A celebration of beauty – yours and mine

// 8 April 2012

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A black and white photograph of Marilyn Monroe, originally a promotional photograph from The Prince and The Showgirl Yesterday I was involved in a fascinating discussion about feminism on Facebook. Now there’s a sentence you don’t hear every day! A friend posted a picture which has been doing the rounds, of Marilyn Monroe (in the chubby corner) and a Gossard model (in the skinny corner), and the picture invites us to compare the two and choose which is more attractive. The implication is that the correct answer is Monroe.

This went on to spark a debate among my friends about who gets more stick about their weight and appearance: skinny women or fat women. Excellent points were made on both sides – my small statured friends gave anecdotes about times when people have accused them of having eating disorders like it’s a perfectly acceptable thing to ask. Those who, like me, are on the more voluptuous side of average, bemoaned the lack of representation of women of size in the media, and criticised the way in which gossip magazines persecute celebrities the moment they put on weight.

Finally we came across the true answer. Where the media – and, I suspect, a lot of society – is concerned, the ‘correct’ weight a woman should be falls within a very narrow margin of error. It seems, increasingly, we are invited to compare women’s bodies to ascertain how far they fall from the mythical ideal shape.

A photograph of an underwear model on a catwalk. She is wearing a bra and pants, several strings of pearls, long black gloves and a black top hat. It’s everywhere at the moment, from this Facebook picture, to colleagues arguing heatedly at work whether a picture of a Kardashian is real or airbrushed. The Daily Mail’s recent article by Samantha Brick invited us to look at pictures of the journalist, and compare them to ourselves or the women around us. “Look at this woman,” it implicitly said, “And decide whether she is more attractive than you – in which case you hate her for being beautiful – or less attractive than you – in which case you should hate her for her arrogance“. And the sad thing is that it worked.

For the record, I am delighted to tell you all that I am simply gorgeous, and everybody loves me (this may or may not be an exaggeration, but roll with me). This is not to say that any woman that doesn’t match me in having brown hair, blue eyes, a crooked nose, freckles, a sizeable bust, a formidable posterior, and one big toe shorter than the other is not gorgeous. Neither does it follow that this is the only time in my life that I have been gorgeous. I used to be four sizes smaller than I am now. I used to have red hair. I used to have an overbite. And I could have had many, many other things that still really wouldn’t affect the fact that I am beautiful.

Why, what an arrogant woman, I hear you think. But no. I simply understand that what the patriarchal mouthpiece that is Heat magazine might consider to be a hideous fault (It would probably be cheapest for them to circle my pinky and write, “No cellulite here”) is just a part of who I am. And I am worth loving, along with all my faults. Beauty is not characterised by mutually exclusive characteristics, but covers a huge umbrella of around six billion people.

The issue here is not what size, shape or colour is the only desirable one, but whether we are able to be comfortable enough with our own bodies to understand that it really doesn’t matter. Because really, there are so many more important things at stake! While the Daily Mail derails women by flashing them a big sign saying, “Troll this woman!” and several other media outlets invite us to do the same, we are wasting valuable time that would be more suitably spent by:

  1. Acknowledging our own beauty, and knowing that it really doesn’t matter what other people think.
  2. Start addressing the issues of women’s self-esteem that have resulted in the terrifying number of eating disorders and growing cases of depression among teenage girls. These are the real casualties of the media’s “Who’s the prettiest?” competitions.
  3. Burning every gossip magazine and diet special we can find, in the hopes that the heat they produce will reduce the need to consume fossil fuels (perhaps design a car that runs on this cheap and readily available commodity?)
  4. Addressing the much more pressing issues, which these publications are missing, such as rising levels of female unemployment, transphobia, and the pesky persistent gender pay gap.

[The first image is a black and white photograph of Marilyn Monroe, originally a promotional photograph from The Prince and The Showgirl. It was taken by Milton H. Greene and is in the public domain. The second image is a photograph of an underwear model on a catwalk. She is wearing a bra and pants, several strings of pearls, long black gloves and a black top hat. It was taken by Michael Kelly of Construct Photographic and is used under a Creative Commons Licence. These are not the original images from the Facebook meme described above, they are used for illustrative purposes]

Comments From You

Shadow // Posted 8 April 2012 at 10:59 am

Bingo! You ‘got it in one!’ These magazines and mainstream media have one agenda – divide women and ensure male supremacist system remains hidden and unchallenged. Ever wondered why men are not busily engaged in dissecting each other’s appearance to see if they meet the mythical ‘masculine male?’ Answer is because men know they are not women’s disposable sexual service stations since they alone are default human whereas women supposedly just exist to be men’s disposable sexual service stations.

