Thursday, March 23, 2006

Feminine Beauty Is NOT A Load of Pornographic Crap

For the past few days I have been thinking about a post that Morphing Into Mama ("MIM") wrote on "false advertising" and the firestorm of discussion it provoked, some thoughtful and some nasty, that you can read about here, here, and here, as well as in the comments to MIM's post. In her post, MIM made the point that when people project themselves one way during the dating phase of a relationship, and then dramatically alter themselves after marriage (i.e. by cutting off their long luscious locks or significantly changing their weight), their earlier behavior is at least arguably a type of "false advertising." This did not strike me as controversial in the least. Of course it's false advertising to project an image of yourself while dating that you plan on unilaterally rejecting once you have "settled down" with a spouse.

It's false advertising in the same way that it's false advertising when single and dating to add the appearance of 1 or 2 cup sizes to your breasts with the aid of water bras or removable gel pads before you go out for an evening of scoping and flirting. If your breasts catch a boy's attention (because he's into that), it's natural that it might be somewhat disappointing at the end of the evening when you take out your gel pads and show yourself as a bit less buxom than you had previously advertised yourself to be. Not that I'm saying there's anything wrong with boob-enhancing devices. If you're happy and it works for you, then by all means go for it. There's nothing wrong with playing dress-up.

There's also nothing wrong with little boobs. I have 'em and I love 'em. But, it's realistic to appreciate that someone else, upon discovering apples, might be a tad let down if in fact they were expecting melons. This is just common sense. Personally, my boobs are of the small and perky variety, and though I do use push up bras for cleavage now and then, I've never been partial to heavily padding up my boobs because I never wanted to attract a boy with a promise that I couldn't deliver on. I much prefer being upfront with who I am. It's more fun that way, and it's far simpler. It is also, as MIM suggests, a bit more fair.

In MIM's false advertising post she candidly discussed her own body consciousness and admitted that she works to stay healthy and fit for herself and for her husband (emphasis added). I don't want to add to the pile of words that have been shoved into her mouth, so here is the actual language she used:
"I am conscious of my weight, so I don't snack, and I exercise...I work to maintain my figure for myself and my husband. If I had been 160 pounds when we married that would one thing. Then it would be totally unreasonable for him to want me to be 120 pounds. But it would be false advertising if he’d married his 120 pound girlfriend and ended up with a 160 pound wife.” She then commented, "Personally, I think it would be unfair to Husband if I gained a bunch of weight and did nothing about it.”

In a follow-up post, MIM explained that her main point was that: "people in an intimate relationship should be considerate of each other and understand that their physical appearance, and any MAJOR change to it, can affect their partner and their relationship." Seems to me, that's not very controversial either. Of course, people in intimate relationships should be considerate of one another, and of course major changes to one's appearance can affect your partner. There is nothing novel or surprising about this.

However, to my surprise, MIM's post sparked off a blogger controversy, and she was scathingly villified by several writers as a complicit victim of the patriarchy. For example, in an astonishing post that grossly and flagrantly mischaracterizes, misinterprets, and twists MIM's words, "Twisty" of I Blame The Patriarchy accusesd MIM of "capitulat[ing] to the patriarchal feminine hotness imperative," and being unable to "reject the authority of the Male Gaze."

Twisty also attacks MIM for her alleged "weight-specific brand of sexy conformity to patriarchal hotness standards," and suggets that MIM is displaying herself "according to male standards of fuckability as defined by pornography." Twisty ended the post by imploring "all women, regardless of the degree to which they have been assimilated by Dude Nation, to extricate themselves with all possible speed from the prison of male fantasy. Feminine beauty is a load of pornographic crap."

I'm down with rejecting the Male Gaze, and after reading many of MIM's posts, I have a funny feeling that she might just be down with that too. MIM never suggested that she was conforming to anyone's notion of beauty except her own. All she said was that the way she looks affects her partner, just as the way her partner looks affects her. This is not rocket science. Since when does acknowledging that the way you look might affect your partner mean that you are a prisoner of the Male Gaze?

MIM's crimes, for which Twisty appears to believe MIM deserves to be drawn and quartered, apparently consist of being slender, having nice hair, looking hot, and being so "fuckable" that she could appear in a porno. What's going on here? Who exactly is imposing comformist definitions of female sexuality? Is it the Patriarchy, is it MIM, or is it Twisty? I don't think it's MIM because she never made any reference to feeling any pressure whatsoever to conform to any image of female beauty, patriarchal or otherwise. She appears to be doing her own thing and trying to be healthy and fit up to her own standards in a way that works for her.

Does the fact that she is also cognizant that her maintaining her figure might be something from which her husband could derive some pleasure as well mean that she is a victim of the Patriarchy? I don't think so. MIM herself makes clear that she thinks it would be equally unfair if her husband significantly changed his weight. Clearly, in their relationship, the notions of fairness, consideration, and of "checking in" go both ways. There are no draconian, patriarchal views of feminine beauty or "wifely duties" at play.

