Princess Fat-Shaming

June 19, 2009 § 14 Comments

Via Latoya at Racialicious, I see a series of photographs by Dina Goldstein entitled “Fallen Princesses”. Goldstein says of her project:

These works place Fairy Tale characters in modern day scenarios. In all of the images the Princess is placed in an environment that articulates her conflict. The ‘…happily ever after’ is replaced with a realistic outcome and addresses current issues.

It’s a cool idea, artistically speaking, and some of the images are very thought-provoking. I especially liked the irony in the portrait of Snow White, an exhausted-looking young mother burdened by four kids.

But the project has some disastrous issues. Latoya’s post (go read it) and the subsequent comment thread are a nice breakdown of some troubling ethnic and racial stereotypes that Goldstein presents in her reappropriated version of Jasmine. And I’m also uncomfortable with Goldstein’s depiction of the “fallen” Little Red Riding Hood, boringly titled “Not so Little Riding Hood”:

red riding hood

Commenter Brenda DeShazer writes:

Excellent, let’s reinforce the stereotype that fat people gobble huge quantities of burgers and sodas.

For reals. I see two glaringly problematic stereotypes embodied in this photograph: that fat people eat indiscriminantly and “unhealthily”; and that being fat is the ultimate downfall.

This is the polemic “realistic outcome” that Goldstein came up with? Seems to me that she herself has fallen back on unoriginal (and clearly offensive) stereotypes.

Students Speak: V*gina

June 6, 2009 § 3 Comments

V*gina – by Ilana, a high school junior.

2005-2006: I was on the young end of the spectrum as an eighth grader. I had turned thirteen in 2005 and would stay that way until high school. Even as the baby of the grade, I had 34 B breasts that seemed to pop up over night, literally. Along with the breasts came hips and a shape that was not meant for my age. As my body changed, so did the attitudes of the people around me — both of boys and girls – but I couldn’t figure out why. As my perspective of my body was impacted, I felt obligated to adjust how I dressed. I began to cover up my body, which had previously never caused me discomfort. In addition, once I became involved with boys, I was suddenly labeled a slut for reasons I did not understand. But wait, I can’t possibly be the only one who felt like this. There must be some rationale. Let’s look back at the perception of women in our society…

1999: A scantily-clad Britney Spears, age 17, is on the cover of Rolling Stone, almost naked. The picture of young Britney shows her in a school-girl’s outfit lying on a bed with her white shirt unbuttoned completely, exposing a black bra. The photo is suggestive, provocative, and potentially perceived as slutty. 17 may be one year away from adulthood but why is this young pop star exposing herself like this? Many considered this photo inappropriate and as setting a bad example for Britney’s younger fans. An association to sex quickly accompanied her fame. This caused an uproar by many who saw Britney as representing all that was wrong with women. She was exposing a part of her that was meant to be kept secret from all. Women are not supposed to be as explicit with their bodies because this leads many to believe they want sex and will engage in it readily. A woman who is free with her sexuality is one who does not respect herself, and thus is labeled a slut. Such comments have been made about other teen pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Vanessa Hudgens. These two girls were seen as young and innocent. However, the moment both of them exposed their bodies, a Britney cycle ensued.

2009: I must ask, how can it be that society so rejects women’s display of their sexuality? Britney was sexy and not afraid to show it, nor ashamed of the associations that accompanied her Lolita-esque photo. If Britney was comfortable with the photo shoot, and Miley Cyrus is not concerned with how she looks why is everyone else? Why must we demean a woman’s choices of how she handles herself if she is comfortable? The same applies to a woman’s sexual experiences. Women are seen as sluts if they are “too loose.” Let’s look further back…

1973: Erica Jong’s book Fear of Flying is published. This is a tale of a woman who recounts sexual experiences with an openness that had previously only been associated with men. Its release caused a huge uproar, which indicated that society was not ready to hear the truth about women’s sexual desires. Women had been, and continue to be, seen as having a more passive approach to sexual desire and action. In Fear of Flying, the untraditional character, Isadora, defies sexual conventions as she describes “the zipless fuck.” This is defined as an entirely sexual encounter that is based solely on desire and pleasure. Isadora states that it the “purest thing there is” and that she has never had one.

