Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged
April 11, 2012 9 Comments
As a male, by which I mean having testosterone pumping through my body, I’m more than familiar with the body’s keen awareness of beauty in other people. There’s pretty ample evidence about men connecting sexually primarily through the visual sense. This leads to a natural level of objectification, of seeing someone and almost instantly, on a subconscious level, deciding if they are hot or not, your body deciding whether you should try to reproduce with them. This is a physiological reflex and it is folly to try to deny that it happens or attach moral terms to it.
Still, as a male I’m also welcomed into the clubhouse, as it were, to hear how men too often talk about women and too often it sounds a lot like this post considering whether certain celebs are hot or not (for more about the particular problems with the post, read this from my friend Corey at JustAtad or this more personal reaction from Jessica at The Velvet Cafe). Unlike the body’s primal reaction, this discussion is not reflex so it is something we can call into question. It’s one thing to have a passing thought of “ooh, she’s too skinny” or “her nose is odd,” it’s an entirely different thing to publicly make a checklist of whether someone’s body parts are an asset or a liability. It’s a dehumanizing thing that you would never say to someone’s face, unless you are an asshole. Yes, everyone has certain things they find attractive and certain things they don’t find attractive, but thankfully not everyone agrees on what that is so that most people are at least someone’s cup of tea.
This kind of looks-obsessed writing is basically a constant fixture for anyone in the public eye. It’s not just the celebrities whose profession is so often tied to looks but even politicians. References are made about Hillary Clinton’s cleavage or “cankles” or endless jokes about Newt Gingrich’s rotundity, jokes that were launched at no less than John Adams in his day. The past few weeks have seen a few notable entries into this discussion.
This isn’t just boys locker room talk. Women, feminists even, are often leading the charge of the body police such as the viral image (below) that questions the beauty ideal’s alleged shift toward extreme thinness by effectively mocking thin women. Call it the “Real Women Have Curves” paradox. There’s an appeal in attacking those who come close to fitting the “ideal,” but it’s not their fault and they shouldn’t be invalidated in the effort to invalidate ideals. And it’s not generally men reading the tabloid magazines promising to unveil which female celebs look hideous without makeup this week or which women *gasp* have wrinkles or cellulite, you know, like basically every other woman over the age of 15.
One strong voice pushing back is actress Ashley Judd, back in the public eye with a new TV show and thus back under the vicious media magnifying lens. A media eye quick to scold if a woman doesn’t look perfect but equally quick to scold if a woman tries to retain perfection through cosmetic surgery (or accuse as much for looking too good not to have). It really is an impossible standard to live up to.
I suppose if a woman really dislikes something about herself and feels that changing it is the answer, she should have that right, but cosmetic surgery isn’t something to be taken casually. French actress Emmanuelle Beart, who I’ve liked in films ranging from David Hamilton’s Premiere Desires to Mission: Impossible to 8 Women, has recently talked about her horror experience with cosmetic surgery. Not that it is ever okay for someone to feel pressure to do that to themselves, if even someone as stunning as she was feeling the pressure just shows how unhealthy the environment is. Unfortunately, in searching for a suitable link to the story I kept getting sites that wanted to direct me to other celeb gossip of the sort that creates this kind of pressure or else Google Ads for cosmetic surgery. The internet is a little too comfortable with tragic irony it seems.
It always pains me a bit when an actress gives into this pressure, though I can certainly sympathize with the decision. I adored Billie Piper playing Rose, the Doctor’s companion, in Doctor Who. But I take it she got grief about her noticeable overbite because she eventually had it corrected. The thing is, the overbite was something that made her stand out and kind of made me love her more than I otherwise might. A similar thing can be said for Jennifer Grey who reached stardom with Dirty Dancing, drawing some comments about her nose, but once she had surgery to make it more “ideal,” she had lost a bit of what made her memorable. For as much as people talk about the ideal being ideal, often it is those deviations that endear us to others. There are other cases where I fear this is the case but I wouldn’t want to speculate. And perhaps that’s part of the problem, one never knows which actresses have had work done, which makes it hard to present optimistic examples of those who have remained successful as they age without giving in to the temptation of a quick fix.
Anyway, I’m not going to be naive and act like we can make looks not matter. Physical appeal is very deeply rooted in us. It isn’t by accident that these industries have gone to so much trouble to use physical appeal to sell us on their products. But what we can do is try to watch how we talk about people’s appearances and be careful with what kind of media treatment of the issues we put our money toward. It might be slow progress, but at least it would be progress. For all the advances of the women’s movement, the pressure to look just so may be worse than ever.
A Few Guidelines:
A: It’s always more acceptable to be positive than negative. I don’t want to deny sexuality so by all means celebrate sexy men and women and other. Especially other. Other is sexy as fuck. But hopefully in a broad way that isn’t based specifically on physical appearance.
B: Lists are bad. Not this one, but definitely ones that rank or rate women and/or their body parts. There’s almost no way to avoid looking like a wanker once you’ve done that. As such, I’ve probably been a wanker at some point in my life but at least I realize it.
C:You know that woman who isn’t conventionally attractive but you find her incredibly sexy anyway, because of all these things that aren’t purely physical? She’s sexy. Stop trying to isolate the physical as a way to qualify your admiration, as if the next guy over is going to give you a swirly for liking someone who isn’t on the approved list.
D. Jenny McCarthy is a terrible person who has put millions of children at risk by touting bullshit about the connection between vaccines and autism. This has nothing to do with how she looks. Jim Carrey is also a terrible person for the same reason. Also Robert F. Kennedy Jr., no matter how good his book on environmental regulatory capture in the Bush Administration was. Seriously people, stop promoting dangerous psuedo-science.
E. Skinny girls with eating disorders know that they ought to gain weight and overweight girls are pretty aware of that too. Telling them to eat a burger/go on a diet, isn’t going to help them. Really, there’s nothing you can say to them that is helpful (except those positive things from A). Even with major stars this is a very personal matter, at least give them that much privacy.
F. Feel free to create your own rules if it sounds like something that would lead to you being less abhorrent. We are all humans, flawed and ultimately abhorrent. We can only strive to be less so. At least then when the Mayan apocalypse comes and rightfully wipes us from the face of the planet, we can say we tried.