The impossible beauty of Jessica Alba

Author: fuckpoliteness, who lives in Sydney and wants the world to make more sense

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.

jessica alba before and after - photoshopped thin and smooth

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?



Categories: arts & entertainment, ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, media, technology

Tags: , , ,

117 replies

  1. I really can’t help here, because I was out of the race even before it began. I was plump as a teenager (so of course, given standard teenage exaggeration of every flaw, I felt there were blue whales smaller than I was), as well as being short, having acne, and basically not feeling as though it would ever be possible to be anywhere near as confident, together or pretty as the popular girls. I spent about ten years alternating between dieting and binging myself off them. By the time I was twenty-three, I’d reached the point of basically saying “fuck it, I can’t win, so why participate?”
    I gave up dieting (and oddly enough, I’m about the same size now as I was when I gave it up) and settled down to living the life I have now. This also entailed giving up all the “women’s” magazines (Cleo, Cosmo, the checkout tabloids etc) and reading about things I liked (organic gardening, science fiction etc) instead. Eventually I discovered the internet, by which time I’d given up on watching television as well (there’s only so many hours in a day, after all). I’ve found the things which make me happy, and they tend to use up a lot of the time I would otherwise have devoted to being “feminine”.
    Oh, somewhere in there I also managed to get my first ever boyfriend and all the other firsts that came with it. We’re still together now (eleven years and going strong). It helps that he doesn’t expect me to be a typical female – he likes what’s inside my head just as much as he likes the external packaging.
    I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that, despite what the marketers would love everyone to believe, there is life after you give up on the beauty myth. I’d say there’d be even more life on the far side here, simply because you have more time for things you like, rather than the things society wants you to do for its benefit.
    Meg Thornton’s last blog post..An open letter to the Minister for Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy.

  2. “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? ”
    I certainly got a lot of attention from men in my late teens/early 20s. And I don’t get that much any more (partly, however, I think this is due to the fact that I no longer flirt, not just that I’m now in my mid-thirties). But I also realise that the attention and praise I get now – largely for my professional work as a writer and editor – is much, much more meaningful than any sexual attention I got when I was younger. Praise for my abilities is about *me* as a talented individual (and as someone who has actively worked on those skills). Sexual attention has nothing to do with me – it’s about my body as an object.
    So regardless of volume (and I actually get a lot of praise for my work, not to mention a lot from my partner as well!) what I have now means so much more that I have no regrets about getting older and losing the attention for being young and hot.
    I’d go so far as to say there’s MORE life once you give up on the beauty myth.

  3. ‘How do you opt out of this system of demands placed on women?’
    I think you give it the finger without further thought and then get on with enjoying your life and your son and your red jarmies, as you are clearly very good at doing already. I dunno, I can’t see what’s so valuable about ‘attention and praise’ from people whose values place youth and ‘hotness’ above more interesting qualities. God knows there are plenty of men out there who aren’t that stupid.
    And are they really ‘demands’? Who is placing them on women? To what end? You don’t really say who it is that you feel answerable to.
    I think the answer to this question is that one needs to ask oneself further questions:
    1) whose opinion one cares about, really;
    2) whether there is any reason to respect the opinion of people who compare you unfavourably with photoshopped images of Jessica Alba;
    3) whether such people really exist in life at all, apart from the persons of interest in the Diane Brimble case and their peers and equals;
    4) who is doing all this airbrushing;
    5) why they’re doing it; and
    6) who benefits.

  4. Great post. I worked briefly at a women’s magazine and one incident that has stuck with me was when they shot a beautiful Australian actress for the cover.
    In addition to being naturally better looking than most of us, she was made up, styled and had the requisite 100 shots taken of her to net the really amazing one.
    Despite this, once the cover shot had been chosen, I recall the editor and art director noting that she was rather strange looking, and would take “hours” to airbrush to the necessary cover standards.
    Bizarre.

  5. Fashion is bizarre. Amen to this post and comments. I despair at how easily we all fall for this stupid dependency on shallow and callow standards (yes, guys do too)

  6. “I’d go so far as to say there’s MORE life once you give up on the beauty myth.”
    I’ll go even further and say there’s SO MUCH MORE life, post-beauty myth.
    The Beauty ideals we’re taught to strive for are not only pure bullshit, they are deliberately unattainable. We’re not supposed to ever actually *attain* them, just spend our whole lives trying.
    It’s the trying that keeps us too busy to notice our own oppression and do something about it.
    One microscopic cog in Patriarchy’s catastrophic plan.

  7. When I was a boyfriendless teenager I whinged to my mum that no boy would ever go out with me because (I thought) I was fat. She then named all the ‘fat’ lady teachers at school, all of whom were Mrs and told me to think about that. That was the best advice anyone has ever given me. I’m still fat (really this time) and funnily enough I’m married too.

  8. Ha! I *have* been home sick, and spoke to Tigtog about putting this post up, logged in, then bailed on the idea. I’m not sure how it made it here, but cheers to Tigtog who I suspect must have helped out given my technical ineptitude and flu.
    Yeah…I guess that I am *opting out* in some senses. I don’t *do* fashion, I buy and wear what I like, bold colours, lots of red and black, chunky market jewellery etc. I pick and choose which things I say ‘yes’ to – I usually paint my shortish fingernails firetruck red (all the better for an up yours at passers by) but forgo heels since they REALLY make me sore! .
    I guess I’m just kinda hovering on the edge of this…there is power of sorts in being approved of as a sexual object…it’s certainly attached to a whole system of bullshit…I guess I just want to honestly acknowledge the frustration of a system that holds up absolutely unattainable beauty standards to women, and treats ‘less attractive’ women as though they are invisible/worth less. It appalls me the effects this has on young girls and on women, and on boys and men (in different ways but all in ways that uphold patriarchy).
    And I want to honestly acknowledge that I am caught in this system personally. I love my lover and he loves me and I never feel not *desired*…but the voices of paranoia whisper that my body is ‘gross’ and will continue to get ‘grosser’ and that beauty/sexiness is ‘out there’, not something connected to me…those voices are not from him/me, but from the whole of society.
    So I guess I am negotiating leaving behind youthfulness and entering into a different phase of my life? I feel somewhat stuck between maybe? I see all these funky older women, and hope I will be like that and feel fabulous rather than just kind of flat. This could all be the flu talking. 🙂

  9. Hope you feel better soon.

  10. “So I guess I am negotiating leaving behind youthfulness and entering into a different phase of my life?”
    I know it’s a tough road to negotiate. You’re where I was at about ten years ago only you seem much more aware of it than I was.
    If it helps any, I too was scared of letting it go. I’d had more than my share of dude approval for most of my life and I genuinely thought that once that was gone then my life would be over.
    If only I’d had some inkling of the sense of freedom that was to come; far from being over, my life finally started!
    I’m saying this because it just might have helped me to hear it from someone, back then.

  11. Personally I’m a little conflicted. I’ve been “blessed” with the genetic tendency for thinness. I can eat whatever I want and do as little physical activity as I want, and I still get the benefits of a society that glorifies women who starve themselves.
    on the other hand I never wear makeup or jewelery and have a tenancy to wear pants that require a belt to stay on my waist. I never do anything with my hair and the only times when I’m NOT wearing sneakers is either when I’m working or its just too damn hot for socks.
    I feel guilty that when so many women have been “cursed” with bodies that actually have body fat and feel inadequate for it, that I benefit from the system that does that to them. Especially since I don’t deliberately work in that system myself.

  12. Hey Tamala…
    It’s not just thinness though is it? You know, we’re supposed to dazzle and adorn ourselves with trinkets…I was on the bus once opposite a very ‘cutesy’ woman, who had the whole box and dice as far as feminine adornment goes and a little stuffed animal dangling from her mobile phone something about the expectation for us to spend so much money on useless crap just to announce our femininity really shat me that day.
    Yeah, I was rail thin for ages. Then one day…pop…boobs, and later hips. And it’s only in the last few years that I’ve put on more weight.
    And you know, I actually love this body…it’s just that clothes aren’t made for curvy women, so I don’t feel dressed for my shape etc. And I don’t have the money to go get clothes made that WOULD look good on me. And the spectacularly large breasts which were lauded as a ‘wonderful thing’ are now becoming a liability. You know, stretch marks, a little ‘veiny’ after breast feeding, a little…well all over the place really. Not pert and perky like women are”supossed” to be. Sometimes I just wanna lop them off. And hurl them at the men who like to leer and holler at them.

  13. Honestly – I must admit that it was late 20s-early 30s that I became more admired… or to be frank, I’ve never particularly _cared_ about being admired and ran around being continually called ‘scruffy’ by my mother – until I actually got married and was then told I was pretty on a regular basis! It still astonishes me on occasion.
    But I guess the answer to fashion in my case is to take on the attributes of role models who I thought were graceful regardless of their particular stage of life – many of whom are already featured on this site in the little changing pictures on the right-hand side? Katherine Hepburn, Dame Helen Mirren, Audrey Hepburn, the ever, ever wonderful Dame Diana Rigg. I was kind of the opinion that they were mostly pre-photoshop in their stages of life and typified an aesthetic of pragmatism and utilitarianism; throw on a fun accessory and you can jazz up anything; be bold if someone thinks your appearance is too ‘manish’ and let it be their problem… although I really don’t have the courage for a catsuit, I do enjoy tailoring and flats, finding items that flatter rather than accentuate (or over-expose!) curves or try to hide them as if I don’t have them. Aim for the classics and put your own spin on them rather than be worried about dodgy trends that really only go well for the younger (thinner, blonder, photoshopped anyway, et al) years anyway.
    I must say, I love pyjamas. And that fellow in the pic that Laura linked to needs to do some poetry or write a play or produce a TV show in homage as well as wear fashion in response to his particular passion… 😉

  14. “I must say, I love pyjamas. ”
    Oh me TOO. I don’t wear anything else around the house (and often entertain visitors in my PJs even) and since we got a dog, I frequently take him out last thing at night to wee on some trees dressed in my PJs. Bugger wearing anything else I say, if it wasn’t for the fact that I occasionally have to be in the office, I’d never wear anything else!