It can not be, as Twisty suggests, that any time a woman acknowledges that she is somewhat motivated by wanting to appear attractive to her lover that she must be a brainless, conformist, prisoner of the patriarchy. Take for example me. I wax, shave and lazer because I want to, and because I find myself sexier sans hair. That is my decision. It has not escaped my attention that porn stars and strippers are often hairless, nor that many men find hairlessness sexy. My Boyfriend among them. Does the fact that I wax my pussy while being aware that my Boyfriend is going to like it make me a prisoner of the Patriarchy? Not to me. What about if he preferred hair down there? Would I be less of a prisoner of the Patriarchy if I bucked cultural notions of feminine beauty by being hairy (and conformed to the Twisty Gaze), but conformed to my Boyfriend's personal tastes and rejected MINE?

That would just be plain silly. Refusing to do something you want just because you don't want to appear like your conforming to patriarchal notions of feminine beauty does not make you any less of a slave to the Patriarchy. It just makes you an unhappy slave. Doesn't this all come down to figuring out what YOU want, and then following YOUR desires regardless of what the Patriarchy, Husband, Boyfriend, Twisty, or Bloggerdom say? That's what MIM appears to be doing, and that's why I like her. She does not deserve to be trashed by Bloggerdom for her honesty, introspection, and her stating of the obvious. Tsk, tsk to those who attacked her maliciously instead of trying to figure out what she actually meant.


Prue said...

While I don't disagree completely with MIM's premise, her use of the phrase "false advertising" is particularly unfortunate. It implies that women are "advertising" themselves to potential mates, hoping that someone will "buy" them, i.e., "marry" them. And if the "product," i.e. the "wife" isn't what it was "advertised" to be, then they have a right to be upset. I had hoped we were past the use of such metaphors as a society.

The obvious response to my sentiment above is that MiM purports to make the "false advertising" mantra gender neutral -- the male is also falsely advertising himself if he gains forty pounds after the wedding. That doesn't hold water with me. In light of the long history in the world of women being seen as chattle, needing to seek out husbands in order to have any worth at all, I don't think the use of such a loaded phrase does women any favors.

Bean said...

I like the word usage frankly. I think many people jumped on MIM instead of really focusing on what she is saying. Ultimately, if you go out and find a mate which is what most people do, it is bullshit to "False Advertise".

I would be false advertising if I dated being size 2, with padded bra and long hair and then oops! "sorry honey I got you there" I want to be short hair, no padded bra, and a size 8. Hubby would be a false ad. too if he dramatically gained weight and grew his hair out! The point is it goes BOTH WAYS: MALE AND FEMALE.

Perhaps it is so controversal because there are many people who are INSECURE with their true identity!

Buttercup said...

To clarify, certainly a lot of people (particularly women) have issues with their weight and body image. I'm one of them. And I can understand how MIM's post might have made some of them feel as if she was attacking them for not losing pregnancy weight or that sort of thing. I don't actually think that's what MIM was saying, but I understand how some people might have interpreted it that way. My major issue of annoyance with the response to MIM's post was that (1) she was attacked as a non-feminist because she admitted she stays in shape in part out of consideration of her husband and (2) that some people were exceedingly nasty in their personal attacks of her in her comments section. I can certainly respect a difference of opinion on this issue, but it does not need to degenerate into personal attacks.

Prue's point about the double standard and the unbalanced gender context is well-taken. But in MIM's case it appears as if she really was the applying the false advertising notion in a gender neutral way.

Prue said...

Fun! An actual blog debate. I think this may be a first for Buttercup & Bean? I am pleased to have been a part of it.

Bean said...

Are you attacking me Buttercup?? I think I am on the same page as you but I can't quite be sure. I think it's bullshit that she was attacked bc to me it seems she stays in shape for her health, well being and for hubby as well and to perhaps keep up with the kids. I still believe firmly though that perhaps the "negative" responses to her is because of one's own PERSONAL INSECURITIES hence their rude comments and attacks.

Prue said...

I didn't mean a blog debate between Buttercup & Bean - I meant a debate on the Buttercup & Bean blog between commenters (namely me and you guys on the other side, I think). I probably should've been more clear.

Buttercup said...

Bean, Prue is a Pisces. She goes with the flow, and is a harmony maker. As if I needed to explain that.

Prue said...

That was nice, Buttercup. I didn't want to be the cause of any sisterly strife! I feel like I am hogging your comment section. But this is such an interesting topic that I would like to say something else:

I totally 100% agree with you both that staying in shape and trying to look your best is very important, especially in marriage, for both the husband and the wife. Nothing at all controversial about that in my opinion.

But the other thing about the "advertising" label that doesn't really jive with me is that these days, at least in my experience, couples are usually well beyond any vestiges of the advertising stage by the time they walk down the aisle. Long gone are the notions that they don't ever fart, or don't ever have bad breath, or never get bad haircuts, or that their weight doesn't fluctuate occasionally, by the time the couple decides to tie the knot.

