November 25, 2008

Commercial Critique: Guitar Hero World Tour

Posted in advertising, body politics, Commercial Critique, double standards, gaming, gender, objectification, representation, sexism, television at 10:00 am by LB

I was originally pretty pleased at the Guitar Hero World Tour commercials. I liked that the first one, at least, showed a group of guys hanging out in comfy, even kinda sexy, clothing, rocking out like dorks. Typically representations of masculinity perform “boundary maintenance” (see “Fraternal Bonding”, which interestingly enough specifically talks about athletes), which is about displaying masculinity through sexism and homophobia; so often in commercials, the “cool guys” are the womanizing-objectifying type (not that the first GH didn’t have at least one of those in there), not the male bonding through semi-sexy fun type. So the initial commercial, at least, thwarted my expectation by not giving into the the sexist-homophobic construction of masculinity typically seen. The first one featured several male athletes (Plelps, A-Rod, Tony Hawk, Kobe Bryant) rocking it out in someone’s living room a la Risky Business, and several more have followed including American Idol stars David Archuleta and David Cook, High School Musical actor/singer Corbin Blue, and most recently model Heidi Klum. Except they’re not really a la Risky Business.

In Risky Business, Cruise dances around the living room in a long-sleeved button-down t-shirt, barely long enough to cover his ass, and nothing else is visible until the end when you see he has skimpy tighty whities on. In the GH commercials, the guys are dancing around in replica dress shirts and long, white boxers. Not 100% authentic, but I didn’t think anything of it because it’s a daytime commercial, and I figured they probably didn’t want it too seductive. That logic only held until I saw the Klum ad, where she wears (big surprise!) only the barely long enough dress shirt–no white shorts.

Why the discrepancy? Does this go back to the idea that sexualizing women’s bodies is acceptable for general consumption, but men’s bodies are (generally) off limits? What’s especially interesting to me here is that the original context of the parody was the sexual one–it’s not like they changed the commercial to make the one with the woman more sexual; rather they specifically desexualized the men’s commercials, and in doing so, deviated from its original context. It doesn’t bother me that they deviated; it’s that they deviated from, and desexualized, only the ones with the men.

But wait–it gets better. Because they actually did make the women’s one more sexual. The version of Klum’s commercial aired during Monday Night Football featured Klum with the button-down shirt unbuttoned, displaying black lingerie underneath. During her GH “performance”, she strips her shirt off, gyrating around, shakes her boobs while leaning back–all very stripper-like moves; again, this version is way off from the original they are supposed to be parodying. Celebrity Smack has this characterization of the commercial:

Close-ups of her ass and her boobs come next, followed by Heidi jumping down on the couch and holding the guitar between her legs as though it were a 2-foot long sex toy.

It is indeed a very sexualized commercial, Klum is turned into a quasi-porn star and the guitar seems more like a phallus than a fake guitar. This still is particularly telling:

Before anyone points out that “it’s not that bad”, the point is that for a series of commercials that are supposed to be citing a famous film scene, the ad makers go out of their way to increase the sexualization of the one commercial featuring a woman, and decrease the sexualization of the many commercials featuring a man or men. The only ad they made that is an accurate representation of the film is the “family-friendly” Klum ad. And until now, I haven’t even pointed out the 3:1 male:female ratio of the ads, nor the vocations of the genders represented (athletes and musicians: supermodel, how original!).

Let me point out, that there have been more “successful” replications of the Risky Business scene. Exhibit A: one of my favorite shows, Scrubs, had a JD fantasy sequence with the guys imitating Cruise. Now they don’t go through and dance–the fantasy is cut short–and the scene is much more goofy than sexy, but there we had 4 guys on non-cable TV early prime-time (and syndicated now during the day) with the same shirt some Cruise-like much skimpier undies. No reason GH couldn’t follow suit.

But maybe our only women’s-bodies-should-be-objectified/men-looking-at-men’s-bodies-makes-you-gay society can’t handle the swooning that would ensue if we were able to see as much of A-Rod, Phelps, and Kobe’s athletic physiques as we see of JD, Turk, Dr. Cox, and The Todd. For a game that appeals quite equally to female as well as male players, GH sure didn’t aim to give men and women equal ad time and representation.

(For other posts in this series, click here)


August 21, 2008

Olympic bodies

Posted in body politics, double standards, gender, Sexuality Blogs and Resources at 12:00 pm by LB

As I’ve been watching the Olympics, I have had two feelings about bodies:

  • How irritating it is that regardless of basically everything, women are perpetually sexualized, and often sexualized first and foremost.
  • How unused to seeing exposed young, fit, male bodies (particularly in snug attire) on a regular and public basis I am.  This is something hetero men are exposed to multiple times every day, and hetero women are only every four years!

I have also made these observations:

  • I regularly overhear female Olympic athletes sex appeal at least in equal proportion (if not more) to their athletic skill (though it’s usually in spite of their athletic skill).   Hetero men seem to be unable to comment on female athletes skill without also commenting on their physical appearance, both body and beauty.  Women do comment on the attractiveness of the female athletes sometimes as well (like women are more open to doing about other women anyway, whether peers or celebrities, and regardless of sexual attraction).
  • I hear much fewer comments about the appearance of the male athletes, and never from hetero men (cuz that would be gay, ya know).

August 11, 2008

Olympics and body politics

Posted in body politics, double standards, sports at 12:08 pm by LB

So the Olympics have begun, and the games are a great way to observe various gender issues and sport. For one, we see very clearly the hard-to-explain gender difference in beach volleyball attire, men in basketball-like uniforms and women in bathing suits. But in the majority of sports, event attire is similar for women and men, and according to what’s suitable for the athletic activity.

