So I saw Jessica Alba’s Campari Calender shots. And wow. They are gorgeous photos and she looks stunning.
The next day I saw a similar shot on a mag, and I was looking at her tiny frame and the impressive cleavage and it just wasn’t adding up. But I was only half paying attention and just figured it was the corset-like top, some ‘padding’ and some artful arrangement. I pondered how thin her arms were, how smooth and flawless, then thought of my own arms then went home to get drunk (no, not really I went home to ponder how much it would cost to get someone to whittle away at my body with a carving knife until an acceptably petite and lithe form emerged…again not really but you get my point).
Anyway this morning I see that Campari have photoshopped the shit out of the photos. Someone’s released the before and after shots. Now this is no ’stars without makeup’ thing, she looks stunning in both shots. It’s just that in the prior shots she looks like a young and impossibly beautiful woman, like a woman with a beautiful face who has the whole celebrity entourage that it takes to achieve a body like that – the chef, the trainer, the wardrobe person,the makeup artist, the lifestyle of never allowing herself the ’sin’ of eating what a man does, the hours of exercise a day.
Then they’ve taken these shots of this young woman in the designer clothes with the best makeup artistry money can buy, with the lighting carefully designed….and they’ve STILL carved away the curves of her hips, slimmed her down, trimmed her arms, erased ‘blemishes’, and given her bazoonkas twice the size (sidenote, I as a female feminist get to ironically deploy the word bazoonkas, men, you do not…deal with that).
What am I getting at here? Well ok…women walk around all day assaulted by images of ‘women’ (dieting models who exercise so much they are permanently grumpy) who THEN are airbrushed such that not even the MODELS have bodies like that.Each image reproaches us for not looking like that, for having lives with demands rather than sacrificing all in the time consuming quest for BeautyTM.
We listen to our lovers/male friends/coworkers, and various aquaintances salivate over Jessica Alba et al and we absorb the message…you’ll never win, you’re no Jessica Alba, your body is a pisspoor substitute for the unattainable dream of The Woman Who Looks Like That. Except for the fact that even she doesn’t. Our images of her are STILL tweaked and toned, slimmed and trimmed, consumed, regurgitated and pasted back together to resemble not Jessica Alba (and certainly not Women) but a fucking caricature of femininity, a body so unattainable that even The Most Beautiful don’t have it.
And that is the ideal we hold out to women and men. This is what women ‘should’ strive to look like, and this is what men ’should’ desire to have.
This is what girls and boys absorb before they’re old enough to communicate it. This is what they grow into.
And this is what makes aging bullshit difficult. Here I lay on my sick day in my very sassy new red cotton pajamas, and I bemoan that my body is so…like a body and not like an airbrushed mannequin. My body has aches and pains. It gets hungry. It gets sick. It gets tired. You can see its veins. It has curves and is squishy. It is full of desires and dreams. It carries me through days at work, nights of study, it is a body of a woman. A whole woman, aged 32. It is a body that carries its history, of childbirth, of trauma, of stresses and anxiety. It is a body that loves and gives.
But it is a body that absorbs that it is seen as irrelevant, fading, invisible, incomparable with those glorified images of ‘women’ because they’ve removed any evidence that those bodies *are* women. You never see a vein, a blemish, a hair, a stretchmark, an actual fucking curve caused by a real waist rather than a computerised gradient.
What is left for women? When they realise that even if they gave up careers and dreams, lives and commitments and put their energies full time into diet, exercise and beauty regimes that they would never achieve the look of Jessica Alba since it’s all still digitally ‘improved’? (And since they know they don’t look like her to start off with). What becomes of their bodies? Their desires? Their ability to *be* or *feel* desired? How do you opt out of this system of demands placed on women?
I whinged to my son that I felt I had the options of spending hours and lots of money on ‘getting ready’ to leave the house, choosing the right clothes, doing the hair just so, putting on makeup and jewellery etc…or saying fuck it. But saying fuck it saves me time and allows me to get on with life, but it means that I feel all the more accutely the invisibility of myself and the constant array of lithe young bodies dressed to the nines. But even dressed up I know the truth of the ways in which our comparitive bodies are seen.
What do you do when you’re getting older and beauty is focussed exclusively on youth and thinness? What do you do when desire is constructed around the female body as object? And yours is not looking like the ‘idealised object’? Where is your place in the world? When you start to realise that your youthful beauty got you more attention and praise than any amalgamation of your wit, love, intelligence, fire, passion, creativity and ferocity? When the world says ‘no thanks’ to women with talents that don’t revolve around ‘hot bodies’ and skimpy clothing?
What is left for us?