Saturday, September 22, 2007

Defending Britney.

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.


belledame222 said...

i agree with all that. jadp: the second two of those extreme thin photos are photoshopped, i believe. they're super thin, but not THAT thin.

the Lara Flynne Boyle one appears to be real enough, sadly.

Plain(s)feminist said...

It's almost worse if it's photoshopped because in that case, we are recognizing that the aesthetic is unattainable (because the model would die), but we are still promoting it as shockingly beautiful, or simply, as shocking enough to sell whatever it is that's for sale - her career, the clothes, whatever.

nexy said...

"It's almost worse if it's photoshopped because in that case, we are recognizing that the aesthetic is unattainable..."

unfortunately, virtually all photographs of models are photoshopped, rendering virtually all female bodies depicted in the media unattainable.

great post!

Plain(s)feminist said...

nexy -
Yes, absolutely, but in this case, women's dying and death is what is being made appealing to the average consumer. Not that this would be the first time...

andi said...

Thanks for saying this!

Anonymous said...

I'm 6 months pregnant, and while I'm one of the few women I know who's actually excited and proud of the effects that my pregnancy is having on my body (I know of so many women who dislike their stretch marks or scars and what I call the squishy baby belly, but I will wear mine with pride), I will confess that if my post-pregnant body looked even half as good as Britney's, I'd be okay with that too.

andi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
andi said...

"I will confess that if my post-pregnant body looked even half as good as Britney's, I'd be okay with that too."

I've never been pregnant and *I'd* be ok if my body looked that good.

She looks like a woman should - not a freaking sculpture or doll.

Plain(s)feminist said...

I think she could gain quite a bit of weight and STILL fit the general beauty aesthetic. I don't think she looks all that "normal", necessarily - at least, she doesn't look like the average woman in the midwest. But, she doesn't look unhealthy, which is huge!

Rachel - thanks for making me feel more comfortable with my squishy baby belly!

SallySunshine said...

I love this post. Well said.

Linda said...

I agree about the comments on the poor girl's body - get a grip folks. I'd love to look like that, and I haven't had kids.

Something I've been wondering about though, and have been hesitant to bring up in most of the feminist spaces - after all, who wants to be flamed? Why is it empowering to go around dressed in a way that seems to encourage others to treat you like a vapid twit? Why does so much of the feminist world seem to think it's okay - indeed, it's good and encouraged - to show your underwear, your butt crack, your nipples, your whatever to the whole world? I'm not talking about on the beach, or in your own home, nor am I advocating wearing long skirts and sleeves and a veil. I'm just talking about not exposing what are supposed to be your private bits - you know, the ones we tell 3 year olds about? - to the whole world.

There's been this whole uproar over the passenger on Southwest. I talked to someone who works for them, and they said the part of the story nobody is mentioning in public is that the young lady was wearing no underwear, and the people sitting near her were tired of seeing her crotch exposed to the world. I haven't been following the whole thing too closely because it's such a case of he-said she-said they-said, but it's a prime example of what I'm asking about.

Don't get me wrong - women are beautiful. Men are. Humans are. But we complain about being treated as objects, then proceed to push dressing in a manner that encourages that very behavior. That seems counter productive.

Non-flamed thoughts anyone?

belledame222 said...

to be clear, I think those particular photoshops happened online, with the specific goal of making people go "gasp" they're so thin. I don't think that's how the photo originally hit the media.

belledame222 said...

...which is not to say that unrealistic photoshopping doesn't happen all the time; just those two, I don't think the original editors meant them to look -that- cadaverous.

Daisy Deadhead said...

Glad to see this piece included in the Feminist Carnival!

I dunno why they say she is fat, I thought she looked fabulous!

Then again, I live in the south! ;)

whatsername said...

Nice post.

I honestly don't like Britney that much, but when I heard people were calling her fat all I could think was "what?!"

And yah, from your photos it's obvious she's put on a little weight from her "Slave 4 U" days, but FAT?!

It's disgusting to me, the way people bad mouth others' bodies.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Plain(s)feminist said...

Anonymous -
I removed your post because 1) I have no clue what point you were trying to make, and 2) if you want to make a comment that long, you need to put it on your own blog. It's simply too long for a comment.