  15. Thanks for the honest post fuckpoliteness. I also feel the weight of the ‘system’ personally, but then feel guilty and admonish myself for not being “above it” all; for not believeing the very same things I would say to any of my women friends bemoaning their looks. It’s like a double kick up the arse!

  16. I’ve just finished three dresses for next winter and morbidly obese as I am, I look great in them and I feel great.
    My sister buys all the tabloids and passes them on to me. I love looking at the ads and picking out the airbrushing. One thing about getting these magazines in a bunch is how a celebrity will look good in one and ghastly in another. It’s all in the angle and the lighting.
    So does anyone else hate the ‘one hand on the hip’ stance?

  17. Yes, well, I have “teh natural thin” too, and it has taken me years and years and years to be confident about my own appearance and to feel good about me. What has worked best for me is learning to ignore fashion, and to wear clothes that I feel good in, and to hell with whether they are fashionable or not.

  18. I think the answer to the question is that you don’t worry about it. You’ve already identified that it’s an impossible standard to live up to. No-one expects you to look like Jessica Alba. And if there are people so silly, why would care about their opinion? So just do what makes you happy. Surely there’s been so much publicity from these very women pointing out this stuff? As Cindy Crawford once said, ‘No-one looks like Cindy Crawford. Not even me.’

  19. Rebekka, for a moment I thought it was your dog wearing your pjs. I love the image.

  20. Chops @ 16, that’s my very point. I *do* do what I want/wear what I want/dress how I want…I *do* say bugger it, I *do* know I’m gorgeous, I *do* know all those things…It’s just that the only coverage we see of “I’m aging and it’s freaking the hell out of me” is in decidedly non-feminist press. So the focus is all wrong. It’s on ‘tricks’ to make you look younger and the latest surgical techniques.
    While I understand the ‘don’t worry’ approach…it’s not *worry* that’s happening. It’s grief – pure and simple. I’m grieving my ‘lost place’ even while I’m hating the sytem, I’m grieving the fact that the system continues even when I opt out…that while people may not expect me to look like Jessica Alba, they *do* pay more attention to an attractive woman, and it *does* appear that over the age of say 28 you’re officially invisible, and there *is* pressure on me to look younger, prettier, thinner, unblemished, and I *do* have to listen to men in my presence, even at work discuss Hawt Chicks as though I am invisible/not worth concerning themselves with over how I might feel being relegated to Irrelevant Sack Lady and I *do* wonder whether its possible to still be desired as my body gets further and further away from those ideals.
    fuckpoliteness’s last blog post..Scots Principal Blames South Park, dad blames Forrest Gump

  21. fuckpoliteness, can I say you’re getting nito a lather about nothing much. I understand how you feel and sympathize with you about those feelings. I know that grief. But, I think none of it matters. And of course, you’ll still be desired. Your body will change. Your choices are that either your body continues to change or you die. Stay fit and healthy. Enjoy the changes and rest assured that no-one else will either notice or care about it as much as you do.

  22. As chops says: “I also feel the weight of the ’system’ personally, but then feel guilty and admonish myself for not being “above it” all”. Me too. I feel like I’ve spent my life unpacking/ fighting these ideas that, like so many women, I’ve internalised.
    That threat of invisibility that’s wielded over women is supposed to make us dread ageing – and I did dread being ‘invisible’. However, a lessening of certain kinds of ‘attention’ reminded me of how much hostility often goes with it and how energy-depleting it can be (invisibility = less street harrasment? Yay!).
    Less of *that* kind of attention made me feel more free to focus on other aspects of my life. I found what helped me in getting past ‘the beauty myth’ was learning to nurture myself instead of punishing myself for never ‘measuring up’, to learn how to enjoy my physical self without the attendant anxiety.
    Funny, I’m 45 now and I don’t feel invisible – I feel good. I try to give the punitive aspects of fashion the flick and choose clothes that I enjoy wearing, feel good in and can be creative and fun with.
    FP, I know this anxiety and it is very real. I also know how glib reassurances can sound, but I think Fine has it right: we grow older or we die. I do believe we continue to be desired and to desire.
    BTW FP, I enjoy your blog very much. Thanks for this post 🙂

  23. I think the paradigm needs to shift completely.
    Move away from ideals of ‘magazine beauty’ to ideals of ‘real life healthy’ (probably somewhat disputed too). I guess one underlying assumption of beauty, is that it is a sign of health. That’s why it’s attractive. In that light, make up and photoshopping are masks of deception. That’s enough for me to not feel outraged about the whole saga.
    Healthy doesn’t look like photoshopped Jessica Alba. And it’s not even real life Jessica Alba, with her make up artists and perfect photography and lighting.
    If the average woman is becoming ‘invisible’ to the people around them – those same people admiring ‘hawt chicks’ in magazines – you can bet your bottom dollar they are leading lonely lives. Probably because they overestimate the number of attractive, available and existing women out there, when the real women are right in the room.
    It’s not your loss at all, if you redefine beauty as someone who enjoys life with the body they have, enjoys a walk/jog in the suburbs, gets out, gets about, does things they find personally fulfilling. That is healthy, and because it is healthy, I’d argue it is also beauty.
    Synthetic veneers are the emphasis of magazines these days. Whatever happened to natural? And natural will entail wrinkles falling onto pillows, but that’s beauty and it’s real and it’s longer lasting than 8 hour lipstick.

  24. I think it’s really uncool to whine at a feminist blogger that she’s getting overly lathered about something. Really.
    Like _really_.
    FP was very obviously (to me) not posting to ask for platitudinous advice. Why are some commenters condescending to her in this way?
    In a blog that is also run with PWD as well as by feminists, instructions to “stay fit and healthy” as a response to beauty politics are also, well, quite bizarre.

    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.

    I like this paragraph especially.

  25. You seem to think I’m doing feminism wrong, apparently. Seeing as there’s not much we can do about our bodies aging, or the fact we don’t look like Jessica Alba after computer manipulation, or in the short term about the patriarchy in which we live, I would suggest that advice to try and enjoy life and ignore the bullshit might be quite useful and not at all platitudinous, condescending or whining. I have a feeling Katharine Hepburn might have agreed with me as well.

  26. ”It’s just that the only coverage we see of “I’m aging and it’s freaking the hell out of me” is in decidedly non-feminist press. So the focus is all wrong. It’s on ‘tricks’ to make you look younger and the latest surgical techniques.”
    I think this is a really good point – and perhaps counterintuitively, my suggestion would be trying to get something like this into the mainstream press. Part of the problem here is that most women’s magazines are targeted at very young women (not much for the over 35s), but I could see something like fuckpoliteness’s post working in the essay section of the SMH or Age or even Vogue.
    The latter might sound particularly counterintuitive, given that the magazine makes its living selling impossible ideals of beauty, but it’s also targetted at a broader age range than most others, and makes a habit of running intelligent, insightful essays. They actually ran an excellent (thoughtful and positive) essay on turning 40 by Antonella Gambotto-Burke earlier this year.
    My point is, if this kind of discourse is missing in the mainstream media, you need to find ways to get out it there. I pretty much do just that for a living, so if you want help with it, drop me a line.

  27. Oh, good, the “why do you get so upset, other people’s opinions don’t matter” comments. Reminds me of a post I did about being harassed by a carful of guys while walking to dance class. Instantaneous, “Why do you care? You don’t even know them. How can their opinion leave you frightened and insecure and upset?”
    Because it does matter. And it does have impact. And women are raised from day-fucking-one with the message that they are there to please people, that they should attract positive and sexual attention, and that therefore their looks are all-important.
    Yes, I know beauty standards are bullshit. Yes, I know that magazine constructions of beauty are impossible even for the Jessica Albas of the world. Yes, I know that my body issues and periodic self-hate are subjective, influenced by mood and circumstance, and I know I have a partner and a family who think I’m gorgeous and perfect and don’t need to change. I still feel the pressure to be something I can never be. I still feel shit about my looks. And then I feel shit about kowtowing to patriarchal beauty standards which I fully understand are instituted to hold me back.
    It’s not as fucking easy as saying “I don’t care” when we live in a society constantly reinforcing this crap, and treating women like they’re idiots for being feminists who are still concerned about body image and portrayals of “beauty” is not fucking helpful.

  28. Thanks so much for this post, fuckpoliteness. Really moving and beautifully written.
    The post & thread have stirred a lot of thoughts – like – two pages of them so far – about the personal and the political, ageism, and how women respond to each other about these things. Given how long it’s getting, I think I’d better work it up into a post on my own blog rather than dumping it here. Will drop a link if I can manage to pull it together.
    For now, I just want to say: what you do so wonderfully here is name the consequences of institutional oppression on individual women. And that’s powerful political action.
    Thank you.
    Theriomorph’s last blog post..Cheese pie? We want cheese pie.

