beauty

PRETTY HURTS

In the now publicly-released video for “Pretty Hurts,” Beyonce makes a strong statement about girls, women, society, and standards of beauty. “Pretty Hurts” is about the pain many young girls and women face as they go through life absorbing the millions of messages from television, magazines, society as a whole, and sometimes even family members, telling them that their self-worth is tied to their looks. “Pretty Hurts” is about self-esteem, it’s about self-revelation, and it’s about reevaluating that socially-charged word to begin with—”pretty.”

Preach, Bey, preach….

“Pretty Hurts” by Beyonce

Mama said, you’re a pretty girl
What’s in your head it doesn’t matter
Brush your hair, fix your teeth
What you wear is all that matters

Just another stage
Pageant the pain away
This time I’m gonna take the crown
Without falling down, down

Pretty hurts
Shine the light on whatever’s worse
Perfection is the disease of a nation
Pretty hurts
Shine the light on whatever’s worse
Tryna fix something
But you can’t fix what you can’t see
It’s the soul that needs the surgery

Blonder hair, flat chest
TV says bigger is better
South beach, sugar free
Vogue says
Thinner is better

Just another stage
Pageant the pain away
This time I’m gonna take the crown
Without falling down, down, down

Pretty hurts
Shine the light on whatever’s worse
Perfection is the disease of a nation
Pretty hurts
Shine the light on whatever’s worse
Tryna fix something
But you can’t fix what you can’t see
It’s the soul that needs the surgery

Ain’t no doctor or therapeutic that can take the pain away
The pain’s inside
And nobody frees you from your body
It’s the soul that needs surgery
It’s my soul that needs surgery
Plastic smiles and denial can only take you so far
And you break when the paper signs you in the dark
You left a shattered mirror
And the shards of a beautiful girl

Pretty hurts
Shine the light on whatever’s worse
Perfection is the disease of a nation
Pretty hurts
Shine the light on whatever’s worse
Tryna fix something
But you can’t fix what you can’t see
It’s the soul that needs the surgery

When you’re alone all by yourself
And you’re lying in your bed
Reflection stares right into you
Are you happy with yourself
It’s just a way to masquerade
The illusion has been shed
Are you happy with yourself
Are you happy with yourself
Yes

Lyrics via metrolyrics

*This post was updated on 4/29/2014

Book Review: BODIES by Susie Orbach

Single sentence synopsis: Bodies does for our visual culture (& our bodies), what The Omnivore’s Dilemma did for food.

And, as a matter of fact, just as The Omnivore’s Dilemma explores the disconnect between us and our food, so too does Orbach explore the disconnect between us and our bodies and its consequences.

Susie Orbach is a British psychoanalyst who has done much work for, and within, the feminist and women’s health communities, and this book is a social-psychological look at bodies, underpinned by the very feminist tenet that bodies are socially constructed and discursively materialized.

Ok, that’s a mouthful, I know, but let me explain: That is not to say that feminists are of the opinion that bodies magically materialize out of discourse, or are actually (i.e. literally) constructed limb by limb, organ by organ, out of “society.” This perspective merely holds (though there is nothing “mere” about it) that “a body…is inscribed and formed by the accretion of myriad small specific cultural practices… in certain respects, there has never been an altogether simple, “natural” body. There has only been a body that is shaped by its social and cultural designation.”

Did that help make any more sense to anyone? If not, perhaps this is a better explanation:

The point is that our very hand gestures, symbolic physical gestures, our facial expressions, our gender performativity, what we wear, how we speak , everything about the physical body— all of these material, physical aspects— are shaped by our social surroundings and cultural influences. This is what it means to say that the body is socially constructed and discursively materialized. In Orbach’s words, “Every gesture we make, the very way we move, our grace or lack of it, our physical confidence or unease, reflect both the country and local culture we have grown up in and the particular interpretation of our gestures that our mothers and those close to us have passed on.”