2009: But why has Isadora never been able to have a “zipless fuck?” Is it because she is afraid of the judgment she will receive? Has she internalized the notion that this feeling is unfeminine and forbidden? Or is she afraid of rejection because this approach too forward for a woman? Though for women today a “zipless fuck” is no longer “rarer than a unicorn,” the subject is still provocative. Women are not taught by society about their sexual essence and power, and struggle to learn through experience. Our sex drive is just as strong as men’s; however, we are expected to suppress it. This duplicity in society, praising men’s exploits while condemning women’s sexual freedom, presents women with an identity crisis. In addition to this, the way that a woman dresses or acts is a reflection of her sexuality. How can I feel comfortable with my sexuality when I am being told it diminishes me as a person? How can I feel comfortable with my sexuality when I am told that my comfort in my body and my desire to show it is wrong? Who will offer me much needed guidance, beyond fictional characters? Women are too easily intimidated by other’s judgments and thus become uncomfortable with themselves and their sexuality. A woman’s desires are just as valid as a man’s. Women should embrace their sexuality and not believe that their natural instincts and desires deplete their integrity.

Unfortunately, society will not change as fast as us. We will not wake up tomorrow to a world that promotes our sexuality as part of our femininity, or that allows us to dress as we please. However, we can assume the power ourselves. Every woman who can find strength in herself and her sexuality and can achieve happiness through it will lead a more complete life. I am not advocating rampant sex, or random nudity, I am simply saying the sex you chose to have and the clothing you chose to wear is yours. As long as you’re comfortable with the choices you have made, you are no slut.

Previously in Students Speak: Beware The Virtual Babes, by Luke; Spice Up YOUR Relationship, by Jennifer; Letters From Kartini, by Nia; Coming Out As A Feminist, by Shani; Inequality, by Sasha

Students Speak: Beware The Virtual Babes

May 25, 2009 § 9 Comments

As some of you may know, Shira and I run a feminism club at our high school. Our big project for the year was putting together a magazine of student writing. This series, spread out over the next week or so, will feature a selection of those articles (posted with permission of the writers).  Enjoy!  -Miranda

Beware The Virtual Babes – by Luke, a high school junior.

Part of a surging industry, videogames have been met with scrutiny and criticism. Critics have carped on videogames for encouraging violence, social isolation, and academic laziness. However, there is subtler problem that plagues many videogames: the unfair representation of women’s bodies. It may sound redundant to criticize the videogame industry for being “unrealistic,” but it’s important to consider the prominence and influence of games in our culture. 80% of all U.S. children have played videogames. An entire generation is absorbing a virtual, distorted image of what women “should” look like. Although more women are becoming involved in the game industry, it is still a patriarchal industry.

The story of sexism within the videogame industry begins, perhaps, with the videogames series Tomb Raider. Featuring the adventurous, beautiful, and powerful Lara Croft (later played by Angelina Jolie in the film adaptation), Tomb Raider is one of the world’s most successful games. Lara Croft set a sexual precedent for women in future videogames: voluptuous curves, minimal clothing, and flawless faces. In addition to her beauty, Lara Croft can leap with cat-like agility, perform death-defying stunts, and wield dual pistols. Thus, videogames send a dangerous message to women: without “beauty,” you cannot be powerful.

Short shorts, tight tank top, big bust, Lara Croft is as dangerous as she looks. And I'm not talking about her guns.

Short shorts, tight tank top, big bust, Lara Croft is as dangerous as she looks. And I’m not talking about her guns.

But Tomb Raider was released in 1996. Since then, the hyper-sexualization of women in videogames has become even more extreme. Released in 2008, Age of Conan is an online game where you can create your own male or female characters. You can customize their height, weight, and even body type. However, when I tried to create a female that looked like the average American woman – size 14 – the game wouldn’t let me. At the very most, I could make a size 10 female.

One might argue that because videogames are largely consumed by male audiences, they do not damage the female psyche. Such an assumption is not supported by the numbers: the Entertainment Software Rating Board estimates that 42% of all PC gamers are girls. And even if girls didn’t play videogames, these fictional females give unrealistic expectations to male gamers. If boys grow up expecting real life counterparts to “Casilda,” they will wind up very disappointed.