  29. “FP was very obviously (to me) not posting to ask for platitudinous advice. Why are some commenters condescending to her in this way?”
    Maybe the “platitudinous advice” is our way of validating our own feelings on the subject and articulating our internalised theory.
    Women reaching out to support other women and validate their experience is often awkward and clumsy; we’re not really socialised to do it constructively.
    Also, we have differing levels of skill as far as putting thoughts into words or communicating them clearly (Aspergers’ here!) not to mention that English is not the first language of everyone, but overall what I saw was *empathy* here on this thread.
    The post resonates so much with me, I wanted to say “I hear you” and I’m sincerely sorry if it came across to anyone as condescending.

  30. PP, I don’t think your earlier comment was one of those being referred to – it seems fine to me.

  31. Sorry for doubling up there. The first post didn’t appear right away.

    [it went to the spam bucket, PP – don’t know why ~tigtog]

  32. Qot, no-one said it was necessarily easy. But some women here said that it was possible not to care about that crap and that it was what they did. Some women here seem to be saying they feel relief and happiness that no longer get worried about unrealistic beauty expectations. Personally, I couldn’t give a toss about someone’s opinions of my looks. Not everyone is going to feel that way. But you seem to be saying my experience musn’t be real or valid, because you don’t share it.

  33. Um, hey Fine…I don’t think it’s that you have a different experience, or shared that, I think it’s probably the point at which you told me I was getting into ‘a lather’ about nothing much, after you’d told me not to worry and I’d clarified that I wasn’t worrying so much as grieving. I think that slips from being ‘me and my experience’ into dismissing mine a little. And you know, no hard feelings here…but it’s just that it was a post about exposing myself as vulnerable in admitting that I care, admitting that it feels like a loss/a grief even when I know that I don’t want to want that approval. So when I was trying to articulate that it *is* difficult, for me, right now…I guess the getting into a lather about not much rubs the wrong way. But we’re all good, yes?
    fuckpoliteness’s last blog post..Scots Principal Blames South Park, dad blames Forrest Gump

  34. But you seem to be saying my experience musn’t be real or valid, because you don’t share it.

    Fine, this statement doesn’t rise to your normal level of perspicacity. You didn’t just say what your experience was, you used judgemental language advocating that FP shouldn’t care about it – you were the one telling her that her experience wasn’t valid. That’s what people are objecting to.

  35. Oops, my comment crossed with FP’s, but we seem to be on the same page.

  36. Fp, my apologies to you. I certainly didn’t mean to say anything hurtful and I wasn’t judging. The words ‘getting into a lather about nothing much’ was obviously an unfortunate choice. I’m not saying you shouldn’t feel the way you do. That would be pointless. What I meant is that is that the ageing, changing process is inevitable. We can grieve and be upset, but ultimately we have to accept it. There’s also an upside to accepting it as well .
    What I snapped about is the suggestion, not from you, that to say such things is somehow ‘unfeminist’ .

  37. I haven’t seen anything I’d call platitudinous advice, and I hope my own response didn’t come across that way. The third-last and last para of FP’s post are framed as a series of questions; I was having a go at answering them and I thought Fine was doing the same thing. Perhaps they were meant to be merely rhetorical.
    I’ve been invisible to ‘men in general’ for many years and frankly it’s a big improvement on having their ‘attention and praise’, which fortunately I never valued very highly in the first place, glued as it was to my over-generous breasts. I spent most of my twenties saying ‘Don’t talk to them, they can’t hear you; my ears are up here.’
    I get the sense that some people think this kind of cultural pressure is new since the invention of photoshoppery. In which case, image-Google ‘Twiggy’, the image that dominated the magazines all through my own formative early teens, and weep.

  38. What I snapped about is the suggestion, not from you, that to say such things is somehow ‘unfeminist’ .

    It was called “uncool” not “unfeminist” and again, what was being criticised was the judgemental phrasing that you have now apologised for, not you saying “such things” about your own experience.

  39. The issue I take, Fine, is when you present “don’t worry about it! It’s inevitable! Just accept yourself!” as though it were an easy and simple solution – and the implication that any woman who hasn’t got there yet “just needs to get over it” and is the one at fault for her body issues, because she hasn’t made the right changes.
    It’s offensive when people tell people with depression to “just snap out of it”.
    It’s offensive when commenters on my blog tell me how I should react to street harassment.
    It’s offensive when you tell me and women in general what they should do. And your experience has nothing to do with it.

  40. Qot, I wasn’t suggesting it was easy. I said that specifically. I said I’d experienced that grief and that I sympathized with it. I wasn’t telling FP what she should do. I was responding to questions she asked in her post, as to what I think is a useful strategy for dealing with these issues.
    This set of questions in fact:
    “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?”
    Nowhere did I say that FP should just get over it. To frame my response in that way, is really a bit over the top.
    Tigtog, I was called a little more than ‘uncool’. Try uncool, bizarre, whining, condescending and platitudinous. There’s certainly an inference I was doing feminism wrong in being these things. Do you think I might be just a tad annoyed at this?

  41. In regards to this particular thread, my feeling is and was that what Princess Poophead said seems like the motive at hand – I didn’t get the sense anyone was aiming at anything other than personal support. But I had the same reaction Lauredhel and QoT did, because of something bigger than what was going on in this thread. Can’t speak for anyone else, but it triggered a larger issue for me, about how women talk to each other about body and age, and the politics of that – which goes beyond motive or intent.
    I put that over at my place to avoid thread-jacking of an epic variety, and invite anyone who wants to to talk about how women respond to women writing about feminist issues to come on over. I’d be psyched to have that conversation & hear other people’s experiences.
    For here, I definitely read that final paragraph as a series of rhetorical questions illustrating the impacts of the crazy standards and their consequences –
    So damn painful.
    Theriomorph’s last blog post..How women talk to each other about body and age: can we talk about this?

  42. Theriomorph, your post is beautiful. I have a great respect for your clarity, which I lack.

  43. Thanks, you. This has been on my mind for a while.
    Theriomorph’s last blog post..How women talk to each other about body and age: can we talk about this?

  44. @ Fine:

    Tigtog, I was called a little more than ‘uncool’. Try uncool, bizarre, whining, condescending and platitudinous. There’s certainly an inference I was doing feminism wrong in being these things. Do you think I might be just a tad annoyed at this?

    I took it as a specific critique of a particular comment, not a critique of your feminism. I’ve certainly made a crappy comment or two in my time, and rightly been called out on it. I’ve never taken a critique of one blog comment of mine to be a critique on my entire ideological purism, and to me it seems a long bow that you are doing so.
    You are of course free to continue to see it the way you do, but expecting everyone else to see it exactly the same way is unlikely to garner results.

  45. Theriomorph, this is the paragraph of yours that especially leapt out at me:

    The hazard of this [personal narrative] approach is that people utterly miss the institutional level of the narrative and respond only to the personal as if a) the writer doesn’t realize the consequences she’s writing about are bad and wacky and destructive, b) the writer is just keeping a public journal rather than calling out a larger issue than her own particular life, and c) any one individual woman’s personal attitude or self-esteem is going to have a whit of effect on institutionalized oppression (it’s not).

    Yes, this is exactly where I think this thread went astray.

  46. “Women reaching out to support other women and validate their experience is often awkward and clumsy.”
    Yes. I also apologise FP, if any of my comments came across as platitudinous.
    The double-standard about ageing is oppressive and is used as a stick to beat women with, to keep us in line and it is fucked up. Everyone has to accept growing older, but the gender-specific fears that go with it are real and not something we can just decide to ‘get over’. As others have said, although I care less about this stuff than I once did, I wish I cared a LOT LOT less. And one of the most difficult aspects is the shame that caring induces in me: that because intellectually I know it’s crap, I should be able to ‘rise above’ it. This is perhaps a cost of personalising broader issues.
    Think I was responding to the sense of grief and sadness in FP’s post (and looking at questions that were likely rhetorical) by sounding a bit too upbeat about my personal coping mechanisms and negotiations through what is a much bigger issue. At times hearing about the experiences of other women has helped to remind me that my concerns are real, that it’s not ‘just me’. My comments were offered in this spirit and again I’m sorry.
    Agree PC, this kind of cultural pressure isn’t new but it’s my impression that it’s intensified, perhaps as the technologies to create ever more perfect images have become available.

  47. Depressing comment thread.

  48. I thought it would be interesting to go back to Pavlov’s Cat comments early on this thread which bear on this pressure women feel.
    “And are they really ‘demands’? Who is placing them on women? To what end? You don’t really say who it is that you feel answerable to.”
    I think they’re a really useful set of questions to ask, if we want to examine how this issue works its way through culture.

  49. “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.”
    This I guess is the ‘institutional level’ referred to by Theriomorph. Well, I don’t read it as remotely ‘institutional’, and I can’t say it’s because I’ve missed something there or my reading is defective.
    Before reading this post & image googling a bit afterwards, I had heard the name before, but had no idea who Jessica Alba is.
    I’ve certainly never heard anyone ‘salivating’ about her, or any comparable ‘et al’ person in this way, and if I did I’d certainly take home a different message than that I myself was inadequate in some way. Maybe Fuck Politeness has heard conversations like that and made that interpretation, but it’s plain wrong to assert it’s obviously an institutional thing she describes there. I don’t have any problem with her describing her personal grief at such feelings but really, it’s a personal narrative, not a universal one, and those of us who don’t accept it as universal shouldn’t be chastised for saying so.