It is in this way that many feminists hold that there is actually no such thing as a “natural,” or “organic” body— because each body is informed, shaped, and defined within its particular social context. I think once you read the following descriptions of this book this may all make more sense… *spoiler alert: I cannot recommend this book enough*

Bodies is broken up into the following chapters:

  • Bodies In Our Time
  • Shaping The Body
  • Speaking Bodies
  • Bodies Real And Not So Real
  • And So To Sex
  • (&) What Are Bodies For?

She begins the first chapter by introducing us to Andrew, a case study of sorts. He wants to “do away” with his legs.

IMG_3607

I found this book in my local library, read this first page of the first chapter, and immediately checked it out and bolted home. It did not disappoint.

This first chapter is an examination of people “in the wrong bodies.” Whether it’s Andrew, who cannot feel whole unless he has rid himself of his legs, or Michaela, a prison inmate who wanted to be/ felt he was a woman. In these cases, “Biology and psychology had not melded as expected,” says Orbach.

She also proceeds to give a really great overview of the rest of the book in showing us why Bodies In Our Time is her starting point:

“Our bodies no longer make things… Our relations to the physical and physical work are shifting… Our bodies are and have become a form of work. The body is turning from being the means of production to the production itself.”

In her words, “an obsessive cultural focus on the body” has resulted in “the search for a body, disguised as preoccupation, health concern or moral endeavour. Almost everyone has  a rhetoric about trying to do right by their body which reveals a concern that the body is not at all right as it is…”

Chapter 2, Shaping The Body, is just as fascinating as the first chapter. It explores the hows and whys of the social physical world affecting an individual’s physicality. It’s about how one’s physical world/ physical upbringing can shape them, not just emotionally, but physically. There are some reeeeeally interesting case studies in this chapter, such as Victor, the boy raised by wild animals in France, found in 1799, as well Gina, a modern-day young girl who was moved from foster home to foster home. And don’t even get me started on her discussion of mirror neurons and how they play into all of this. It is insanely engrossing and does not require you to have a background in science in order to understand it (Lord knows I certainly don’t).

Speaking Bodies (Chapter 3) veers into a discussion of therapy itself, as well as the role the therapist plays. And, once again, there are a couple of very interesting case studies here.

Bodies Real And Not So Real ends up taking on a wealth of topics in addition to what I thought it would be about. Not only does she discuss avatars and computer-based relationships, but also, cosmetic surgery, dieting, pregnancy, the controversial French Artist, Orlan, and more. Did you know that, “Diets, it turns out, promote chaotic eating”? As a matter of fact, according to Orbach’s research, “Diets can cause people to gain weight. They are not a wise response to “overweight,” but are part of the destabilising of the ordinary processes of eating.” Furthermore, “overweight people who exercise have a lower mortality rate than thin people who do not. So [as Orbach postulates] one is led to wonder why thin has erroneously become the gold standard for health.” Another significant fact: “In 1995 the World Health Organisation, under pressure from the International Obesity Task Force, revised the BMI in such a way that 300,000 Americans who had previously thought they were “normal” weight woke up to find themselves reclassified. Brad Pitt and George Bush, for example, were now overweight… and George Clooney and Russell Crowe were obese.” And this is just the tip of the iceberg to this chapter alone. These are mere brushstrokes to the greater work she is painting with this book…

She begins the second to last chapter, And So To Sex, with an anecdote almost as galvanizing as the first story of the book (Andrew’s story), except, of course, this time it involves sex. I can’t help but think that this chapter should be read by every person on this planet that has sex. Maybe even those who don’t. But then again, I also think everyone should read this book. That’s just how much I loved it.

And finally, with What Are Bodies For?, she leaves us with the culmination of this work in its entirety. And it’s really relatable. I suppose that’s why I loved the book so much in the first place, and why I couldn’t help but think upon finishing it, “BY GOD, EVERY HUMAN BEING IN THIS COUNTRY NEEDS TO READ THIS BOOK!” It’s relatable. It’s about all of us. It is pertinent to our very individual and collective existence.

