1) Given that they are now officially among us, I thought the bloodsuckers of society would be an appropriate conversation starter. Technically, yes, I’m talking about vampires. But, if you have seen any zombie movie after 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead,” then you know I’m also talking about the assumed miscreants on the outskirts of wholesome family-oriented society. People who make the skin of the status quo crawl, but who also entice their curiosity. People who incite fear in the mainstream and at the same time conjure up their sexual fantasies. People who threaten the safety of society and who also could be saviors, if you happen to be a delicate blond woman. This conversation could extend to lots of different creatures that go bump in the night. In fact, werewolves and zombies will also fit nicely into this dialogue. Not just because they are monsters, but because they continually jump out from within American pop culture. With Halloween upon us, and Twilight becoming a distant memory as Harry Potter sneaks into theaters in 3 weeks, OfAllTheThings felt like the timing was just right. For these next few posts we’ll continually add to this same conversation, so check back often!
There is never a lull in America when it comes to the horror genre, and likewise, there is never a lull in horrible things happening to people in America, especially if they don’t fit into mainstream society. The most horror-worthy thing of all is that things like prejudice, sexism, xenophobia, and racism have been woven into the fabric of what it means to define oneself as ”American”; having become synonymous with the anti-monster, or rather, as the hero. The irony being, that many creators (writers, directors, actors, etc) within the horror genre often try to elucidate the complexity, humanity,and non-threatening aspects of those creatures on the fringe. That said, I guess we’re not really trying to talk about Freddy, Jason, Chucky, or the like. Yes, these individual white male monsters have issues, but we’re gonna try and specifically discuss story lines and images around vampires, werewolves, zombies, and their assumed real-life ‘terror’ counter parts.
I Totally agree about primarily discussing Twilight, True Blood and all of the other monster franchises that you mentioned, in order to tackle some of these issues. I’d also like to bring in “Ugly Americans,” a cartoon on Comedy Central that addresses most of these things surprisingly well, although they are not subtle about it, but i suppose its because they don’t want to be. Plus, there’s that new British film “Monsters” about outer-space aliens that invade Central America, requiring the military to build a gigantic wall across northern Mexico. And now even AMC is dedicating a whole SERIES to zombies.
I hear you about this fairly recent explosion of alternatives to a size 0 body shape. I have noticed the resurgence of “big beautiful women” (bbw) in our visual culture more so than in print as you discussed, but that’s because my reading of periodicals are limited to art mags; whereas, tv is like my internet.
I am addicted to music videos. It is my pulse to video tech trends, styles, video themes, etc. It is here in this hyper-sexualized fantasy realm that (fit) bbw’s have been able to flourish. Artists like Beyonce, Nikki Menage, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keyes and more are heralded as beautiful, tantalizing women, who represent a “real woman’s body.” Is there a one-size-fits all body shape for women? And if you don’t exhibit “curves”, are you no longer considered a “woman”, but rather a “girl”? What about tweens and teens who are “rockin’ a woman’s body”? Are they instantly boosted from the category of girlhood to womanhood?
Clearly, the contexts, definitions and representations of female body types and the societal markers and determiners of “womanhood” have been placed on a sliding scale. And the proliferation of images and commentary we receive about beauty are correlated with where the scale has been set.
As a twenty-something year old woman, who is trying to understand the vague concepts of “womanhood” and “adulthood”, I certainly look to women in films (including adult), tv and music videos (artists and “video vixens”) to interpret and situate myself within the images and behaviors being transmitted to me. This strategy is definitely not working for me. I am more confused today, than I was as a child about where I fit within the magazine body spectrum that ranges from “boy-ish figure” to “pear”. As a child, my notions of beauty were only limited to the bounds of my imagination, and now it is limited by the repetitive images around me.
