Monday, July 19, 2010

Strike a Pose, and Prepare to be Belittled! How the media bullies female celebrities using artificial physical ideals

When Barack Obama was inaugurated nearly a year ago in January 2009, pop singer Ashlee Simpson wasn’t blogging about her hopes for the new U.S. president. Instead, she was comparing the media coverage press of the inauguration to that of her sister Jessica Simpson’s weight gain. Ashlee wrote: “A week after the inauguration and with such a feeling of hope in the air for our country, I find it completely embarrassing and belittling to all women to read about a woman’s weight or figure as a headline on Fox News.” While Ashlee’s statement renders irrelevant to Obama’s inauguration, it raises an important point: The media coverage on the female bodies of celebrities is not only blatant but offensive. As a result, the female demographic feels the need to resort to desperate measures - like eating disorders or plastic surgery - to look better than a “fat” celebrity or like an airbrushed, “thin” celebrity.

People wouldn’t stop talking when covers of tabloid magazines featured a fuller Jessica Simpson in unflattering “mom” jeans. Some journalists attributed Jessica’s larger appearance to solely her jeans, but others claim she “ballooned” to 145 lbs and that she needed to lose the weight ASAP. Emulating the trend of most female celebrities who have gained weight, Jessica asserted herself, saying she “loves her curves just the way they are,” but then 2 weeks later, reportedly lost 15-20 lbs! 

Whether weight gain is criticized or appreciated for promoting a “more realistic” body image, it seems as though the media constantly contradicts itself. When you have an article encouraging celebrities of different shapes and sizes, and then another article insulting celebrities for their cellulite, it’s hard to distinguish which ideas the media is trying to support.

When were standards for a woman’s body established? One could argue that they existed since the beginning of history; standards of beauty shift through different time periods, cultures, and ethnicities. But if you look at how the media advertises the female body, these images can be analyzed more thoroughly. In the early ‘50s to ‘60s, more voluptuous hourglass silhouettes - like Marilyn Monroe’s - were seen as sexy. Come mid-‘60s to late-‘70s, this standard became extremely thin, hence model Twiggy’s popularity. In the ‘80s, athletic, lean physiques - like those of Madonna and Olivia Newton John - were substituted as the norm. Then, the ‘90s introduced the Barbie-like shape of Playboy bunnies and Baywatch babes, such as Pamela Anderson. This all leads up to the surgically-enhanced, size 2 bodies of today, i.e. Megan Fox and Angelina Jolie, competing with fuller, “healthier,” looks i.e. Kim Kardashian and Beyonce, and anorexic-looking, lankier physiques, i.e. Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton.

We cannot necessarily explain the changes of ideals portrayed in the media. Perhaps it requires the emergence of one sex symbol to break the mold. When Marilyn Monroe was famous, other people thought “curvy” was cool. Now that Megan Fox is famous, people continue to believe “thin is in.” While the media’s advertisement of photoshopped models bombards in forms of visual covers and billboards, journalists sometimes unethically further embellish their editor’s incentive to scrutinize celebrities’ cellulite or fat. So while pictures may be worth a thousand words, words still hurt. The words – in these following articles - hurt those scrutinized celebrities and the women who don’t think they look as good.

Another reason to blame for the development of certain standards can be a patriarchal society. In a man’s world, women have to look a certain way; so, the media depicts the type of women a larger demographic of men would desire to purchase, along with magazines and movies. In the June 2nd, 2008 issue, US Weekly featured its survey - based on 100 men and 100 women in NYC’s Rockerfeller Centre - demonstrating whether men and women like specific body types. 8% of women and 6% of men like “super thin women, i.e. Nicky Hilton, 16% of women and a whopping 30% of men prefer women who are surgically “enhanced,” i.e. Heidi Montag, 32% of men and 32% of women like toned figures, i.e. Jennifer Aniston, and only 18% of women and 14% of men favour the “curvy but fit” figure, i.e. Penelope Cruz (86-87). However, the definitions of what is “curvy” or “fit” differs from person to person. This survey is not only limited to a certain number of surveyors and opinions, but the above celebrities that supposedly represent these body types. While surveyors may only judge celebrities based on the body types they represent, the fact that here men specifically prefer more enhanced and slim figures - as opposed to “curvy” and average women - is somewhat disturbing. Unrealistic proportions - i.e. large breasts on a tiny body - are unattainable to most and can often only be achieved with dangerous plastic surgery. Usually, this body type is hard for a man to find. Most men I talk to say they like a girl with curves and meat on their bones - something they can grab onto - and this girl isn’t always a size 2.

