Me and the Hot Chick

by Kohleun

Confession: I care about the way I look. I also identify as an egalitarian feminist.

I happen to take care of my skin with a near-religious fervor, I wear make up and dresses, I sometimes curl or straighten my hair, I wax my legs, I paint my nails every week without fail, and I like to sway when I walk.

I’ve also spent countless hours reading Judith Butler’s work on gender performativity and Naomi Wolf’s treatise The Beauty Myth, and I’ve seen all the installments of Jean Kilbourne’s “Killing Us Softly” series (several times, thanks to my Facebook newsfeed). Back in the day I even studied costume design and the history of fashion. And I get it, friends: expectations of body image and self-presentation have tended to screw women over since, well, the “beginning of time.” Fig leaves? Not comfortable. Freshly acquired animal skins? Stinky. Perhaps Eve and Adam instituted the five-to-one compliment rule for that very reason. “Adam, honey, that bit of tendon dripping down your calf is fugly, but you prepare a mean tree root tartar.” Or maybe not.

A recent addition to the “female beauty” conundrum to light up my Facebook newsfeed and debating faces is the wave of “When did this . . . become hotter than this?” images that compare one standard of beauty with another. To see a wide selection of these visual blurbs, check out this link:“When did this . . . become hotter than this?” The most popular of these images compares current 20-something celebrities, like Kirsten Dunst and Keira Knightley, with women who were considered female icons in previous decades, such as Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe.

I don't know . . . around 1980?

Clearly, popular ideals of feminine beauty evolve over time and differ depending on cultural climates. Thanks for pointing that out, meme-maker. But beyond the history lesson, how helpful is this image? To me it suggests that the problem at hand is not that women are held to an over-arching standard of body type but, instead, that the problem is found in the fact that the current standard is very thin.

In response to this and other comparisons I ask, when did it become beneficial to choose any standard(s) of body image over any other(s)? If it’s all about “hotness,” or visual sex appeal, why does it matter if the mode du jour is curvy or not? Just as the pursuit of thinness can be dangerous, not everyone’s body is healthy with an hourglass figure. Not all real women have protruding pelvises and not all real women have curves.

Yes, Nichole and Keira look like they really need to eat a couple sandwiches . . . every hour, for the next several days to raise their body fat percentage to a level that keeps them warm and helps them to absorb fat-soluble vitamins. And, yes, many women would have to deprive themselves of necessary nourishment to make their bodies look like these. But on the other hand, some women would have to refrain from exercising and would need to binge eat to reach Marilyn’s curvaciousness. If we all held ourselves to the standards of the bottom row, some of us who aren’t naturally proportioned with ample hips and breasts and tiny waists would still have to deprive ourselves and fight the losing fitness battle known as “spot-targetting” (by the way, trying to lose weight from one part of your body while retaining it elsewhere doesn’t work).

I think combating unrealistic standards of body image (for women and men) starts with taking apart standards in the first place.  This may sound trite; people say it all the time, but each individual needs to listen to her or his own body and take care of it. I’ll say it again in case the Internet jumbled it: LET’S LISTEN TO OUR BODIES’ NEEDS. I’m not talking about just giving ourselves whatever we want on a whim, though sometimes that can be more healthy than not. I mean eating real food, hydrating, sleeping, and engaging in physical activity.

From there–taking care of our bodies–I don’t think it really matters how a person chooses to fashion herself. So maybe I like to dress like Jackie O. Maybe I like to wear clothes that emphasize my waistline. Maybe I have far too many hoodie sweatshirts for a person of my age group. And maybe, no, I’ll own this one completely, I like being the size that I am. And I’m tired of being told that it’s just because I’m small. If Marilyn Monroe were still the standard, I might see myself differently, but wouldn’t everybody? Can we please stop comparing ourselves to each other and de-legitimizing each other’s appreciation of our own bodies? Can we please say to the standards, “Screw you” rather than letting them continue to screw us?