Monday, March 2, 2009

A bad message a day?

I think they were always there but I wasn't paying as much attention. It seems that every time I open a magazine or surf the Web I find yet another bad message. You may be thinking, "Only one?" And if you are, I'd say the question is a good one, for there are bad messages about women's bodies everywhere. And I'm sure that there's plenty of bad messages for men, too, but I haven't started noticing them yet. Just wait. I'm sure I will find them soon.

Earlier this evening I saw a banner ad for some sort of eye cream that showed a before and after shot of a woman's eye. In photo number one the undereye was puffy, creped and discolored, the lid drooping and the crow's feet deep. The after photo was perfect. Sorry folks, but without surgery (and Photoshop) this is impossible. But besides the blatant absurdity of thinking that any beauty product could produce those results (and that it was the same person's eye), the before shot was amateurishly doctored. It looked like someone had applied heavy foundation makeup under the eye and then took a hot blowdryer to it, causing it to cake and bits to fall off. You'd think it would be the lovely after shot that would look fake, but no, I suppose whoever put this sad ad campaign together assumed we wouldn't look at that awful eye for too long. What's sadder is that someone out there is buying that product.

A few hours later, this popped up in yet another banner ad:
"My wrinkles were getting worse and I felt embarassed and ashamed."

Now, you tell me why anyone would be embarassed or ashamed about wrinkles. I certainly can understand feeling poorly about watching one's face age, even as I wish that weren't so. But ashamed and embarassed? That would mean that someone had done something wrong to create the wrinkles. Is this imaginary woman feeling guilty that she hadn't used the correct creams? Maybe she'd never washed her face in her life. That must be it. Otherwise, what's there to feel ashamed by?

All kidding aside, I know that I wouldn't have these fine lines around my lips if I hadn't been a smoker, or at least they may have been put off by some more years. But still, I am not ashamed or embarassed. I have been noticing them more, and part of me thinks it isn't so much about my past smoking as my habit of pursing my lips and this certain face I make when I look in the mirror. Years and years ago, a friend pointed this out to me. When I look in the mirror, I suck in my cheeks slightly, tuck my chin in a bit, lower my eyelids and turn up the edges of my mouth. I used to try on hats on my lunchbreak years ago when I worked in midtown Manhattan. I am a bit sorry that girl pointed out this odd habit of mine, for I've been aware of it ever since (and the habit could never be broken).

Why did I do it? I probably noticed that many models hold their heads like that. I also never had any discernable cheekbones and tilting my head foreward helps create a shadow under my chin, which is very small.

Should I be ashamed and embarassed by my weak chin and lack of cheekbones? Maybe I should be. I ought to have saved the money to get plastic surgery, right? I mean, in this society, from what I gather, I'm remiss in not doing everything I can to look like the beauty standard and keep myself from looking old. If I don't, I'm not complying.

If I don't, I may even be causing others grief. Years ago, when Clinton was in office, I knew a man who groaned every time he saw Janet Reno on TV. It wasn't because he thought anything bad about her politically. It was because she was "old and ugly." He was offended that he was obliged to look at her when he watched the news. And good ol' Rush Limbaugh would probably agree with this point of view. After all, one of his reasons for not wanting Hillary Clinton to win was totally apolitical. He said he didn't want to be forced to watch a woman age in public. What a horror show!

Ideas like those above cause me to envision a dystopian future in which women will be socially ostracized for not having plastic surgery or having to cloister themselves away after they've passed their youthful "prime."

There is irony here. That glass ceiling may have been shattered in 18,000 pieces (or whatever number Clinton named), but the tyranny of the beauty standard seems to be getting worse. Or perhaps, now that my youth is gone, I am just noticing it more.

But, I think not.

Image note: Quentin Matsys' "Grotesque Old Woman", a painting I have always disliked immensely.


jmcleod76 said...

