And I really don’t want to be one. I consider myself a feminist in that I am a woman who thinks that women should be able to do whatever the fuck they want with themselves and have equal access/opportunity as men. But I don’t like getting militant about it, because that’s usually when people start writing you off as a nut and rolling their eyes and generally tuning you out. But sometimes, no matter how hard I try to keep an even keel, eventually the effect of a hundred slings and arrows reaches the point that there’s nothing left but the Boudicean rage of a thousand years of repression and oppression. On that note, let’s talk about Vanity Fair.
Sexism AND racism – it’s a two-for-one deal!
Vanity Fair takes a lot of shit for being a super whitebread publication that has several annual issues pertaining to the entertainment industry and then failing to reflect the ever-increasing diversity of those entertainments. Put simply: They always put white chicks on their cover with a token woman of color thrown into the background on the inside flap. Today VF has released their May issue, which is dedicated to the “Ladies of TV”, and they put a not-white person (Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara) on the cover…and then stripped her down and stuck her between the sheets. Overall, this VF cover shoot is very…booby. The ladies on the cover—Vergara is joined by Juliana Margulies (The Good Wife), Claire Danes (Homeland) and Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey)—are tucked into sheets with cleavage busting out, or, in Dockery’s case, bare back exposed. The inside cover fold-out is an equally egregious offense—a collection of women posed in vintage-inspired lingerie, boobs out.
Giving credit where it’s due, this is one of the most diverse spreads VF has done in recent memory, which isn’t really saying much, but let’s take progress where we get it. Besides Vergara on the cover, the fold-out includes Kerry Washington (her new show Scandal begins in April), Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife) and Grace Park (Hawaii Five-0). We’ve also got some positive body-image stuff happening with the deliciously voluptuous Kat Dennings—I’ve never been a huge fan of hers, but GODDAMN her body is crazy—and the normal-sized Emily Deschanel (Bones), plus proud curvy girl Vergara. And the ages are fairly well represented. Dockery is the youngest cover girl at 31—Margulies and Vergara are both over 40—and only three of the seven women featured on the fold-out are twenty-somethings: Dennings, Revenge’s Emily VanCamp and Shameless’ Emmy Rossum. So, yes, progress. There is SOME diversity in color, age and body type.
But is it enough?
I might not be so sensitive to this except we’re just coming off the appallingly racist reaction to casting decisions in The Hunger Games and the issue of how progressive we really are is on my mind. There’s something I heard about the movie Hitch once that has stuck with me and the VF cover calls it to mind. Hitch was developed as a vehicle for Will Smith, and in the initial casting cycle they auditioned several well-known leading ladies who happened to be white (Hitch, if you haven’t seen it, is a romantic comedy, albeit a pretty terrible one). Then someone decided that America wasn’t really ready for an interracial rom-com, but they also worried that white audiences wouldn’t support the movie if Smith was partnered with a black actress (I am dying on the inside, writing this out). The compromise? Enter Eve Mendes, a Latina actress. This was seen as “the answer” to the interracial “problem”—dark enough to “match” Smith but still light enough to qualify as “interracial”. I don’t even know which part of this offends me the most. Literally years later and I still can’t process that this happened in the twenty-first century. But the VF cover reminds me of the Hitch thing. I don’t know that Vergara’s inclusion on the cover over, say, Taraji Henson, who is the female lead on the popular new Person of Interest, is a Hitch-like compromise, but knowing the decision has been made at least once before, I can’t shake the nagging suspicion.
And what of Melissa McCarthy, Oscar nominee and Emmy winner for her CBS sitcom Mike & Molly? That’s an awful show that I wish would cease to exist on principle, but you can’t argue that this has been McCarthy’s year, between the success of Bridesmaids and her Emmy win. And now she’s producing, too, developing pilots and getting them to network. Why not put McCarthy on your cover? She’s a long-time television presence—Suki!—who has turned into a burgeoning power player. She was the first—and most obvious—exclusion I noticed when I looked the spread over. I thought, How can they not include Melissa McCarthy, who is the new queen of TV comedy? And then I thought, Oh yeah, because she’s a big girl and this is a lingerie shoot. Note to the VF editors: When an actress is having the kind of year McCarthy has had, you can’t ignore her, and if including her means you have to scrap your objectifying lingerie-themed photoshoot, YOU SCRAP THE OBJECTIFYING LINGERIE-THEMED PHOTOSHOOT.
