Bodies in a Postmodern Mood

Welcome to my new blog that balances academic writing blocks and other crises of atheistic faith. I’m still experimenting with permissions for this blog. Here is an “aside” post on other things I think about: feminism and sexuality.

Jessica Alba in a bikini taken from What is amusing: I don't know who Jessica Alba is.

Some people wonder why it is that I look at, a trashy website on celebrity gossip. Saturated with pictures of women with large breasts, often in bikinis or some such flesh exposing style, the blog takes cheap shots at the down-and-outs of Hollywood while holding up some ideal of beauty that is unnatural, something like a fleshy Barbie doll. Add to this the pervey commentary of these women and you get an aggressive tone that leaves no one unscathed: the pretty and the past-their-prime, the drug-addicted or celeb nere-do-wells are all verbally assaulted.

And so why do I read this trash, other than some sort of sadistic side of me that enjoys a little schadenfreude?  Perhaps it is because of the pretty women. Most people think that a repetition of sexy women shots make women feel bad about their own bodies. But I have another theory to propose: what if the beauty ideal is so constructed–both through plastic surgery and Photoshop–that no one, not even the celebrity hotties, can achieve it or maintain it?

What if we can see the evidence of Angelina Jolie’s Botox injections? Or the flabbiness of Cameron Diaz’s abs? Recent pictures show Megan Fox in a bikini. But her breasts aren’t as big as other model’s breasts.

Look! There is a picture of a high-end prostitute on a boat! Her breasts look attached to her stick body like balloons and her hair is bleached.

Look! There is a picture of Sheryl Crow, the 48 year old singer, running on a beach. Why am I looking at a talented musician in a bikini? And am I supposed to react to the fact I can see her ribs through her chest?

And so, after awhile, the blurring of beauty and grotesqueness generates a buzz of cognitive dissidence. What is a beauty standard? And what of all these women who are a mix of muscle and plastic who cannot satisfy this blogger? So many celebrities are the target of his derisive comments–people who are successful in the eyes of other media.  And what of the rare woman who DOES satisfy his visual desire?  We are then left to identify with a depraved male gaze. There is no person left you want to be like in this scene, even though we are asked implicitly to be someone as we read a blog about sex, sensationalism, and idealization. The cycle of desire can never be achieved at–it is forever deferred until the next picture of a bikini-clad woman, who then can only gratify him in the shortest and most surface of ways.

And so, there is a perverse pleasure at work here: I get to look at women’s bodies and compare myself to them (as all bodies are trained to do–from trying out for team sports in middle school to shopping for clothes in magazines).  But then I get to discard all of those bodies–pretty and less-than-ideal–and return to my own.  I will not be famous, and so, I can be grateful that no one is going to use a high-end Canon telephoto lens to capture it, crop it, and put it out on the internet.

And maybe my brain is warped in the meantime. But I prefer the overt aggressiveness of to the covert shame of a woman’s magazine exhorting me to “lose just 15 lbs through a healthy diet” as if I don’t know how to do this and so need yet another off-the-shelf solution.

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