Casilda.

Meet Casilda, a typical Age of Conan female.

But can we really blame these videogame companies? Like other companies, aren’t they just trying to appeal to their target audience in a time of financial hardship? The answer is yes: we can blame them. Sex may sell, but the profits reaped by these software developers come at the expense of the objectification and hyper-sexualization of women.

However, if we solely criticize the game industry, we dismiss our responsibility as consumers. We are responsible for being aware of these stereotypes, so that they do not spread further throughout society. Furthermore, society is responsible for accepting women as being powerful in their own right. After all, you don’t need to wear a bikini in order to fight bad guys.

My Weighty Story: An Appeal to Feminist Thought

May 25, 2009 § 9 Comments

Two years ago, I lost weight. Growing up, I was made to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. Left to the devices of a television that made me feel inadequate, magazines that made me feel I was in need of a makeover, a doctor that criticized the numbers on a scale, verbal abuse from my peers, and a me who did not understand the meaning of size acceptance, I became obsessed with my appearance. Inevitably, I dieted.

At the time, I had not begun my love affair with feminism, let alone that with fat acceptance (I still bring up the latter during family dinners just to have the opportunity to educate the confused faces around the table). Before my discovery of the ability to let my body be what it wanted to be, I began to physically shrink. Almost everyone commented. When I changed my Facebook photo, people who I barely knew began to commend me on what they thought were improvements.  I thought that if I “got thin” people would stop commenting on my weight, but no, the awkward dotes about my body just kept on coming.

It is considered far too acceptable to comment on women’s weight. Worse off, it is considered far too acceptable to commend thinness and criticize fatness. Although I never verbally criticized other women’s bodies the way I was conditioned to, I internally criticized my own. I am ashamed to say that when I dropped a few sizes and compliments abounded, I said “thank you.”

I no longer believe in dieting as healthy (neither physically nor mentally). I, diet-free, have a new system of beliefs: feminism and acceptance, the two joyously frolicking hand-in-hand. I believe in the power of my mind and body to take up space. It does not matter to me how much space I take up. Simply that I make an imprint on the face of equality is good enough for me. It does not matter if I’m a size 4 or a size 14. With feminism and acceptance, the imprint is still the same.

For some esoteric reason, people still comment on my weight. I do not blame them; they were taught to idealize one type of body and I provide a before, after, and yo-yoing picture for them. For similar societal pressures as why I lost weight, they comment on it. The difference between this year and last year is that this year, I do not say “thank you.”

Through feminism, I have become a size activist, reading the prose of other women speaking out against body discrimination and co-leading discussions on body ideals at my school’s feminism club. With the breadth of knowledge that I have gained from awareness and acceptance, I do not say “thank you,” but that alone unfortunately does not keep my friend’s mother from calling me “the incredible shrinking person” or my second-cousin-once-removed telling me I “look so much better after losing the weight.” Because I no longer deem these innocently demoralizing remarks worthy of my gratitude, I am left stuttering or awkwardly silent during the pause in which I’m expected to say “thank you.”

So what do I, a feminist size activist, do now? The comments keep coming, my body’s not changing, and the awkwardness pervades because I will not express my gratitude for recognition of conformity. How can I tell these people that my weight is not to be commented on (positively or negatively) when they are so innocently trying to compliment me? How do I spread this rant of size acceptance to people who just expect a “thank you” out of my loud mouth?

Thoughts on taking up space

May 22, 2009 § 6 Comments

A family friend of mine is a professor at Barnard College, and was telling me about their fantastic graduation ceremony the other day. Hillary Clinton was the commencement speaker (jealousy!); a few students presented speeches as well.

Sarah Nager, the winner of a speaking competition, gave the “Academic Reflections” address, in which she drew parallels between the amount of space women are allowed to take up literally (on the subway) and figuratively (in leadership roles and in society at large). She praised Barnard as an institution that “does not limit the amount of space women take up.”