If I haven’t succeeded in making you want to go out and read this 179 page book yet, I don’t know what else to say except that… it’s intriguing, insightful, possibly cathartic, significantly relevant, and ultimately, if you have a body, it’s about you.

Now isn’t that worth reading?

 

A Vindication of the Rights of Pin-Ups

hilda

“America’s Forgotten Pin-Up Girl,” Hilda

 

I am really feeling the sting of woman on woman deprecation today.

And in the name of feminism no less!

First there was the article on how straight feminists hate lesbian feminists, (which, thankfully, was sufficiently rebutted by others’ comments) and then almost immediately after, I came across this post condemning women that are fond of pin-ups and/or like to dress up in the pin-up style. The following words are in response to the currently trending popularity of this pin-up character from the past, “Hilda” (pictured above).

 

Here’s what the post said (taken from this article):

“We currently live in a “pin-up” culture where women are only granted visibility when they display their bodies for public consumption; therefore, most women are groomed and disciplined from young ages to have pin-up ready bodies.

That’s what white-centered postfeminism is all about. A vision of sexual liberation that hinges on the male gaze and male approval. Now we can sit here and have that long, uncritical, derailing conversation about women who “choose” to strip and enjoy being “pin-ups”; but I’m going to spare myself a stroke and move on, because talking about “individual agency” is irrelevant when we’re discussing hegemony.

When women fight to end negative media representations of women in contemporary culture, yet still circulate vintage images of white, female, pin-ups, they’re missing how the culture surrounding vintage pin-up girls largely informs the sexism that we’re trying to fight today.

This is what happens when we only focus on the individual and not the system that conditions the individual.

If we have a superficial surface-level understanding of oppression, then we will have superficial surface-level solutions. It’s that simple. Posting up any sized sexualized woman on your wall, originally created for men, won’t solve the reality that systemically, women are degraded, dehumanized, and are robbed of understanding their sexualities organically. It also teaches men that sexualizing “diverse” or “alternative” bodies is progressive and therefore acceptable.

Additionally, as I reiterate all of the time, the idea of publicly displaying your sexualized body is largely a white enterprise and endeavor. Black women are not granted the same privileges when we showcase our bodies because we’re viewed as public property; evidenced through our high rape rates and low pay-rates in spaces of sex work, etc.”

 

I think it goes without saying that I do not like this attack on pin-up girls/pin-up culture.

More importantly than what I do, or do not like, however, is the fact that saying, “talking about “individual agency” is irrelevant when we’re discussing hegemony,” ignores the very multi-faceted world of pin-up culture as well as the individuals participating within it— which is relevant. (Since when is talking about the parts of a picture irrelevant to the picture as a whole?) While the author’s critique invokes the rhetoric of “hegemony,” he or she is creating a hegemonic feminism of their own, in which all other feminists who like to participate in and enjoy pin-up culture are castigated.

The feminism I learned about was more accepting than this. While I do understand the perspective from which this author is writing (I did study gender politics at Berkeley after all), I choose to not make such sweeping generalizations about people, or groups of people (except Republicans, of course… Just kidding! I actually do really like Meghan McCain, so there). To imply that just because someone likes to wear pretty dresses and curl their hair, they “have a superficial surface-level understanding of oppression” is extremely insulting.

For me, the recognition of various forms of subjugation (via studying feminist theory) has meant the ability to see through such cultural patterns and influences, actively resist them, and perhaps even become self-definitional if such a thing is possible. Just because I indulge in pin-up fashion on occasion does not mean that I don’t know the history behind it, nor does it mean that I don’t understand the gendered, sociopolitical implications of it. And I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one (okay I know for a fact that I’m not). As a matter of fact, there is a vast array of modern day pin-ups out there that take the original concept of pin-up beauty and culture, and turn it on its head, thereby subverting the entire set of traditional notions behind it— the very sexist “white enterprise” that the above author is citing. Just look at the Suicide Girls (started by a woman and still largely run by women) which, may I remind you, began as a counterculture of “alternative” beauty.

