Feminist Philosophers

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Yes. Just yes. September 25, 2012

Filed under: beauty,objectification — philodaria @ 10:28 pm
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Lady Gaga is responding to the media nonsense surrounding her weight gain, first noted here–and her response is pretty awesome. Posting a series of pictures of herself in her bra and underwear on a new “Body Revolution” subsection of her social networking site for fans, she said by way of captions:

Bulimia and anorexia since I was 15.

But today I join the BODY REVOLUTION

To Inspire Bravery

and BREED some m$therf*cking COMPASSION

As the folks at Jezebel note,

The page has only been live for a few hours, but fans have already been posting stories and photographs about recovering from anorexia, living with one and a half legs, having cancer. . . Some other celebrity might sue a publication for calling her fat; Gaga’s fighting back by taking the high road, by showing the world that it’s not okay to critique her body — not because she’s a pop star, but because she is a human being, with feelings and a history of eating disorders and we can, and should, do better. By posting these homemade, raw, here-I-am-with-all-my-flaws (not that we see any) images, she shows that her struggle is the same struggle millions of other men and women have everyday: Learning to love yourself just the way you are, finding and believing you are beautiful when the media is hellbent on making you think you’re fat and ugly (and that fat is the same as ugly).

This whole thing has really hit home with me. I’m an intelligent, otherwise confident woman, a feminist who knows better, and if anything I’m underweight — yet, I still struggle with body shame and the size of my thighs. This obsession with women’s bodies is not fundamentally about being thin, or even about being pretty; it’s about seeing women’s bodies as public property — as objects open to legitimate critique from total strangers.  And it’s total BS.  And so, in the words of Lady Gaga,

Be brave and celebrate with us your “perceived flaws,” as society tells us. May we make our flaws famous, and thus redefine the heinous.

 

11 Responses to “Yes. Just yes.”

  1. annejjacobson Says:

    Wonderful response from her!

  2. ajkreider Says:

    Not entirely sure how to appropriately or sensitively frame this question, so I’ll just barge ahead.

    With regard to comment on public critique, what exactly is the objection? I take it that you don’t want to say that any public critique that can be hurtful to the critiqued is out of bounds. So what is it about body critique that is? If it’s because claims of being “not thin enough” produce bad consequences (like anorexia, etc.), that makes sense. But you don’t think that’s it. Public critique her music isn’t out of bounds, and neither is public praise of her body (an least, people make little fuss in such cases). So . . . .

    Part of my confusion on such matters is that I don’t know what the ultimate goal is. Surely it isn’t that everyone find everything about everyone else’s body attractive (eliminate “flaws”). That seems both practically impossible as well as undesirable. There is some unfairness in women being valued more by their bodies than men are, but I take it that looking at men this way too would not be viewed by most as an improvement.

    Maybe the goal is to dissolve any connection between one’s body and one’s character, which seems like a good goal. But that doesn’t seem to be an issue here, or even generally. It’s not that Lady Gaga’s being thought of as a bad person, and that’s what upsets her. It’s that she (understandably) doesn’t like people saying negative things about her body. But that doesn’t seem so beyond the pale, especially concerning a public figure.

  3. philodaria Says:

    I’m not sure how you’re using “beyond the pale”. If you mean that it’s not out of the ordinary, I agree with you. If you mean, there’s nothing particularly objectionable about it, I don’t. And I actually do think certain kinds of praise ought to be out of bounds (that is, at the very least, objectifying praise).

    I also do think there’s more to the character connection here than you’ve said. I think the reactions linked to in Anne’s earlier post on this, and some much worse in other media, were treating her as though she had a character defect (http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/should-we-give-them-credit-for-trying/). How dare she wear a thong when she has cellulite? Maria Menounos who was pretty tame relative to some others said outright that she shouldn’t be wearing the same style of clothes she wore before her weight gain, and that she doesn’t need to be wearing “dental floss.” I think there’s a cultural tendency to treat women as though they owe it to society to appear a certain way in public, and a tendency to be indignant about it when they don’t. It doesn’t seem as though this is strictly a matter of aesthetics, but a matter of responsibility as well.