Nager’s speech directly addresses a double standard that I – and many other feminists – think about a lot. Quite simply, guys are encouraged to be there, to make their presence known. Male body ideals – tall, chiseled, formidable – teach men to value strength and self-reliance. They should stand up straight, look people in the eye, shake hands firmly. They should be able to defend themselves.

Women, on the other hand, always need a man to protect them. We fall back on the scientific “proof” that men are physically stronger than women (which is true. Men, on average, can bench press more weight – but then again, most women can grow a child using only their bodies. Interesting what society deems important, isn’t it?), but in actuality these roles are socially constructed and implemented. The activities that girls are most often encouraged to pursue, like dance and gymnastics, are of course physically demanding, but they are cloaked in an air of performance and superficiality. Girls should move their bodies not to become stronger or have fun, but because they’ll look pretty for an audience.

This idea goes farther than just physical activity. It extends to other spheres as well:

  • Body odor: Deodorant marketed to men often has a strong, “spicy” scent, while women’s deodorant is mild and meant to be concealed.
  • Body fluids: Semen is socially acknowledged and talked about casually. Vaginal fluids and menstrual blood, on the other hand, are supposed to be wiped up as fast as possible and kept hidden from the world.
  • Posture: In my experience, strikingly tall men carry themselves with pride and confidence, whereas similar women tend to slouch.

How can we show girls – and perhaps more importantly, show ourselves – that taking up space is not only okay, it is a vital part of maintaining our physical presence and autonomy? What do y’all do to assert your physical, and consequently intellectual, selves?

Rhyming Revenge

May 17, 2009 § 1 Comment

The third installment in this weekend series is dedicated to speaking out against those who place a woman’s body weight over her moral weight. Too many women don’t accept their bodies as they are — fat, thin, medium, small, large, changing, stagnant, and everything in between. Idealistically, we say that everyone should accept their body, but with society dictating (quite specifically, actually) what women should weigh, it becomes pretty difficult to accept ourselves when we’re not accepted by anyone else. Enough of my non-rhythmic rant (you’ll see much more of it in posts to come). Here’s this week’s rhyme:

According to a train of thought,

all that is valuable about a person is for naught

if their waist

does not meet the narrow taste

of a status quo

where women are purely for show

and those who take up space

are discriminated, abased.

Past selves are trampled on

when superficial judges fawn

over a body changed;

their logic is rudely deranged

because to be thin does not mean someone wins

the prize of fitting right in

with everyone else

who is not themselves

for who is society to say

what anyone’s body should weigh?

We are people whose minds breathe

and hearts grieve

for how can we accept our bodies as our own

if we are told our space cannot be shown? 

Parts down south (and my love for The Onion)

March 30, 2009 § 4 Comments

hoo-ha-doctor-chart-rVia Feministe, a hilarious article from The Onion: Renowned Hoo-Ha Doctor Wins Nobel Prize for Medical Advancements Down There.

Accompanying the Nobel Prize is a $1.4 million grant that, according to medical experts, can buy Lazoff a lot of those metal spreader thingies. But the talented physician told reporters she is not interested in monetary reward, and only hopes to educate at-risk women about their own vag—genit—about their health.

“We should be encouraging an open dialogue with our young women, one that isn’t constrained by some outdated facade of 1950s morality,” Lazoff said to a crowd of people looking down at their shoes. “I cannot say this clearly enough: Ladies, please, make an appointment to get your annual [looksie-doo], especially if you are [seeing a fella] or have experienced pain or sensitivity in your ['Hello, my baby! Hello, my darling! Hello, my ragtime gal!'].”

Added Lazoff, “It is time for this country to begin having a frank discussion about the [sound of loud, extended train whistle].”

This would be even funnier if it weren’t so damn true. In my tenth grade health class, my teacher habitually stuttered when talking about anything remotely related to “the vagina.” And god forbid any mention of the c-word! No, not cunt – I’m talking about the clitoris. Maybe I’m being too harsh, though. After all, the class was taught from a textbook that devoted an entire chapter to fetal health and development, but couldn’t even put “condom” in the index. That’s the state of sex education in New York City.