This body type is also portrayed in men’s magazines. According to a March 20th, 2008 article on the Fox News website, Sex & the City leading lady Sarah Jessica Parker claims a Maxim magazine poll deemed her the “un-sexiest woman alive.” While it’s not Maxim’s fault their editors didn’t think Parker was sexy, Maxim still called her a “Barbaro-faced horse.” Sarah also told Maxim that just because she doesn’t fulfill the standards of a men’s magazine doesn’t mean she isn’t beautiful: “Do I have fake boobs, botox, and big lips? No!” By selecting and talking about certain women in a positive or negative way, magazines like Maxim are drawing a restricted portrait of what they think every woman should look like.

Not to mention these celebrities are photoshopped and airbrushed in pictures, so they don’t even look the same in person. Thanks to technology, almost anyone can look like a Victoria Secret model. But, is photoshopping ethical? Canadian photographers Karolina Turek and Vasko Mio think it‘s a part of the media we must accept. “Without photoshop, most glamour models would not exist!,” Turek says. “I photoshop babies for the love of God! My mission is to make women understand that what you see in the media isn’t 100% real! Everybody gets photoshopped, even in those plus size model ads for plus size underwear!" Vasko reiterates, “people must know that images are being photoshopped. The argument is that digital editing is creating impossible ideals. Are we over-photoshopping our images? I don’t think so.”

It isn’t noticeable if you erase a few pounds that the camera adds on anyway. But, if you transform a known size 8 celebrity into a size 2, that’s a completely different story. Take Kim Kardashian, who is frequently either complimented or scrutinized for her endowed backside. In its April 29th, 2009 issue, Life & Style features an allegedly 100% “un-retouched” cover photo of Kim in a bikini, saying in huge font: “I have cellulite, so what!” Kim mentions the scandal about her obviously re-touched cellulite in the pictures for the April-May 2009 issue of Complex Magazine. Life & Style also directly inserted the Q&A into the article, asking “Why does everyone attack your size?” and “Why are you so open about your body?” Do these questions imply that everyone insults her body and that she’s too big to be open about with her body? Sure, maybe these were just honest questions without those intentions, but many may not feel it’s ethical for a journalist to ask those types of questions in an interview.

Even more critically, according to a January 10th, 2003 article on the Hello Magazine website, Kate Winslet admits herself she was photoshopped to look thinner on the cover of GQ. “What is sexy?,” Winslet asks. “All I know from the men I’ve ever spoken to is that they like girls to have an arse on them. So, why is it that women think in order to be adored, they have to be thin?” GQ’s magazine editor attempted to justify this alteration, by claiming Kate Winslet lost weight so the editing wouldn’t matter anyway. Kate disagrees. “I can tell you they’ve reduced the size of my legs by about one-third.”

What’s even more insulting are feature articles filled with pictures of celebrities stripped to their bikinis, ready to be slandered and “ranked best to worst.” Star Magazine’s August 11th, 2008 issue, “Summer Weight Winners and Losers,” sends mixed messages as to what looks good and what doesn’t. For example, even though she looks less toned, Eva Longoria is harshly criticized for a “flabby stomach and butt” (47). Yet, they applaud a “healthier” 128-lb Jennifer Aniston (42), who is still 11 lbs heavier than Eva. Eva and Jennifer are approximately the same size and height, so it isn’t sensible or ethical to compliment Jennifer and insult Eva.

