Tuesday, September 11, 2007

mass media, celebrity culture, and the female body

Prepare yourself. It's time for a feminist rant. Again.

I think the recent media frenzy over Britney Spears' MTV music awards performance exposes our cultural fascination with the state of women's bodies. I must say, I was especially disturbed to read the all the "Britney looked fat" comments--and I'm not talking about bloggers and such, I'm talking about the AP articles, the comments by so-called journalists...It seems to me as though you can't walk through a supermarket without being inundated with headlines about women's bodies, especially celebrity bodies. It's always about who's "fat" and who's "scary skinny," or who's lost weight, gained weight or is sporting a possible "baby bump." (Oh, the baby bump phenomenon...that's a rant for another day!)

Now, I'm no fan of Spears, and as a general rule, my response to celebrity articles is something along the line of "who cares?" but it seems utterly ridiculous to be talking about her body in the press. This woman had two children. Recently. And frankly, she looks okay to me, but I'm not obsessive about weight. At least, I try not to be in a culture that practically demands that women be distracted by the shape of their bodies.

And I think it's important to note that the bodies of male celebrities are rarely subject to the same kind of scrutiny. I mean, if somebody like John Travolta or Richard Gere start to look a little paunchy or bloated, they don't make the cover of five magazines because of their weight. Nobody speculates that male weight gain (or loss) indicates some kind of impending emotional breakdown.

Why is it that women are rarely given the same kind of attention for their talents, their good works, or their character, that they receive for their bodies? I'm just wondering.

It seems as though we being told that our value resides in the shape of our bodies, in whether or not we meet some standard of "desirability." Perhaps this is because there's money to be made by savaging women's self-esteem. Quite a lot of money. The weight loss and plastic surgery industries have something to gain by making women feel bad. It's all about the $$$.

For example, whenever I am unfortunate enough to stumble across one of those reality tv plastic surgery shows (i.e. "Dr. 90210") they always seem to depict some flaky mother buying her sixteen year old daughter a new, (and bigger, always bigger) set of breasts. Why breasts? Why not a college fund? Or piano lessons? Or a trip to Europe? What does this tell a child (and make no mistake, sixteen is still a child, folks) about her value?

Now, I don't have a daughter, so maybe I'm missing something. But I doubt it. Besides, I have two nieces. I worry about how this kind of thing will affect them someday. Of course, they are lucky enough to have smart, sensible parents, who would never think a set of breasts makes a great "sweet sixteen" present.

Still, I think it's a brutally difficult thing, to grow up female in a society so focused on women's bodies and so utterly disinterested in the state of our souls.

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