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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

you’re not helping: MP Lynne Featherstone on women as physical “role models”

Do I wish I had a body like this?


Sure. But I don’t. There is no way in hell I ever could, unless I agreed to go under the knife of some mad-scientist plastic surgeon who would warp my body into something it cannot naturally be, à la Life and Loves of a She-Devil. Which I’m not. Either I’m heavy and lumpy or I’m skinny and boobless and assless. I’m sorry if that’s TMI, but it’s the plain and simple, no-fooling-genetics truth. And it’s relevant. Because British politician Lynne Featherstone, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, recently said that Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks is a perfect model for women to emulate. Which is ridiculous.

Featherstone, via the Telegraph, railed against

the “overexposure” of skinny models, which she argued was causing a crisis in “body confidence” among the young.

The use of such models in fashion shows and magazines, together with the routine use of airbrushing, meant that girls and women came under “dreadful pressure … to conform to completely unachievable body stereotypes,” she said.

And that is absolutely true. Woman are indeed bombarded with images of other women who are either unnaturally thin — because the women pictured starve themselves to an unhealthily low body weight, or because images are Photoshopped out of all reality — or who are naturally thin and healthy but represent one extreme end of the range of normal, healthy body types.

But this ain’t the solution:

[Featherstone] subsequently proposed the red-headed actress Christina Hendricks, 35, who plays feisty secretary Joan Holloway in the American drama Mad Men, as a woman to emulate.

“Christina Hendricks is absolutely fabulous,” said the MP. “We need more of these role models.”

She continued: “There is such a sensation when there is a curvy role model. It shouldn’t be so unusual.”

Again, it’s true that an actress with Hendricks’ body type shouldn’t be so unusual. She’s clearly to-die-for gorgeous, for one thing, aside from her talent and screen charisma. It’s preposterous that she’s any kind of anomaly.

But, that said… We ordinary nonfabulous women can no more emulate Hendricks’ body than we can emulate those of the superskinnies we more typically see. It’s just not physically possible. Holding Hendricks up as a goal is no more helpful than holding up, say, Gwyneth Paltrow as a goal. We need pop culture to show us the full range of what women can look like and be healthy, just as pop culture gives us the full range of what men can look like and be healthy.

Hendricks is awesome. I love her. But I cannot aspire to be her. And no one should.



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  • Victor Plenty

    “Role model” can be such a vague term sometimes, it’s difficult to pin down exactly what is meant. In this case I doubt anyone is being advised to literally make their body type different. It’s much more likely the MP means to say that young women should feel free to express and present themselves in a confident and vibrant way, across a wider range of body types.

    In this sense Hendricks can indeed be seen as a positive role model. Not her body type as a model for anyone else’s body, but her self-confident approach to life as a model of how to make a good life for yourself in whatever body type you happen to have.

    That’s my take on it, anyway.

  • MaryAnn

    Yeah, but Hendricks, too, represents a “completely unachievable body stereotype.”

  • Dre in Spain

    I am loathed to defend any politician, however, I do believe Ms Featherstone’s words have been taken out of context.
    As is mentioned in the article, her main campaign is against the overuse of photoshopping models in fashion magazines, whereby the images are either stretched to elongate the body or cropped to get rid of any excess weight around the hips, arse, thigh, arms, etc, and make them appear to be virtually skeletal. This is unrealistic, since the majority of models used in fashion mags are already very slender and don’t need to lose any more weight.
    I believe Lynne Featherstone wants to see people become more confortable in their own skin and not be bombarded by images of ultra skinny women all the time. It’s interesting that the article paraphrases the bit about Christina Hendricks being the architypal bodytype.

    “She subsequently proposed the red-headed actress Christina Hendricks, 35, who plays feisty secretary Joan Holloway in the American drama Mad Men, as a woman to emulate”

    I believe that she mentioned Christina Hendricks body only as an example of someone who is very gorgeous and NOT a size zero waif, and pointed out that seeing someone like this shouldn’t be a rarity. Let’s face it, the vast majority of glamorous actresses on our screen tend to have the same bodytype of extremely thin, and when someone comes along who isn’t and everyone (the media) is surprised as to how this curvaceous woman can still be non-skinny and sexy.
    We all knew this, but sometimes young women and fashion mags need to be told this in big letters.
    In my mind, this is just the UK press being lazy and only highlighting one thing (the famous actress Christina Hendricks) as opposed to looking at the bigger picture and saying “guess what ladies, you don’t need to starve yourselves to be attractive”.

    end rant.

  • Victor Plenty

    Yeah, but Hendricks, too, represents a “completely unachievable body stereotype.”

    Sure, if you completely ignore everything else about the force of her personality.