I mean, WTF! have we really reduced women and their genetic codes to the shapes of fruit?! (I guess the relation to fruit makes it easier to package, market and consume these ideas). Where is the category and representation of women who are taller than average, with square hips, limited ass and D-cup boobs? I guess since there’s no easy fruit to liken that body shape to, it gets ignored. But maybe one day, I’ll pick up a mag and it will say, “if you have an overall banana shape with kiwi boobs and strawberries for hips (narrow side down), you should wear this…”. But until then I will have to struggle like all young women and women to create a space for my body in a society that is confused about beauty and weight. And I do mean confused. Let’s examine Jessica Simpson’s “The Price of Beauty” on VH1 and “Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution” on ABC. Simpson’s “reality-like” show takes her and two friends to various countries to “learn”, (but mostly critique) about the beauty rituals of other societies and the pressures to attain a standard of beauty. In episode 4, Jessica and her friends, (Ken Paves and CaCee) travel to Uganda to “experience” a community of Hima people, who purposefully “fatten” their young women as a passage into womanhood. Simpson meets a young bride who has been confined to the “fattening hut” with her mom and aunt for two months consuming about 5,000 calories of cow’s milk a day.
part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zINn_e3Jhx8 and
On ABC, the premise of “Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution” “is that Mr. Oliver, the well-known British chef and television personality, will help to reform the eating habits of Huntington, [W. Va.] — identified in news reports as America’s unhealthiest, most obese city — by working with the school kitchens and educating the community.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/26/arts/television/26oliver.html
Each show panders to the needs and fears of their respective demographics, (young women for “The Price of Beauty” and parents and families for “Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution”); “The Price of Beauty” suggests to its audience that “beauty” is a subjective and learned notion, and you, the viewer must define what’s beautiful for you and be accepting of self.
“Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution” suggests that without a ‘national intervention’ in the lunchrooms of America, children in the US will continue becoming obese, thus turning into unhappy obese adults, who may later participate on shows like “The Biggest Loser”.
Are you confused yet about where we stand on weight? Although both of these shows may appear diametrically opposed, they intersect at the point of fear. They each utilize fear as a tool of motivation. In episode 1, “The Price of Beauty” depicted a woman in Thailand whose face was disfigured from using bleaching creams to attain a “lighter” (whiter) complexion. http://www.vh1.com/video/jessica-simpsons-the-price-of-beauty/full-episodes/thailand/1633795/playlist.jhtml#more
Okay, that’s a subtle example, but the idea of facial disfigurement is enough to steer me away from “lightening creams.” In fact, I stopped using my dark-spot face lightener after watching this episode. I mean, there are no hats or cover-ups for your face.
“Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution” imparts fear about being ‘fat’. Fear and fat seem synonymous with this show. Why give children a complex about their bodies and weight at such an early age? I am not a supporter of a “fast food nation”, but I do think that our ideas as a society about health, healthy eating, and healthy living have become new obsessions – without tangible and accessible tools to implement effective changes. And of course, we have a new eating disorder to call our new obsession – orthorexia is an “obsession with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy.”
Despite the pitfalls of Oliver’s show, he does acknowledge and critique the food sources that are creating obese children – a crucial move for transformation.
Since you discussed celebrities in your post, I ask are they mavericks of the curves or are they marketing their genetic codes? Let’s begin with Gabourey Sidibe. I didn’t watch the original airing of her Saturday Night Live appearance, but I was definitely apprehensive about watching clips online when you mentioned you wanted to discuss her. I thought, “I don’t want to sit through 48 minutes of video being uncomfortable.” And I think that sentiment gets to the crux of the matter with the new obsession with Gabourey Sidibe – and it is an ‘obsession’. (When you start typing her first name into a Google search box, the search “suggestion” , “gabourey sidibe weight” appears.)
Sidibe’s presence and appearance makes people hyper-aware of their feelings of discomfort, which was subtly addressed in her SNL monologue. Viewers expect, want and need her to personify one of those contestants from “The Biggest Loser”, because that is how we, as a public have come to view and understand the ‘plight of obesity.’
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/16/health/16essa.html When Sidibe doesn’t perform as expected, we as viewers are left having to sit and decipher our own feelings. Sidibe may possibly be a maverick.
The “Naked Truth: Women Unretouched” in the May 2010 issue of Harper’s Bazaar was interesting. As a Virgo, one of my traits is to judge and criticize and I put that trait to use with this spread. I have to say, that this article left much to be desired. Seeing “curvy” women as the subjects of portraitures are nothing new. The arc of Western art history mostly depicts ‘round’, curvaceous women. Has the ‘heroin-chic’ look erased all traces of this form our collective minds, that we, as a society are ready to applaud Bazaar and any other mag that features another kind of body?!
