Tuesday, January 5, 2010

You're beautiful... just like this supermodel is!

Women's mags, we've been here before. You, sitting over there with gesturing with your perfectly manicured hands, trying to assure girls and women that YES, you are beautiful no matter what shape you are! The current demands for women to look a certain way are unrealistic, you exclaim in a sudden epiphany. Squee! Revelation! Empowerment! Go girl!

While I, sitting over here examining my own chewed nails, wonder why if everybody's so damn beautiful and special, you just keep shoving the same specific body shape and beauty ideal down our throats again and again and again.

Prior to the release of their latest magazine cover featuring a nude and "untouched" picture of model Jennifer Hawkins in a bid to support
the Butterfly Foundation (an Australian charity that provides support for people suffering from eating disorders and their carers), I imagine Marie Claire had a meeting that went something like:

Editor: We need something real for next issue, some serious lady topic that relates to our audience like no other. Perhaps with a tie-in to a charity organisation for a positive and hopeful angle!
Lackey: How about... eating disorders? That is a lady topic! How women constantly struggle with body shape and the insecurities associated with basing all our self worth on whether we meet a certain shallow criteria for attractiveness, and how this affects our physical and psychological health!
Editor: Yes! That has not been done before!
Lackey: And just throwing this out there but... what if - just this once, mind you - we have a cover girl who has not been digitally enhanced!
Other Lackeys: Gasp!
Editor: Brilliant! Showcase a real woman! Like that Dove thing a couple of years back! And, to further push the status quo... have her completely naked on the cover!
Lackey: You are a genius, madam. I will google Australian charities dedicated to fighting eating disorders right now.
Lackey: Any ideas on who the cover girl should be?
Editor: Well a popular and beloved Australian celebrity, of course, in order to raise awareness. And we have to actually sell the magazine so, y'know, preferably a model and beauty queen.

It seems to me that a charity organisation dedicated to fighting eating disorders - full of people who have seen the damage, devastation and death eating disorders cause - would point out that using a conventionally beautiful and thin model to raise awareness of the perils of negative body image might be problematic. But Julie Parker of the Butterfly Foundation
has defended criticism of Marie Claire's choice of anti-eating disorder covergirl thusly:

"Jennifer sells magazines and she creates awareness. If Marie Claire had chosen to put on their cover an ordinary women [sic], say myself or a friend of yours, it would not have created the awareness it does."

Well, why not have an "ordinary" high profile woman on the cover, then? Magda Szubanski is a much-loved Aussie celebrity. When Kyle Sandilands bagged her out live on radio the entire country jumped to her defence. She's also a spokeswoman for Jenny Craig. I'm sure she'd have some perspective on negative body image issues and eating disorders.

Rebel Wilson? Awesome lady, confident and funny as hell. Have you seen her on Thank God You're Here? She's amazing. And suffers from weight issues.

Ricki-Lee Coulter? The former Aussie Idol contestant and singer/TV host has to constantly defend criticism of her body shape.
"I can't tell you the number of times people have told me if I just lost 10kg I could go much further in my career," Coulter said. "But I'm determined to show them - and other average-size women - it is doable and possible."

Now, I quite like Jennifer Hawkins - she seems very down-to-Earth, friendly and kind. I believe she is a good role model. And obviously as an actual model Jennifer knows firsthand the complex relationship between body image and self-esteem. It's great to see her here addressing the issue, and willing to take a risk to raise awareness.

But Jesus, surely a charity with a vision of living "in a world that celebrates health, well-being and diversity", and a magazine supposedly supporting this goal, could have selected a cover model that didn't just reinforce the same old narrow ideals of beauty they purport to be challenging.

White! Thin! Pretty! Young! Able-bodied! Blonde! Long legs! Big boobs! Perfect teeth! Tiny waist! Completely hairless body!

Imagine a young girl who already hates her body picking up this magazine and seeing the shallow message, you are beautiful just the way you are! See, naked former-Miss Universe here has flaws too! Because at sixteen, I knew I had no hope in hell of ever looking like that, I would've been like, "Wow, Jen's really positive and confident with her body - and I would be too IF I LOOKED LIKE THAT. WHICH I DON'T."

Having the same magazine with Ricki-Lee or somebody on the cover, along with the message, "My body is beautiful and I'm confident to embrace it. There's nothing to be ashamed of." ...that has more of the impact you want, Butterfly Foundation! Yeah, Marie Claire is ultimately about making money, and they're going to sell a hell of a lot more nudie pictures of Jennifer Hawkins than of somebody over size 8... but where's the challenge in that?

So, you really want to make a difference? You really want to raise awareness about eating disorders and promote diversity in the way women are portrayed in the media? You really want women to feel so comfortable with their bodies that one day eating disorders will be a thing of the past?

Then stop doing it half-arsed. Break your own taboos and showcase women who don't fit that beauty mould. There are plenty of 'em both in and out of the public eye. Don't tell me it won't "raise awareness". Don't tell me pointing out some dimples on a model's thigh is the best you can do. If YOU can't accept women outside the narrow convention of feminine beauty than you're doing nothing to promote change, no matter what the article says inside.

I know you're trying, but from here it just looks like you're running around in circles. Shallow, little circles.

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