It’s also so nice to be able to watch women’s games reported in a more professional manner (although later this week I’ll try to discuss the gender difference in editorializing the athletes), focusing on their athletic and academic achievements.

But Friday’s “Creep Show” article in the NY Times, while making some valid points, was author Buzz Bissinger’s paternalistic take on young women’s athletics and seemed to reflect more his own discomfort with developing young women in the spotlight. As such, I think it speaks to some of the unease with female sexuality in-progress as well as normative ideas about what makes female bodies female. Read the rest of this entry »

July 29, 2008

Transgressing sex and gender

Posted in body politics, gender, heteronormative, identity, phallocentrism, queer, sexual politics at 2:00 pm by LB

This is an provocative post at Jezebel about Buck Angel, a popular adult film actor who is a transman who hasn’t had, and doesn’t want, genital surgery. Author Megan argues that he is a feminist hero, and I find her discussion compelling.

But this comment was the best:

I want to understand. Really, I do. Brain is just not computing “man who doesn’t want a penis”.

The idea of a person who feels they’re a man but does not feel that a male identity depends on having a penis is extremely transgressive and threatening. Our society conceives of sexuality and attraction/desire in terms of genitals. Thus desiring men=desiring penises. In terms the cultural construction of male sexual activity, penises are absolutely crucial. Many feel that technically, no “sex” takes place without penile penetration

I’ve never really outlined this on my blog, but my personal ideas about sexuality and desire are along the lines of sexuality as fluid (not a permanent identity), that there are “a thousand tiny sexes” (not just binary male/female and gay/straight/bi), that sex acts are not definitive of sexuality, and that homophobia is a big part of heteronormative masculinity…and more.

Sure, I think sexual parts are important. To a degree. But I have also had discussion with people who say they are more attracted to x people (personalities) but to y bodies. Yet in mainstream notions about sexuality (same-sex or hetero), these ought to align. But why should they? And why can’t personality or physical attraction play different roles or emphases in our intimate relationships? I would argue that they already do…but not across gender lines.

For all we talk about transgression, seeing the response to Buck Angel made me realize that perhaps only transgression within certain boundaries can really be tolerated, by hetero and LGBT communities alike. If that’s the case, how transgressive are those actions really?

So I’m really intrigued about the impossibility of comprehending why a (“real”) man wouldn’t want a penis…in our culture, what does that make him? And what does this anxiety say about our own phobias about sexuality?

July 21, 2008

Quick hit: recommended article on sport, sexuality and gender

Posted in body politics, queer, recommended reading, Sexuality Blogs and Resources, sports at 12:00 pm by LB

Gender and sport is one of my recent key interests lately (I think this happened after the realization that sport is really about the body, and as you know, I’m all about theorizing male and female bodies!)…so check out “Patricia Nell Warren: LGBT Sports Movement Part One of Two,” and article from the Women’s Sport Foundation, via a pretty cool blog I recently found, Rethinking Basketball, providing interesting commentary on the WNBA. Some excerpts:

A lot of the homophobia directed at lesbians comes from an entrenched belief that strenuous sport will “masculinize” women. I will never forget running in the 1969 Boston Marathon, while I was still in the closet, and seeing that some of the spectators were screaming at me, “Dyke! Dyke!” I wondered why those idiots would assume I was a lesbian when they knew nothing about me — after all, I had kept my sexual orientation a deep dark secret. Then I realized that my mere presence out there on the road, in a sport reserved for men, meant that these people saw me as “masculinized”…and “masculine” is a code word for lesbian.

[…] For gay and bi men, homophobia comes from the opposite direction: the illogical and irrational belief that being gay “feminizes” you and makes you unfit for sports, especially for rough physical sports like football and ice hockey. The rhetoric of ridicule that many male coaches and athletes use — for instance, “you throw a ball like a girl” — is aimed at pushing a man to establish his heterosexuality by extreme efforts not to look “feminine.” So, for many men, the sudden discovery that a rugged, masculine teammate of theirs is gay is a horrible shock.

[…] The more I think about sports and study their history, the more I realize that homophobia is as much about gender as it is about sexual orientation. A given sport or sports body can make an attempt to codify a cultural definition of “gender,” all the way from which events are permitted to women to stipulations on what styles of clothing men and women must wear during competition, as they do in figure skating and rodeo.

Read the whole thing here.

July 18, 2008

Women’s bodies are not public domain: how many times does this need to be said?

Posted in assholes, body politics, entitlement, objectification, privacy, sexual politics, victim-blaming at 12:00 pm by LB

A really great post at Hoyden About Town on a recent incident of a man photographing an “upskirt” shot in public, and posting it online. The comments she lists in the post are really great…the first set makes you smile and the second makes you pissed.

But reading these particular comments from the skeevy guy’s post got me thinking:

  • “He photographed in public a nice pair of legs and he added the photo onto he’s [sic] PERSONAL blog”

I read a lot people justifying various breeches of privacy with the excuse of “well, she’s in public.” What is it about public space that means anything goes? “Public” space only means anyone can be there–no one can be refused to be in public space. How does “anyone can be there” translate to “anyone can be there and should understand that at any minute they could be photographed or videotaped doing whatever they are doing and wearing whatever they are wearing and can be distributed in any context for free and by entering public space people are consenting to this.”