After viewing the photo of Kim Kardashian – loved and fantasized by Black men everywhere – I realized why retouching is a necessary tool. In the article, Kardashian’s quote, “The message is embrace your curves and who you are” raised my left eyebrow. Her persona on “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” at least in its earlier seasons depicted a Kim obsessed with her weight and wanting to slim down. Let’s not forget that she is the “face” of the diet pill, Quick Trim. Contradictions are the spice of life, but Kardashian’s actions suggest that she hasn’t quite embraced her curves and who she is – but they are her financial assets. Kardashian as maverick, I think not.
Joy Bryant, provides an “athletic” body type and discusses the way her “boy-ish” figure was not accepted amongst peers in the South Bronx, but was coveted at a boarding school she attended in Connecticut. Bryant’s quote, “you’ll never be thin enough, blonde enough, black enough” sounds similar to Kardashian’s. Are they telling us, as readers, as women that since no one can be the first and final word on any facet of physical ‘beauty’, we should resign ourselves over to acceptance? This sounds like a defeatist attitude – “I can’t be this or that, so I’ll just accept what I got”. I can’t sign that petition and a lot of women refuse to ‘just accept that which is’ and turn to plastic surgery and other elective procedures. Heidi Montagne – enough said! It’s clear to me, Bryant is not a maverick, but has won an important battle: she accepts herself.
Before I dismissed Bazaar’s article as a post-Apollonian attempt, photographer, Amanda de Cadenet, exposes a refreshing notion: “if we’re more comfortable with our naked bodies, we might be more comfortable with our clothed selves”. I can dig it! Her words may be a way of functioning in a world that condemns you for not having self-esteem or enough of it; yet vilifies, reproaches and reviles the majority of women’s bodies. De Cadenet’s words removes the idea of ‘competition’ by shifting the focus away from ‘outside standards’ and ‘pressures’ and centering the gaze on self – metaphorically and literally with her self-shot photo. De Cadenet achieved maverick status with that comment, and like Bryant, has learned to accept herself.
I would like to end with the discipline of dance. As you stated A–, the shape of dance is changing. Season 10 of “Dancing With The Stars”, (DWTS) featured the likes of Pamela Anderson, Nicole Scherzinger and Erin Andrews. Who thought Nicey Nash would continuously receive enough viewer votes to land her as one of the “final five” couples?! It wasn’t easy for Nash to get there nor was it for me to watch. Much like the initial concerns for Sidibe’s appearance on SNL, almost every interview Nash gave on DWTS discussed her weight and sometimes race as comic relief. I get the idea behind her actions – reference what’s on the minds of others before they do and release tension and discomfort with laughter, but it didn’t stop people from discussing her weight. http://www.hulu.com/watch/148737/dancing-with-the-stars-week-8-results?c=754:983 But why did she have to make a joke of her body? Pamela Anderson didn’t reference her over-sized breasts during each interview. How is it that as a society, we accept women with hardened, inflated breasts (as long as they aren’t too young), but we can’t accept some extra adipose tissue?! Despite Nash’s self-referential jokes, she’s a maverick and an embracer of genetics.
I want to leave you with a short podcast about Kymberlee Jay, a choreographer and self-proclaimed “street dancer” in the UK and her failures and successes in the dance industry as a result of other people’s perceptions of dancers and weight and her own. Through her own tenacity, Jay became the face of Nike’s women’s athletic apparel campaigns in the UK. Jay shows through her journey, that without compromise and a deep understanding of self, we can blaze trails. http://current.com/groups/on-current-tv/89539991_big-girls-can-dance.htm and
Lately I’ve been noticing a lot more variety in the female body types represented in the mainstream. And I’m not just talking about magazines that claim to have a pair of jeans for every figure. I mean, women of all shapes talking about embracing their figures. In some cases I can’t tell how genuine this shift is and if its just a fad. For example, of late there have been a slew of shows highlighting weight loss (“Biggest Loser”, “Dance Your A** Off”, etc). But, I’m also not talking about the same old binary conversation of fat vs. thin, svelte vs. flabby; i.e. that one is better than the other or that both are necessarily symptomatic of deeper eating disorders.
The first thing that caught my eye was Gabourey Sidibe hosting SNL. A lot of people seemed surprised since “Precious” was such an intense film, but in every interview of Gaby’s that I’ve read, she has been incredibly funny. Self-deprecating at points, and thus bringing up obvious jokes about her figure, but none-the-less seeming like someone who has her ‘ish’ together. What I immediately saw on website commentaries prior to her hosting was that it was going to be an “awkward” episode: not worth watching because it would be full of fat and Black people jokes. This put me on alert, like damn: can’t she just be funny? But, I also knew that it was probs going to be true. And it kinda was.
