Thursday, 26 January 2012

Mrs She's Too Big, Now She's Too Thin

The term ‘size zero’ gets flung around a lot, but the truth is that there are next to no major celebrities with a size zero frame. This article, however made me realise quite how ridiculous the slim ideal is. Models are required to be under a UK size 8. If they’re any bigger, they’re classed as “plus sized”. As a size 8 myself, that means I’d be considered plus sized which is ridiculous considering the average dress size in the UK is 14-16. Models and body ideals that are shoved in women’s faces are always extremely far from the norm, that’s because what is considered to be the most beautiful at any given time in history is usually what is the most difficult to achieve. Take the trend of pale skin and heavy body weights a hundred years ago while poor workers had to work long hours outside in the sunshine. Being able to avoid average appearances signified wealth and health. This ideal has turned around so quickly simply so money can be made out of selling women cosmetics, diet schemes and surgery they really don’t need. Now we’re expected to be unnaturally tanned and unnaturally slim. The slim beauty ideal clearly presents many self-esteem problems as well as disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, but the message is clear; beauty ideals, no matter what they are, are always homogenised and leave no room for manoeuvre. If women don’t fit in with the very tight idea of beauty that culture presents to us, they are marginalised. Ideals are not the norm so that they make women with normal and average bodies feel bad about themselves.

Recently however I’ve noticed a particular beauty ideal dominating western culture. “Curvy” celebrities such as Christina Hendrix, Kelly Brook, Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian are today's role models women want to look like and men want to look at. Gone are the days of the skinny and flat chested Kate Moss ideal and in are womanly “curves”. Now while I think it’s great that other body types are being accepted, it comes at a price; homogenisation, marginalisation of any other body type. These types of images are cropping up all over social media websites:

This picture is objectifying, marginalising and judgemental of women’s bodies. I can’t believe some feminists think this is a positive thing!

I understand the good intention behind images like this, I really do. It’s a backlash against the diet industry and conditions like anorexia and bulimia which are a real problem. But isn’t it hypocritical to imply acceptance of women’s bodies at the same time as rating one body type as better than the other. No matter which way around the images are switched, it's body judging just the same. We should be accepting all body shapes and sizes, not picking out what women should and should not look like. Celebrating "curvy" women is being confused with celebrating the bodies of normal, heavier women but these "curvy" women all weight much less than the average woman. As much as the lower pictures of women arguably possess healthier body weights, they were still exceptionally beautiful - they weren’t the norm and they don’t signify the average woman’s figure. We have to remember that the “curvy” beauty ideal is a beauty ideal all the same which does not reflect the norm can be just as harmful to women’s self-esteem as the slim ideal. The lower row of images signify a beauty ideal which is just as unattainable as the beauty ideal which is denounced in the upper images. They have slim waists yet un-proportionately large breasts and hips which does not reflect the average woman's figure. It isn’t any more ‘normal’ or achievable than the slim ideal.

I am small framed and have always been naturally slim. I’ve hated my body and had self esteem issues since I was a child, yet people have repeatedly told me I’m too slim and I “need” to put on weight. I’m 5’5 and weight 8 and a half stone which puts my BMI in the ‘healthy’ weight category. I’ve never purposefully tried to be slim, I eat whatever I like and have struggled for a long time to put weight on, yet people assume that because I’m slim they have the right to judge me for it. People generally realise it’s not acceptable to tell someone that they “need” to lose weight so why is it okay the other way around. Just like the picture above, women's bodies are being judged and it's no more acceptable whether the woman is fat or thin. It's increasingly become acceptable in the media to declare a celebrity "too thin" - not through any worry about their personal health but purely so they can scrutinise the way they look. Maybe this is down to the "Curvy” ideal or rejection of the older slim idea, but whatever the reason for this, women should never be judged for their natural body shapes, whatever that happens to be. It’s happening no matter whether women are skinny, slim, normal, heavy, fat, pretty, ugly, tall, short, black, white, old, young, poor, rich… It’s happening because we all share one thing in common. We’re women and our bodies are public property.

Women and men’s magazines have been declaring proudly that they accept and love “curvy” bodies like they are finally accepting normal, natural body types. What they usually mean by “curvy” however is not plus sized models or women with average size 14 bodies, but women who have slim waists and un-proportionately large “curves” on their breasts, bottoms and/or hips. The truth is that very few women naturally have tiny waists and big breasts. The chances are that if you are female and you are reading this article that you will fit into one of two types: If you do manage to have large breasts and bum, your tummy is also curvy so you’re labelled too fat. If you do manage to have a small waist you probably don’t have big breasts so you’re labelled too skinny and un-womanly. Of course there are those lucky few who do manage to get the ‘best of both worlds‘, but they are the exceptions not the norm, they are the ideal.

Angelina Jolie is described as curvy because of her large breasts, despite having a very thin waist. It’s a similar deal with Kim Kardashian and Kelly Brook who are described as “curvy” for being slim while remaining extraordinarily big breasted. Christina Hendrix, declared by Britain’s equality minister as someone “ all women should aspire” to look like, is actually a slim size 10 with a typical models dimensions. The result? Women with average body types are striving to look like her so much that they’re resorting to breast surgery. Even Marilyn Monroe wasn’t nearly as big as most people assume, her waist was about as small as Kate Moss’, the difference is that Kate Moss has average sized breasts for her weight while Monroe’s proportions and perfect hourglass figure were highly unusual, hence why she was such a beauty icon. Monroe is currently often cited as a symbol of the 'empowered' woman whose heavier-than-usual weight and curvy body shape makes her the attainable role model for women. However what people tend to forget is that she was sexually objectified in exactly the same way as current celebrities are, she posed nude for the first Playboy cover and her worth was based on her "sex siren" act and looks. She ended up being a very sad, depressed person, as did Bettie Page who also became severely depressed. According to Bette Davis, Monroe "didn't like sex or men all that much, because she was tired of men always trying to get her into bed." She was a 'sex siren' for everyone, to the whole world, to detriment of her own sexuality.

People don’t seem to realise that people like Marilyn Monroe were objectified and used in exactly the same was as modern celebrities! The picture you posted is objectifying, marginalising and judgemental of women’s bodies. I can’t believe some feminists think this is a positive thing!

Ruben's The Three Graces is probably the nearest we will ever get to an average attainable 'curvy' body type. Painted in the 1600s, Ruben's depicted the beauty ideal of his time, before heavy homogenisation through the media.

These women with rare body shapes are repeatedly described as “real women”. Now it’s great that they love their body shapes and are being accepted for them, but as a result other body shapes are seen as inferior. Are slim women with small breasts or larger women with round tummies not “real women” too, should they not also be proud of their bodies? The skinny ideal threatens self-esteem issues and body disorders, the curvy ideal threatens self-esteem issues and cosmetic surgery. No matter what we look like, women are always going to be judged for either being too fat or too thin. Ideals are all just as destructive as each other. Isn’t the solution to reject ideals and embrace variation rather to favour one body type over the other?

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