  50. @ Fine
    Those are good questions indeed. I can’t answer for FP, but I note that the problem with an institutional oppression is that pinpointing the source is always difficult, because it’s a river flowing through so many aspects of social interaction and cultural touchpoints.
    I certainly remember a fellow physio student, male, who when asked what had influenced a certain patient’s knee problem went directly to “weight” as his top answer, for a woman who was not carrying a huge amount of fat but was plumper than the psycho beauty standard. It certainly gave me the impression that he was unlikely to do a full and proper examination of her knee pain when what was upmost in his mind was just to tell her to lose weight to fix it.
    That strikes me as one of ways that the culture “demands” conformity to the psycho beauty standard: that our own health will be judged and not treated seriously if we don’t.

  51. Laura, is “institutional” the same as “universal”? I’ve never taken them as synonyms.

  52. Laura: While I completely accept that you may not have heard of her or experienced the buzz in person, Jessica Alba isn’t an obscure name. She’s been a fairly busy actor for nearly a decade and a half, including movies like Sin City and the Fantastic Four (though I know her best as the star of Dark Angel). She’s been nominated for a bunch of awards including a Golden Globe, and she is fairly commonly held up in the Anglosphere as a one of the “world’s sexiest women”. She (or rather, the discourse around her) has also been discussed at Hoyden before, here, in which she made world news for supposedly having the “Perfect wiggle” according to ScientificResearch(tm).

  53. Um…I’m not sure if you meant to do this Laura, but that comment appeared to utterly devalue the personal narrative as a tool for exploring political themes, giving voice and legitimacy to the experiences of society’s disenfranchised.
    I did not claim to speak for everyone everywhere, but the post tried to raise the implications for individual subjects of a society structured around keeping women so focussed on the pursuit of youth and acceptable femininity that they spend time and money they do not have on chasing something always put out of their reach.
    Your comment appears to suggest that only I have hear these sorts of comments everywhere I go, or that my reactionto them (absorbing that we are ranked and compared constantly to whomever is the Hawt Chick of the month) is due to my defective interpretations or lack of intestinal fortitude…do you really believe that there is not a system in place which constantly judges and assesses women on how they look according to ludicrous and unattainable standards? If yes…wow. If no, then why do you insist that the post covers nothing institutional, is purely personal, and is somehow then devoid of any political significance?

  54. Have a happy Christmas, all.

  55. There is also the issue, which nobody has mentioned yet (except me very indirectly) , of money.
    As we all know to our cost, we are living in a society that values wealth and other material commodities above everything else (and one of the effects of that is to construct women’s bodies as commodities; for a man to have an anorexic elf with regular features and styled hair on his arm is to announce to other men how rich he is). The aim of this kind of cultural content in magazines is to create and then exploit women’s insecurities, and to do it to make money.
    Magazines, at least the kind that FP is talking about, exist to make money. One of the major income sources is advertising revenue. These magazines advertise mainly cosmetics and other ‘beauty’ products, fashion (Australian size 10 or under only, thanks), weight loss schemes and so on. Obviously the content of the magazines, including airbrushed shots of Jessica Alba, is designed to keep woman feeling insecure so they will spend money on the things being advertised and the sponsors will keep on paying for the space. It’s a variation on the themes of both the hermeneutic circle and the vicious cycle, and everyone wins except the women readers, who are being conned.
    Which is why I maintain that some personal responsibility for resistance must be taken, and I’m not saying that FP doesn’t, only reacting to the angry claims being made that in the face of sociocultural stuff like this we can’t help how we feel. We can. And we should.
    The idea that taking this position of active resistance somehow makes me a bad reader strikes me as precisely the sort of ‘my way or the highway’ comment that makes these conversations so difficult.
    Tigtog’s story about the physio student and the knee is a product of the same internalised norms that produce and/or aspire to the ‘impossible beauty’, but the knee story seems to me in its implications far more insidious, dangerous and difficult to deal with at an ‘institutional’ or sociocultural level than any shopped photo of an undernourished celebrity.

  56. @ Pavlov’s Cat:

    only reacting to the angry claims being made that in the face of sociocultural stuff like this we can’t help how we feel. We can. And we should.

    That’s certainly not a claim that I meant to make.
    I maintain that there’s a broad swathe of productive territory between the equally unhelpful “we can’t help how we feel” and “just get over it already”. I felt that some comments (not yours, IMO) were right on the line of “just get over it” and that’s what I reacted to. Asking that folks avoid “just get over it” shouldn’t imply that they have to retreat to an extreme “we can’t help how we feel” stance.

  57. My intention has never been to say that we are powerless to resist…but we are subjects constituted by language, formed within society, there is no ‘outside’ of the patriarchy where we can go to relax and regroup. We have absorbed our lessons of values/beauty/meaning so well, so deeply that they are visceral, as if carved into our very cells, they go beyond an emotion, or a reaction.
    We can fight, we can know, but naming and facing and living the reality of the grief that the system and society make virtually inevitable has value…grieving properly instead of pretending it away, naming it, exposing it, giving a sense of community and “OMG me too!” to something shunned and silenced as ‘just a silly over-reaction’, made individual in order to efface the institutionalised effects of patriarchy.
    I would just ask why the knee story seems so much more dangerous than discussions of the types of bodies women and girls everywhere are striving to emulate at often deadly costs.
    I do not claim that my post is earth shattering stuff, I just feel that as a woman, refusing to be silenced into accepting that I must bear the consequences of patriarchy’s use and discarding of my body,;the ways it has conditioned and marked m; alone and silently because it’s all about me and my lack of ability to cope, has value…it’s about refusing the logic of ‘harden the f*ck up’, and saying ‘Oh no, the problem here is not *me* and my lack of ‘hardness’, it’s the ways we do things, it’s society, it’s bigger than me, it’s institutionalised, political and powerful.

  58. I agree entirely by the way that it’s ultimately a consumerist imperative that is driving extreme views of thinness and ultra-grooming as the only face of acceptable femininity – the vast majority of women simply cannot look like “that” without recourse to spending an appalling portion of their income on the tools to do so, therefore the more abnormal the beauty standard is the better it is for the diet/fashion/fitness/hair-products industry.
    This is where the other insidious trope of “advertising doesn’t really work if you’re strong minded” comes in. Of course advertising works in creating a cultural status quo of acceptability – certain images/styles are reinforced in every ad we see, this all soaks in. Avoiding advertising in magazines doesn’t help one to avoid it on the side of buses, in TV ads and in the movies and television shows we watch (even when we tune out the advertising, advertising cliches permeate all other visual media).
    Without throwing it all up and living as a hermit, it’s impossible to entirely avoid the consumerist beauty standard reinforcement. Certainly we can take steps to expose ourselves to it as little as possible, and I agree that we should do so, but I don’t think it’s possible to entirely escape the cultural messages that if you’re over 30 and carrying some fat that you are rather repulsive.

  59. The notion of resistance against the beauty ideal also has different ramifications depending on class and where one works. Some of us have greater scope for resistance than others. If you work in retail or customer service, the common requirement for being “well groomed” is a largely a euphemism for thin and attractive. Resistance is easier when the result is not the immediate evaporation of work opportunities.

  60. Su, that is an excellent point, and no workplace is free of it. I used to teach in a university English Dept where much was made, particularly by the male staff, of feminist cred in our course offerings … but where all four of the professors were men, and where any woman over 60 kilos (the Leo Silvestri cutoff point for conversation, if you remember) was regarded by some male members of staff as surplus to requirements, be she teacher or student. I know this because I was both over and under that magic marker at different points in my career there and personally experienced the difference in attitude from more than one male member of staff. One of these in particular, a man very judgmental about other people’s PCness, was once heard to say loudly when there was a lectureship going and his favoured candidate did not get it, ‘We really need more thin women on the staff.’ The same man, some years later when a slender woman did get one of the going jobs, said ‘Oh thank God, they’ve finally hired a thin woman.’
    I am not making this up.
    It’s not why I left, of course, but one of the benefits of working freelance is not having to put up with this shit on a daily basis.

  61. Well, I feel quite differently, and thinking not only about the beauty industry but also about analogous optings-out from the status quo (like vegetarianism – not a loose analogy but also tied quite profoundly to culture, health, flesh, pleasure, fitting in, and self-image) I’m certain that avoiding the message is entirely doable, but far more importantly, doing the hard philosophical work towards conquering it internally is not only necessary for one’s own happiness but it’s also the essential foundation for bringing about political change.
    The communication problems in this exchange are the result of a persistent & possibly wilful failure to distinguish between a) what is faced and known by everyone and b) what is presented as just one person’s (valid) experience of and reaction to that. Why is it so incendiary to point out that not everybody will react the same way to a common circumstance, and even to venture the opinion that some reactions and responses are more useful than others? Because the generalised lack of clarity about the difference between the general and the particular has led to neutral _differences of opinion_ being interpreted as _personal criticisms_.

  62. FP, I don’t have too much to add to this discussion, but thank you for posting this. I struggle with similar issues myself, and it’s great to know that I’m not alone. 🙂

  63. I can well believe it, Dr Cat. That is a great illustration of the double bind we are in and how the beauty ideal affects us as every level; financial, career advancement, health (to the extreme of putting us in mortal danger as both you and FP have pointed out with the Dianne Brimble and cosmetic surgery examples) etc.

    I bet at some point that thin academic was pooh-poohed by the same ass and dismissed as a ditz as well. Whether we are of the age to make a stab at conforming to the ideal or have reached the age of invisibility, the main purpose seems to be to keep us on the back foot and impede us in every possible way from advancement.

  64. I’m certain that avoiding the message is entirely doable, but far more importantly, doing the hard philosophical work towards conquering it internally is not only necessary for one’s own happiness but it’s also the essential foundation for bringing about political change.