    Oh, and also ignore the cultural context of today’s hyper-anorexic standards for “beauty,” such as the fact that most modeling agency recruiters would urge her to hide herself away from public view unless and until she could be starved and/or surgically altered down to a skeletal waif’s body type.

    If you ignore all that, then yeah, she represents nothing more than a completely unachievable body stereotype.

  • CB

    Um, Victor, the quotes were clearly talking about role models in the context of body type and physical beauty. “Skinny” vs “curvy”, “body confidence”. Personality was not mentioned, nor was it implied that Hendricks has personality and skinny models don’t. She’s a role model for women to look like, as opposed to trying to look like the skinny models.

    Nobody, especially not MAJ, suggested she represents nothing more than that. That was just the context of the discussion.

    Anyway, sure, she’s an unrealistic and unachievable standard, but at least it’s a standard that won’t inspire anorexia. So even if we can’t ditch the unrealistic expectations, at least we can change our unrealistic standards to slightly less unhealthy ones. :P

  • Victor Plenty

    CB, on the “nothing more than” comment, point taken. That phrase was not a fair expression of MaryAnn’s statements.

    Still, my reading of the quotes (all of the quotes in the linked article, not just those included here) differs from yours. Even if I’m wrong, and the MP was exclusively referring to physical characteristics, the cultural context remains important. A shift of this magnitude – from having just one narrow standard of beauty, to having two very different standards – would be a huge improvement in the cultural landscape for young women.

    It’s nowhere near enough, to be sure, but neither should it be entirely dismissed as being no help at all to anyone.

  • Chris

    I like this post… the reality is that you can’t aspire to look like someone. You look like you. So do the best you can to make you look good. What else can you do?

    Though perhaps part of this idea is based on all the people, both in the general public and the media, who call Christina fat, or ugly. It’s jaw-droppingly stupid.

    Net result, though, is good. While yes, her body type is just as unachieveable for many people, it’s at least closer, by fashion standards, to the peak of the bell curve than some 6’3″ 90lb model.

  • sm

    I think the main problem with the MP’s statement is the idea that it’s a body type that should be somehow emulated.

    Perhaps her words were poorly chosen. Perhaps what she meant was more along the lines that actresses with different body types can remind women that beauty is not exclusive to a skinny-minny nothing body, and that choosing the right clothes (can you imagine Hendricks in standard model clothing? Must be a pain to find anything that buttons or zips up all the way), carrying yourself with confidence, and exhibiting personality can more than compensate for any perceived physical faults. That is the example actresses like Christina Hendricks and, one my personal favorites, Sara Ramirez, set for us unfabulous gals – that’s what can and should be emulated, not their specific bodies.

    Or maybe I’m reading my own personal philosophy on beauty into a statement that was boneheaded and obviously untrue. I have very few body image problems of my own, and I think that’s largely due to the Sara Ramirez obsession I had in my teens, as well as amazing people I know in real life who also happen to be large/not standard-issue beautiful.

    Oh, and this thread reminded me of a quote from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan Saga — Miles to Taura, a genetically engineered supersoldier who kinda resembles a teenage werewolf: “Don’t be beautiful like Lieutenant So-and-so [name is slipping my mind]. Be beautiful like Taura.” Words to live by :)

  • JoshDM

    Offhand, I don’t recall C.H. being so buxom as Saffron from “Firefly”.

    I remember being attracted to her as much then as I do now, though.

  • vucubcaquix

    America Ferrera prior to current weight loss had a very attractive and realistic body type. I think she’d be a better physical role model.

    http://www.vimooz.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/america-ferrera-curves.jpg

  • Isobel

    I don’t understand this uber-skinny obsession anyway. I’m five foot tall and big boobed and big hipped and little waisted, so there is no point my hankering after being a six foot tall skinny person ’cause it aint never gonna happen.

    But, I don’t think it’s attractive anyway, to be the weight that most models are, and even actresses. There was a scene in Changeling, for example, when Angelina Jolie’s character was being de-loused and hunching over from the cold water, and you could see all her bones in her spine and her ribs, on her back. I thought it looked terrible. Yes Angelina is beautiful, but I think she’d be more beautiful if she ate a little more.

    My problem with the actresses held up as examples of being curvy, is that they’re very rarely actually curvy. Usually they’re just skinny people who also happen to have big boobs.

    This is part of the reason I’m loving Medium on TV at the moment, Patricia Arquette is a normal weight woman, living in a normal sized house in which (gasp!) two of her (mostly normal looking) daughters have to share a room.