It’s not the first time anyone’s said this, but the whole issue of being hush-hush about lady parts is particularly frustrating because we hear about man bits ALL THE TIME. Penises are referenced in movies and ads constantly – though curiously, we almost never see them (remember the scandalous scene from the Sex and the City movie where Samantha caught a tiny glimpse of that guy’s penis? This from a show that features breasts, butt, and the unmentionables in nearly every episode!)

Say it loud, say it proud: women have parts. Most of us have a vagina, clitoris, labia, cervix…the works. And we’re not afraid to talk about them.

Dressed in White: The Media’s Assault on Black Women’s Humanity

March 28, 2009 § 2 Comments

I wrote this thesis paper on the media’s sexist and racist objectification of Black women for my Junior Inquiry research class last semester. It’s 12 pages of what I hope is feminist and anti-racist empowerment so please continue reading below the fold if you’re interested. Enjoy!

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Bathing suits and impossible perfection

March 23, 2009 § 3 Comments

We’ve had some gorgeous spring weather in New York recently, although it’s been depressingly sporadic (lookin’ at you, global warming). Sunshine and warm breezes are something I look forward to all winter long, but like many celebration-worthy events, they can be ruined by a little old-fashioned sexism.

Misogyny and sizeism take warm weather as an opportunity get down and dirty, as Kate points out in her excellent post about the difficulties of buying a bathing suit when you’re fat.

The magazines have started. We are now in the pre-season — the “unless you’re already quite thin, it’s time to start losing weight if you want to show your body in public this summer!” phase. (If you are quite thin, please wait for our May issue, when we’ll tell you you’re too pale*, hairy, blemished, and unfashionable, your boobs are too small to go with your butt, you could still stand to tone up those muscles, and your body insecurity is a real turn-off.)

*If you’re a woman of color, you’re probably exempt from this one, but on the downside, we have no idea you exist. 

And this is precisely why I adore Shapely Prose. I’m a thin person, but I still read this hilarious, down-to-earth, morally radiant blog daily. Why? Besides the obvious – that our society’s rampant hatred of fat people is, uh, wrong – there’s the fact that it’s not just fat people’s bodies that are available for public commentary. We get mixed messages from mainstream culture: on the one hand, there is always something to be “fixed,” which means you’re naive to like your “imperfect” body – but on the other, confidence is sexy so don’t let your man see you feeling insecure. 

As women, we are constantly dealing with the immense moral weight that’s placed onto our bodies. If you’re fat, you’re lazy. If you have big breasts, you’re a slut. If you have body hair, you’re dirty and masculine. If you’re thin, you’re probably anorexic - and you could definitely still lose some weight.

We must all take up arms in the fight for fat acceptance, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because all of us whose bodies are seen as indicators of moral worth will benefit from a world where our physical selves are celebrated and accepted without critique. As Kate points out on the Shapely Prose comments page:

If you’re still not getting it, think about the difference between these two people:

Skinny Person A: You know, I really respect what you’re doing here, because people comment on my body and my eating habits all the time, and they assume I’m unhealthy just because of my weight. I don’t know what it’s like to be fat in this society, but I know what it’s like to have my body treated as public property and be judged negatively because of my size. It fucking sucks, so the Fat Acceptance movement resonates with me, and I hope I can be an ally.

Word. Allied action is where it’s at.

Vogue’s Fashion For Every Figure Issue

March 21, 2009 § 7 Comments

vogue-shape-issue-coverI seem to be an ad/product lady (and I’m not alone). I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

This week, Vogue‘s Shape issue, which touts “fashion for every figure,” has me pissed.

First off, there’s no way in hell that this magazine represents women of all shapes. The evidence is right there on the cover: above the Shape Issue: Fashion for Every Figure, from size 0 to 20 copy, I see NIP/TUCK: Designing a Perfect Body. And towards the bottom of the cover: Work It! Longer Legs, Leaner Lines, Sexier Silhouette. Because apparently only long legs and lean lines are sexy. Fuck that.

But the real misogynistic fodder is on the inside, in the Laid Bare spread (again with the long legs obsession: sky-high heels in leg-lengthening flesh tones are a revelation - really? A revelation? Because I think we’ve been seeing long, thin limbs in magazines for quite some time, and they’re certainly not missing from this issue). Pics from the spread after the jump.

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