    I agree entirely about the necessity for doing the hard work to conquer it internally, but what I see is a post that’s looking squarely at that hard work, and what I took away from several comments was a dismissive tone towards the fact that FP confessed to not having fully finished the had internal work yet. It’s that dismissive tone that made me bristle.
    I’m also not as convinced about being able to avoid the message while living and working in an urban/suburban environment. I consciously reject the message, but I can’t avoid it.

  65. Well, I could describe to you my life but it’s really not that big an issue, especially since it’s what we do with & about the message that matters.
    What concerns me is that issue of whether this post (and others like it, if you’ll let me broaden this a bit, because this sort of situation comes up often enough on blogs) is a personal narrative or a sort of personal narrative presented as a parable with broader implied application.
    If it’s the former, I would certainly agree with your sense of the response due to it tigtog. If it’s the latter, then there must be room for commentary and dissent. I don’t think either sort of writing is specially better or more interesting than the other, but I do think that it’s better if it’s clear what the mode is so that (to repeat myself) differences of opinion aren’t able to be interpreted as personal criticism.

  66. @ Laura:
    Laura, I find that ignoring/resisting/rejecting the various mainstream consumerist beauty stuff takes significant emotional energy. It’s not just something that I can just snap my fingers at and never think about for the rest of the day.
    I find comments that treat the energy I expend on ignoring/resisting/rejecting the pervasive consumerist beauty standard message as if it’s really not hard work and shouldn’t be acknowledged very disturbing.

  67. I’m not taking anything on here as personal criticism. I think what is being discussed is the problem of women struggling to articulate what is a personal experience of a political issue (feeling lost in the process of ageing in a patriarchal culture).
    My reaction to the comment at 50 was about this, particularly the section about ‘plain wrong’ (since ‘plain wrong’ does not allow for different opinions at all):

    I’ve certainly never heard anyone ’salivating’ about her, or any comparable ‘et al’ person in this way, and if I did I’d certainly take home a different message than that I myself was inadequate in some way. Maybe Fuck Politeness has heard conversations like that and made that interpretation, but it’s plain wrong to assert it’s obviously an institutional thing she describes there. I don’t have any problem with her describing her personal grief at such feelings but really, it’s a personal narrative, not a universal one, and those of us who don’t accept it as universal shouldn’t be chastised for saying so.

    Theriomorph didn’t necessarily chastise anyone (it certainly was not personal criticism) except to say that some reactions are not particularly useful.
    Your reaction was to label that ‘plain wrong’ and seemingly to dismiss anything institutional about the experience of a woman hearing herself compared to other younger, thinner, prettier women. It takes a social problem and reduces it to ‘just me needing to pull myself up by the bootstraps’ when I’m not collapsing in a heap…I’m just articulating my experience.
    This effacing of the personal and its ability to draw out the political reproduces patriarchal logic which priviledges certain kinds of communication at the expense of others…the point was to get people discussing the political experienced as personal. I don’t find your comments personally offensive, I find them politically problematic.

  68. All of them? How very unfortunate.

  69. Re the physio student and the knee situation, several of my larger female friends have gone to doctors for various medical problems and just been sent away with a flick of the hand and ‘come back and see me when you’ve lost some weight’, instead of trying to actually find out what the real answer to the problem. (It may have actually have been weight, but the doctor never seemed to be willing to rule anything out so they never really knew.)
    That’s why I love my doctor, if there’s something she think is wrong, she will look at all the possiblities. There was one time I had to go to another doctor, because she was on hols, for the morning-after pill and this doctor tried to sell me stomach banding surgery. It was a very wtf?!? moment and I made sure I never went back to him again.

  70. Thanks for this post, fuckpoliteness. It is great to see that discussions about the personal are viewed as useful and necessary tools for political and social change (thanks also to Theriomoroph for her wonderful contribution to the issue!). It is politically problematic to separate out the individual from the structural and discursive (I use this term to refer to the way that norms are reproduced at the social and institutional level in ways that are usually hegemonic, and are therefore not able to be óvercome” individually even as people must negotiate them). It is clear that you are discussing a phenomeon that is not üniversal””, rather it is constituted socially and historically. It really brings light the fact that gendered embodiment is not something that we can will away. The linking of the personal to the political has been an important and somewhat revolutionary tool for change. It is the work of what my favourite activist-academic bell hooks calls ‘white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy’ to separate out the private and the public, the personal and the political, and it merely reiterates its power, as well as allowing the system to privilege a mythical position of neutrality (usually embodied as white and male).
    Anyway, thanks again! great discussions!

  71. Laura @ 69, I believe I pointed out the particular aspects I had a problem with…you knew what I meant and deliberately misconstrued my point in order to play dumb about what I was saying to refuse to engage, which is extremely unbecoming, and spectacularly unfair. It’s around the equivalent of “I know you are, I said you are, but what am I?”.
    [edited to reflect the correct author – please let me know if there’s anything else needs fixing. ~L]

  72. Jebus. Right…so dredgirl is not me, she’s my good friend and is over for dinner…that last comment should read as being from fuckpoliteness. Sigh. You can go check out the ISPs of the two blogs to ensure we’re not sockpuppeting or whatever it’s called.

  73. You are awesome but not even you would be in the midst of twoPh.D’s.
    If anyone misconstrued rhetorical questions as heartfelt pleas for advice I trust that has been cleared up by now and we can get on with discussing the heart of the matter. Dissent is not the same as personal advice after all.
    I am resisting aspects of the conventional beauty ideal for all I’m worth: I make my own clothes, cut my own hair, and wear no makeup but I still feel a pang when the consequences of those acts are apparent – when I am patronized and dismissed as just another ageing hippy, when I am subtly and unsubtly told that perhaps I should “look after myself better” and when I perceive the gaze of someone who I think is utterly appealing passing over me as if there was only a vacuum where “I” exist. I doubt that there are very many people who can say that they have never experienced those sensations, even in the midst of overall self-acceptance, and even at quite mature ages.
    The truth is I am in a privileged position where I can afford my resistance – I do not have to meet the expectations of bosses just to survive and ensure my children’s survival at this point in my life. Not only that but since invisibility is expected of me at 41, my resistance is somewhat ineffectual as it is for all women at all ages in different ways (even Jessica Alba cannot live up toJessica Alba as FP pointed out). Making myself garish and impossible to miss might in actual fact be a more radical act. That I think is one of the sources of fat-hate – it is an infringement against invisibility to be so unequivocally present. Other forms of resistance can be easily coopted by commercial forces – deviant dress can be assimilated by fashion as can deviant hair styles. Even the very close cropped heads of older women that I see quite frequently have begun to seem quite staid. That is why Theriomorph’s point about thinness is so startling. Why thinness and why now? Thinness is the closest point to invisibility and it is also inherently vulnerable. I don’t know- why else?

  74. Su, maybe it has been cleared up by now, it would be nice to think so, and I am as eager as you to get on with discussing the heart of the matter, but there’s no way I can put forward a different opinion (or even a theory or an idea) in this environment without getting into trouble. Tigtog at 67 says to me that certain sorts of comments are disturbing to her. The problem is that the comments I made were about my own experience (different from hers, clearly) and have no implied extension to hers.
    I make my own clothes too and over time it’s become not merely a defence or survival strategy, but a positive source of great pleasure and pride to me.
    Now I suppose I will be taken down a peg for saying I am better than women who don’t learn to sew.

  75. No, though possibly for snideness after refusing to actually engage with the actual objections raised.
    You dismissed other’s opinions as ‘just wrong’, then argued there is no personal criticism only difference of opinion (when you are differing) and then took the objection to views put forward as truth as personal criticism targeting you.

  76. Excuse me, I said that if you were claiming the experience of hearing men drool about Jessica Alba is ubiquitous (you wrote in your post that ‘we’ hear this, so it’s not an unreasonable reading) then that is a demonstrably wrong claim. Unless, of course, my experience of never hearing this is not relevant.
    Put your money where your mouth is, and show exactly how and where I said ‘there is no personal criticism only difference of opinion’. That’s an almost libellous misconstruction of WHAT I ACTUALLY WROTE.

  77. That I think is one of the sources of fat-hate – it is an infringement against invisibility to be so unequivocally present.
    Exactly-said, su. That’s it, precisely.
    Theriomorph’s last blog post..How women talk to each other about body and age: can we talk about this?

  78. At this point I’m going to ask everyone involved in the less affable parts of this exchange to please stand down, at least overnight. Thanks.

  79. What is left for us
    Invisibility, and as someone who was hit upon fairly regularly in my youth (despite being very far from model-like) I have to say I’m lovin’ it.
    Also enjoying kidding around with young guys at work without having to worry about my own looks, or developing crushes on them, or whatevs.

  80. @ laura:

    Now I suppose I will be taken down a peg for saying I am better than women who don’t learn to sew.

    Never by me. I have nothing but admiration for your sewing skills and also for the other efforts you make that go against the consumerist beauty culture. On a careful read of all my previous comments, I cannot see anywhere where I have either denigrated or denied your experience or efforts, but my writing must have lacked clarity if that is the message that you received, and I apologise for any distress caused.

    Tigtog at 67 says to me that certain sorts of comments are disturbing to her. The problem is that the comments I made were about my own experience (different from hers, clearly) and have no implied extension to hers.