  • markyd

    I’ve never seen Mad Men, and never even heard of Christina Hendricks until recently. I’ll say this, though. That is one beautiful woman! I LOVE real women with real curves(just ask my wife). You also have to remember that she is primed and primped for tv. Behind the curtain, she probably feels(and looks!) similar to a lot of normal women. Too fat or lumpy, or whatever. Not my own thoughts, mind you, but those of so many women(and pathetic men)brainwashed into thinking a real body is ugly or unsexy. Truly sad.

  • Dre in Spain

    I’m a bit of a dork, so I investigated this further.. according to her blog Lynne Featherstone did not suggest that Christina Hendricks should be held up as a ideal of female perfection. She says:

    “I gave one interview only – to the Sunday Times – as a prelude to the work we will be doing starting in the Autumn on Body Confidence (see earlier posts).

    In that interview – because I was asked what I thought of Christina Hendricks (the MadMen star) and said I thought she was absolutely fabulous – as was Marilyn Monroe – echoes of that interview have been bouncing around the media ever since. Not surprisingly – I was not advocating that women should aspire to replicate Ms Hendricks’ figure – simply saying that it was nice to see an alternative to ultra thin models.”

    So, the Times interviewer sugggested the actress Christina Hendricks, and then the rest of the media jumped on the bandwagon and assumed that this example came from Lynne Featherstone as an ideal of female perfection. I’ll repeat my original assumption. Lazy journalism from the UK press.

  • Lady Tenar

    Anyway, sure, she’s an unrealistic and unachievable standard, but at least it’s a standard that won’t inspire anorexia. So even if we can’t ditch the unrealistic expectations, at least we can change our unrealistic standards to slightly less unhealthy ones.

    No, no, no. It is NOT an improvement. Holding women to unattainable beauty standards is always unhealthy, no matter what the standard is. Anorexia has a lot more to do with perfectionism and control than it has just to do with just trying to emulate skinny models. The whole “girls starve themselves because they read Vogue” thing is a actually a pretty simplistic understanding of the causes of anorexia. And telling women that they have to attain the unattainable and if they can’t, it’s there fault is always an unhealthy message that causes a lot of psychological problems, no matter what the ideal is.

    A shift of this magnitude – from having just one narrow standard of beauty, to having two very different standards – would be a huge improvement in the cultural landscape for young women.

    We already have that. Has nobody honestly noticed that it’s never exactly been not advantageous to have big boobs, curvy hips, and a tiny waist? Sure the skinny aesthetic rules in high fashion but a lot of media isn’t high fashion. Slightly heavier women when they have “ideal” proportions get plenty of love. What do you think Kim Kardashian is famous for. Her accomplishments? I’m getting really tired of people acting like promoting an amazing-looking, stacked, “perfectly” proportioned woman as a beauty ideal is some kind of transgressive act. If one more person says something like “we need to go back to the old days, remember Marilyn Monroe?” I’m going to jump out a window. If you don’t have Marilyn’s or Christina’s or Kim’s body proportions, you’re never going to. No matter what weight you are. So no, saying “either you can be a high fashion model OR you can be Christina Hendricks” is not an improvement.

    Plus, the fact that the anti-skinny campaign has been commodified enough that all kinds of people who don’t actually give that much of a shit feel the need to show how pro-woman and anti-establishment they are by promoting some incredible-looking hourglass woman as an alternative means that it’s gotten incredibly acceptable to bash skinny women. When I was a teenager and until I was about 21 or so, I was naturally skinny–and it absolutely sucked. It’s actually not that much fun to have people take it upon themselves to tell you to eat a sandwich are making “jokes” about when was the last time you ate anything (because the idea of starving yourself is hilarious, obviously.) It’s not that much fun to hear thin bodies compared to “bags of bones”, “sticks”, or “adolescent boys” (whom actual adolescent boys don’t even want to look like) and basically have everyone trashing your looks (with a smile and only out of concern, of course) because they think they’re being so forward-thinking and challenging. Or having people assume you starve yourself. Or that you’re a total bimbo.

    I gained weight in my 20s and I’m heavier and much more hourglass-y now (because I do seem to be lucky enough to “gain to the right places”) and, let me tell you, it is a LOT easier. I wouldn’t go back to being skinny for the world! It’s amazing people leave me alone or they say nice things! I am so fucking relieved to be out of the line of fire of the skinny backlash. But I know many women who are still there and, trust me, they hate it too. It’s just that nobody ever talks about it because nobody ever asks them.

    So yeah, I think all unrealistic beauty standards suck. There aren’t any that are “better” than others. Like MAJ says, the idea should be to promote a wide spectrum of healthy body types.

    I LOVE real women with real curves

    See, case in point. Thin women are real women, too, markyd. With real feelings even, who want to be seen as women too.

