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:

February 6, 2009

The high cost of traditional gender roles in a recession

Last spring, long before the impending financial armageddon began it’s death spiral, one of my young female students told me that in another one of her classes each person was supposed to make an introductory statement including their name, major and future aspirations.  Typical first day stuff. My student was taking my “Women, Work and Family” class and her other class was an introductory class in the department of “Family and Consumer Sciences.” This department houses programs such as family studies, nutrition and food science, fashion merchandising and interior design.

The entire class, she tells me, was populated with 18-19 year-old women and every single one said that in the her plans for the future included “doing nothing.” “Doing nothing” included shopping and grooming appointments.  Ever the critic of traditional gender roles, gender roles, that mind you, never represented the majority of the population even while the mass media shoved these images of gender coupled with the nuclear family (heterosexual mother and father, man and woman, in a monogamous, romantic, legally and religiously sanctioned marriage with their own biological children living on their own property) down the public’s throat with homogeneous, middle-class, white sitcoms, I was surprised to hear that these women didn’t even want to work and exchange their domestic skills for the money the man made in the public sphere.  They just wanted to shop and have some other woman (an immigrant woman? woman of color? lower class/working poor woman?) take care of the house and children. Yeah, that’s realistic.

I was alarmed that these young women couldn’t recognize a fact that seemed clear to me.  We were not ( and are definitely not now) living in the same economic climate.  My class was assigned Stephanie Coontz‘s The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap for the semester and Coontz compares the climate post WWII with the contemporary economic landscape prior to last fall’s economic house of cards being blown down (the signs were there for quite some time).  Post WWII saw growing infrastructure, investment and production in the United States. We can’t even compare to the economic state experienced at this time.

But, it was realistic for these young women and, really, I’m not surprised when I think about it further.  These teenagers had grown up in a similar cultural climate as women during the post WWII era in which domestic propaganda was unleashed in high volumes to urge women out of the work force and back in the home.  These teens had grown up in the conservative Bush climate for 8 years in which “family values” and religion had been tossed around with ever increasing frequency, television shows promoted endless consumption and the dumbing down of the American female, and becoming obsessed with the baby bump and celebrity marriages to the point that a public female figure was always asked about her marriage, cooking skills and highlighted her desire to be a mom.  Celebrity career second, natch.

Deborah Siegel‘s article confirms what many of us have know for quite some time: even if we, as women, wanted to stay at home to bake sagging cakes, birth and bathe babies and have an afternoon snack of tranquilizers, WE CAN’T AFFORD IT! “Traditional” (this is in quotes because upon cross-cultural and historical investigation it becomes clear that there’s nothing traditional or normative of these gender roles or the fallacy of the nuclear family) gender roles can’t be supported or sustained in this economy.  In fcat, they were not sustained for long.  By the 1970s women were launched into action by many variables including (surprise??) the economy.

I wonder about these young women in that other class.  What are they dreaming of now or are they planning for their future by being practical?  We can’t all marry a millionaire despite the claims that is is possible.


Remember that economic downturn of the 1970s?  It was part of what catapulted egalitarianism into the future.  Women went to work in droves because of a change in the culture — but for economic reasons, too.  Feminism and recession have gone hand in glove.  So if these Times couples come across as anachronisms, it’s because, statistically, they are.  They are operating from a model that is no longer widely popular in part because it no longer works — especially in times like these.

Could it be that the Times meant to provoke?  Because the gender mythology that courses through the article is as irksome as the class fantasy it conveys.  Says Framingham State College sociologist Virginia Rutter, “The reason why reading an article like this one is so galling isn’t because we resent the rich — but hey, it is a little galling to read about the people who have to curb their luxury vacations to luxury weekends — but because the suffering we are experiencing is a consequence of the privilege the guys on top were enjoying.”  In other words, these couples’ traditional gender roles were “purchased” through inflated Bush-era incomes that allowed executive wives to opt out of the workforce and hire a nanny too.

For couples like the Berrys, downsizing means replacing that fulltime nanny with a more “cost-effective” au pair and thinking about schools other than Harvard for the kids.  Loss is relative, and the Berrys’ pain is no less real than mine. However, highlighting such stories accentuates the gap between the haves and have-lesses.  I’d rather see stories with a wider range of families, a more realistic sample, portrayed. Recession is a leveler, and it’d be nice to see more level coverage.