Moreover, my brand of feminism is about choice. Just as I’m not going to castigate any woman, feminist or not, for being a stay at home mom, I’m also not going to do the same to a woman that chooses to delight in her femininity through replicating pin-up looks. Not only does it not, in my opinion, seem in keeping with the basic tenets of feminism (though, yes, I know, there are a myriad of different feminisms) but honestly, it’s also just not polite.

 

 

Dove’s “Real Beauty Campaign”

Last week a certain Dove ad gained wide popularity throughout the media.

Many of my own friends posted about it on Facebook, citing how it brought them to tears.

Feministing.com had this to say about Dove’s latest addition to the “Real Beauty Campaign.”

Naturally, with a few fellow feminist friends talking about it, saying how moving or significant it is, I had to see what all the fuss was about.

I felt…nothing. It was lackluster, contrived, and a bit patronizing, in my opinion.

This is what I had to say on the MFB Facebook page (taken from a thread in which I shared the feministing.com article)

“glad you each read, and appreciated, this article. i watched that video and just thought, “seriously…?” You know what, So what if one of them actually did look like the first sketch more? OH DEAR GOD NO, NOT THAT! There is still, at the center of this ad, underpinning it all, this abstract ideal of beauty… And I do feel that a demonstration of confidence would have been more powerful than a showcase of insecurity. We need more examples of strong, confident women of all shapes and sizes and colors in the media. But what am I saying… Consumerism is consumerism. Looking for meaning in the consumer marketplace is like looking for love in the red light district.

of course, “looking for love in the red light district” works… if you’re “Pretty Woman”….”

The bottom line, for me, is that this ad still rests on a social standard of superficial physical beauty, and, to quote the feministing article, “This version of the message–that you’re thinner than you think you are–reinforces the assumption that thinness is valuable. The take-away might be immediately gratifying. But by accepting the worship of slenderness within a supposed challenge to mainstream standards, the video entrenches fat-shaming further.”

Furthermore, as previously mentioned, I find it a bit patronizing in its almost exploitative demonstration of female insecurity. Yes, lots of women are insecure. So are lots of men. I’m not inspired by this and I feel a slight discomfort that so many women were. I suppose its in the relatable aspect of it, but still, are we not all already aware of the universal human frailty that is insecurity? Once again, I find demonstrations of strength, confidence, and self-actualization much more inspirational. I find inspiration in Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Judith Butler, Cherie Moraga, and James Baldwin, who taught me that I must accept the inherent value that is placed upon me as a human being.

As a matter of fact, I think this is a way more “feminist,” awesome, and inspiring ad, so there. Enjoy.

[an addendum]

I think I should have included a little something more in yesterday’s post, therefore I am adding this little addendum…

A few personal experiences that have my opened my eyes to my otherness according to our society… i.e. not Hispanic, not white, not normal, not fitting into any neat little category, but rather a mysterious, ‘exotic’ other…

1) I was once told by a boy at school that I was “not Hispanic enough” to understand something

2) I was once told quite specifically just what was wrong with my face according to a boy in high school

3) At my last job a male customer asked me if I was Italian, or Greek, or [insert other European background here], and after my answering in the negative a few times he finally asked, “I’m sorry, but what ethnicity are you?? I just have to know…”—and this happens to me a lot, FYI—I finally said, “El Salvadorean,” and he said, “oh, wow, that’s surprising… I mean, you’re pretty, you look European…”

*The lesson here, in case you didn’t get it, is that people from 3rd world countries, e.g. Central America, are not attractive.