Some jokes seemed insightful, others were just straight-up awkward and unnecessary (http://www.hulu.com/watch/144703/saturday-night-live-hamilton#s-p8-sr-i1). Through the whole thing though, Gaby was definitely nervous. And I’m not about to speculate about where that nervousness came from (although reading bigoted viewer commentaries doesn’t help). Let’s be real, she was hosting SNL after doing her first feature film/acting gig ever! She definitely had her shining moments. Her monologue might have seemed forced to some, but she was trying to assuage doubts that haters were coming out there with, like: “I’m fine, and you should be fine too” (On youtube, it’s as if all traces of her monologue, and the blunders that followed, have been erased!). And I’m sure haters still want to doubt that you can be in the public eye, be hefty, and be okay with it ( Glee: “Home” Season 1, Ep 16: http://www.daemonstv.com/2010/04/27/glee-home-episode-16/).
There were some positive comments on Hulu.com, with people just as excited to see Gaby as I was, even though she’s no comedic veteran like Queen Latifah. One woman’s response, in particular, piqued my interest because it seemed so against the normal binary weight conversation. Although, I think it’s been removed from Hulu, the woman basically chastised people for not realizing that while more representations of full figured women are laudable and sexy (LisaRaye: The Real McCoy, Season 1, Ep 4: http://safe.tumblr.com/safe/video/571403557/500), health is what should be at the forefront of conversations about all figures. There is an assumption that heavy people must be ashamed of their bodies, and that thin people skip around everywhere. While in actuality heavy people might be healthy and full of self-love, and some skinnies may be ashamed of their bodies especially if anorexia or bulimia is presumed from outside parties.
My own bird-like appetite has been a constant source of stress in my Ghanaian family. I come from BIG women, and while my cousin’s plates were being heaped higher than their heads it would always take me several goes before I finished a meal. Eventually they figured out to just give me smaller portions, but to this day I still get comments like, “why don’t you eat?”. When it comes down to it I probably eat more times a day than the average three meals, always wondering why everyone else in my family has got mountains, while I’ve gotten mere hills. It took a long while for me to even attempt to embrace my body and take care of it. While I felt like some might envy my lean, I wanted some girth.
Like i said, I come from BIG women, and it eventually dawned on me that my BIG day would come, so I could just chill and enjoy what I had in the now. For me, curves have meant warm, strong, comforting, smart, confident women, so why wouldn’t I want to embody that and be a part of that tradition?
Which leads me to Bazaar’s May 2010 issue. Bazaar is always doing something about being “fabulous at every age”, but this issue also featured several articles about body image (not just about how to loose weight, although that was in there too (“From a Size 14 to a Size 4” by Elisa Lipsky-Karasz and “Curves are Back!” by Derek Blasberg)). For ” Naked Truth” by Rose Apodaca, they had three celebs bare all without photo retouching. Total breath of fresh air. Although none of the ladies were stick thin or obese, I liked that it showed a range in curvature. From Kim Kardashian’s well known ‘figaa’ to Joy Bryant’s less-exposed physique, it was like “yes! there are those of us who are not at either end of the binary conversation”. For me, the article highlighted that on the journey to acknowledging your own ‘figaa’, no matter what it looks like, your personal ideal body type might seem unconventional.
Taking yourself out of that type of binary conversation helps truly identify your positionality. When there is more media coverage and creative visualization about enjoying your body without trying to place you on some either/or scale, then positive body image can come to light. (Of All The Things will definitely be discussing other types of binary conversations in posts to come: Young & Old, Fat & Thin, Conservative & Liberal,Black & White, Male & Female, etc. We will do this in attempts to reshape, reconfigure, and flush out how we think, categorize, and talk about life.)
For example, while watching Wunmigirl’s music video, I became re-inspired by the potential that art has in this positive process. In the video, young girls of various body types follow the same movements with different visual results, but each girl stands out in a good way. Dance, like many artistic expressions can seem to rigidly favor one body type over another, but the best forms of dance take different figures and enhance their best qualities through movement. Whether fluid and graceful, or static and spastic, dance has the ability to put people at ease about their body type. Which brings me back to Gaby, who at the end of her SNL monologue works it out on the dance floor. The girl gots moves.