  • markyd

    Oops. One too many “reals” in my post. I just meant to say that I prefer curvy women, not that women who are not curvy are not real women. Sorry.
    Not like I’m going to say no if someone not-so-curvy like Karen Gillan knocks on the door.
    In reality, though, it’s way more than looks that makes a woman beautiful. Sounds cheesy to say that, but I’ve lived it first hand. My wife would be considered by those that don’t her to be a very “normal looking” woman. Certainly not the type that your typical guy goes gaga over. She is attractive and sexy to me not just because she has a nice behind, but because she is super smart and very confident. She also loves cheesy old horror movies as much as I do.
    I kinda went off on a tangent there.
    You get the point.

  • Featherstone is well-intentioned, yes, but as usual with ‘well-intentioned’, her remarks fall flat. So instead of idealizing the tiny, narrow set of criteria that only a few women can fit into, we’re supposed to idealize THAT tiny, narrow set of criteria that only a few women can fit into? MA is bang on–that’s not helping. I’ve always hated the ‘real women have curves’ response to the media hype of ultra-skinny models. Real women come in all shapes and sizes (and colors and ages), and lots of them, like Ms. Hendricks and dozens of others I see every day, are gorgeous.

  • Isobel

    @Lady Tenar –

    I’ve been thinking about your post for a couple of days, because I almost felt personally attacked by it (which may be entirely in my head, but there it is). I’m not complaining about looking like Kim Kardashian, because I don’t (unfortunately). KK is not a curvy woman, she’s a very slim woman who is Hollywood’s idea of a curvy woman.

    When I say big boobs, small waist, big hips, I mean back-ache inducing, matronly 34FFs on a five-foot frame, and a 12 inch difference between my hips and my waist (with the bum to match). I get the oppposite to you – I get people saying ‘should you really be eating that?’ because even though I’m actually fairly slim (BMI is right where it should be) I never actually look it. Clothes are not made for people with my proportions – I can never ever just buy something and wear it.

    I often hear men saying they like women with curves, but I don’t experience it that often. Men seem to like very slim women with big boobs, in my experience, not women with hips to match the boobs.

    If you’re naturally very thin (like my sister – she is absolutely tiny and never even wore skirts until she hit her 20s because her legs were so very thin), then I feel for you – it’s the same thing at the different end of the spectrum. Having said that, she’s never been short of male attention and that’s the case with most of my friends. The very thin ones get more attention than the normal to plump ones.

    What gets me, though, is that most of these acresses aren’t naturally thin – they are forced to conform to unnatural body standards which have become the norm so much that people with a normal BMI are referred to as fat! I guess we see most clearly what we experience ourselves, and for people who have to struggle to keep their weight within an acceptable level we get just as much bashing as you say skinny people do. It seems that anyone who doesn’t look like a model is now fair game.

    I had to laugh quite a lot at a programme I saw recently where a man was moaning about unrealistic body standards for men. I was like ‘huh – welcome to our world’.

  • Isobel

    Just to add, I think the reason that very slim girls are getting the male attention is because the fashion idustry is aimed at them – they tend to look better in their clothes because clothes are designed to look good on willowy figures. Skinny jeans and tunic tops, very short straight cut dresses, harem pants (although I reserve the right to brand them completely revolting on absolutely everyone). Tiny little shorts.

  • Paul

    I feel like I’m stepping into a mine field, but I submit a person with a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to attain the body type of anyone else, they will attain their own proper body size and shape and I submit anyone who is their healthy body size will be found attractive, not by everyone, but by enough people to have dating options.

    Unfortunately, even while our society’s media pressures us to be thin, our society’s lifestyle lures us the other direction. Less exercise and more calories are behind many of our society’s issues, especially a health care system that was designed decades ago before our obesity epidemic. In the last hundred years, the average age we entered our reproductive stage has declined from 15 to about 10, while the age we can economically support children has been shifting upwards, which opened a whole other can of worms.

    This is why so many government solutions look to me like a guy sticking his fingers in the leaks of a dam.

  • Victor Plenty

    Wanted to add particular thanks to Dre for investigating more of the background on this story. With that information in hand, it appears MP Featherstone would agree with many of the comments written here, and disagrees with the way her own comments were misrepresented in the Telegraph.

    Even if it was a misunderstanding that started the discussion here, this cannot diminish the importance of the issues involved, and I’ve learned valuable insights from nearly every comment.

    These issues aren’t going away any time soon, and as Isobel noted, the actual trend is to start hitting men with the same contradictory body issue messages previously targeted mostly at women. Paul’s comment dances around the reason for this without ever getting to the heart of the matter.