4) When I started dating my current boyfriend [years ago] I told a few people, including him, that he was the first white boyfriend I’d ever had. A few friends kind of laughed, like, “ok….haha…you’re being silly…who cares, etc.” and the thing is, I realized- they didn’t get it, they didn’t see it like me (and after all, how could they). That ‘thing’ is: I learned early on that I was not attractive to white boys, white boys would not and could not be attracted to me – I’m “weird” looking after all. (Hence, the constantly being asked by random strangers what ethnicity I am) How do I know this? I was told so through various insults as a teenager girl. I grew up in Venice, CA, but got bussed up to a high school in Malibu from 7th grade on. And that was it- that’s how I learned my place. I went from being “normal,” maybe even pretty according to some, among my racially diverse elementary school peers (*think black, white, Mexican, Korean, Costa Rican, Ethiopian, etc.*) to being an instantly unattractive freak among the sea of blonde-haired and blue-eyed girls in Malibu.

And that’s my story. I heard and underwent a lot of harmful treatment there. That’s where I learned what the standard is. That’s where I first learned about white aesthetics. That’s where I first learned about my otherness. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. *And* I know white girls and women undergo similar pressures to conform to arbitrary standards of beauty as well. My sister and I have both been through the ringer when it comes to social pressures, standards, criticisms, and sexism impacting us in severe and traumatic ways- and she’s white. (I’m adopted)

I’m just giving you a view into one girl’s experiences. And that’s not to say that my journey or experiences have been rougher than anybody else’s. Mine are my own- they are unique to me, my gender, my ethnicity, my sexual orientation, etc., just as my sister’s or any other woman’s experiences will be unique to her and no one else could ever truly understand them. We all experience things differently. It’s not about ranking types and levels of oppression, but rather understanding that we are all subject to this system, these inequalities, and how we experience these things will inevitably vary.

In the words of Cherrie Moraga, “The danger lies in ranking the oppressions. The danger lies in failing to acknowledge the specificity of the oppression. The danger lies in attempting to deal with oppression purely from a theoretical base. Without an emotional, heartfelt grappling with the source of our own oppression, without naming the enemy within ourselves and outside of us, no authentic, nonhierarchical connection among oppressed groups can take place.”

 

 

 

 

 

“I want to be bright!”

During a study group session one day with two classmates (both black women who had children), our discussion turned to white aesthetics. Not unusual as we were all essentially Sociology majors within our interdisciplinary department.

My one friend tells me how her daughter, after the first day of kindergarten, came home and said to her, “Mommy, I want to be bright!”

Naturally she said, “Baby, of course you are going to be bright. You’re already so bright. I’m sure you’ll be the smartest girl in class.” Then her daughter corrected her, “Nooooo mommyyyyy… I want to be BRIGHT. Like the pretty girls at school with the light skin and the smooth hair!”

How would you feel hearing your five or six-year old daughter say something like this?

This is the world we live in. History and law books were established and written by privileged white men, and therefore standards of female beauty set by the pure and virtuous white woman- the object of the privileged white man’s affection. Think Lillian Gish (ahem, The Birth of a Nation!), Barbie (does it get any more normalizing/indoctrinating than Barbie?!), Marilyn Monroe, Pamela Anderson, Gisele Bundchen, etc.

[Hence, why Bill Maher says something to the effect of, “That’s why you didn’t get that lead role in Titanic!,” to Kerry Washington at the end of this clip, though it’s cut off]

I may not be a black woman, but I am “other,” and I’ve fought my own battles against the overwhelmingly “white” standard of beauty. Growing up I was often called “exotic.” Not pretty, not ugly, but “exotic;” In other words, different, unusual, “other.”

Do you know about the growing popularity of the eye surgery to make Asian women look more “Western“? Do you know about Renee Rogers, an American Airlines employee who wasn’t permitted to wear her hair in braids while at work? (they asked her to pull it back in a bun and wear a “hairpiece” over it….) This also brings to mind the Chris Rock movie, Good Hair, a documentary set into motion by his daughter asking him, “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair…?”

I will now refer you to this awesome critique and compilation of images via “beautyredefined.net.”

*Editor’s note: This article now contains [an addendum]