Articles about the destructive body images promoted by the media are a dime a dozen. I won’t be preachy about this because we’ve all heard enough of that particular sermon and it doesn’t seem to be doing much good. But somehow the juxtaposition of two particular magazine covers really got to me today. First there was this was, which I’d already seen several times:
I do think Gwyneth Paltrow is beautiful, so I’m not about to criticize her -or even to make fun of her self-assigned role as lifestyle guru, though that has been done to great effect elsewhere. I genuinely think she’s beautiful, in a very specific way. Tall, blonde, fine featured and very, very thin. She is not the kind of woman you would describe as shapely or voluptuous but that’s okay. That’s not her look. It’s not Gwyneth’s fault, I suppose, that her kind of beauty is the one most sought after by fashion designers and advertisers. Sure, girls receive constant media messages telling them that they will be beautiful to the degree that they are lean, angular and look good in this kind of outfit.
But again, Gwyneth Paltrow is not responsible for the fact that our culture upholds her look as an ideal. There are exceptions, after all. Even if we seldom see shapely women on the runways, we still recognize the more fulsome beauty of women like Salma Hayek, Christina Hendricks and Kim Kardashian. Don’t we?
Right next to the People magazine I saw this In Touch cover:
Yep, they’ve actually done a little zoom in shot of the fat roll under Kim Kardashian’s arm. She is pregnant, she’s gaining more weight than we allow in our pregnant celebrities (and to know how much we allow, check out Kate Middleton these days) and so, obviously, she can never be sexy again. Never. To anyone. The extra weight which many of us put on when we are growing people inside our bodies obviously turns us into hideous, revolting beasts. As a matter of fact, fat moms never have second children because their husbands (or music mogul boyfriends – whichever shoe fits) cannot ever stand to be with them again. That’s how it works. Right, guys?
Such horse crap. Notice the little headline at the bottom? “Her obsession with her teen sister’s body”? Don’t blame Kim: we’re all obsessed with the teenage body. For many of us it’s a teenage body we didn’t even have when we were teenagers.
I was a very skinny teenager. I had the build – if not the wallet or the poise – to pull off designer fashions. My body changed in my late 20s and early 30s, but at the age of 36 I lost 30 pounds and got back to high school weight. I went to a family gathering and was flattered when someone asked if I’d been sick. Even more flattered when an aunt said, with great feeling, “Please don’t lose any more weight. You look like you’d barely cast a shadow.”
So I could blame the media for the kind of poison they spew at us, at my three daughters, but the media feeds us what we want. Most of us are complicit in enforcing narrow, unhealthy ideals of female beauty. I certainly am. Those side-by-side magazine covers just drove home to me how crazy this gets. When we reinforce the most aryan ideal as the most beautiful in the world while simultaneously regarding the pregnant body as something to be despised….people, we are seriously messed up.
I hope my daughters’ generation is less crazy than mine.
By the way, I eventually gained almost all of those 30 pounds back. So Kim, honey, my armpits are fat, too.