    My objection isn’t that we should find everyone else attractive–my objection is that it’s none of our business as a public what Lady Gaga’s body looks like, and treating it as an object of critique (rather than a human person) is objectifying.

  4. annejjacobson Says:

    ajk, your comment really caught my attention because, though I agree with philodaria, it seems to me you raise a problem. Here’s the problem your words suggested to me: of course, there’s a difference between a person and her products; one can criticize the objects produced – poems, books, song, moves, whatever – in a way one should not criticize a person. I.e., one shouldn’t treat persons like objects.

    But suppose someone makes her body into a product, which arguably Gaga has done, even to the point of fake eye pupils? What then?

    My best take on this takes me back to philodaria, but I’ll repeat the reasoning in case anyone finds it interesting. There’s a sense in which many, many human beings decorate and re-form their bodies. Someone perhaps rashly said that all of us (Western women, I think) are female impersonators; a great deal of our presence is fakery. Still, as in the simpler case of the young woman who dresses in revealing, sexy clothing, it does not mean her body is simply an object for us to treat as a object.

    Much more personally, I am really sad and angry to find I’ve internalized the values that showed up in the recent criticism of Gaga. I think these sorts of values are less deep seated than we might think; I’ve found a number of different fashion looks entrancing and then somewhat repellant. So I think that if we started to praise fuller bottoms reeled in fishnet stockings, we might free ourselves of a heavy burden. I wish some of those people speaking had tried to do that.

  5. ChrisTS Says:

    I am probably being a tad hypersensitive, but it bothers me that Jezebel seems at pains to note that Gaga’s body in her own photos does not look as ‘fat/big/whatever’ as in the ones displayed by her critics. I mean, yes, to a 61 year old she looks great, but isn’t the point that it should not matter so much how she looks?

  6. ajkreider Says:

    There’s a lot to digest in your comments, philo and ajj. But even leaving aside the particulars of Lady Gaga’s case, I guess I just find it very implausible that public praise or criticism of someone’s body amounts to treating them merely as an object (though it may involve viewing their body as an object in some weaker sense).

    I don’t doubt that so much focus can be put on someone’s appearance that the person gets lost. I take it that this is what ChrisTS is after. And I think it likely that near obsessive concern with celebrities’ appearance encourages some to treat others as pure objects. But simply viewing someone’s body as beautiful or disgusting (or saying so) doesn’t seem to be equivalent to objectifying them, in the sense that it’s to view them as not a person.

    This isn’t to say that therefore one should feel free to publicly say that someone else is disgusting. It’s mean spirited to do so, but that is another matter.

  7. philodaria Says:

    ajkreider, I don’t think we disagree. That’s actually exactly why I meant to be distinguishing between objectifying praise and praise. I said “at least the very least, objectifying praise” because I find it plausible that even if no one particular instance of praise or criticism is objectifying, over time internalizing the import of appearance would give rise to objectifying attitudes. So, one phenomenon I find particularly interesting is that of self-objectification. In lay terms, self-objectification occurs when one’s focus shifts from questions like, “How do I feel?” to questions like, “How do I look?” Those experiencing self-objectification supplant a sense of self with a sense of being seen by others, and it can be triggered exposure to praise or criticism of appearance. It might well be that it can only be triggered so easily because it takes places in a broader cultural context in which objectifying practices are so widely accepted, but of course, we criticize or praise celebrities in precisely that same context.

    Anne, those are interesting quesitons. I like to think that much of Lady Gaga’s public persona is meant to satirize the practices of the music industry which makes the bodies of musicians just as much a part of the product as the actual music (e.g., her famous meat dress), but I do have a history of being an optimist!

  8. philodaria Says:

    Sorry, I meant to also add that self-objectification can be triggered just by wearing a swimsuit alone in a dressing room.

  9. philodaria Says:

    Oh, and ChrisTS, I don’t think you’re being over sensitive. I agree!

  10. ChrisTS Says:

    Good. Thanks.

  11. annejjacobson Says:

    Philodaria, I’m very puzzled by socially critical satire that earns so much money by appealing to those who are taken in by the satirized phenomena. That’s especially when those taken in are far from the 1%.


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