You know honestly, I don’t care whether some dude videotapes a woman bending over to pick up something she dropped or a person eating their lunch on a bench, both are wrong. Both are invasions. Why do people feel the right to photograph people they don’t know and post them online? Photos of any content, displayed in any context. Why does anybody think this is ok? And why does being in public mean you cede the right to own your body? I’m starting to get really irritated with the arrogance and entitlement of these justifiers.

And it’s not as if people can help being in public. You can’t feasibly survive without leaving your house.

  • “Nicu didn’t try to photograph anything that the girl wanted to keep hidden.”

For the nth time, since when is allowing to be visible for fleeting glances the same as allowing to be visible for photographic capture and display online? This would be like saying that all women who go to the beach are consenting to or want to or wouldn’t mind photos of them in said suit posted online. All together ladies: “HELL, NO!” How asinine is this reasoning?

I mean geez, how hard is it to just leave people alone? Live and let be? Seriously?!


So I had scheduled the above post for Friday. On Thursday, I checked back on the Hoyden thread’s discussion, and sure enough a douchebag had entered the discussion, reeking with male privilege. I really couldn’t let his fallacious comments go unaddressed, so I commented on the thread, and wanted to post what I wrote here as well, since this is a topic I am very passionate about and I write about often.

So again, from Hoyden About Town (and I encourage you to check out the thread and the blog, it’s good reading):

Anders FederNo Gravatar

Apart from the lameness, there is absolutely nothing wrong in posting a picture of an unidentifiable person’s legs.

Suggesting that I am a ‘fellow sociopath-wannabe’ for standing up for reasonable freedoms of expression, on the other hand, is highly questionable.

Oh, and by the way: I demand that you all ask for my permission before responding to this post directly or indirectly. Anything else will offend me.

My response: Read the rest of this entry »

July 15, 2008

A 1-2 punch on women’s athletic apparel

Posted in body politics, double standards, gender, sports at 12:00 pm by LB

Without further editorializing on the seeming requirement that female athlete’s garb be “sexy” (save for those nasty lesbian WNBA players, snark), I read these 2 posts today:

From Hoyden About Town (AU):

A bipartisan report produced from a Senate inquiry into women’s participation in sport found that teenage girls were leaving amateur sports because of body image issues exacerbated by uniforms.


From Figleaf’s Real Adult Sex:

What is it specifically about women athletes that they need to bare, oh, maybe 25-30% more skin compared to male athletes?

People have been talking about women’s outfits at Wimbledon as if they were high couture when they’re actually… mostly *short* couture. At least compared to men at Wimbledon who all seem to wear the same basic white polo-style shirt with long-cut shorts.

Same with beach volleyball. Men manage to function in these *enormous* jams-style shorts while as of 8 seconds ago women players can’t work in anything heavier than bikinis.

Oddly women’s and women’s basketball, baseball, football, and track uniforms are all roughly equal size and length and meanwhile Men’s pole acrobatics outfits cover *much* more than do women’s.

Oh, and a 3rd…

From Uncensored Feminista:

I have such a problem with this because why do women need to prove that they’re sexy and can play? I don’t see the same thing happening for men. It’s as if they need to show their sexiness and their femininity in order to be recognized for the players that they are.

July 6, 2008

Fun Fact

Posted in body politics, gender, humor, mass media, photoshop at 12:00 pm by LB

While on the can, my partner read in a housemate’s men’s magazine the following: Only 8% of American women have an “hourglass shape,” defined by having a waist 9 inches smaller than the bust (which, indeed is a wrong definition, as it-at least-neglects that the hips and bust must have the same measurement too, and also I thought it was about ratio, not exact measure, but whatev), but most women’s clothing is designed for an hourglass body.

I snarkily replied: That doesn’t surprise me at all.  They should have added the following: “And in this magazine, 98% of the women either have, or are Photoshopped to have, an hourglass figure, even though only 8% of American women have one.”

I mean, it’s great that they shared this info with their readers in a small box of text, but seriously, they’re just as guilty.  Or even more so: if they can’t find models to “fit’ the ideal, they fit them to it digitally and photographically (oh yes, there’s lots of tricks to alter your appearance that don’t require Photoshop.  Ask any photographer-and btw, I do have a photo degree.)

Maybe my comment would make a good “letter to the editor”?

July 4, 2008

More sports and sexism

Posted in body politics, gender, objectification, privacy, sexism, sexual politics, sports at 12:00 pm by LB

I’m starting to wonder if sports has become the “it” terrain for blatant sexism and creating a hostile climate for women.

In the last year…

Sexual Harassment of female fans by male fans at Jets’ games: nothing like a good ol “you don’t belong here until you have something you can give me, like the view of your tits that I’m clearly entitled to due to my possession of a penis.”

The blowup doll incident in the Chicago White Sox locker room welcoming objectification, violence, and sexual violence, while being rather inhospitable to female, and non-sexist male, journalists wanting to do their job. Not to mention any conscionable player being upset by it would have a hard time speaking up, lest he be accused of being gay, as is often the case in locker-room situations: just see the comments on sports columnist Mike Wise’s article against the display (see also Michael Messner‘s excellent work on masculinity, homophobia and sport). The doll and the accompanying baseball bat strategically placed in a certain orifice with the sign “You’ve got to Push” and all its encompassing sexism was intended to “encourage” the team. Great.

