Sunday, April 12, 2009

Beauty As Power The Declining Commodity

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The first time I saw this cover of Vanity Fair it was over at sociological images.  The following is commentary by Lisa regarding the photo:

The covers feature a comedian who is well-known for being successful while bucking social expectations for women.  She’s the exception to the rule that proves the rule.  Or is she?  I certainly think so.  That “Oh, Roseanne!” is about how crazy she is.

In any case, notice that she’s still a sex symbol, while the men in the spoof are decidedly not.  They’re spoofing such symbolism.  Roseanne, despite her wacky resistance, still has to abide by it.

I agree that we could read this photo  of Roseanne with her legs spread and broad smile as yet just another image of a woman being sexualized for profit.  It is certainly the first thing that comes to mind at first glance.  How many times have we seen images like this proliferate the media?

What I think makes this photo transgressive is that Roseanne while famous does not have the typical “starlet body” that we have become used to seeing in this kind of pose.  Normally, women of Roseanne's weight are deemed unattractive and certainly are not understood as  worthy of being intimate with.   When we add to this the fact that she is not a young woman, the image suddenly is not so simple.

Though women compromise over just over 50% of the population we exist with very little social power.   Beauty is one of the few ways in which we are able to assert any form of social power and it is a quickly declining commodity.   It is far more common for a little girl to complemented on her looks than any other kind of achievement.  As she grows she quickly learns that being pretty can guarantee her the attention and  praise that being successful in school will never grant her.   It is a rude awakening for women to find at the age of 35 that one of the few forms of social power that they have learned to negotiate to their advantage suddenly no longer exists, as they are quickly replaced with newer and younger model.   It is no accident that Hollywood is filled with oceans of Botox and a good plastic surgeon makes so much money.  We live in a youth culture and the middle age and the elderly are often understood as irrelevant. I see this image of Roseanne as ultimately defiant.

image We have been told women of a certain weight and age are not sexual beings. In the video of 4 seconds to save the world with Madonna and Timberlake one of the most annoying commentary was from a DJ who could not stop referring to the fact that they were watching an almost 50 year old vulva shake.  

In the image to the right Madonna was praised for having the courage to show images of her that were untouched by photoshopping.   So far have we moved away from the natural aging process that a woman who decides to show the world what she really looks like is deemed courageous; what does this mean for those of that cannot afford personal trainers, and Khabala water?

Aging is something that women are taught to resist with every single breath that we take.   Some young women have resorted to plastic surgery before a single visible line appears on their face.  We spend our few disposable dollars on so-called anti-aging creams that have no basis in scientific reality.  They don’t even penetrate the first layer of the epidermis, no matter how much we spend on the latest supposedly rare tropical concoction.  The entire cosmetics industry creates fear and then exploits it to earn profit and yet like lambs to the slaughter we line up at the cashier visa in hand.

When we do bother to talk about the aging process it is very rarely from a womanist/feminist perspective that honours our experience.  As the following two comment threads at Jezebel reveal, aging means a loss of power, and death to many women.  The grasping, wrenching, cougar construction of women over 35 is how we understand the aging process and until we can move beyond that we will be slaves to our fear of the unstoppable.

Patriarchy  rules over us with our help;  we collude in this nonsense every single day.   Instead of seeing the laugh lines and wrinkles as drawbacks, they should stand as a testament of our ability to love, laugh, and survive, in a world that is built for men.  Do we really want to live through the angst and uncertainty of our teenage years again?   We should concern ourselves with living well and finding joy.   Toss out the creams that don’t work, stop obsessing about the random gray hair and remember that life is for the living; each moment is precious.

H/T Eternal LLama on Jezebel links


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