This is Ashley Judd. She is an actress who has starred in such films as Double Jeopardy and Where The Heart Is. A few days ago, she appeared on an American chat show looking somewhat different from her usual self. The media, as is to be expected these days, immediately jumped to the conclusion that Judd had undergone plastic surgery – her face was “puffy”, a sure sign of having “work done”.
Unlike most other female celebrities, who brush off any allegations of going under the knife with a hearty thanks to their “good genes”, Judd used the opportunity to call out the media on their encouragement of the policing of women’s bodies.
In a powerful article on The Daily Beast (the online home of Newsweek magazine) Judd listed the ways in which her body was dissected and discussed by the public and the media: if she looks too good, she has to have had plastic surgery. If she puts on weight, she’s a “pig” or a “cow”. (Then again, if a woman is losing weight she must behaving unhealthily too.) She can’t age naturally or have wrinkles, but she shouldn’t have plastic surgery. Who makes these rules? Who on earth could possibly follow all these rules?
Judd wants us to talk about why we treat women’s bodies like this. It’s scary to think about. What’s even more scary to think about is how the most virulent critics of women’s bodies are women themselves. How many times a day do we pick out the imperfections in the face or body of another woman (famous or otherwise) and not even notice we’re doing it?
Judd thinks that this behaviour has become such a regular part of our social interactions that we don’t even question its acceptability (all of this quote is important, but I’ll try and bold the best bits):
“That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.”
Just last week, Samantha Brick wrote this article for The Daily Mail. It is ridiculous, and Brick is most certainly a strange individual, but the reaction to it was similar to the reaction to Judd’s “puffy face”. Brick’s face and body were, like Judd’s, completely dissected and criticised by the media and the public. By allowing the article to be published, the Mail unwittingly (or was it wittingly?) allowed us to essentially bully this woman who dared to think she was attractive. It’s not a nice realisation, but it’s certainly true. I did it myself, almost unashamedly. Who died and made me king of deciding how every other woman should look and feel about herself?
Judd wants her article to open up a “Conversation” about our “obsession” with women’s bodies (another long quote, bolded for the TL;DRs among us):
“I hope the sharing of my thoughts can generate a new conversation: Why was a puffy face cause for such a conversation in the first place? How, and why, did people participate? If not in the conversation about me, in parallel ones about women in your sphere? What is the gloating about? What is the condemnation about? What is the self-righteous alleged “all knowing” stance of the media about? How does this symbolize constraints on girls and women, and encroach on our right to be simply as we are, at any given moment? How can we as individuals in our private lives make adjustments that support us in shedding unconscious actions, internalized beliefs, and fears about our worthiness, that perpetuate such meanness? What can we do as families, as groups of friends? Is what girls and women can do different from what boys and men can do? What does this have to do with how women are treated in the workplace?”
I’m willing to talk about it. Are you?