Friday, February 27, 2009

The Status Quo & Other Thinky Thoughts

NB:Long ass rambly post & I still don't do Blogger's round about cut tags.

Looking up something on a completely different topic, I stumbled onto The Cocoa Longue. Two articles caught my eye, the first - The Black Best Friend In Hollywood. The comments are especially interesting. There's one that claims that black actresses should just shell out money to create indie projects which they can star in and stop complaining.

The other bit to catch my eye was a"Whatever Happened To Gerren Taylor" titled American the (not) so Beautiful; documentary website here.

Now this is old stuff, 2007 stuff. But it got me to thinking about progression. I was surprised at the GI Joe action figures. I was surprised at the revisionist classical artwork replicas. I was surprised at the stick thin women in Wolverine & The Xmen. But the question for me as I thought about these things is, should I have been?

Even as sparing as I am in what I consume media wise, this trend didn't come out of nowhere. And yet I can remember all the hype over Calista Flockheart, whose body type now seems to be taken as the norm, but once upon a time the media was commenting on whether that was her natural body type or if she was anorexic and what kind of message that was sending.

What a difference a decade makes, yes?

The reason I'm bringing this up in the first place, however, is because of one word, one word in the linked article, a quote from the LA Times. the heart of "America the Beautiful" is Gerren, a teen model who got labeled "obese" (emphasis mine) by the fashion industry at age 14 — as a 6-foot size 4...She was measured in London with 96-centimeter (37.8 inches) hips and told she had to be 90 centimeters (35.4 inches) or under to model in Paris. (Then as now, she weighs 130 pounds.)

Gerren Taylor aka 'Baby Naomi' states in the documentary itself that "Health doesn't become an option in this business... if you're going to worry about your health, go to college".

I sat there for a moment and it hit me in a confused mess, just how the line could very well be drawn. Fashion decides on skinny - I don't know how or why, maybe one particular model brought an unusual look because of her body type, or maybe it's some sort of internal thing about not resting on one's laurels if you're a size 0 - aim for -2. I have no clue. What I do note is that what goes up on billboards and in commercials and in magazines becomes the new standard and suddenly the new fashion standard becomes the new fit.

But then it hit me deeper, for example if Serena and Venus Williams weren't prize winning, accomplished athletes, would doctors tell them they were fit? I'm not sure. I'm inclined to believe no, simply because the new fashion standard always seems to move towards making women look even more frail and delicate and dependent.

Or should I phrase that as white women, and "obese" has become one of the words that means ugly, the way that black meant ugly and grotesque and there was no way a darkie could ever measure up the the pale, delicate flower of womanhood represented by white women.

Except nowadays there are a lot of white women who don't measure up to 'the pale, delicate flower of womanhood' and WoC, particularly darker WoC can't even get a foot in the door. The Missing Black Woman Formation, quoted from Scott Westerfeld's SO YESTERDAY.

Vixen's and other heroines of color being white washed - it fits this. If these heroines are going to be defined as beautiful then they have to fit into the 'pale delicate flower of womanhood', that means, thinner and paler. But they're also attempting to stand strong in a White Man's World, so to appease that affront, they have to be passively sexually aggressive.

Yeah, I know, the three words shouldn't make any sense. What the hell is passively sexually aggressive. Well, it's The Wonder Thong and the plunging necklines and characters drawn as if they're not wearing a bra (far less a sports bra). Sexuality highlighted is it then ok to oggle these women, because it's right in our faces? And then there's cries of ignorance when women say the poses and clothing undercut the strength of the characters. And yet... Citizen Steel couldn't have a shiny on his package because a male character couldn't be so passively...sexually suggestive/aggressive.

So if you can't be a pale delicate flower of womanhood, you have to be some kind of tart. And if you're not white, you have to look closer to white, otherwise there could be ickiness in having a sexually suggestive, thus non Mammy, black, or darker WoC figure. And all those women need to be wrapped up into near impossibility/invisibility because somehow they have to maintain that 'delicate and dependent' state somehow, no matter what they're actually doing, because that's who and what women are, so even if it's just a visual delicateness and frailty, it must be there.

She-Hulk and the trails and tribulations of Jen to maintain and have control over her transformation, suddenly have deeper meaning. Misty Knight's strength and dedication of purpose, matched with a bionic arm, and loose swinging breasts suddenly have, at least to me, deeper meaning; especially when she's put in passive sexually suggestive (aggressive) poses. And the messing up of her hair? So that it invoked something ridiculous, perhaps even something tribal (like those cartoon images of dark skinned beings in grass/straw skirts with grass straw binding their hair at one point, with it poofing out at another).

- The Sapphire.

It's all just make-overs of pre-existing stereotypes, isn't it? Maintaining the status quo in one form or another. And they get passed on and on and on.

Michelle Obama as a black, fashionable, beautiful woman, being strong in public has caused all sorts of shock and backlash that I've just kind of stared at. But now things are clicking. Because when something challenges that status quo, fighting like a kitten in a wet paper-bag - it often isn't successful. Somehow it just doesn't 'draw audience'. On the other hand, Mrs. Obama isn't fading into obscurity anytime soon.

I'm going to think on this some more and also try to search out the stereotypes for men - because a friend of mine told me the other day about 'calf implants and I can remember seeing comments about a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger post surgery about how 'He'd let himself go' without any consideration of his age, and how healthy he had to be to recover swiftly from any kind of heart surgery in the first place. There's something teasing on the edges about men needing to be in control at all times; of their bodies, their penises, their erections, their salaries, their status and presentation.

Y'know, sometimes I think we are all in the Matrix and this bs is the no-utopia formulated to keep us all just miserable enough not to wake up - I'll let you know if my computer starts talking to me.

PS: Kirk? That whole thing where you look at women who should be being mothers and grandmothers as age dictates, except you see the sexy (not delicate, pale flowers in need of protection) - all the 'Arrgh I hate that Box man!' makes so much more sense to me now. You're shaking things up all over.


  1. I think you're giving me a bit too much credit, especially since a number of those criticisms are coming from women (and self-described feminists, to boot), but thanks. :)

  2. Oh, and, yeah, odd synchronicity; I just did a short pic post on Michelle Obama, America's FLILF:

    Even white boys got to shout. :)

    Who the fuck thought it was a good idea to have THOMAS JEFFERSON'S PORTRAIT in the background of a picture of a BLACK WOMAN, though?

  3. Kirk:

    Me and self described feminists don't often tend to see eye to eye. But I'm not claiming you're being an activist. I'm just claiming that you being your upfront pervy self seriously rocks the boat (like a drunk man dancing a jig who manages not to fall out).

    As for Jefferson's portrait, I've seen other posts about the official portrait and someone said either people weren't thinking at all, or somewhere Sally Hemmings pulled a string for her own comic amusement.