Wednesday, April 04, 2012

It's not (just) the models

On her Facebook page, Karen posted a link to an article called "Supermodels Without Photoshop" asking whether women would feel better about their bodies if models appeared in magazines the way they really looked (even with the help of stylists, makeup artists, etc.) instead of in digitally-retouched images.

I thought about it. Maybe? In the 80s, well before Photoshop, I remember feeling about as intimidated by the images of Cindy Crawford and her cohorts, the original "Supermodels." And then Kate Moss with her prepubescent skinniness.  I know there was some measure of photo retouching available even then, but nothing that could completely transform the way someone looked the way Photoshop does.  Even if there was no photoshop, a professionally beautiful woman with access to stylists and perfect lighting, photographed hundreds of times to get that one perfect image, is still going to seem in a completely different league than a regular woman with a normal life.  Especially when that normal woman compares herself to not one other woman, but to the whole pile of photographs, asking why she can't have hair like Celeb A and thighs like Celeb B and breasts like Celeb C but with the midsection of Celeb D.  Especially when most women's romantic partners have access to an infinite number of pornographic images of Women E-XXX.

But I'm not so sure that the images themselves are the problem. After all, you only have to pick up any issue of Men's Health to see crazy, obviously Photoshopped images of guys with almost no body fat. Many men also spend a lot of time watching the athletic exploits of men with beautiful bodies.  All athletes look great, because their bodies are perfect for what they do.  Men don't seem to spend a lot of time agonizing over their bodies.  They might feel a little sad if their pants don't fit or they start losing their hair, but they don't define themselves by their attractiveness.  Look at an averaged mixed-gender group of people and the women typically look a lot better than the men but spend twice as much time complaining about how they look.

I think the real problem is unequal gender roles that send the message that women have an expiration date, and when we get too old and/or too ugly (and we all will eventually be too old), no one will be interested in us anymore, not just as sexual partners but as people.  No one will want to hear what we have to say, let alone want to see us naked.

Why do we spend so much time focusing on media images when the problem is so much bigger than that?  I think because the problem is so big and so depressing. It's a lot easier to spend our time grumbling that some entertainment writer called yet another gorgeous actress fat because she's carrying maybe seven more pounds than some other actress.


  1. For the record, I don't spend a lot of time focusing on media images, but had seen someone else post that article and I was curious, so I clicked. And it reminded me of Roxie's blog post, which I referenced in the comments section, in which she wondered if women in general feel less-than because we don't have a real idea of what other women look like? She had written about being in a spa environment with near-naked or completely naked women and that it had a sort of equalizing effect, because even though the women were of all shapes and sizes, none of them were "perfect."

    I used to be highly critical of other women's bodies (no matter what their size) because I was highly critical of my I look at all women's bodies as being beautiful, even if they're super skinny, because underneath it all we're all real...I hate that the media sets us up to compare and criticize, to mention that it wants to make money off our insecurities.


    I had to hunt to find it, but thought you might enjoy this post.

  3. I am not really exposed to media images.

    I read your post and then paid attention for a couple days.

    What I discovered - I SEE the WORK.

    Like I notice the women who have babies and then work to get their body back in shape. (Poppy Montgomery for example, I even wrote a post on her). Not everyone, but many of us got ourselves in the mess we are/were in after babies, so I really notice this one.

    I notice arm/shoulder/upper back work. (That is exactly how I found one of my current instructors, I went up to her [we were both participants in a Zumba class] and asked her 'where' she got her tone. When she said her own class, I started taking it.)

    I noticed Sela Ward, googled to see she is a few years older than I am. She is in great shape and carrying her age well.

    I noticed Dana Delany, googled and she is also in great shape and older than I am.

    I heard Gwyneth Paltrow speak on how hard she works and found links to her trainer, I mentioned Tracy Anderson (her trainer, also trains Madonna) to my instructor who now borrows from Tracy's workouts on a very regular basis.

  4. just thought of another who always inspires me - Marg Helgenberger (china beach, csi/las vegas)

  5. The invisibility once they look a certain age is startling. And real. And the societal decision that 'age' or imperfection is unattractive or somehow less worhy makes me sad. Unfortunately, it would seem to have some basis in biology and isn't entirely media-driven. I thoroughly enjoyed your post.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07