Now this…

via Feminocracy

The Morning Joe show on MSNBC this morning retold the story of a man who got a signed baseball for throwing nude pictures of his ex-wife into the bull pen. The pictures got the man a ball signed by everyone in the dugout courtesy of Johnathan Papelbon of the Boston Red Sox […] Nothing is more classy than giving out nude pictures you obtained during the course of a relationship and spreading them around once the relationship is over. Likewise, its very classy to accept random nudes from fans–lovely.

This is absolutely deplorable behavior, on the part of the guy and the players. The Bo-Sox dugout should be ashamed for accepting these images that were made in the context of an intimate relationships that this guy is exploiting for this own profit and without the consent of the woman in the photos. How is this not illegal? Is this not the “sale” of pornography without the consent of the model? Code 2257 anyone?

Combined with the way female athletes are written about in the media, the sports industry is telling me loud and clear where I as a female belong: on the sidelines, displaying my tits.

(cross-posted to The Reaction)

June 13, 2008

Owning our bodies’ representation

Posted in body politics, double standards, exnomination, objectification, phallocentrism, privacy, representation, sexual politics at 12:00 pm by LB

This post from Ms. Naughty (blog NSFW) got me thinking. She wrote a post about the Topfree Equal Rights Association, and their argument that it should be legal for women to bare their breasts in public since men can: that not being able to amounts to discrimination since it’s the “same” body part. Ms. Naughty quotes this bit from Topfree’s website, which struck me:

“This is a rebellion against a woman’s body being considered everywhere and always a sex object. As women we want the right for ourselves to decide when our breasts are sexual. That isn’t going to be in a swimming facility, and therefore they must not have to be covered. We want permission to bathe topfree, as men do.”

I’m really seduced by the idea of women being able to assert when our bodies are and are not sexual. This is something that has bothered me for some time, and was a large part of what I have written previously: that representations of women’s bodies are usurped and posited as sexual/sex objects despite what the woman herself desires. Women’s bodies seem to be by default sexual. They are subject to sexualization and sexual (or “beauty”) evaluation simply by existing. So I really like the theoretical argument presented here about women being able to own the sexualization of their body.

But while the argument is seductive, I’m not sure that it’s practical. Because the cultural reality is that women don’t own our sexualization. We are constantly evaluated and sexualized. We are catcalled; we are told to put clothes on. Celebrity women are subject to Hot Lists and 25 Unsexiest Women Lists. We do not exist publicly as people, but rather as women. And I don’t think that women baring their breasts publicly will radically change the way that our culture perceives women and their bodies.

I’m actually afraid it might do the opposite. Read the rest of this entry »

May 11, 2008

Recent sports articles remind us that female athletes are (sexual and maternal) women first

Posted in beauty culture, body politics, exnomination, feminism, gender, gender stereotypes, mass media, objectification, representation, sexual politics, sports at 1:00 pm by LB

First, from Feministing:

The Chicago Tribune online story with this headline:

“WNBA offers advice to rookies: Trying to expand fan base by marketing its players, the WNBA for the first time offers rookies lessons in fashion and makeup”

Yes, you read that right. According to the story, one-third of the WNBA rookie orientation offered makeup and fashion tips. Other seminars included “financial advice, media training and fitness and nutrition”.

“I think it’s very important,” said Candace Parker, the Naperville product who was the league’s No. 1 draft pick out of Tennessee. “I’m the type who likes to put on basketball shorts and a white T, but I love to dress up and wear makeup. But as time goes on, I think [looks] will be less and less important.”


NBA rookies go through a similar orientation, although their off-court conduct is stressed far more than their wardrobe or physical appearance.

What’s unfortunate is it’s true. Female athletes are not only judged as athletes but are also judged for their adherence to conventional “femininity” (as I’ve written about elsewhere). Some of this happens in the way women’s sports is reported and discussed, and some of it is brought on by the ad campaigns female athletes participate in. While part of their participation in objectifying ads is likely for the income opportunity, I think part of it too is as a way for female athletes to “prove” (via social validation) that despite their physical strength and athletic bodies, they are still “sexy” and “feminine”. Since, of course, being sexually desirable according to socially prescribed standards is the ultimate standard of a woman’s worth.

From the Tribune:

Susan Ziegler, a Cleveland State professor of sports psychology, said disparity in wages and media coverage between male and female athletes, along with a battle against perceived negative stereotypes, are factors in marketing female sports figures for their physicality rather than their athletic assets.

Need examples? Read the rest of this entry »

May 8, 2008

Read this post.

Posted in body politics, Fat Acceptance, identity, objectification, recommended reading, social justice at 11:30 am by LB

Read this post by Kate Harding at Shakesville. Please. Normally I’d just add it to my links but this deserves special attention. The article is primarily adressing the question Kate gets about how she can advocate “fat acceptance” when she’s “only” 1 or 2 sizes larger than the “average American woman.” Her whole article is quite moving and poignant.

But this “the average American woman wears a size 14!” shit is utterly meaningless in terms of defining what’s “fat” and what’s “normal” in this culture […] You’re right, of course, to want to get the message across to this woman that there is nothing wrong with her body. She could probably stand to hear that. But telling her she’s not fat is not the same thing. It denies her the anguish she feels about having a body that deviates from the ideal, however slightly–and believe me, deviating even slightly is plenty to cause legitimate anguish–and worse yet, it reinforces the message that her being fat by some other standard would mean there was something wrong with her body. That’s the underlying problem here–not whether the woman is officially “fat,” but that so many of us automatically equate fat with a host of other negative characteristics, with there indeed being something wrong with your body. The hilarious thing is that just before this wankstain yelled at me, my Pilates instructor–a student teacher who’s not used to me yet, let alone to how all sorts of different bodies work–had been falling all over herself telling me how amazingly strong and flexible I am. (Thank you, yoga.) In the space of ten minutes, I went from being praised up and down for what my body can do to being cruelly insulted because it’s not a socially acceptable size. And if that doesn’t drive home the point that the real problem is not anybody’s fucking fat but a culture that insists fat bodies are intrinsically worthless, I don’t know what will.