    Simply put: healthy, happy people are not a very lucrative market demographic. If you don’t have at least one aching void of misery in your life, advertisers can’t lure you into buying useless crap just for the short rush of a shopper’s high.

    By combining impossible beauty standards with a food production system designed to push most folks toward being overweight, corporations have created a rapidly expanding market demographic of people who will always be dissatisfied with life, making almost all of us more vulnerable to every advertising pitch thrown at us.

    If you think nobody in the corporate world has ever thought about this in these terms, you vastly underestimate them. These are people who have openly shown they are willing to hold the entire global economy hostage just to make sure they get generous bonuses. Do you really think they’d shrink from screwing up the minds of teenage girls to make their quarterly sales figures look better?

  • Lady Tenar

    KK is not a curvy woman, she’s a very slim woman who is Hollywood’s idea of a curvy woman. When I say big boobs, small waist, big hips, I mean back-ache inducing, matronly 34FFs on a five-foot frame, and a 12 inch difference between my hips and my waist (with the bum to match).

    Hmmmm…I don’t think it’s quite fair for you to use your own body as the bar for “curvy.” I don’t even think Christina would be curvy by those standards, because she’s quite a bit taller. Or Kim Kardashian. Or Marilyn Monroe. Or me for that matter. Except 99% of people would describe these bodies as curvy so I’m using the word. I’m not trying to quibble over terms, I’m just trying to use them in the ways that most people understand them. And I don’t think most people think you need to have FFs to be considered curvy. And, btw, you can be slim and curvy at the same time. It’s a body type not a body size.

    I get people saying ‘should you really be eating that?’ because even though I’m actually fairly slim (BMI is right where it should be) I never actually look it.

    Yes, yes, I’m aware of the stigma attached to carrying any extra weight (or even being perceived to carry extra weight) in this society. And that is deeply unfair. When I said that skinny women also face problems I wasn’t saying that they are the only ones who do. Far from it. I was simply pointing out what a lot of people don’t seem to know which is that being skinny is not the ticket to confidence and the avoidance of negative scrutiny for women that many people seem to think it is. Many women feel a pressure to be skinnier, it’s true, but many skinny women also feel a pressure to be less skinny. No woman really escapes in a society where the overwhelming media message is that it’s literally impossible for a woman to be all right as she is, because she hasn’t paid enough people to make her all right (cosmetics companies, plastic surgeons, etc.) This isn’t a contest.

    Clothes are not made for people with my proportions – I can never ever just buy something and wear it.

    Okay, but do you know any woman who says “Clothes-shopping is so easy for me! All the clothes are cut exactly for my body type. It makes me feel so validated!” Because I don’t. I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t complain that off-the-shelf clothing cuts don’t accommodate her body. I have that complaint too–I’m also too “curvy” for a lot of clothes (there are whole styles of clothes that I just really can’t buy because they don’t make them cut for me–if I want a fitted blouse with darts, for example, I have to get it tailored.) But when I was thinner and less curvy I felt miserable buying clothes then too. I had different problems. As does my sister, who is very thin and very petite but not short. As does my mother who is very hippy, but not particularly busty. Off-the-rack clothes are not made for a wide range of body types and a lot of them aren’t very good quality. So every woman has this struggle. And because this society places so much emphasis on both women’s looks AND fitting a “norm”, pretty much every woman also feels crappy about it, at least sometimes. Again, it’s not a contest.

    I often hear men saying they like women with curves, but I don’t experience it that often. Men seem to like very slim women with big boobs, in my experience, not women with hips to match the boobs

    Having said that, she’s never been short of male attention and that’s the case with most of my friends.

    I don’t think you can make those kinds of generalizations about men anymore than you can make generalizations about what “Women” as a group like. The fact is, there’s a lot of variation. I know plenty of men who go crazy for a big butt, others who do prefer more willowy figures and plenty who like all kinds of bodies, depending on the person inside the body. Honestly, in my observation and experience, the single biggest factor in how much male attention a woman gets is the attitude she projects, as sappy as that sounds. There’ve been times in my life when I got very little attention and times when I got a lot and it’s been my confidence that’s been the single biggest deciding factor, not the shape or size of my body. I’ve experienced the extremes in terms of attention level in every body shape I’ve ever occupied. But, I have to say, I think I do get more attention in general now that I’m “normal” and not skinny–because I like the way I look better and I project that.