The largest devotion to the female body I’ve seen here is Star Magazine’s 30-page tribute on “Winter Beach Bods” in their January 5th, 2009 issue. Again clad in their bikinis, these stars are called on by the magazine as “the good, bad, and the ugly.” Star even compares Tara Reid’s need for alcohol rehabilitation with her “need” to “get help for that sagging booty” (51). This remark is especially insensitive, considering Tara got breast implants and liposuction, due to body insecurities reinforced by the media. Star Jones was pointed out on wearing a white bikini that flaunted her scars from gastric bypass surgery (58). Tiny girls - like Anna Lynne McCord and Miranda Kerr - acquired rave reviews for their bikini bodies: Miranda Kerr being awarded “best model moves” (56) and Anna Lynne McCord “best Beverly Hills bod” (58).

In “Workouts that Work,” Star explains fitness regimens of stars like Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson. Saying “Britney is working hard to get back into her old sexy shape” is suggesting Britney’s slightly heavier shape wasn’t sexy (64). In “Here’s the Skinny!” - assessing what “impossibly thin celebs really eat” - the Star contradicts what magazines try to sell in their ads and services: ideas that we need to lose weight, when some of us don’t. Again, the definition of “curvaceous-ness” is skewed here. The Star considers Rihanna - who they even write has a “size 2 waistline” - to be “curvaceous (68).” A size 2 is maybe slightly curvaceous, and by saying a size 2 woman is curvaceous enough to be categorized as “curvaceous” is implying those who are larger than a size 2 are not only curvaceous, but overweight or obese. Even if they meant “curvaceous” in a good way, what would “thin” enough be in this context, even though Rihanna is in an article that classifies her as an“impossibly thin” celeb?

In Touch Weekly’s April 28th, 2008 issue includes an article called “Their Bodies Look Better than Ever,” which compares celebrities’ old bodies to their newer versions. They deemed Ashley Olsen’s previous frame “boyish” and Mel B’s new toned physique “voluptuous” (73), which are also negative, inaccurate words used by the journalist to describe something as serious an issue as the female body. In Touch also establishes present that Hilary Duff fluctuated past between extremes of too thin and too “big,” saying “the teenager still had a bit of baby fat in 2004” (76). This statement leads to another issue magazines have criticizing celebrity bodies, especially when those celebrities are still young or pregnant. Of course, in those cases, they would carry extra weight! They’re only human!

Finally, in Star Magazine's December 7, 2009 issue, they evaluate “winter beach bods” again, calling ex-Baywatch babe Nicole Eggert’s thicker physique one of the “worst bodies” this winter (53).

Celebrities deserve more privacy; if gossip magazines expose their bodies in slinky bikinis, it could either make or break a star's career. Looks matter, and an actress’s weight can affect whether they she gets a role in a movie or not. With this coverage of the female body - in consideration of photoshop, men’s magazines, and juxtapositions of curvier and skinnier bodies - it’s no wonder we’re confused as to what the media is saying about women and what they should look like. But, it tells people who don’t look a certain way a lie - that they’re less worthy - and that’s the most unethical thing of all.

Works Cited

“Here’s the Skinny!” Star Magazine 5 January 2009: 68-71. Print.

“Holiday Beach Bodies: Best & Worst.” Star Magazine 7 December 2009: 52-60. Print.

“Life & Style Exclusive: Kim Kardashian: ‘I have cellulite, so what!’” Life& StyleMag.

Com 29 April 2009: 1-2. Online.

“Retouching is ‘Excessive,’ Says Slimline Covergirl Kate Winslet.” HelloMagazine.Com

10 January 2003: 1. Online.

“Sarah Jessica Parker Hurt by Maxim Poll Calling Her ‘Unsexiest Woman Alive’.” Fox

News.Com 20 March 2008: 1. Online.

“Summer Weight Winners & Losers.” Star Magazine 11 August 2008: 40-47. Print.

“Their Bodies Look Better Than Ever!” In Touch Magazine 28 April 2008: 72-76. Print.

“What Kind of Body Do You Like?” US Weekly 2 June 2008: 86-87. Print.

“Winter Beach Bods.” Star Magazine 5 January 2009: 50-61. Print.

“Workouts That Work.” Star Magazine 5 January 2009: 64-66. Print.

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