Unintended Bodysnark Is Still Bodysnark

4 Jul

A few weeks ago, I shared this picture on Facebook. My caption didn’t stray too much from the original poster’s sentiment: “Yep, times sure have changed.”

Man, I thought, I’d love it if I was encouraged to gain weight instead of losing it. Or really, for the body shape that I have – which mostly resembles that of the lady on the right – to be more socially acceptable than the micro-skinny norm.

Then my insightful friend, artist Jamie Q, pointed out a flaw in the logic. “It’s still the same old thing,” she said. “Only one body type that everyone is supposed to aspire to. Times will have really changed when advertising and the media stop objectifying and comparing women’s bodies to each other.”

Jamie then directed my attention to an interesting piece by Heather Cromarty on the “Marilyn Meme.”

Cromarty argues that “what’s supposed to be an empowering message to women – you don’t have to be a Victoria’s Secret model to be beautiful – is completely undermined by two much older memes: divide and conquer and the male gaze.” As she points out, the well intended exercise just pits women against one another. It might be praising that the ideal body type used to be curvier than it is today, but however you slice it, the Marilyn figure is still an ideal body type, which is the problem.

Fleshy or thin, if you’re female, you’re under more scrutiny and more pressure to maintain whatever the ideal du jour may be. Marilyn was no exception. While most people like to believe she was a 10, a 12 or a 16, author Simon Doonan, who prepared some of Monroe’s clothing for a Christie’s auction, found out that she was more like a 4 in a D-cup. “I discovered that Marilyn was shockingly and unimaginably slender. She was sort of like Kate Moss but fleshier on top,” he writes. “Conventional wisdom says that the camera adds five pounds. After my Marilyn experience, I would say it’s more like 500 pounds.”

It reminds me of something I read in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B & Back Again). The famous pop artist wrote: “People look the most kissable when they’re not wearing makeup. Marilyn’s lips weren’t kissable, but they were very photographable.”

The lesson? Don’t idealize a picture.

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