.?  Consider these possibilities to explore in U.S. episodes:

February 11, 2010

Circus Freak or Canary In a Coal Mine?

There’s been lost of buzz about Heidi Montag’s overhaul (what she calls her transformation from ugly duckling to her “best me”) in the last month. Most of the press has been negative and the reactions have ranged from anger to horror.  Many women, specifically, are angry that she has “sold out” and made things “that much harder” for other women. Others are horrified by the extreme measures she has taken to achieve a warped and industry-influenced perception of beautiful. She claims her mother looked at her like a “circus freak.”

A similar thought came to mind when I saw the photographs of her newly sculpted body and face (that she had the means to purchase-hello-expensive). It’s the same reaction I get when I see pictures of Pamela Anderson. Eww. What a freak.

The platinum hair. The humongous, perfectly round orbs. The manufactured face.

But, Pamela Anderson used to the epitome of beauty to me. I cringe as I admit that. I used to fake-n-bake when I couldn’t get to the beach and smear accelerator on my crying skin (after all, it was the early 90s), I bleached my hair for years,  and wore acrylics for far too long.

I don’t think I was the only one. I know I wasn’t the only one. And I know Heidi isn’t the only one these days.

I realize Heidi is a celebrity wanna be, a media monger with scant talent. I realize that her beach work outs, wedding and, probably even this plastic surgery story, are calculated PR attempts however lame they may be.

But I have empathy for Heidi and I don’t think she’s as much of a freak show as we make her out to be. Yeah, she had 10 procedures in a  day. Yes, she almost died. But Heidi is not the only one supporting Dr. Ryan or the countless other plastic surgeons paying their bloated mortgages in swanky neighborhoods on the insecurities of wealthy women and women with mountains of debt (and men..yes, I know about the men). Shoot, I know people who have gone to Dr. Ryan for countless procedures with the desire for more.

What strikes me about Heidi Montag is that her desire for an unrealistic image of perfection has become more and more normative. Walking through parts of Los Angeles, I tend to see the same face over and over. I remember being slightly drunk at a Beverly Hills establishment some years ago and asking, “why do all these women have the same face?” In my state of intoxication it was like some bizarre carnival side show.

But it isn’t a bizarre carnival side show. It is increasingly becoming the norm. And not just in LA. Across the country. Across the globe. It’s an anthropological curiosity.

The outcries of horror and claims of freak come from the fact that she has candidly shared the gruesome, life threatening means required to achieve this notion of “beauty.” Almost innocently and surprised, she said that this is what it takes to be noticed and profitable in the industry. That’s what freakish because it is sadly true.

The fact that women (and men) *choose* (this is a point of debate) to pay to go under the knife and possibly experience complications or die in an attempt to look like a gazillion other women is ludicrous. And freaky. But that is exactly what is happening all the time to more and more women at younger and younger ages.

But most women don’t talk about the extreme measures and boat loads of money it takes to pursue this illusory beauty ideal. If more women gave honest accounts of their torturous beauty regimens we’d realize that Heidi isn’t a freak but the canary in the coal mine alerting us of dangers as more and more of our women, young and old, elect to construct and manufacture their faces and frames.