April 29, 2008

Fighting Against Breast Cancer…and Also Against Breast Cancer Campaigns

Posted in body politics, breast cancer, language politics, objectification, representation, sexual politics at 9:00 am by LB

I don’t remember exactly what brought this issue to my attention– it may have been this blog post I read, which prompted me to do some additional research. But I’m pretty irritated. And frustrated.

It’s the Breast Cancer awareness campaigns and anti-breast cancer t-shirts that are being manufactured, bought and worn. Disclaimer: I am 100% in favor of fund-raising, awareness, education, what have you, about breast cancer.* That’s not what this is about. However, the way advocacy is framed is just as important as the advocacy, for the “way you say it” speaks just as much as “what you say.”

Why am I annoyed? The message of recent campaigns, advertising, and t-shirts are centered around the idea that we need to catch breast cancer early and research for a cure in order to save breasts. Silly me, I thought we fight against cancer to save lives. And if that weren’t bad enough, the reason “the breasts” must be saved will make you puke a little in your mouth. Because men love ’em. Read the rest of this entry »

April 23, 2008

Real Women Have Bodies…Politicians Even

Posted in body politics, sexual politics, WTF at 9:00 am by LB

This article from last week on Salon’s Broadsheet just cracked me up. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leader of the German nation is…a woman!!! And not just that…she has breasts! OMG!

Apparently her appearance at the German Opera in an evening gown with a plunging neckline cause quite a furor. Just more proof that:

  1. Women can be sexual or politically powerful, but not both.
  2. Women can be politically powerful, as long as they “act like men.”
  3. #2 means they must pretend like they don’t have a body. Wait, that they don’t have a female body, which is of course redundant in our culture where men have the luxury to be people first and bodies second (or never).
  4. Female sexuality is unable to be tolerated when it’s not for someone else. (I can’t hook up with her/masturbate to her/marry her so why does she think she can demonstrate that she has breasts?)
  5. Women cannot be “taken seriously while sexy.”

And it’s not even sexual!! It’s just some cleavage!! Evidence of having a female body!! Sheesh!

(cross-posted to The Reaction)

April 21, 2008

On ‘Beautiful’ Women Looking ‘Unhuman’

Posted in beauty culture, body politics, Celebritocracy, mass media, photoshop at 10:31 am by LB

(This post is kind of a smattering of several sites I’ve seen recently about photoshopping the life-literally-out of women in mags and some of my semi-random thoughts on the topic.)

Shakesville has a great analysis of Vanessa Williams’ photos in Ebony vs. what she looks like in real life (to the extent that any image can reflect “real life”). And this photo comparison in a terrific commentary on the beauty of ‘real life’ and the tyranny of photoshop from AfterEllen is quite pointed:

(actually, check out that whole AfterEllen Article with pics–it freakin’ pisses me off that 60 year old women can’t just be beautiful 60 year old women–I absolutely adore that photo there of Helen Mirren!)

It also reminded me of Jezebel’s analysis of Faith Hill (who is 39 and great looking) on the cover of Redbook over the summer, which was equally disturbing.

This professional photo retouching site has some examples of celebrity retouching. Click “portfolio” then choose a thumbnail. Move your cursor on and off the photo to see the photo vs. the retouch. It’s amazing! The untouched photos look like beautiful women still, but they’re beautiful like the “regular” women in our lives are–our friends, lovers-sisters. They’re beautiful, but they have wrinkles, freckles, bags around their eyes, complexions that look–real. Seriously…look at the “before” and “after” of several of those images and after just a few the retouches start to look really creepy and alien. And just think…those are what we’re accustomed to seeing in the mags and internet. Those are what “beautiful people” look like! Freakin’ aliens!

But regarding wrinkles especially, my question is simple: why do insist on an “ideal” female appearance that makes it look like you’ve lived a boring life? Is “correcting” the flaws that come from actually doing things in life via actual cosmetic surgery or the virtual Photoshop “quick fix” in fact more a testament to wealth than to so-called “neutral” and “natural” aesthetics? As in, a reflection that one has the money to surgically or chemically erase the wear and tear of real life off their physical body, or that one has the money to not put the strain of physical labor on one’s body in the first place (which would minimize some but not nearly all of the wear on the physical body–the rest could be “fixed” cosmetically). Not to mention, of course, the economic and time resources required to have the personal trainers, dieticians, fashion consultants, hair and makeup designers, nannies, gardeners…that permit the physical fashioning that goes into being a (predominately female) celebrity.

But since your everyday woman has a job, responsibilities, a limited budget and expendable time, and you know, a life, I s’pose we gotta pay somebody to offer us “the ideal” in the form of oddly bland and, ultimately, boring physical features.

QUICK UPDATE: Feministing had a great post about the need to photoshop curves into magazine images of skinny women. This quote hits it right on the head:

the message is that you should be super, super skinny, borderline skeletal, but without any of the things that come with the territory, like jutting hipbones or small boobs. So even the skinniest celebrities STILL require Photoshopping to meet this standard. You can be less than a size zero and still lose this game.