    What disturbed me about your comments was not your experiences nor your dissent but the political implications of the words you chose to describe them, particularly the idea that one can “avoid the message”. I don’t accept, as a philosophical point, that anyone, no matter how valiant their countercultural efforts, can “avoid the message” sent by a dominant cultural paradigm – it is impossible to “avoid” something so pervasive.
    Something we avoid does not impinge upon us. Being vegetarian/vegan does not avoid the MacDonald’s culture, it rejects it – but you still see the ads and the golden arches everywhere, you still see people eating meat, you still see blogs that post recipes containing meat – you cannot “avoid” that dominant cultural paradigm simply by not buying into it. It makes sense that we will all experience such a pervasive and nebulous “message” differently, but different experiences don’t mean that the “message” of consumerist beauty culture, just like the “message” of gender roles generally, isn’t there.
    Now, by saying that it is impossible for you to avoid the message, I am not rejecting your claims about your countercultural practices. I’m just saying that they do not amount to avoiding the message (they are rejecting the message), and what I find disturbing is the political implications of you using the language of avoidance to describe what you do.
    Linguistically, “avoid” is a weak word which implies a lack of engagement as well as lack of effort. This is what I found most politically disturbing – avoidance means no challenge: certainly no challenge taking place from the avoider to the avoided, but also carrying an implication that making no challenge means that no challenge is required.
    The dominant consumerist beauty culture paradigm needs challenging, not just avoiding, and that challenge takes hard internal work (as you elsewhere seemed to acknowledge). The wording you chose appeared to diminish both the effort and the challenge required, and that is what I found disturbing.

  81. Laura our exchanges end up terse. I said you were being snide after you said ‘All of them? How unfortunate’. I had just expended energy telling you what my problem was, and you sailed right past that with a comment deliberately designed to misconstrue what was said. You knew the meaning.
    As to the libel claim (take it easy on the caps there) I am referring to your own comment at 66, bottom para.
    You seem to want to universalize my language. My interpretation of your comments was not meant to suggest that you feel there are no personal criticisms anywhere in the galaxy; that there are *no such things*. It appeared at 66 that you were saying that differences of opinions had been interpreted as personal criticisms.
    I tried to express that I did not feel personally criticised, tried to engage you with feeling that far from offering an alternate perspective that could coexist alongside Theriomorphs, that you called it ‘just wrong’ (which always raises my hackles unless someone is discussing say genocide).
    Feel free to like, love or loathe my post. That isn’t the issue. The issue is you pronouncing that Theriomorph was wrong to see anything institutional about the experiences I described (and ones like them)
    My post doesn’t and never did seek to speak for all…again with the universalization: I said ‘we’ not to speak for all women everywhere, across all times and spaces, nor was it so literally written as to be about my long suffering experience of hearing about Jessica Alba.
    I was not discussing *everyone’s experience* but yes, I think the experience of women hearing men make lewd comments about which *chicks* are hot, who they’d do, warrants a plural. I know all my friends have been through it. So perhaps it is a class difference, a location difference, or sheer dumb luck? But it is the experience of many (again not all) women. And that comes from patriarchy and men’s priviledge.
    Anyway. Again, happy to engage in constructive criticism but I really feel we passed that at “All of them? How unfortunate”.

  82. Speaking of getting to the heart of the matter -Su at 74…that there are *consequences* to this “choice” is something that doesn’t get discussed. My son and I were discussing this. I can dress up and play the game and feel half decent, and I’ll get some appreciation (usually from middle aged European men, they love me for some reason) only to feel the gazes of those my own age slide over me automatically to the younger women when they’re there, or I can say ‘To hell with it, my time is worth more’ and feel the tension of it even more, feel the sense of not being present, feel the sharp pang when I see those beautiful young women, shining away looking impossibly thin and elegant. I lean towards the latter now I guess, but it’s hardly a *choice* is it? I mean yes, you *make a choice* but our options were limited by society from the get go.

  83. Am I allowed to say anything yet, Lauredhel?

  84. I was trying to think about what the beauty imperative does en masse and I was thinking how standards of beauty change and how, even though the specific attributes of idealised beauty change between cultures and across time (and here I thought of how in some fundamentalist christian sects sewing clothes and wearing no makeup fit nicely with their own preferred femininity archetype – that of the “virtuous, industrious woman”) a key feature is that the beauty ideal acts as an aggregator, that in striving to look/act that way women end up looking/acting very much alike. It is profoundly depersonalising, and even a woman who conforms kind of disappears behind her beauty. That is why see a continuum between how conforming and non conforming women are treated under this myth – younger, conforming women are served their derpersonalisation with a side of harassment, objectification and bullying, other women are depersonalised and ignored (invisibility) or depersonalised and bullied depending on how much of an affront their appearance is to the ideal and how visible they are.
    I am probably eliding some important differences between “beauty” and femininity there.

  85. @ laura:
    Of course you are allowed to say something. If you really think that you had to wait for permission when others had started to engage (after the break that Lauredhel recommended) then you don’t understand us at all. How can that be after our interactions over several years?

  86. @ su:

    a key feature is that the beauty ideal acts as an aggregator, that in striving to look/act that way women end up looking/acting very much alike. It is profoundly depersonalising

    This. Absolutely true.

  87. A good friend of mine often remarks that ‘beauty’ appears to be nothing more than the absence of markers of ‘ugliness’. What is considered beautiful can be quite generic. Maybe I’m just shooting arrows with no target, but you know, there is a kind of generic masculine look too, but then you have say Adrian Brody, oh that face! Those eyes! We don’t tend to hold ‘strangely’ beautiful women up as conventionally beautiful. And then there is the example above (by Rachel?) of the ‘strange looking’ gorgeous woman photoshopped until acceptably generically beautiful.

  88. I had a strange experience last year arond diet and weight loss. I was doing some research about apprentice jockeys. About 80% of them are young men from 15 – 19 years. Because jockeys need to be very light, they were obsessed with diet and weight loss. It was unsettled to be surrounded by young men who talked constantly about dieting, swpped diet tips, worried about every calorie, weighed themselves every day and basically starved themselves to conform to a necessary weight. In their case it’s 50k maximum. As one said to me. ‘It’s not feeling hungry all the time that bothers me. It’s being constantly thirsty that gets to me’. They limit their water consumption as that will add a few grams. They also constantly smoke to take their minds off food.
    Interestingly enough, the young women are far more relaxed about it because they tend to be naturally lighter. They’d tease the boys about how they could eat! It was a bit of reversal of sex roles that I found fascinating.

  89. I have been reminded heavily of the idea of ‘conforming’ to the pressure of presenting myself in an acceptably feminine manner over the last week or so, as I have been seeking new employment.
    At the age of thirty, I have been fortunate in the last few years to be employed in a workplace that positively endorses competence and capability much more than it does being a pretty girly-wirly. I often have to spend long hours on my feet, scramble around in a not-very-clean warehouse, and assist with lifting heavy items. Yes, sometimes I do have meet face-to-face with external customers too, but I don’t have to do anything beyond appearing neat and tidy in a manner appropriate for my place of work.
    However, going through the job interview process has meant I have felt a lot of pressure to play the patriarchal game where my appearance is concerned. I’ve worn high heels, structured corporate clothing, a bra, and worried about my make-up for the first time in YEARS. I cannot believe I had forgotten how incredibly constricting and uncomfortable it is to present myself in a way that is considered acceptable for women working in a heavily corporate environment. It annoys the crap out of me, but I feel that I would be limiting my chances of employment if I didn’t pony up and conform during the process.
    I am heavily reminded of a passage in Emily Maguire’s book ‘Princesses and Pornstars’ in which she discusses agonising over how to dress herself in order to teach a critical thinking class to teenagers. She felt that if she didn’t ‘feminise’ herself to an acceptable degree, then the message that she was trying to convey in her lessons would be lost – that the ‘hairy femo-nazi’ mental block would go up in the minds of these young people, and that the important stuff ie what she had to SAY to them would not be heard.
    I agree with Fuckpoliteness, that as much as one might hate conforming to an idea of femininity in appearance, it gets exhausting to fight the invisibility that it confers on you if you ‘opt out.’ It also represents a fairly ‘out-there’ political statement in the minds of the general public, and can each of us really be bothered justifying/explaining/arguing our feminist viewpoints EVERY SINGLE FREAKIN’ DAY? Of course there is acknowledgement that by continuing to buy into the Beauty Myth, we fail to challenge it’s so-called validity. Sadly though, I often feel that by conceding ground by playing the game by the rules to some extent, it takes off some of the pressure and gives me space to get on with my ‘real work.’
    I apologise if my thoughts and viewpoints aren’t very coherent, or aren’t as articulate as those of most of the contributors here. I’m not as well-versed in feminist socio-politics as most of you, and I don’t have any academic background to speak of. I’m just here to learn and think!
    Hope you’re all looking forward to a good weekend.

  90. @ Fine
    That is fascinating, and it makes me wonder about the way that younger men are now being encouraged to participate in more elaborate and costly beauty rituals – more hair product, more expensive hair styles, skin care products, special day-spa packages. It probably is driven by consumerism as Laura and Tigtog pointed out but I wonder if there are other drivers and what the effect will be in political terms. In one way it could help to further blurr gendered distinctions and disrupt the easy associations people make between sex and gender and sexual orientation and personal appearance, however consumer culture tends not to allow too much disrupting, continually assimilating those attempts into new product sets for people to consume.

