Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Facebook and the regulation of women's bodies

I have seen a trend in facebook groups lately that is meant to show that curvy women are beautiful too, but what they actually do is shame skinny women. Instead of trying to spread the message that all body types are beautiful, they have titles like

"Real women have curves... not the body of a 12 year old boy" and "Curvy girls are better than skinny girls"

Both groups contain photos of "plus sized" models that I believe prove that curvy women can fit in to dominant standards of beauty (complete with airbrushing to make the curves look as Marilyn Monroe-esque as possible).

The profile picture for the second group is of Kim Kardashian in a bikini. With a waist measurement of 26 inches and weighing 117lbs (according to skinny vs curvy), she hardly fits into the plus sized model category, but yes, she does have curves. This presents an image that even fewer girls can hope to fit than before, as the rarity of her curves is a large part of what has made her famous.

Also, the bikini shots change nothing about the way women's bodies are objectified within the mass media. The message presented within these groups is no different than the one that I grew up with... women are supposed to have curves, but with a thin waist... unless you are a runway model. Growing up with a very small chest, I got this message loud and clear beginning in sixth grade.

Both groups are rife with hate-filled content about skinny women. How we all whine about being fat all the time, how we never eat, how we cannot fill out clothes. The thin women that I know eat normal healthy diets (and sometimes even tons of junk food), and believe me when I say that women don't like shopping in the children's section to find clothes that fit properly. It seems to me that they are taking stereotypes about a real disease (anorexia) and assuming that every skinny person must have it, which is no better than saying that all larger women eat tons of junk food- it just isn't true. What about the role that genetics or a person's metabolism plays in all of this?

I would just love to see similar groups, but where one type of body isn't placed as better than the rest, one that values the diversity in women's shapes and sizes, and where women's bodies were not being regulated or on display for (male) viewers to criticize. Maybe that seems too idealistic or too romantic for the real world, but would it be a bad thing to actually accept women's bodies without needing to starve or operate on them first?

Although men are increasingly objectified in the mass media, I have yet to find a facebook group with so many hateful comments describing just how men are supposed to look.

I wonder how many of the 1,407,000 and 132,000 people who have joined or "liked" these groups has ever read any of that content...


  1. Any and all comments directed toward body size, whether favourable or negative, are necessarily instrumentalist. That is to say: they see the bodies in question as instrumental to a greater objective. In the vast majority of cases, this objective is the pleasure, or approval, of men. Seeking the approval or the pleasure of men makes a body a very subservient, abject, self-abnegating, self-refuting, other-centred, obsequious, servile person. Just sayin'

  2. Well no, I don't agree all comments about body size are ill-meant. The Western societies are growing both increasingly obese and obsessed with an unhealthy thinness. Both can lead to serious diseases and people should be made aware of that.

    I agree that hurtful comments directed at people rather than at the problem are awful and unhelpful - but saying that even mentioning the problem is wrong is not the right strategy IMO.

  3. I'll respond to both of these comments at once, because I believe they go together, in a strange way. Orlando, yes, health should be taken into consideration, but, for the most part popular culture doesn't critique bodies for the sake of health. For a great example of this, look at the "best" and "worst" beach bodies in this week's People magazine. Women are criticized for instrumental reasons, which, as put by the anonymous poster above, is generally for the pleasure, or approval, of men.

    If we are talking about health, we have to look at how we conceptualize health. Experts disagree with the amount of fat content necessary to be healthy... whether being thin is good, or whether it is best to have a "few extra pounds". Also, these groups are not taking health into consideration AT ALL when they are showing curvy bodies that are airbrushed, manufactured, and often, surgically altered.