Which brings us to the ogling.
This year in entertainment belongs to the female ass-kicker. This is the year we met Katniss Everdeen in the flesh—in ALL her glorious flesh, which we’ll get to—the year that Bella Swan finally does something approaching useful, the year that fairy-tale princesses put down the goddamn singing sparrows and take up arms, and that women on TV are some of the best schemers and politickers around, thanks to Revenge and Game of Thrones, and I have high hopes for Washington’s Scandal. So why then is the theme of VF’s TV issue “scantily clad eye candy”? Why not put them all in varying styles of armor, give them swords and shields, and stage it like a motherfucking uprising of amazing? Because the message here, as always, is that women can go so far before they must be sent back to the boudoir, because that’s the real domain of women. And if you think I’m being oversensitive, I want you to ask yourself what a similar cover shoot for men might look like. Unless it’s all the hottest dudes on TV doing this, then no, I’m not being oversensitive.
Your Body is Bad, and other lessons we need to un-learn
Before we get into the quagmire of double standards and learned body dysmorphia that surrounds The Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence, I want you to read the following statement, and then repeat it back to yourself, out loud. I’m deadly serious—say this back to yourself, OUT LOUD. Go into the bathroom, your dorm room, your car, whatever, and look in a mirror and tell yourself the following:
There is no wrong way to be a woman. There is no wrong way to be me. This (point at yourself, for real) is right and worthy.
I talk a lot of shit about celebrities, most of them women. I’ll pick apart clothing and style choices, I’ll photo-assume the state of someone’s relationship based on one candid photo, I’ll judge a person’s worth in the arena of public opinion based on which designer she wears to the Oscars. I accept that all that means I’m a shitty person with a heart made of spiders and turpentine. But one thing I won’t do is criticize a woman—or anyone—for something she can’t help. That’s why excessive plastic surgery makes me so sad-mad—women slicing their faces into oblivion to meet some arbitrary (and let’s face it, probably male-determined) standard of beauty is infuriating. You are the way you are, and while there are certain parameters that can be adjusted, everyone has their basic shape and reality. And there is nothing wrong with that. There’s no wrong way to be a woman, to be yourself, and we’re each right and worthy in our own ways.
So the mere idea that the “fatness of Katniss” is a thing makes me BREATHE FIRE.
From the moment Jennifer Lawrence was cast as Katniss Everdeen, there was discussion about whether or not she was the right choice, as there always is whenever a beloved literary character is brought to the big screen. And yes, I do remember people questioning whether or not Lawrence could accurately portray a character with a history of malnourishment, but one who also runs and jumps and shoots things and whose physical prowess as a hunter has kept her family alive. To me, yes, Lawrence embodied that Katniss. She was strong and athletic and capable—when she shot a bow and arrow you believed she could really handle that weapon. But her tiny waist and long limbs also suggested a willowy-ness, a hint of vulnerability under the steel. And speaking of Lawrence as a person, she’s GORGEOUS. She has an insane body that is all the more beautiful because it isn’t the Hollywood norm. She’s tall and has breasts and hips and an ass and thighs and it’s beautiful. She looks like a real person.
So far, it seems like Lawrence is handling the criticism of her body well, supposedly laughing it off and pointing out the double-standard that her equally fit male co-stars, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, are not being criticized for appearing too “well fed”. But the larger issue is what this is telling the girls out there who look up to Katniss and see in Lawrence that having jiggly bits is not only acceptable but also sexy and beautiful. The “fatness of Katniss” tells girls that while too thin is a problem so is strong. Because this isn’t about being overweight or childhood obesity, this is about a young woman with a very fit, athletic body that happens to be bigger than an A-cup being judged as too fat. Jennifer Lawrence is not a stick insect but she is far, far from fat. And I resent the implication that she—that anyone with her body type—is too fat. I resent it on behalf of the tall girl who slouches down, the short girl who wears platforms every day, the thin girl who binge eats and the plump one that purges.
So what’s the lesson today? That you can’t be too thin but you also can’t have any curves and the pinnacle of female empowerment is on par with being trussed up in lingerie and posed, boobs out, to be gazed upon as an object of desire. And too bad if your skin is dark, you’re still an also-ran and we’re deigning to acknowledge you.
Fuck that noise.
There is no wrong way to be a woman. There is no wrong way to be me. This is right and worthy.