Being fat - yeah, I said it ... "fat" - I tend to be most sensitive about the not-so-subtle messages about size. While the general neagtivity about women's bodies is pervasive, there is at least a sizable group of critics giving the other side ... telling people to be happy with who they are. If you're overweight, though, all bets are off. After all, we're in the midst of an obesity "epidemic," (so, you know, apparently it's contagious), and we have to protect our children. There are groups on Facebooks with titles like "Tax the fat," advocating that people of excessive proportion should be penalized financially. Maybe then, fatties like me would finally find the self-discipline to lose some weight. I find it disgraceful because, rather than focusing on the important things - exercise and good nutrition - we make it all about the externals of someone's size. Rather than teaching people to live healthy, just because it's rewarding, in and of itself, we hang a carrot over them ... "if you do X and Y, you can be skinny, which means you'll be healthier." Fuck that. I know my weight is dangerous, and telling me so isn't going to make me go "Oh, jeez, really? No one ever told me that. Well, I guess I'll just lose half my body weight now ... Too bad, I sure did enjoy carrying around all of that extra weight. It made me feel strong and sexy." Yes, I should eat better. Yes, I should exercise more. And I do try ... I took karate for four years, I biked to work all last summer. I eat whole grains and tons of fruits and veggies. That's more than some skinny people I know can say. Plus, I almost never get sick, so I must be doing something right. I remember a commerical for (I think) weight loss surgery from a few years ago. it was a mom who weighed maybe 200 pounds - less than I've weighed since college. She was at a playground with her young son, and the little boy came up to her and asked her to play with him. She shook her head, and he went away all dejected ... Then she told the camera, plaintively, that she wished being fat didn't get in the way of her life. It was outrageous! Here I was, "morbidly obese" by medical definitions, out taking karate, biking, running around with my dogs, and the television was claiming that this woman, who looked thin to me, couldn't keep up with a 7-year-old. Bullshit! If someone who is 200 pounds can't do something, then it's because they're lazy, not because they're fat.

jmcleod76 said...

P.S. (As if my original post wasn't long enough). I forgot to say that the subtext of the commercial I mentioned is that being fat is not only bad for your health, it also makes you selfish and a bad mother ...

Also, the image you used reminds me of artwork from a Dungeons and Dragons manual. I can very clearly see a caption underneath, labeling it "Female Orc," or some such ... In fact, I think one of their artists may have modeled just such an illustration after this image.

BitterGrace said...

I think I'm showing my age here, but to me, that drawing looks like a caricature of Gerald Ford. Seriously. I thought this post was going to have something to do with Gerald Ford.

But my peculiar perspective aside, I couldn't agree more with the post and the comment. One of these days I should do a post on my own blog about the weight issue, which has been kicking me around all my life.

The anti-aging industry is right up there with religious hucksterism as one of the great cultural con games of human history. It wreaks just as much emotional havoc on individuals, and damages their bodies as well.

Julie H. Rose said...

Thank you, Jaime, for sharing all that you did.

Part of me thought "why am I posting this?" because it's such old news. But, I think I'll keep posting about ads and whatnot as long as they keep making them.

Weight was not the issue, was it? But whenever body image issues are touched upon, weight is lurking. I have mentioned in passing that I have been anorexic. I should do at least one long post about it.

Now, I'm struggling to find jeans that fit. And, I'm considered "obese" by those charts, which quite frankly, I find absurd. I agree entirely w/ what you wrote, Jaime. I don't the remember the last time I ate junk food. I see skinny girls eating that stuff all the time.

Oh, I have too much to say on this topic for the comments box.

We all should write about this!

chayaruchama said...

Gracie called this to our attention today.

I LOVE your grotesque- yes ! it DOES eerily resemble Gerald, poor man.

I see the thrust of this issue, very clearly.
I feel it in my gut, it's THAT visceral to me.

Insidious, 'stealth ' self-loathing- is a subterranean stream that many of us deal with on a daily basis...

It's like any addiction, or the most powerful form of conditioning-
And needs daily attention.
It appears and reappears in a different mask-
But the basics don't alter, much.

It is heinous that the media perpetuate these hate crimes [ for lack of a better word].

Thanks, Julie-
And kudos to you, jm.