And this great comment on that thread:

Just because I was bored I copied and pasted these images in photoshop and overlayed them to see what the differences are. Much to my horror (not suprise) she was actually made narrower thru the ribcage and waist in the ‘photoshop’ picture. READ- she was made skinnier! Her muscles were removed, and her arms were made thinner. So in reality- she wasn’t made plumper, she was made curvier and overall narrower. Her hips were also narrowed and made less curvy. Amazing. We all think she looks plumper in the second image, when in reality she is actually narrower, lighter, and slimmer thru the hips.

“Normal” and “heavy” women are photoshopped to remove “excessive” bulk or to at least smooth out their curves–no chunky tummies or rolls allowed (example: this Dove ad). “Thin” women are photoshopped to look not-so emaciated–no bones or thin breasts allowed. To be honest, I’m a pretty thin gal, but I have both a visible breastbone and some bulk around the tummy. That’s just the way bodies are. In the end, we are never seeing what actual “thick” or “thin” women look like, only a oddly perfected version of each.

April 18, 2008

Mother-daughter bonding over waxing? At age 8 ?!?!

Posted in beauty culture, body politics, gender, objectification, sexualizing youth at 10:04 am by LB

First, a really good article at blogher by Mir Kamin about the new trend of mothers taking their 8 year-old daughters to spas…to get bikini waxes. Seriously.

She quotes the fuck shaving livejournal community, where one person commented:

It’s sad that all these moms can’t think of anything else to do to bond with their daughters but go to the spa. What about taking a walk every evening to talk about their day, or cook together, or take up art classes or fucking something else.


Also, do any other these daughters have fathers? Do any of these women have husbands?
Don’t they have some influence in their lives telling them that they’re beautiful no matter what?

I thought these were great points. Daughters need their fathers and brothers reiterate their personal value beyond their physical appearance. Even more, fathers need to not be hypocrites when it comes to valuing women, having a complex and meaningful ideal of beauty and sexuality, and assigning a health place in life for appearances. Children pick up on non-verbal and implicit cues more than we think. Mothers need to bond with their daughters in ways that don’t feed the patriarchal capitalist beauty machine. Girls should not be sex-objects-in training, despite what synonyms gives for “girl.”

Philadelphia Magazine had a nauseating article about the spa happenings of the pre-teen rich and famous, enabled by the moms and the almighty dollar-greedy beauty industry.

Melanie Engle was trying to just pluck the stray hairs here and there. She was trying to deliver an age-appropriate eyebrow wax to her client. It was hard, though, because there was a foot tapping next to her, and a voice shouting in her ear: “No! Not like that — like a supermodel’s. I want them arched.”

“It’s like, ‘Okay, you’re becoming a woman now, here are the things you’ll need to do as a woman.’”

Except, of course, they’re not women. This new, unstoppable desire of mothers to pluck and paint their daughters has created an unexpected conundrum for spa owners and aestheticians, who can’t afford to lose the moms’ lucrative business — but who also don’t want to be partners in crime.

The world has changed since my ’tweendom. Look at the media, and its obsession with fame, beauty, youth, celebrities, debutantes, celebutantes. It’s in our faces all the time. It’s in our kids’ faces, too. “It’s like this keeping-up-with-the-Joneses thing has stretched to our kids,” says Dasha Klein, a Main Line mom of an 11-year-old girl at Baldwin. She knows multiple teenagers who’ve gotten boob jobs for Sweet Sixteen presents, and a 20-year-old who gets Botox. “Except they’re trying to keep up with Hollywood — and Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus and whoever else they’re looking at. Well, guess what? You’re in Philadelphia. And you’re a kid. You’re not Angelina Jolie.”

Indeed. And I found this particular part to be especially interesting:

When I was in my teenybopper heyday, there were no pop chicks who I aspired to be. There were boys I aspired to marry. The media world surrounding us made us boy-crazy — maybe not a fabulous thing for a 10-year-old, but at least it didn’t lead my friends and me to inject botulism into our foreheads before we could legally drink. It was innocent: We giggled, swooned, hung posters of Joey Lawrence and Luke Perry, giggled some more. And our moms were … uninvolved. They didn’t drop us at the playground with instructions to bring home the boy who looked the most like Kirk Cameron. They rolled their eyes, bemusedly shaking their heads as they passed by our rooms: Oh, you silly girls. End of story.

Not anymore. Today’s girls aren’t looking at posters; they’re looking in the mirror. They have a new obsession — a self-obsession — and it’s being aided and abetted by their mothers. “It’s like this focus on their outer life is trickling down to their daughters,” says Rescue’s Albert. These women have to look a certain way, so inevitably, their young daughters, still under their control, do, too.

When I read this, I thought: that’s it! Recently especially I have been struggling to recall what my 10-16 years were like. All I can seem to come up with is that they are nothing like the pornification of girlhood right now. But the author’s point really resonated with me, and from her boy-crush examples, she is probably around my age. When I was younger, reading Teen and Seventeen, there was a much greater emphasis on the “cute boys” in your fave sitcoms. And the Preferred Stock model, Joel somebody-or-other. As the writer says, that isn’t necessarily something to glorify, but it is quite distinct from what’s happening now: there was indeed more a focus on girls’ (teen) desire, fantasy, and imagination. The focus was less on making yourself the perfect porn-star object of desire. Now, the focus seems to be more who to look like, not whom to look at. It’s a matter of passivity vs. activity, objectification vs. agency, self-scrutiny vs. desire. It’s what feminism has tried so hard to steer against. And somehow more opportunities for girls self-development has been co-opted and become the freedom…to get bikini waxes at age 12. And pleasure has become derived from being pleasing rather than being pleased. At this is where is begins.