  91. Hey KM, don’t sell yourself short, that was a very coherent comment! Yeah, wow…I want to roll out of bed, into jeans and sneakers and wander to work. But in a law firm there are very real pressures. We work in a glassed in office that the public sees into. I often feel pressured into taking 45 minutes to do hair and makeup. I also wore heels for the first few months until I realised that it was making my legs cramp every time I went to have sex. Bugger that! But yes, I feel the pressure to still. And I do feel that when I ‘dress the part’ it allows me to get through my work and to be listened to more than when I don’t. But yes, my bosses and our clients are overt in their discussions of women, their dress, their bodies, their ‘tidiness’ (tidy translates to hot, and I HATE it!!!Bodies are not tidy objects!). Oh well. It’s less intense than the last firm I worked at.

  92. KM, interviewing is a great horror. I wish you stamina, and yeah, identify with the rocket science that is trying to find a right tone and balance which doesn’t feel dirty but also makes the possibility of income a possibility. Ugh. It’s stressful at best.
    I’m still on su’s aggregate woman thing at 85 and fuckpoliteness’ beauty = absence of ugly markers and ‘generic’ quality at 88.
    So right on. So chilling.

  93. Hear you on that one, FP. I recently had a complaint made about me from a parent because I was wearing *gasp* three quarter trousers in a yoga-pant like material… with hairy legs. *shockhorror*. I suspect if I had been one of the ultra thin pretty sports teachers they wouldn’t have cared, but gawdforbid the plain, fat language teacher wear something practical, that fits and is warm. (warmer than a skirt anyway). You’d think they’d be more concerned I was teaching their kid properly.

  94. Ýeah, ffs Purrdence…if my kid is inspired to learn you can wear whatever you like (indeed that would be the case if my child was NOT inspired to learn). Jeepers. There was a teacher at my sons school who was a lesbian, and quite honestly I thought she was gorgeous, fiesty, loud, short hair, fabulous…and there were dark mutterings about her teaching ability (we live in quite a wealthy and conservative area, we stick out like sore thumbs) that I often thought were linked more to who she loved than how she taught…no one was ever bold enough to spell it out so I had to seethe in silence but I could feel it.
    There is something there in beauty being both absence of marker of *ugliness*, homogenising and effacing of differences, AND I think this expectation of shiny happy niceness from women. It feels as though women are seen as being there to be easy on the eyes, and easy to be around, smiling and accomodating. Generic beauty seems like the visual equivalent of easy listening.
    It feels again like this is what is required of us by fashion: to conform to generic ‘beauty’, to adorn ourselves with pretty shiny trinkets to signify that we are ‘girly’ enough, like some kind of display of our willingness to be appropriately feminine/submissive/easy to look at/be around.
    To be clear I am not saying that women who engage in decorating themselves are displaying submissiveness or are more submissiveness in any way. Women are entitled to take their space within a patriarchal system in whatever ways they feel is them, is useful, is helpful.
    But it feels like that is what is being required of women by a system that tells us that to perform our gender well we need to wear heels, buy expensive shoes, clothes, accessories, cosmetics, jewellery, and other beauty procedures like waxing.
    All these trappings cost a lot of money (when we statistically are likely to have less, and it feels ludicrous to feel genuinely compelled to pay someone $60 a month from my low paying job to rip my genital hair out at the roots) and take a lot of time, and many of them slow us down/weigh us down (heels, binding skirts and lots of jewellery). Again not suggesting there isn’t fun to be had in appropriating these things to our liking, it’s the obligation that bothers me.
    It seems to send a message that our job is to *be* an appropriately decorative/feelgood object, rather than an active, busy, lively subject.

  95. Fuckpoliteness… I remember the early days of my working life, at a well-known insurance company, and later the back office of a ‘Big 4′ bank. And yes, there was a lot of discussion among the young men there about who was ‘hot’ and there was definite cache amongst the young women for being considered ‘hot.’ For the girls, late-night shopping on the Thursday after payday was a group recreational pastime, and a lot of them still lived at home with their parents. It really bothered me that their economic resources were so summarily diverted into decorating themselves, rather than establishing themselves as independent, capable, self-sufficient individuals.
    Purrdence (I hope your tag in some way refers to the presence of cats in your life – because cats are awesome!)… This kind of stupidity is infuriating. You’re a person with acquired skills and knowledge, who cares for and educates other people’s kids, and yet your value in this incredibly real capacity can be invalidated by not shaving your legs??!!! WTF?!! What do parents like this say to their kids at home? “Yes darling, education is important and it’s important to apply yourself to your studies, and to be able to support yourself financially, and to contribute to your community and the wellbeing of humanity, and show compassion and conduct yourself ethically. But just remember that none of it’s worth a damn if you don’t worship at the altar of Gillette.” Pffff.
    I don’t want to speak on behalf on anyone else’s experiences, but I certainly feel like as women we should be past all of this bullshit about ‘can I be a feminist and still wear lipstick’ etc ad nauseaum…. But the fact that this thread about appearance has attracted so much comment indicates that there is still ENORMOUS pressure on women to look and behave a certain way, and it’s something that frustrates many of us on an ongoing basis. When we’re at work and arguing for better parental leave concessions, or on-site childcare, does it make it easier if our appearance doesn’t freak out the older white men, who make the deicions more often than not, too much? And why should it even matter? I could go around in circles for days about this….

  96. But just remember that none of it’s worth a damn if you don’t worship at the altar of Gillette.” Pffff.

    *Applause* 🙂

  97. Fine, that’s fascinating about jockeys! The young men were primarily focussed on maintaining a particular weight in order to succeed in their career/vocation, and yet the activity of dieting is a round-the-clock occupation, creeping into every part of a person’s life. That is just what women’s lives are like.
    Subsumed by the need to succeed in the one activity we are told from birth will give our lives meaning (i.e. being attractive to men), we must maintain constant vigilance. Like the jockeys, no time of the day or part of our lives is immune from this self-policing.
    It does seem that the only escape is to reject the imperative that we strive to be jockeys..er, I mean, attractive to men. But how, HOW??

  98. Well this made me give myself away at work with the telltale laugh obviously not connected with my files:
    It does seem that the only escape is to reject the imperative that we strive to be jockeys..er, I mean, attractive to men.

  99. “All these trappings cost a lot of money (when we statistically are likely to have less, and it feels ludicrous to feel genuinely compelled to pay someone $60 a month from my low paying job to rip my genital hair out at the roots) and take a lot of time, and many of them slow us down/weigh us down (heels, binding skirts and lots of jewellery).”
    While I could not agree more about “bikini” waxing, heels and binding skirts, I have a somewhat different perspective about jewellery.
    Jewellery is very portable personal wealth. It’s made of valuable materials, and it can be easily smuggled because it’s small (like in this story). I sometimes think about my relatives fleeing Nazi Germany, with practically no posessions, and the fact that they managed to bring jewellery with them, as I put my own jewellery on in the morning (the ring I’m wearing now was my great-grandmother’s)
    I don’t wear much (it’s not like it’s weighing me down – I’m wearing a bangle and a ring) but it’s something quite different from fashion.

  100. Sure, I can see that Rebekka.

  101. Yes, I know beauty standards are bullshit. Yes, I know that magazine constructions of beauty are impossible even for the Jessica Albas of the world. Yes, I know that my body issues and periodic self-hate are subjective, influenced by mood and circumstance, and I know I have a partner and a family who think I’m gorgeous and perfect and don’t need to change. I still feel the pressure to be something I can never be. I still feel shit about my looks. And then I feel shit about kowtowing to patriarchal beauty standards which I fully understand are instituted to hold me back.
    Fine and others, this is what it’s about. (Still enjoy the ageing invisibility, though – but not immune to the feeling shit about ones’ looks thing!)

  102. It isn’t what it’s all about to me, Helen.
    I’ll just quote PC back at 56, because I think it sums up how I think about this.
    “Which is why I maintain that some personal responsibility for resistance must be taken, and I’m not saying that FP doesn’t, only reacting to the angry claims being made that in the face of sociocultural stuff like this we can’t help how we feel. We can. And we should.”

  103. And this from FP:
    it’s about refusing the logic of ‘harden the f*ck up’, and saying ‘Oh no, the problem here is not *me* and my lack of ‘hardness’, it’s the ways we do things, it’s society, it’s bigger than me, it’s institutionalised, political and powerful.
    This should be on a plaque somewhere, because that “harden the f88k up” / “get out of the kitchen” (which is generally code for back to the kitchen) is so ubiquitous over all discussions between feminists and their opponents everywhere.
    Fine, look at the quote above and PC’s quote, they are not mutually exclusive. I do fight against this thing every day but at the same time I don’t kid myself that “it” has gone away.