    Plus, male attention is not the only factor that plays into women’s body image. I think the need to feel “more beautiful” or the tendency to not feel “good enough” is a compulsion for women at this point. Which can sometimes be disconnected from male opinion. This is certainly true of women with eating disorders and I say that having watched a few people close to me struggle with anorexia. Women who get lots of attention and/or have wonderful male partners who think they are beautiful. Women who start to get LESS male attention as they gradually get less and less healthy-looking. Body insecurity and the striving for a “perfection” that doesn’t exist is insidious, widespread, and incredibly complex. Framing it only in terms of male opinion oversimplifies it.

    What gets me, though, is that most of these acresses aren’t naturally thin – they are forced to conform to unnatural body standards which have become the norm so much that people with a normal BMI are referred to as fat!

    You don’t know that, and that’s a huge assumption. There are definitely female celebrities who lose to much weight and/or have eating disorders. But the industry also selects for women who are already thin. This is a problem in itself but my point is that it’s just as unfair to speculate on how a woman got to be thin, and assume that she must be starving or over-exercising as it is to assume that if a woman is heavy she must be glutting herself and being lazy. I remember all the scrutiny that poor Keira Knightly (who I can believe is just naturally thin–she looks it) went through when she was pretty new on the screen–everybody speculating that she had anorexia. I read an interview with her where she seemed very genuinely distressed by it and my heart went out to her–I’ve been there.

    I guess we see most clearly what we experience ourselves, and for people who have to struggle to keep their weight within an acceptable level we get just as much bashing as you say skinny people do.

    But everybody already knows that heavier people get bashing or that they struggle with staying “thin enough.” Look at the cover of every women’s magazine–“10 tricks to lose those 10 pounds!” or something on every one. Look at food marketing that’s directed towards women–all either about losing weight, or about “being bad” and indulging yourself in something that actually tastes good but could possibly make you gain a pound. The desire to be thinner is such a common and oft-capitalized-upon feeling among women that it’s now practically considered to be an essential part of the female experience. This is all kinds of fucked up. But my point was to say that there are women who DON’T have this experience but who still face many of confidence problems of women who do. There’s a lot more to the crippling standards that women face than just the “thin enough” standard.

    It seems that anyone who doesn’t look like a model is now fair game.

    But women who do “look like models” are also fair game. That’s my point, being skinny is not your ticket out of the body image minefield. Hell, I’ve seen actual models be “fair game.” I was reading the comments thread (bad idea) on a piece about the thinness of models and I remember that one guy (who I guess wanted to what a great friend of women he is) commented that he liked “curvy women” not women who “look like something my dog dug up in the backyard.”

    That’s just not very nice.

    I had to laugh quite a lot at a programme I saw recently where a man was moaning about unrealistic body standards for men. I was like ‘huh – welcome to our world’.

    Heh. Yep!

  • Isobel

    Just to be clear, I wasn’t using my own body as the bar for ‘curvy’ – I just don’t think Kim Kardashian is particularly. Marilyn Monroe definitely was, but you don’t see women of the shape she was in, for example, The Seven Year Itch in films too often now. Of course you can be technically slim and curvy at the same time – what I was trying to get across is that often if you’re of a curvier shape you’ll get called fat even when you aren’t.

    So Keira Knightley is naturally thin, I think she looks like she is too. Probably Nicole Kidman is, and various others. But for every one of them there’s a Kate Winslet who eventually loses a lot of weight after always swearing they wouldn’t, and I there really isn’t a market for actresses who are not thin, unless they’re the comedy friend or playing some kind of character role.

    I dunno – I think you can tell the difference between a naturally thin person and a person who is keeping themselves too thin. My sister for example, who used to be too small for a UK 6 (which I think is a US 2), but they didn’t make size 4s back then (and there’s a new thing! A whole new extra tiny clothes size for us all to beat ourselves up about), was thin but she never looked unhealthy because it was at the time her natural weight. People at their natural weight don’t tend to look unattractive, I don’t think.

    Gah. I’m just in a deeply bad mood about the whole thing at the moment. My friend, who is a tall slim Amazonian type with fantastic legs has developed bulimia because her fuckwit ex kept telling her she was fat because she’s quite strongly built (yes, I know there are underlying causes to bulimia, but he seemed to tip it all over the edge).

  • Dre in Spain

    WOW! thanks Victor!
    I was starting to think that no-one was reading the other comments.
    Whilst there should be a serious debate about the typical physical appearance of an actor/actress on tv, Eg. realism as opposed to fantasy, we should also be more analytical regarding the tricks of the conventional media. Unfortunately even the broadsheets engage in the trickery used by the tabloids. I wasn’t feeling eloquent enough (I had too much steam coming from my ears) to fully explain that when a comment is paraphrased it does not mean that it is is the true comment. It has just been fashioned into the story that the editor wants.
    One of the reasons why I like UK tv so much is that most of the actors/actresses don’t conform to the stereotypical beauty, they look like normal people. It shouldn’t be a big deal to see on tv, someone whose body type you relate to. We are all inperfect and perfect in our own ways. This is what makes us individuals. It is our unique quality that makes us desirable, not a stereotype.