This should be a wake-up call for us. Unfortunately, it has all just become part of the game.

Oh, and this I just read about, and I don’t know what to do with it…via Jezebel, “a plunging padded bra for 7-to-8 year olds.” Seriously. And to connect this back to my growing-up years too, as adolescents, we were embarrassed about our bodies, and I don’t think that was a good thing. At all. But it’s interesting how attitudes have swung to the opposite end of the spectrum, yet still has not yielded a more substantial notion of sexual independence and autonomy. It’s a “yes, but…” kind of situation, where yes, we do (have more ‘autonomy’), but in our (still sexist) society, women’s sexual independence still gets defined by (self) objectification and her value for-another. Are we (as women) able to have sex more freely than we used to? Yes. Does this mean society has achieved “sexual liberation”? Nope. Sexual “liberation” through a culture obsessed with visual sexuality (or being visually sexual) has been bought with socio-cultural (although not legal) sexual regulation. That’s all I’m going to say on this now…but more to come on this topic.

further reading: History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault, Female Chauvenist Pigs by Ariel Levy. (both in my Amazon picks)

April 15, 2008

Badu’s Advice for Female Music Artist-Hopefuls is Great Social Commentary

Posted in beauty culture, body politics, Celebritocracy, gender, music, sexual exploitation at 8:15 pm by LB

Terrific tongue-in-cheek ‘advice’ from a wonderful, respectable, talented, independent, kick-ass female music artist. Her words speak loads. via 5 Resolutions

April 10, 2008

To Check Out: Shapely Prose

Posted in body politics, cool feminist stuff, Fat Acceptance, social justice at 10:34 pm by LB

Just wanted to encourage you to check out Kate Harding’s blog Shapely Prose that I just recently added to my blogroll. It’s a very smart blog about “Fat Acceptance” and our general unhealthy relationship with our body, including the cultural disconnect between body size and health.

Of particular interest are these two features:

  1. “Don’t you realize fat is unhealthy?” tab at the top, where Kate smartly and wittingly lays “out ten principles that underlie pretty much everything I write about fat and health.”
  2. Illustrated “BMI Project”–also on a top tab– is a must see. It is a slideshow with images of women labeled with their BMI category (i.e. ‘obese,’ ‘underweight’). It is proof of the absurdity of the BMI standard and how its application has pathologized bodies through the medicalization of ‘fat’.

If nothing else, at least check out those two features.
(NOTE: nothing more after the jump)

April 4, 2008

Some comment-worthy articles about sexuality and body image

Posted in body politics, cosmetic surgery, objectification, PIV, sexual politics, Sexuality Blogs and Resources at 6:52 pm by LB

The British Daily Mail reported that men–especially single men–who read “lad mags” (the mags for (hetero) Men that equally objectify the newest babe in lingerie alongside the latest in electronic gear) are more obsessed with their own body image.

“The message in typical lads’ magazines is that you need to develop a muscular physique in order to attract a quality mate,” said Dr Giles.

“Readers internalise this message, which creates anxieties about their actual bodies and leads to increasingly desperate attempts to modify them.

“Some of the most worrying findings were that heavy consumers of lads’ mags think about taking anabolic steroids or use protein or energy supplements as part of their diet and exercise regimes to improve the way they look.”

Forgive me if I’m slightly amused by this, but, um, DUH! These magazines have the same kind of effect on women (not to mention on men’s expectation of what a particularly beautiful woman is). At least the men who read these mags don’t have the have the message that body=worth thrown at them from every which way like women do. While body image can be one aspect of success, men have many more valued ways to be successful than women do.

I also find it interesting that the researchers thought the men were internalizing the ideal images of men found in the mags–maybe the British versions are significantly different than the U.S. ones, but I don’t recall any real emphasis on male bodies; the male physique seemed to be just one aspect of men’s lives they covered (as opposed to the portrayal of the women which are presented as eye-candy first–ya know, the important function of women in a man’s life–then maybe the reader gets to see others aspects of her life). My guess? Men who consistently objectify women, and see their worth first in terms of their value to the guy as an object of sexual desire, tend to start to see themselves in the same light, despite that women’s mags don’t tend to portray guys in that way.


These men shouldn’t worry to much, however, because what consists of “sex” and “good sex” is still measured in terms of PIV sex (aka intercourse). A new study has concluded that how long good sex should last:

1) is measured in terms of time the penis is inside the vagina;
2) doesn’t include foreplay (which, for women, is much of what they consider “sex”);
3) can relieve most men that their lasting time is “satisfactory.”

What’s interesting about this is that “how long is optimal intercourse?” gets translated into “how long does it take to satisfy a woman?” For most women I know, these are not the same question. My equating these two ideas, the assumption is reinforced that a woman’s satisfaction comes from sex defined as PIV intercourse.

And while it’s nice that men get to feel all “normal” and stuff, that women’s pleasures actually contradict conventional wisdom and representations in porn (while women still seem to be held to ridiculous standards of what their sexual pleasure should be and should look like), it would be nice for a study to come out (and receive as much press as this one has!) that actually talks bout what women’s sexual pleasure consists of. My guess is if one did come out, it’s findings would make the findings of this study a lot less relevant. Check out this too on Slow Sex Movement (part of the Slow Movement).