I know this isn't the case for everyone - some romantic souls get married way before they're out of that stage, and I envy them. But for those of us who dated for several years before getting married, I think all our cards were pretty much on the table well before the honeymoon.

Wood said...

Great points re: "advertising," Prue.

The other problem I have with MIM's argument (and her clarification) is that she equates growing a beard or getting braces to gaining weight. They're not the same. No one thinks "huh, I'd like a change, and perhaps gaining 30 pounds is a good way to go." People who gain weight generally feel shitty about it, and if I gained weight that I had trouble losing, it would be Dutch's JOB to make me feel beautiful anyway. If I didn't have his support I don't know that I could be strong enough to work on losing the weight. And motherhood (okay fine, parenthood) is hard, and it's hard to find time for yourself to work out and eat well. It's not as simple as she makes it.

I think the incidences of women (or men) who choose to gain weight because they can relax now that they "snagged" a man are very few.

Buttercup said...

Prue: I completely agree that by the time people marry all their cards should be out on the table. I thought MIM would agree with that, but maybe not.

Wood: Damn good point about choosing a haircut being different than weight gain or weight loss. And you're right, if I put on some pounds (like I have) and did not feel as fit as I would like, I would count on Raj to continue to make me feel beautiful (and NOT say such things as "your butt is a little fuller but I LIKE it...more cusion for the push-in). Luckily, that boy is a quick learner, and I think in the future he'll pick up a card from Prue's hubby and say "Sweetie, I don't know WHAT you're talking about" if that subject comes up. There's a fine line between being starkly and brutally honest and loving and supportive.

I do think though that MIM's post was more about the situation where a woman projects this image of fitness prior to getting comfortable, and then consciously "let's herself go." Maybe the problem with the point of view is that that scenario is not really realistic. What's far more likely is that a woman (or a man) will gain some weight over time for a variety of reasons, while trying to hold everything together, and feel bad about it. And Wood, at that point, if my husband said anything to make me feel worse about what I probably already felt bad about (assuming I was not happy wiht the size I was -- whatver that size may be) I would be SUPER pissed at him for failing to support me just at the time when I really needed him.

MIM said...

It's true that no one chooses to gain a bunch of weight. But they do choose to exercise and to eat right. How many people stop doing that once comfortable in their relationship? And why shouldn't a spouse have the freedom to say something honestly if a result of those choices is gaining weight? They shouldn't be unkind about it. They should be supportive and loving. I'm not saying they have the right to be an asshole. But they have a right to convey their honest feelings as well, becuase it MAY affect them, and if it does, that doesn't make them a superficial asshole or bitch.

My step-father has gained a ton of weight in his belly. My mother hates it becuase it actually hurts her when they have sex. She really, really wants him to do something about it, but he refuses. Is that really fair to her that he doesn't care how she feels at all? Should she say nothing?

I'm just talking about honest, open communication. I would never want Husband to secretly feel unattractive towards me just because I thought it was his job to lie to me to make me feel better about my poor health choices (this is, of course just re the weight, not the haircut analogy). And I'm not talking about 10 or 15 pounds. I'm talking about a LOT of weight.

It's not spouses job to lie to me to make me feel better. It's his job to be my best friend and be honest with me. Always.

And Buttercup, that was an AWESOME post. Thank you.

Murky Thoughts said...

I doubt there's much if any difference between what looks like a good female body to a woman and what looks like a good female body to a man. Why should we expect there to be a difference? I think you're right to focus on the personal rather than the gendered.

Murky Thoughts said...

I suppose one potential indicator of the "genderedness" of gaze would be if women and gay men had different aesthetics for male bodies and vice versa for men and gay women. That's not my impression.

Miss Nibbles said...

Wow, okay, so this is a complicated subject.

...."false advertising"....

That is tricky. First off, a young thin fit women, and a strong young fit man are NOT advertising that they plan on being that way forever. In fact, it would simply be foolish to choose a mate with that in mind without talking to them about it.

They WILL grow old for instance.

Age, is not easy, simply put. Aging can include weight gain, wrinkles, horrible fads in which hair is mangled into a variety of "cuts", lousy diet plans, pregnancy, disease... etc.

When choosing a mate for life, it's simply rude to consider what they first brought to the table to be what they will ALWAYS bring to the table. Especially without talking about it first. If you haven't said, "hun, I pretty much expect this is your weight now,so, stay like this or else." I think every mate on the planet would be offended.

But, what they trade in with wrinkles, pounds and bad hair styles, is experiance together and devotion to their partner.

Now, I'm not saying that a person should INTENTIONALLY get fat, ugly, bad hair cuts, mean, bitter, and wrinkles. But I AM saying that just because you don't have those things now doesn't mean you promise to never have them.

Not without actually making the promise.