Saturday, April 30, 2011

Some Concerns for Randy, Star of "Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss"

While watching a re-run of the royal wedding, I saw previews for "Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss" and I think there needs to be some discussion about the contradictions of even having a show like this exist on our televisions. This interview with Randy Fenoli on "Why Plus-Size Brides Deserve Extra Love" brings up many of the issues I raised in my last post.

Here are a few highlights:

-Randy says that the point of spotlighting plus-size women is because they have received such poor treatment from other bridal stores. My problem is that by putting them on the television screen in a separate show aren't you just further "othering" them?

-He then goes on to declare that his "plus-size brides" are comfortable in their own skin, yet they should avoid certain patterns or dresses that are unattractive for their figures. A bit of a contradiction? I was watching the regular show "Say Yes to the Dress" a few weeks ago, and a "plus-size" bride wanted to wear a mermaid-style gown. Randy came in and told her that it was unflattering over and over again, yet the bride was set on that design.

Another important issue this article raises is that dresses at bridal stores do not come in sizes above a 6 or 8. The average size for a woman is a size 14. When the average woman walks into a bridal store, she won't find a dress in her size. Yet, women can't be "average-looking" can they? I think the fact that these stores won't carry sizes above an 8 is another way that women's bodies are controlled and made to feel uncomfortable. Is it telling women that they need to be a size 8 to be a happy bride in the gown of her choice? I think the bridal industry can change this by offering more and better choices for all brides.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How Should We Talk about Bodies?

I've been pondering this question for the past few weeks: How Should We Talk about Bodies? I think the language that we use to talk about bodies directly ties with the way we feel about ourselves. There are so many labels available like fat, skinny, plus size, thin, fleshy, voluptuous, beautiful, healthy and the list goes on. I get frustrated with these labels because I question who defines what these labels mean. What is "fat" and what is "beautiful?" Also, why does "beauty" have to be an ideal? There have been many campaigns saying "Big is beautiful" and as Mika sings "Big Girl You are Beautiful." My problem with those statements is why do we need to categorize our bodies as "beautiful"? Doesn't that just perpetuate this idea that beauty is what is most important about ourselves?

I was prompted to discuss this topic on my blog after reading an article about Elizabeth Taylor's Bodaciousness. This article describes Taylor as full-figured, untoned, and uninhibited and discusses the shift in Hollywood to thin, wispy actresses.

A few points of interest for me are:

-Elizabeth Taylor is a cultural icon, and I think it may be more acceptable for her to have some flesh than the "average" woman. Are there exceptions for certain actresses? The tension I am trying to get at here is that I think it is acceptable and considered "beautiful" for some women to be "full-figured" while other women would be called "fat." I think it goes back to my discussion of how labels are defined and controlled.

-Another dilemma this article raises is that the "bodacious" body can be "sinful" and sexual while the thin body is pure. This is a problematic association. Why are some bodies allowed to have desires and others are not?

This article on Christina Hendricks provides another example of the problematic language used to describe some bodies. It begins by applauding Hendricks for her curves in a hostile atmosphere like Hollywood. It continues to say that she is not "big", and then Amy Larocca writes, "It is also not to suggest that her figure is attainable to the average duck. She looks the way movie stars used to look." So, even if Hendricks is a "bigger" woman, her beauty is still unattainable to the "average" woman? Can you see and feel my frustration in the ways women's bodies are spoken about?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

J. Crew Pushes Boundaries with Neon Nail Polish

This J. Crew ad featuring a designer painting her son's toenails raises many relevant questions about the role of the media in challenging gender stereotypes. The caption says "Lucky for me I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon."

From one perspective, this ad can be viewed as progressive. Nail polish is associated with women and being "feminine." Men would be considered "strange" or "outcasts" for wanting to wear nail polish and therefore, be "feminine." Yet, this article has me rethinking the purpose of this ad. Did the advertisers intend to break down gender stereotypes? Are people overreacting to this ad when many little boys experiment with "feminine" behaviors before the outside world tells them it's unacceptable? While I fully support letting children be who they are and of course, I want to break down behaviors that are caged in to feminine and masculine terms, there is something about this ad that makes me uncomfortable. I don't think they have this child's best interests at heart, and when it comes down to it, these designers are trying to sell a product. Is there room for gender equality and challenging gender stereotypes in advertisements? Are there some positive examples? I'll get back to you about that one!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Some Advice from Elle Magazine if Your Boyfriend is Getting "Too Fat"

I found this column on that has been entertaining and angering me all week. In this post, E. Jean is giving advice to a reader who feels her boyfriend is becoming "too fat." 