I am really delighted that Babeland employee (a women and queer-oriented sex shop) has been hired by Cosmo to dole out sex advice. Maybe her presence can help work against the cult of sexuality that Cosmo espouses that thinks good sex advice is primarily about how to please your man, do a striptease, perform like a porn star, fulfill his ultimate fantasies. Perhaps instead we’ll see a little more about experimenting to find your own pleasures, how to communicate what you want and ask him what he wants, how to use sex toys in couple sex. I mean, totally revolutionary stuff!


Lastly, in late March an 18-year-old high school senior died after elective breast surgery from an albeit rare surgical complication. Two things from the MSNBC story stand out to me:

Stephanie Kuleba’s friends called her “Sunshine” because that was the perfect nickname for the outgoing and bubbly girl who was everybody’s friend, the cheerleader with the near-perfect grade-point average who was too nice and too perfect for anybody to resent.

This is all too typical–that women can be accomplished in all sorts of ways, but they are never “good enough” unless our bodies “match up” (according to cultural expectations) with the beautiful person we truly are. She wasn’t getting implants, but rather “corrective surgery,” which many feminists who loathe implants might be willing to overlook. But in reality, breasts come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re all normal. The image we see in film, magazines, and porn is a result of some intense photoshopping (not to mention all the implants), even when they purport a “natural” look. Check out this great site that shows what actual breasts, in all their variety, look like. (site isn’t porn, but it’s also NSFW)

The death has focused attention on elective breast augmentation surgery, a procedure that 347,500 women of all ages chose to have in 2007 alone. That number is 6 percent higher than in 2006 and 64 percent higher than in 2000.

D’Amico repeated the FDA recommendation that no one under 18 undergo breast augmentation surgery. Despite its popularity, the procedure does have a high rate of complications and often requires additional surgery within five to 10 years of the original surgery.

The point is, that women are getting elective breast surgeries, which, like all surgeries, have significant risks (not to mention the risks related to the material in implants) in droves. It isn’t that these women are stupid and don’t understand the risks. It’s that they overwhelmingly do, and the potential complications of the surgery outweigh the social risk of a “failed”‘ feminine body and the risk of not being deemed appropriately sexually worthy. Of course, the health risks to women in surgery is coupled with the risks to a woman’s sexual pleasure through decreased nipple sensitivity from the augmentation.

Do think that men would submit themselves in significant numbers to a surgery meant primarily to please actual and potential sexual partners, while risking decreasing their own sexual pleasure? Do men submit themselves in huge numbers to penis enlargement surgery and other procedures that could increase staying power? Then answer is, no, they don’t. But they don’t need to, because we’ve already squashed the “size matters” and “lasting longer is better” myths about female sexual pleasure. When will start acknowledging our unhealthy obsession with bigger or “perfect” (whatever that means) breasts, and show that an awful lot of guys are happy with many kinds of breasts, and those who aren’t need some reeducation, and there are a lot of ways they can be pleasurable to a partner. But ultimately, we need to remember that the primary sexual function of breasts (or we could be talking about vaginas, for that matter) is for the person they belong to–the woman. And you can’t enjoy them if you have few nerves left, or worse, if you’re dead.

April 2, 2008

Did those crazy rad-fems really burn their bras? Telling women’s history right

Posted in body politics, feminism, myths, sexual politics at 6:02 pm by LB

So I hear in passing all the time people mentioning “bra-burning feminists” in the ’60’s. If I’m in any way involved in the conversation, I try to correct or at least clarify the story where that (in)famous image of second-wave feminists comes from.

Huff-Po has a good “let’s get the story straight” article just in time for Women’s History Month to be…over. Read it. If nothing else than then you can allude to the historical event without sounding like an idiot. The Cliff’s notes version is below:

Women’s underthings used to be ridiculously uncomfortable. In fact, the concept of comfort is a pretty new idea. So when feminism came along and suggested going au natural over being in pain to achieve the perfect hourglass figure, it was a pretty strong argument. And what better place to state your distaste for sexist undergarments than the Miss. America. Beauty. Pageant.

Back on the sidewalk outside Atlantic City Hall, hundreds of women filled a trash can with girdles, high-heeled shoes, false eyelashes, makeup and bras.

And in fairness to the myth, the desire to light a fire was there, but there was just one problem. No one could get permission to do it. Since the boardwalk was wooden, the fire would be unsafe. So, these radical women were left with a trash can full of the cast-aways of womanhood. But instead of a fiery protest, it was just a big trash can full of junk.

Let’s be clear here. These women in 1968 did burn. They burned with the desire for change, for equal rights, for comfort, for being free from the pressure of making their bodies mold to ridiculous looks that had nothing to do with an actual woman’s body. But they did not burn bras.

You know, it irritates me pretty good when I hear the “bra-burning feminists” label because it is usually said with contempt or at least annoyance–as in, “here go those man-hating feminists, complaining about femininity.” To be clear, feminists hate the ubiquitous compulsory, restrictive, male-centered expectations of femininity. It doesn’t mean a feminist can’t want to or enjoy putting on pretty underwear every once in a while, or that she won’t even indulge in any “feminine” pleasures. And if you don’t think a male-centered idea of femininity (and sexuality) is compulsory and not wholly “chosen”–which is really a topic for a post of its own–at least chew on this.

If you ask me, would could use a little more public trashings of high-heeled shoes, bras, makeup, and fake eyelashes…not to mention hot wax, anal bleach, dresses that only look good if you don’t move, a bunch of mainstream porn, diet pills, laxatives, and all that silicone we inject in our breasts, lips, butt, and what not…

But that’s just me.

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