  • Lady Tenar

    Okay. Sorry, I guess I misunderstood because I just can’t imagine not seeing Kim Kardashian as curvy. At least as much as Marilyn Monroe. But that’s beside the point. You’re right that you don’t see too many women in lead roles who are in the shape that Marilyn was in in some of her roles. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that women are now pretty much expected to be as ripped as men. It used to be that men were supposed to be muscly and women were supposed to be delicate and feminine. There’s all kinds of problems with the gender roles that those ideals imply but now women are supposed to be delicate and feminine AND muscly. It’s getting ridiculous. I don’t know if her body would be considered not good enough now so much because of her weight or more because she have didn’t rock hard abs. Maybe both, I don’t know.

    Except the thing is that Marilyn is still considered a sex symbol, that’s never really ended. I think at any given time in an a society there are multiple beauty standards it’s just that they have different cultural associations which can be problematic in themselves. The thin, willowy ideal from high fashion is, I think, generally considered “classier” (which is why a lot of A-list celebrities look like that, although certainly not all), whereas the thicker, curvier body type is considered more “sex bomb.” I think that’s one of reasons we seem to be more willing to accept it on women of color (Beyonce, Salma Hayek etc.) because such women are generally viewed as automatically less classy and kind of skanky anyway. This is also the body type you see in a lot of porn and any kind of media meant to turn men on. And I think this tradition goes back a long ways–a least back to the mid-19th century when the ideal put forth by fashion plates was very tiny and fragile–somewhat akin to the “waif look” of today–whereas the ideal in media that was considered a little less respectable but a little more sexy and fun, such as the theater, was the curvier look. It’s society’s Madonna/whore complex coming out.

    So yeah, it’s not a good deal for curvier women in a lot of ways because they get to be the whores in this equation. But it’s not that much fun for thinner women either. Because there is this general sense that skinny women, while beautiful, are still in some ways, less sexy or less “womanly” or “feminine.” Most curvy women want to be able to be perceived as classy and most thinner woman don’t want to have their earthier, sexier side denied. It’s just plain messed up that one’s body type has to symbolize character qualities. And it’s also pretty sucky for women who don’t fit into either ideal (which is a lot of them) who then just feel as if they don’t exist. That’s why there needs to be a wide range of body types portrayed in the media. Get rid of this ancient dichotomy and show the beauty of the full range of female forms.

    Re: Kate Winslet. She’s definitely lost weight but I think she still looks great. Maybe she’s healthier at this weight than she was when she was heavier. Maybe she feels better. Anyway, I think as long as she looks healthy–and she does–I don’t feel she should be obligated to stay any one weight for other people. Women fluctuate anyway.

    I dunno – I think you can tell the difference between a naturally thin person and a person who is keeping themselves too thin.

    I can and you can (most of the time) but a lot of people either can’t or don’t care. Once again, in my skinnier youth, I used to get flack all the time. And that was my natural weight for that time in my life (and it wasn’t even that low–just the low end of the bmi healthy range). To people who are out to scrutinize and criticize, a woman being naturally thin means about as much as a woman being naturally heavier.

    Gah. I’m just in a deeply bad mood about the whole thing at the moment. My friend, who is a tall slim Amazonian type with fantastic legs has developed bulimia because her fuckwit ex kept telling her she was fat because she’s quite strongly built (yes, I know there are underlying causes to bulimia, but he seemed to tip it all over the edge).

    I don’t blame you for being in a bad mood. It’s easy to get in a bad mood over this kind of stuff. And there are few things that make me angrier than hearing about men putting down their partners over their bodies. What a sleazebag! It’s so frustrating. I wish your friend well and hope she gets better.

  • markyd

    This is an interesting discussion. One that I would never have participated in if I didn’t have a wife who was/is dealing with a lot of the issues brought up. I know you’re not supposed to talk about these types of things, but she doesn’t come here.
    She is 5’8″ and is somewhere around a size 12. She is an exercise nut, and does it for over an hour every day. She really is in great shape, just not skinny like one would think would happen when doing what she does. It’s just her body type. She has a big(yes, I said it) beautiful behind, while the rest of her is relatively normal in proportion. The best thing to come of her adopted healthy lifestyle is confidence. She is very strong-willed, and could probably kick my ass if it came down to it.
    Here’s the part that bugs(so she says)her. She gets hit on all the time by black guys. I hate to generalize, but it seems to me that black men are more attracted to this body type than whites. I wonder why this is? She wonders it, too, as she’s never hit on by white guys. Of course, she’s married, and shouldn’t be getting hit on by ANYbody, but such is life.
    I have my theories, but I’d like to hear others opinions first.
    Thoughts?

