Look, I understand that the average celeb woman is considerably skinnier now than back when I was coming up. I realize that on the Coasts, one is supposed to look anorexic. But I still don't understand all the "Britney is fat" bullshit. I've been stewing over this for a while, now. I don't care if she sang horribly at the VMA, I don't care if she has a substance abuse problem (you know, beyond that general, vague sense of, "gosh, I hope she gets it together" that we all feel for her in the way we feel it for Robert Downey, Jr.), I don't care whether or not she shaves her head, I don't care whether or not she wears underwear. None of this stuff is news. None of it matters. What I think does matter, what has far-reaching implications, is to call this body "lard":
Let's be honest: no one calls another person fat, or bloated, or says that they have a sagging belly, out of the desire to help that person. The only reason to make fun of a woman in a bikini by calling out her body is simply to be mean, and in doing so, to make the person doing the calling out feel good about him or herself. And Britney is the woman everyone loves to hate, for whatever reason. Her music sells, and yet we love to pick on her, and the more she comes apart at the seams in front of us, the better, it would seem.
Now, some of the criticism came out of the realization that we've been watching this young women, like so many others, fall apart over the last couple of years. In that context, she was perceived as desperate, and her desperation was what some noticed even more than her changed body. I'll accept that. And she probably was a bit desperate, as would anyone be who has gone through what she's gone through of late. But what is really operating here, what outweighs these hints of what otherwise might be compassion, are some powerful Standards of Beauty that are absolutely effed up:
I just showed my students the film, Wrestling with Manhood, by the Media Education Foundation. One of the points the film makes is that queer bashing is crucial for portraying the bashers at heterosexual men. In the same way, image bashing is all about portraying the bashers as themselves sexy, attractive, tasteful, and most importantly, not fat, or at least, if they are fat, then they are fat people who Know Their Place and who would never dare to show their bodies, and certainly not to show them in public. When they are women, they are the same women who go to a club and glare at the women who are wearing revealing clothes and call them sluts, though on another night, they themselves might well be dressed in a similar manner. When they are men, they are the same men who feel that they can, to borrow a phrase from Martha Plimpton, "have a face like a foot" and still get any woman they want because they are men.
Guess what? I think Britney looks damn good, and not just for a woman who has had two children. She is a beautiful woman. Period.
Oh, and the feminist analysis? That would be this: when you trash a woman for her appearance, YOU ARE POLICING YOURSELVES. She is upsetting you because she's stepping outside the boundaries of what you have been taught by Patriarchy (yup, I'm using the big "P" word) is acceptable for women. And your immediate reaction is disgust - just like the immediate reaction of homophobes to queer people and racists to people of color is disgust. That's learned behavior, folks. That's hating what is human in you, because the reality is that most of us are not thin, most of us are not 100% heterosexual, and all of us descended from Africa and are, by extension, people of color (though many of us have no idea of this because we have white skin). That's you being oppressed, right there, and dealing with it by oppressing someone else.
The worst part about all of this? How many young girls and women watched the fallout after Britney's performance and came away from it with a renewed sense of shame of and hatred for their own bodies?
I leave you with images of real women's bodies, beautiful because they belong to people with dignity, people who love and are loved, people who represent the variety of beauty of the female form. Britney is more of a traditional beauty, but she's beautiful, all the same.