  104. In the interests of averting another telling-off following this, my last comment at this blog, I’ll let Alison Light’s London Review of Books commentary on Three Guineas (21 March 2002) do my talking for me, in defence of the logic of harden the fuck up, in the face of oppression and worse, or of what Light calls ‘a different kind of inner discipline’:

    ”Faced with the prospect of war, passivity is for Woolf the less tainted position. How might it be redeemed from the history of victimhood? Three Guineas follows much pacifist writing in proposing an esteem based on a different kind of inner discipline, a confrontation of the conflicting desires in the self, and a willing dispossession which comes close to Gandhi’s ideas of passive or non-violent resistance. Those who have been the objects of exclusion and derision are already freer, Woolf suggests, from the ‘unreal loyalties’ that prompt belligerence: ‘nationality, religious pride, college pride, school pride, family pride, sex pride’. Given the moral bankruptcy of capitalism and its ‘adulterated culture’ in which everything is mixed with the ‘money motive’, it is preferable to live modestly. To compete is to imitate: women should cultivate an attitude of ‘indifference’, ideally refusing to display any tokens of prestige or rank, flinging back any offer of public honours (Woolf turned down an invitation to give the Clark Lectures at Cambridge in 1932, refused the Companion of Honour in 1935 and honorary degrees from Manchester and Liverpool); they should abstain from any rituals which promote the ‘desire to impose “our” civilisation or “our” dominion upon other people’. ‘To be passive is to be active; those also serve who remain outside.’ The most exhilarating impulses in Three Guineas incite an imaginary violence – ‘Set fire to the old hypocrisies’ – such as the demand for ‘Rags. Petrol. Matches’ to burn down any woman’s college if its values are no better than men’s. (‘Let it blaze! Let it blaze! For we have done with this education!’) Woolf knows that women must ‘face realities’ – take jobs, pass exams, earn salaries – but she is far more excited by renunciation and by the struggles of Florence Nightingale or Sophia Jex-Blake than by the achievements of her own generation. With its fear that ‘the victims of the patriarchal system’ might become the new ‘champions of the capitalist system’, Three Guineas tries to envisage a psychic and emotional space in which those who have been infantilised, those who see themselves as weak and helpless, might move beyond a sense of inferiority without assuming mastery in return.”

  105. I would say that is the very reverse of harden the fuck up which, similar to what Helen has said, I see as an attempt to redefine a structural and political problem as a matter of individual choice and our “conflicting desires” as evidence of individual failure. Looking at those conflicting desires at the personal and the structural level seems to me to be what FP was doing in her piece. I still have those desires and I think that if anyone has gone beyond them and no longer struggles that is very admirable but “harden the fuck up” is not a very detailed guide book on how to get there.
    At the risk of being repetitive, different kinds of resistance are more accessible depending on class and other forms of privilege. How often are we giving up what we can well afford and may in fact have other reasons for disavowing? I am not trying to suggest that all resistance is useless but I think it is worthwhile asking the question. Nor do I think that the only political acts are one’s that make us uncomfortable, for a woman to follow her own desires without reference to other’s expectations is itself a radical act but only if she is doing the work of disentangling what is hers and what has been imposed upon her. Isn’t that one of the things considered in FP’s post? I am far from done sorting out what is mine and what is an expectation that I have assimilated and any chance to reconsider that in company with women who are at different stages in that journey is very welcome to me.
    Off topic: One form of privilege that we don’t often discuss in isolation, as it is usually connected to the politics of childrearing (which is interesting in itself) is that of being partnered. Society still treats a woman unencumbered by a man as a kind of toxic free radical, a destabilizing and pernicious influence. Just being partnered eases one’s way in a manner that can be hard to pin down and only becomes really obvious again when you suddenly alone. I suppose that a solo woman is seen as having an uncomfortable degree of power (sexual but also other forms of power, it being somewhat more difficult to live solo that in partnership) and partnering is seen as a neutralising of that power.
    I really hope you change your mind about commenting, Laura.

  106. Ouch one apostrophe fail and one lapse into Vogon.

  107. As a newcomer to this blog, I have found the discussion here of one of the most all-pervading issues to affect women in western society fascinating and interesting. I really enjoy reading different ideas about how women may best combat the body-image problem.
    A good argument between eloquent proponents of differing viewpoints is the sign of a really useful blog. I have found both sides of this particular argument quite convincing at different points along this thread. I still don’t know whether “I blame the patriarchy” is more helpful than “harden the fuck up” or vice versa, but it’s been a thought-provoking few days.
    Anyway, if this is laura’s last comment here, that’s a shame, as I find discussions between people with differing viewpoints more engaging and informative than discussions between those who agree about everything.

  108. Su, what a wonderful metaphor! (single woman = toxic free radical, according to society). And every hiker lapses into Vogon on occasion. Have another sip on your gargle-blaster and it should pass.
    It is indeed off the topic of this thread, but I am fascinated by different women’s experiences of being single compared to being partnered. I personally felt that the whole of society backed off when I finally got a boyfriend in my mid-20s. Before boyfriend everyone seemed to assume my life was utterly messy and un-sorted and constantly instructed me about what I should and shouldn’t be doing, and after boyfriend people suddenly stopped giving me advice about what I should do with my life, as if just by being partnered my life was no longer a work in progress. And I don’t just mean advice about “how to get a man”, I mean every aspect of my life: career, hobbies and interests etc. Was I suddenly a grown-up? Or did I now have a parent/guardian again who would make important decisions for me? I certainly never felt that society considered me powerful in any way when I was single. Quite the contrary. The power of subversion is perhaps rarely felt by the subverter herself.
    Actually, this topic does intersect with the thread topic. I always assumed that once a woman was married/long-term partnered, the pressure to be bizarrely thin would drop away if one’s partner was openly disdaining of such pressures. But I know women whose partners are completely happy with their bodies as nature intended and these women are STILL obsessed with losing weight. What’s that about?

  109. I always assumed that once a woman was married/long-term partnered, the pressure to be bizarrely thin would drop away if one’s partner was openly disdaining of such pressures. But I know women whose partners are completely happy with their bodies as nature intended and these women are STILL obsessed with losing weight. What’s that about?

    Because conforming to societal expectations of constant dieting and striving for thinness isn’t all about catching a man. Fat-hate is so, so, so much bigger than “no one will ever love you”.
    When you introduced the topic, I immediately started thinking of the other side: het-partnered fat women who are content with their bodies, and whose partners are, still get flak or are looked at with suspicion and disdain – and so do/are their partners, for loving a fat woman.

  110. Laura, that quote is great. What’s interesting to me is that I don’t think it contradicts what FP was saying; after all, Virginia Woolf herself selected aspects of her cultural world to challenge, and others to abide by (to be hideously basic, e.g., she married). What FP is testifying to (along with Su, in her great comment above) is the extreme ambivalence involved in any political action: we are complex, fragmented and multi-faceted people, which can easily lead to the desire to be pretty even as one knows how that desire is produced and how it functions socially. Both FP and Su are also observing the tendency to be able to experience this ambivalence as both radically individual (which as Theriomorph pointed out in her awesomely awesome of awesomeness post, situates it as non-political) and a failure to be ‘properly’ feminist. Feminism, at various times and in various places, has tended to function (or be experienced as functioning) normatively, requiring women to feel a particular way in order to be properly feminist (this, I would suggest, is the result of larger social logics which situate almost everyone as never-quite-adequate, which feminism cannot help but participate in).
    In the end, we all do negotiate with the social world; we can’t not. It seems that you, Laura, have been extremely successful in creating routines, habits and an entire style of life that sustains you as a feminist woman. This is great, and no one would deny that. But this does not indicate a failure on the part of others who have different sensitivities, experiences, routines, habits, styles of life (and it’s important to note, I think, that different forms of feminism will situate different aspects of the cultural milieu as oppressive or problematic, without this being a problem with the feminism, or the feminist). The distinction between the particular and the universal is useful to an extent, but it also doesn’t capture the extent to which the two are imbricated: it’s pretty clear from the response here that FP is not alone in her experience, but even if she were, why does this necessarily mean that her experience is not bound up with larger social structures? There is a tendency in political movements generally to avoid complexity in order to present a united and singular front. But this precludes an articulation of the complexities of experience, and as a result, tends to situate those political desires as an ‘ought’ not only for the world generally (as in, the world ought not to be misogynist), but for those who live in it, including the activist. I personally think that we need to work at legitimising an alternative and more complex model of political action which can engage with the experiences of those for whom it is undertaken (as well as those who are (often constitutively) excluded from it, a labour at which many feminists continue to work). To me, the model of political action which requires a singular and united front participates in the conservative politics it is so often working against (which is not to say that this is never a useful position to take, as often this is most efficacious; but we can attempt to challenge this, especially within the ranks, as it were). I am indeed sorry that you feel you can no longer comment here, Laura, and hope that you will reconsider this decision.
    And Lauredhel, the point about het, partnered, fat women is a really good one, I think. The logics which sustain women’s sense of being inadequate are so so complex, and that’s a great example. When I teach this stuff, I often have students who claim that the media is to blame (conveniently, the media is a faceless mass, of course, whilst individual media people are never really to blame for ‘giving the public what they want’). I’d never deny that the media participates in it, but sheesh, it’s a tad more complicated than that!

  111. Hi all – I just backed away from the blog this weekend after the conflicts in this thread. I do feel rather wounded that some of my comments have been read so vastly opposite to my intent, and that people who’ve read me regularly could feel that I was criticising their practices in general rather than some specific communications made in this thread.
    Like WP, I don’t find that Laura’s Woolf quote contradicts either FP or myself: Woolf’s strategy of “passivity” avoided direct conflict but it didn’t avoid the message, it was personal civil disobedience that challenged the system insidiously. Pacificism is defiance, not avoidance.
    Despite this disagreement over what is largely semantics (but semantics are important in activism) I have great respect and affection for Laura as a blogger and commentor. I hope she does come back to comment here again.

  112. To avoid thread derailment I’ve put my somewhat tangetial thoughts here: http://rapturousthinking.blogspot.com/2008/12/on-beauty.html

  113. You may notice that I appear to be a man, this is biologically true but I STILL have acne at 31, STILL have the same barrel for a torso that gained me tourture throughout school, and STILL feel bad about it

  114. Thank thank thank you for this wonderful post, FP. I’ve felt this for years and I’ve never seen it expressed like this before.
    I was infuriated by Fine’s “get over it” response, but mighty impressed by the responses it gave rise to from you, Laurelhed and Tigtog and QoT and others.
    Thanks again.

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