Let's talk a little about the illogical clusterf**k that is media and the female body.
I'm not just talking about the rampant thinness and the number of actresses whose bodies lose pound after pound every year. (Much of that can traced back to historical changes, current studio demands, and gossip rags, which has been well documented.) I'm talking about the overall list of rules, requirements, and assumptions that cling to the woman's body from head to toe, creating a damned-whatever-you-do scenario while giving the world-at-large such a ludicrously flawed opinion of the female form that I bet no writer would imagine this possible if it wasn't actually reality.
Why do we do it and how can we stop it?
The Banning of the Boobs
You may have caught this gem over at BoingBoing last month, where Australia's Sex Party sent out a release that the government's Classification Board was deeming female ejaculation as "abhorrent" and banning it, while also starting "to ban depictions of small-breasted women in adult publications and films." While we may be in the land of the pornographic pearl necklaces, which makes #1 absurd and noteworthy,* most sites zeroed in mainly on the latter statement -- that small breasts would be banned because of links to potential underage sex. As it turns out, there is no official ban or declaration on this idea, just some vague guidelines. So, Somebody Think of the Children talked to the Director of the Board, who refused further comment when he was asked if a woman's breast size was one of the aspects considered when determining how old a woman looked. Talk about a pretty damning omission.
In our boob size "H for Heidi" world, where women get their breasts enlarged en masse, we've got politics adding to the "small is bad" mentality. Of course, there is the context. The Board is trying to stop films that feature sex with underage women from getting into the country. But we can't ignore the fact that women with small cup sizes are thus being evaluated as "underage" and not as mature, full-grown women.
This has the potential to affect mainstream films as well, especially when sexual themes are added into the mix, and more importantly: While underage depictions of young women having sex is most certainly a problem -- especially when its marketed to older men and propagating a dangerous scenario -- we simply cannot link breast size to age. That exact deterrent ultimately feeds into the problem, suggesting if mature women with small cups are adolescent, young girls with large breasts must be adult.
Skinny, Fat, Hourglass
But it doesn't pay to look mature either. To add insult to injury, we're in a world where most of society tries to keep women from showing the signs of a maturing body (and not just fear of age) -- the rampant allergy to hair unless it's on the top of the head or in a carefully arched eyebrow, and the trend to starve curves (not fat) away until a woman's body is petite and adolescently lanky.
It's no matter that Bruce Willis loved "pot bellies" in Pulp Fiction, or that Jon Favreau fought for pubic hair in I Love You, Man. Christina Hendricks of Mad Men fame is both the poster child for sexiness and the "fat girl," although her curves are in the "baby places" so to speak, a body balancing out its regular form rather than revealing a tendency to overeat. Many other actresses bend over and show a flap of skin, or show the slightest curve to their stomach, and are immediately said to be binge eating or pregnant.
Society is not just backlashing against the woman who stopped exercising, ate more, and gained weight (a problem in and of itself), it's continually confusing fat with biology-dictated body shape. It is practically impossible, if not absolutely impossible, for a woman to have a body that's considered mature, thin, and gorgeous by all parties without surgery. (Can't have small boobs, can't have big ones, can't be fat, can't be skinny, should have curves, but not fat curves....)
It's a big mess well covered over the years, so I'll just move on to why I bring this all up.
The Truth, the Audience, and the Ugly
We like to throw off blame for breast-expectations, skinny-fat, and other body strictness onto other people -- to the gossip rag arseholes who try to find stories in nothing, the governing bodies who confuse the issue, the studio execs looking for thinspiration, the picky and fat-phobic. But this whole issue goes well beyond small groups in the world who happen to have a big media voice.
What about how it manifests within us? I'm continually baffled by the exclamations that Maggie Gyllenhaal is ugly, or that Sarah Jessica Parker looks like a horse. Perhaps they're not your cup of tea, but the adjectives are ridiculously hyperbolic. Personally, I don't see the oh-wow charisma and attraction to Brad Pitt, but I'm not about to call him ugly. (Nor will I expect people to understand why I think Christopher Walken is sexy.)
But even moreso, I'm surprised with how many moviegoers will ravage Hollywood for expectations they don't hold in real life. Have you ever experienced this? Countless times, I've been faced with people who will comment on an actress' weight gain and call her "fat," although their own self-described "thin" friends or lovers are at least double the size of the said "fat" actress. We have Cathy Horyn talking about the horror of putting "a big girl in a big dress," said girl being Christina Hendricks at the Golden Globes, while Horyn looks perfectly normal and similarly sized without the curves herself. (This is the same Globes where the masses were shocked that Mo'Nique didn't shave beforehand, nor did Amanda Palmer.)
This has gone well beyond the beauty expectation that comes along with escapist entertainment -- the "We don't want to see ourselves, we want to see someone beautiful" idea. Now we're holding Hollywood to unobtainable ideals that we would call ridiculous in our own real lives. I don't understand the habit. I've seen some truly ignorant people do it, but it's not a monopoly that we can excuse away with the internet trolls and people with body issues. Smart people are in on the act as well.
Do you do it? Why? What can we possibly do to change it? Must we ravage the source of every critique and be just as negative to them and their loved ones as they are on actresses?
*This goes along with the banning of all things sexy-urine-related. I wonder ... was that Survivor episode where Kathy peed on Richard banned?
Note: In response to last week's topic, there was a follow-up inspired by Film School Rejects. You can find that here.