August 27, 2013

The Weight of a Label: Beauty Standards & Bad Sitcoms. ~ Renée Picard

When I was about six years old, I discovered Jack Tripper.

At that time, Three’s Company was on every evening at 6pm. Most days I’d ask my mom if we could watch it while we ate dinner in front of the TV, and she’d often say yes. Man, it was awesome. I mean, what’s not to love about Three’s Company? I still watch it whenever I can; it never fails to crack me up.

But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that this was where it all started. This was the time in my life where I would have first started to—strain.  

What exactly was I looking for? I was (however subconsciously) straining to find someone who had a body like mine. I was only a child, so obviously my body was generally different than those women on TV.

But I’d constantly be looking for something that resembled chubbiness: just a roll of tummy over the tight-waisted pants (which you could even see on skinny Chrissy at the right angle, sort of), saddlebags, a little bit of upper-arm jiggle.

Just something other than thin-thin-thin (save for the one part that is supposed to jiggle, of course).

I was brought up in an upper-middle class neighborhood, where (even slightly) overweight people were a rarity. So here I was, six years old, already beginning to believe that my body was somehow not acceptable. Around that time, I was also in gymnastics, which I later quit (in part) because I didn’t like how I looked. The thing is, I was good! I remember how it felt when I finally ‘got’ the vault, using the springboard to fly up over it effortlessly. It felt amazing.

But being in a tight leotard in front of everyone certainly didn’t. Not with my short legs and round belly.

I’m 35 years old now, and I still have this weird yearning to see a successful female movie protagonist or pop star with a normal (or by Hollywood standards I guess it would be an ‘unusual’) body type. Wait, let me rephrase that: I’d like to see more stars who are a bit thicker in some part(s) and choose to stay that way because they are actually healthy and happy with the way they look. 

Of course, there are real famous women who profit off of their curves, who are proud of them, people like Christina Hendricks, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lawrence. Aren’t they representative of some sort of curvy revolution? And isn’t the mere existence of plus-sized models a huge step forward? Oh, and what about those Dove Ads?

Okay, so there is some movement towards acceptance of more body types. Still, the term ‘curvy’ is slapped onto women with a small waist and bigger booty (some of whom routinely wear girdles/corsets on stage/set, by the way), and plus-size onto women who are a size 12 or up. Oh yeah, there are a few other well-known actresses who are not-so-thin, but they tend to be typecast into the token ‘fat’ characters (and this is a topic is for a whole other article).

The media has managed to convert these descriptive terms into relatively confining labels. They are labels because they are so closely associated with certain attributes—namely, measurements. There are even specific attributes (height) that one has to have to be a plus-sized model.

Some of the celebrities out there who are being called ‘curvy’ are still carrying a pretty standard Hollywood body type. If you Google “curvy models height weight” you will probably find articles about ‘curvy’ models who are somewhere in the range of a size 4 with a 24-inch waist (wtf?). Jennifer Lawrence’s measurements are supposedly 34-26-36, Beyoncé’s 35-25-40. Many of the Hollywood ‘curvy’ women tend to have hourglass figures, and a low waist-hip ratio. Many of them are taller with longer legs (bigger boned) which accounts for their slightly less-than-rail-thin appearance.

They are sexy, there is no doubt (thank goodness that there is finally a bit of ‘junk in the trunk’). But it still leaves behind a good portion of the population. Because there still exists certain ideals, fat-shaming is still rampant in Hollywood, on the streets, in schools, in our homes. It’s intergenerational. It’s dangerous.

These labels are just another way of categorizing women in order to make them more marketable.

Curvy, plus-sized, fat…all of these concepts carry heavy assumptions. And I think it’s important that we start examining the (unconscious) assumptions that we make about others, rather than examining bodies themselves.

Now, I’m not saying don’t watch TV, or movies—we love them. We love the way that some famous women look, too. But loving how we look starts with spending time with other real-life people who celebrate their bodies. It starts with teaching our sons and daughters to leave the labels behind.

We need to re-frame how we see each other and ourselves. And push to see more magazine-cover people celebrated for who they are and what they do, rather than what the label says about them.

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Ed: Sara Crolick




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