Magazines exist to sell male supremacist lies and to profit from selling women the lie their bodies are innately faulty so women must spend enormous sums of money they don’t have, just to try and meet men’s claim of what constitutes the mythical ideal, submissive feminine female.’

Author of this article is fine as she is and more importantly sees through the lies male supremacy and malestream media attempt to sell women. Be proud of your astuteness and refuse to subject other women to physical criticism because that is doing the menz’s work and men want women to engage in useless in-fighting since it means how male domination and male control over women operates remains hidden out of sight and out of mind.

Jane Brewster // Posted 8 April 2012 at 5:10 pm

I know what a long time it has taken you to reach this conclusion and the agonies you have gone through. It’s a very hard thing to learn to love yourself, but it’s absolutely essential if you’re ever going to be comfortable in your own skin so that you are able to be a happy, confident woman

The only reason I know for caring about your body size/shape is for health reasons, which is why it was imperative for me to lose a LOT of weight in order to be able to function again. However, the decision to do so was not based on body image (certainly not from the male-run rag press), it was done because I had decided I wanted to live an active and fulfilling life. Fortunately, that enabled me to laugh when someone asked me if I had cancer because I’d lost so much weight!

The government are clamping down on smoking in public places. On the advertising of cigarettes and of them being visibly on display in supermarkets. Strikes me it would be a lot better for the health of many young people to clamp down on what constitutes a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ so-called beautiful body, and concentrated instead on teaching young people to cook good, nutritional meals and the importance of a healthy diet, friendship and caring for others as a way to well-being and happiness!

Clare // Posted 9 April 2012 at 6:18 am

Great article. There magazines can be quite appauling in their treatment or woman, especially as they are generally written by women, or women.

I was flicking through one at work the others day and pointed one article out to my colleagues in shock. A whole page devoted to the fact that some celebrity (not one I had ever heard of) was dressing as though she was a size 10, and she is clearly deluded and she is in reality much larger, probably a size 12 or even *shock horror* a 14! This was just after finding an article in either that magazine or a similar one about how how “friends are worried about the eating habits” of another woman, criticised for looking skeletal. In the same magazine there was also a debate about whether Madonna should be allowed to wear hot pants and another gloating that some celebrities had very skinny wrinkly hands.

With this constant scrutiny of a few woman who are in the spotlight is anything to go by I am not surprised about the lack of body confidence most women have today.

IronFly // Posted 9 April 2012 at 5:32 pm

Would love to see a boycott on women’s mags but … so many women buy them. Why?! What’s the appeal?

They make me feel like shit so I haven’t picked one up in 5 years. I love mindless drivel as much as the next person but not mindless drivel that makes me feel like crap.

Alice // Posted 15 April 2012 at 9:20 am

I agree with most of your post and I think it was very well written. However, there is one thing that I do not agree with – that magazines and advertising can ’cause’ eating disorders.

Eating disorders are severe, psychiatric and biological mental illnesses (not unlike schizophrenia, and you wouldn’t blame CCTV for ‘causing’ paranoid schizophrenia, would you?) that an individual will be genetically predisposed to. Eating disorders have been documented since the 1300s, and are thought to be around 80% biological and 20% social. Yes, perhaps magazines can catalyse the onset of the disorder, but the gun will have been loaded long before anyone pulled the trigger.

I think that by eating disorders, you actually mean body dissatisfaction and potentially harmful dieting practices, which are not the same as clinical anorexia and bulimia. I think that confusing the two is actually offensive to those who DO suffer from anorexia and bulimia, because it implies that they are starving/bingeing/purging to look like the women in magazines when the vast majority of cases don’t want to look anything like Jennifer Anniston. It also implies that eating disorders are a ‘choice’ and that they can be stopped and started at will, when they can’t.

I didn’t write this blog, but you might want to take a look at it the next time you blame magazines for ‘causing’ eating disorders:

http://catherineofsiena.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/on-changing-society-to-eliminate-eating-disorders/

http://catherineofsiena.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/the-beauty-myth/

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