Here's a link to E. Jean's advice: My Boyfriend is Getting Too Fat

I have a few problems and questions about this conversation: Would E. Jean's response about loving your man for who he is be the same if a man had written in about his girlfriend getting "too fat"? I would say absolutely not! Not to mention the fact that she contradicts herself in the following statement telling her to subtly make him jealous and force him to go to the gym. The real question here is whether her boyfriend is happy and doing what he feels is best for his body. Also, what does it mean to be "in shape?" Does that mean being thin and fitting a certain western beauty ideal? I think this reader needs to question how much her relationship depends on her boyfriend's appearance. This shows that men are expected to fit into beauty ideals as well.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Let's Celebrate "Phenomenal" Women

There's a wonderful Poem by Maya Angelou entitled "Phenomenal Woman" that celebrates the inner strength and grace all women possess. It's an empowering anthem that inspires me to be proud of who I am. I hope the lyrics can do the same for you:

"Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
The palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me."

This poem makes me think about not only honoring ourselves but also honoring the women in our lives for the phenomenal women they are. Imagine what the world would be like if women were not constantly "dressing" for other women to compete for a man's attention. What if we supported each other instead of tearing each other down? Can we break free of the "Mean Girls" mentality?

I think when women focus so much on competing with each other, they miss what they can learn from each other. I think there are a lot of great women transforming the world. Let's move past our own insecurities and start listening, reading and watching....

Rethinking "Modern" Love: What I've learned from Reese Witherspoon and bell hooks

I’ve admired Reese Witherspoon for many years for her courage, strength and charm. I loved her authenticity in Walk the Line, and I appreciate her honesty about the dissolution of her marriage to Ryan Philippe. For her second wedding to Jim Toth, she chose a beautiful light pink dress, and I applaud her for going off of the “traditional” route. The other day while discussing wedding dresses, I declared that if I got married, I did not want to wear a white dress on my wedding day. My friends looked at me in agreement stating, “Yeah, me neither. I think I want something off-white or ivory.” Well, that wasn’t what I meant. When I told them that I think I want to wear something unique and maybe lavender, they thought I was crazy.

What frustrates me is that I have to explain myself for going against a "norm" that the wedding industry perpetuates. The wedding industry has constructed a woman’s wedding day as the best moment in her life where she must wear the white dress and kiss her prince. But, what about the people that don’t get this happy ending? Is it the woman’s fault that she didn’t meet someone that she wanted to share her life with? Was she just not trying hard enough? I admire Reese for openly admitting that she married young, made some mistakes and has now found someone that she is happy with.

I read an article from Elle magazine that describes Reese’s dress as “pink enough to make it appropriate for a second wedding.” What bothers me is that for her second wedding it was inappropriate for her to wear “white.” There is a stigma that you only have one love for the rest of your life. I think you have many loves in your life. They can be people, children, hobbies and travel locations. I often have discussions with friends about how the number one question we are asked is about our relationship status. What about the passion and enthusiasm women bring to their work and job lives?

bell hooks describes love as a transformative force but only if people will put in the time and investment:
"Genuine love is rarely an emotional space where needs are instantly gratified. To know love we have to invest time and commitment...'dreaming that love will save us, solve all our problems or provide a steady state of bliss or security only keeps us stuck in wishful fantasy, undermining the real power of the love -- which is to transform us.' Many people want love to function like a drug, giving them an immediate and sustained high. They want to do nothing, just passively receive the good feeling."

Don't we all deserve the kind of love that hooks describes? 

Here are some quick links:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

To the Producers of "Little Miss Perfect"

I don’t know if it is possible to find a more blatant example of society’s absurd beauty standards than the beauty pageant world. A few days ago, I watched an episode of “Little Miss Perfect,” a reality television series following young girls who compete in beauty pageants. A red flag went off in my head when I listened to a disheartening exchange between a mother and daughter. The mother described to the camera that her youngest child was not winning any beauty pageants unlike her “talented” older sisters. When the mother asked the five-year old why she thought she did not win any pageants, she looked directly at the camera, tears streaming down her face, and said, “Because I am so ugly. I’m ugly.”

My first source of anger was at her parents. This little girl thinks she is “ugly” because she does not win beauty pageants. Her feelings of self-worth are solely based on her exterior, and she is only five-years-old. I also felt embarrassed and ashamed that I was let in to such a private moment in this little girl’s life. I felt ashamed for watching this show as a “guilty pleasure” when it exploits the destruction of young girls' self-esteems. While I do think the parents have some responsibility since they enter their children in these pageants, aren’t we all contributing to the problem if we watch these shows, keep up the ratings, and forget that the people we are watching are human? Why is seeing someone in pain so entertaining? Another sad realization is that even if this little girl begins winning, she will base all of her feelings about herself on her appearance, perpetuating this idea that physical beauty is the only prize worth living for.