Tuesday, May 25, 2010
The Knesset is joining the battle against stick-thin models. But one pundit is asking whether anybody should really care how Britney Spears looks
By Tsafi Saar
Israel is trying to become the latest nation to shun the ranks of anorexic-looking models. On Sunday the Ministerial Committee for Legislation discussed a proposal for a law that would prohibit underweight models from appearing in television commercials. Other Western countries have already done this and in the previous Knesset there was an attempt to promote a similar law.
This measure is in fact part of a trend: Leading magazines that show only stick-thin women on their pages have recently been featuring models with a bit more flesh on their bones.
The French magazine Elle, for example, devoted its April issue to larger models. Various celebrities, like Britney Spears and Demi Moore, have been displaying their pulchritude, appearing in pictures without the help of Photoshop touchups.
Hollywood, so we have recently been informed, is turning its back on plastic surgery and trying to return to a "natural" look. Apparently the movement is also gathering momentum in the mainstream.
So what's the catch? Well, not everybody thinks it is a battle that needs to be fought. In a rabble-rousing article posted on the Australian media Web site abc.net.au, Australian writer Helen Razer recalled "an era when feminism's purview was not limited to banging on about the need for more fat chicks in glossy magazines."
Moreover, she wrote, "While others fight for the right to force-feed Kate Moss, I continue antique fretting over equal pay, domestic violence and federal representation."
Razer asks whether there is indeed a connection between cellulite and women's rights, and wonders if the aim of feminism today is to ensure size 46 girls get their equal due.
"Yes," she writes, "This just in: Heat is hot, water is wet and teenagers are obsessed with their appearance. As such, let's spend money on developing an industry code of conduct so that we can all enjoy the spectacle of more cottage cheese on Britney's thighs."
In Israel, too, there are feminists who say the concern with body image is excessive, at least in academia, where it is manifested in the many doctoral theses dealing with this issue as compared to a dearth of research in other areas such as the history of Israeli feminism.
Predictably, Razer's words have not been taken lying down. First of all, opponents have argued, it is not only teenagers who obsess about their appearance and suffer from eating disorders - these problems, exacerbated because of the prevalent images in the media, are now appearing at younger and younger ages among children, as well as among older women.
As for Razer's argument that focusing on body image is nothing but "bourgeois feminism," her critics have replied that these problems cross socio-economic lines. Not only do they exist among poor, wealthy and middle-income women and girls, but thanks to globalization, the images are also being exported from the West to the developing world.
Even if there is truth to this, it is worth remembering that there are many millions of women, certainly in the third world but also in the West, for whom all these discussions are irrelevant: women who are fighting poverty and sexual and other kinds of oppression most Westerners might never have to deal with.
This is because today in the West it is usually impossible to say to a woman: Don't get an education, don't aspire. Instead, however, it is all too possible in addition to her job and her second job in the home to cause her to spend her time on makeup and makeovers, lifts and operations.
Or as one of the respondents to Razor's article said, nowadays it doesn't matter if you are smart, independent, successful, capable and qualified, creative and charismatic - you also have to be thin and sexy.
And with all this, there is another option. Not many women choose it but it does have a definitely liberating element. They can simply say: fuck it.
Yes indeed. Don't put on makeup, or put on makeup only when you feel like it, don't diet, don't join in the competition. This has a price: The gap between your appearance and that of the women in the magazines will be much bigger than usual.
Indeed, not an easy choice.