Britney and those pictures – an alternative view

Here’s an interesting, alternative take on the Britney pictures story. In brief, Britney asked for unphotoshopped versions of the photos to be released to highlight the pressures on women to look a certain way, and she’s been applauded (and criticised in direct and not-so-direct ways) by various sources for the move. The post I link to above, however, suggests that holding up celebrities, posing for photos in pink bikinis, as feminists, or as performing feminist actions, is a sad reflection on the state of feminism. Feminine appearance, she suggests, is not a particularly weighty topic, and all the hoo haa over it is getting in the way of campaigning over more serious feminist issues, such as equal pay, domestic abuse, etc. etc. I’m not sure I agree – the pressures relating to feminist appearance is, I think, a topic that’s every bit as important as equal pay, because (i) in our culture, the pressures put on women (and increasingly on men) to look a certain way are enormous and have been linked to serious things like anorexia; (ii) the issues surrounding feminine appearance are linked to other supposedly more serious issues. For example, our culture prizes youthful looking women and this affects the career trajectory of women in certain jobs in a way that it does not affect men. Notice the trend in the UK, for teaming an ageing male TV presenter with a much younger female, and notice that one never sees an older female with a significantly younger male presenter. Female newsreaders are made redundant when they become too old, whilst male newsreaders can continue to inform us of world events looking all grey and ‘distinguished’. Sandra Bartky’s work reminds us that the norms of feminine appearance don’t just include ideals of how we should look, but how we should comport our bodies also. Women’s body language is the language of subordinates – we look down on the ground, take up as little space as possible, walk with smaller steps, and so on. I think the article falls into the trap of denigrating women for their anxieties over their appearance – a nice cultural fix we find ourselves in, where we’re damned if we don’t ‘make an effort’, and damned if we let anyone know how much effort it is. But what do you think?

4 thoughts on “Britney and those pictures – an alternative view

  1. I’m not a fan of Britney Spears, but what she did seems courageous to me, not only courageous but also generous and concerned about other women, who may have body image problems. I doubt that showing her real body will increase Ms. Spears’ earnings or promote her career as a pop singer, since her public tends to be those people who buy illusions. Hence, Ms. Spears’ effort to awake her listening public from their illusions about a perfect body seems all the more admirable to me.

  2. Amos, I agree.
    When entertainers draw critical attention to their images has got to be valuable. It provides a critical distance on what are, for many of us, very powerful images, and it invites discussion of how bodies become commodified.

  3. I wonder… men can look distinguished based purely on appearance. How often do women get to do that? If I think a woman “looks” distinguished, it’s because I know who she is, and she “is” distinguished.

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