  • markyd

    Oh, yeah. Kim Kardashian is not skinny with curves. She is quite full-figured as far as I can tell. I heard a lot of (idiot) guys call her fat and disgusting. Amazing what media brain-washing can too. I know very little about this woman, but I do know that she has a great body.

  • Isobel

    Is ‘full-figured’ not just a euphemism for fat, though, markyd?

  • markyd

    Not in my world. I think she’s scrumdillyumscious!
    I know what you mean, though. For a lot of people, “full-figured” is a nice of way of saying “fat”.

  • Paul

    “Paul’s comment dances around the reason for this without ever getting to the heart of the matter.”

    I dance around the issue because it is difficult to ascertain how much of what society does to us is consciously intended or simply due to the process of a capitalist form of evolution. When the processes leading to our present contradiction began, companies were more individually owned. I find it more likely that fast food chains started selling unhealthy food because it fit their profit model (probably without considering our health either way), then people got fatter, and then other companies decided to make money off people wanting to lose weight, than for it all to be planned from the beginning.

    Today we may face the irony of a fast food chain and a chain of gyms being owned by the same super-sized company, but that trend isn’t even as old as I am. At least, I’m old enough to remember when the media first noticed it.

  • You know, this has nothing to do with any of the thoughtful discussions going on here, but I am sick and tired of being told that it’s only “okay” to be a bit fat if I have HUGE boobs. Sick of it! I’m an A-B cup and will never have huge boobs, yet I am chubby. But under the chub, I am thickly, strongly built, so “willowy skinny” just isn’t an option for me, either.

    So I’m like, fuck that! I am currently lifting weights to burn the chub and get muscles! Like, real ones! And if that doesn’t fit anyone’s ideals of sexy, oh well.

  • markyd

    AN, that sounds like my wife. She is naturally “thick” or “strongly built” or “big boned” or whatever it’s called nowadays. A good part of her exercise regimen is weight lifting. She is totally solid, and in great shape, but ignorant people who just saw her walking down the street would probably call her fat.
    I make fun of her for doing the weights, but only in a loving way, if you know what I mean. You wouldn’t believe how strong her legs are. And her behind? Were talking quarter bouncing here. NICE.
    The worlds loss. My gain. BTW, she’s not particularly endowed up top. Good thing I’m more of an ass man, in case didn’t already figure that out.

  • MaryAnn

    No woman really escapes in a society where the overwhelming media message is that it’s literally impossible for a woman to be all right as she is

    I think this really is the heart of the matter (and it even ties into how the U.K. press appears to have been misleading in how it used Featherstone’s quotes). The dominant idea about women in our culture is: “There is always something wrong with a woman.” Physically, that is. Her smarts, her talent, her success, her achievements, her character, even her wealth: these are not factored into the equation. There is always something about her physical appearance that can be questioned or debated or wondered over. Or, most insidiously, improved upon.

    This isn’t to say, of course, that individual people don’t find all sorts of other individual people irresistibly physically attractive and perfectly wonderful just as they are. But that is not what is reflected in our cultural discourse, not when it comes to women. Have you ever come across a gossip site or a magazine article that wondered whether, say, David Tennant might be anorexic? Of course not: it’s accepted without question — without even thinking there could be a question about it — that he’s just naturally thin.

    Whatever Featherstone might have actually said or intended, it’s almost impossible for her comments not to have been coopted into our cultural conversation about what women are “supposed” to look like. Because that idea — that there’s a way women are “supposed” to look — is absolutely foundational to how women are treated by our culture and how women are represented by our culture. Just you watch: The loveliness of Christina Hendricks will soon morph into (if it hasn’t already) “Hourglass figures are back!” and “Curves are hot!” As if hourglass figures ever went away. Womens’ bodies are treated like fashion trends — hips are in this year; shoulders are out — as if we can alter our bodies from season to season.

    Men simply do not face the same thing. And even the most confident women still have to cope with this, because even the most confident and most “beautiful” women (by whatever standard is “in” this year) are still measured and compared and judged by their appearance.

    Isobel said:

    Just to add, I think the reason that very slim girls are getting the male attention is because the fashion idustry is aimed at them – they tend to look better in their clothes because clothes are designed to look good on willowy figures.

    I’ve heard it said that the reason models are so thin is because clothes look better on a hanger, and so models have to be hangers. Which I always find preposterous. A talented designer should be able to design clothes that look good on human bodies.

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