Why Cameron Diaz Is Wrong: Being Objectified Is Never A Compliment

I’d like to begin this piece with something of a caveat: I have always liked Cameron Diaz. From her interviews and performances, she comes across as warm, smart and aware of her own worth, while also having the ability to laugh at herself, which is a perilous tightrope to walk in any profession but especially so in the egomaniac world of cinema.

So, you can imagine my disappointment when I read the comments from her recent interview with the Sunday Times, in which she says, “I think every woman does want to be objectified. There’s a little part of you at all times that hopes to be somewhat objectified, and I think it’s healthy… ”

Oh, Cameron. To begin with, the minute you try to speak for ‘every’ of anything, you’re trodding on dangerous ground. Throw the objectification of women into the mix, a process that reduces half the human race from the status of a person to that of dead-eyed objects, then you’re royally in the soup.

The simple truth is this: objectification hurts women. It silences our voices, paints over our thoughts, stamps out our souls, leaving a mute, blank canvas onto which our culture can project some of its darkest stereotypes and myths. When we raise women to see themselves only as things to be desired by men and to judge themselves accordingly, as if nothing else about them truly matters, we are committing a terrible wrong.

In the interview, Cameron claims she feels “empowered” by photoshoots and isn’t bothered about stripping off. She says, “I’m not some young girl with the photographer going, ‘Will you take your clothes off?’ I’m like [mimes stripping], ‘How does this look?’ They’re like, ‘Today we’re not going to put anything other than bras and heels on you,’ and I’m like, ‘These heels are not high enough.'”

What of that hypothetical young girl Cameron mentions and the countless young girls who read or will read these quotes? Being objectified is not a compliment. No one ever changed the world because they learned to walk in heels that require a pilot’s licence. Jumping up and down to participate in your own objectivation is generally not a good look.

As a woman who has achieved so much and generated enormous revenues for her chosen industry, Cameron Diaz should have nothing to prove. At 40, she is among the last remaining box office super stars and is one of the best comedic actresses of her generation, which makes her remarks all the more depressing. Despite all our advances, for women in the public eye and beyond, it still comes back to our bodies and what men think of them, a fact that is as tragic as it tedious.

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post

Alexa Chung and Body Snarking: Why Our Addiction to Critiquing Women’s Bodies Must Stop

It is hard to believe that a single photograph can cause such a commotion but when ‘It Girl’ Alexa Chung posted an innocent looking Instagram picture of herself and her mum, internet warriors suddenly rose up, foaming at the mouth with indignation, decrying what they saw as Chung’s excessive thinness and questioning her suitability as a role model.

Ms. Chung doing her thang at the recent Met Ball.

Chung subsequently made her account private but this did little to quell the rising storm that quickly spilled over into traditional media. What has been almost completely overlooked amidst the furore are two key issues: is it ever right to publicly speculate about an individual’s health? And just how complicit are we, the public, when it comes to the despicable art of body snarking whereby we brutally critique the female form?

Firstly: health. Online commentators slammed Chung, threw around accusations of eating disorders and suggested she was using the photo to promote extreme skinniness or thinspiration, an assertion that made her understandably upset. Thinspiration is a disturbing trend where young women spur each other on to achieve extreme thinness. Anyone in their right mind would be horrified to be connected to such carry on, especially someone like Chung, whose popularity is dependent on young women who are fascinated by her style.

The fact of the matter is this: there is one place and one place only to discuss someone’s health and that is in private, within the sanctuary offered by family, friends and medical professionals, not on a social media site or on the front of a magazine. Despite what the cult of celebrity may tell us or the manner in which women’s bodies are offered up as fresh meat by the media, there are things that should be beyond the realm of public discussion and health is one of them.

Unless an individual chooses to make such information known or the information has a significant direct effect on the public – which is unlikely, unless the person in question is a high ranking politician – then we must remember that health is not a matter for the public sphere and speculating about it is not only misguided but cruel.

While some of the comments in relation to Chung’s photograph were reasonable, the vast majority were spiteful, accusatory and invasive, as if someone being in the public eye gives the public carte blanche to make all kinds of obnoxious remarks directly to them. Just how many of those commenting were trained medical professionals with the ability to diagnose someone from behind a screen has yet to be established.

Very thin models are nothing new. Girls who look this way are often richly rewarded and become darlings of the fashion industry that spawned them. There are regular laments about the size of these models and the impact they have on women in general and yet, the skinny staple never seems to change. Why is that?

Fashion is first and foremost a business. If hyper-thin models put consumers off, if we refused to pay for what their bodies help flog, then the industry would be looking for elsewhere for faces quicker than you can say, “pass me that cheeseburger.” Despite the public horror at the likes of heroin chic, we still buy into those images by the billion and take our wrath out on the women whose visibility makes them vulnerable: the models and not the people in the boardrooms, pulling the strings.

High profile women and their bodies are fair game for public debate. They are subjected to a level of scrutiny that would render even the most solid individual paranoid. This scrutiny is a magnified version of the type all women face. Our bodies are not truly ours, they things to be observed, picked over and dissected. Can you remember the last time a marauding internet mob demanded a male star with a steroid-induced six pack, “sort himself out”?

We assume it is our right to cast judgement, to make vicious remarks and have an opinion on matters relating to individual women who we know nothing about and yet, are encouraged to tear apart. In the process we hurt other women and we hurt ourselves but here’s the thing: it never hurts to be kind and it never hurts to keep your cash for products and companies that celebrate women. As a wise person said many moons ago, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Good advice, that.

 

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Samantha Brick and the Comparison Trap: Why the Media Just Loves to Pit Women Against Each Other

It is a tough time for Planet Media. Ever decreasing advertising revenue means dwindling budgets while the demand for content rapidly grows, thanks to the Internet and twenty four hour programming. The cult of celebrity goes someway to fill all that air time and those column inches but it isn’t enough. Providers must now create stories where there are none.

One simple, effective way of doing this and one which you are probably very accustomed to seeing, is taking high profile women and comparing them to each other, often ruthlessly, with a fairly inevitable conclusion: one triumphs, one fails and we are royally entertained in the process.

The now infamous Samantha Brick of the Daily Mail

While these ‘stories’ are great gossip fodder, all too often they appeal directly to tired, disproven female stereotypes. As I type, the top celebrity story on the infamous Daily Mail homepage (the most popular news website in the world, by the way) is of a woman who claims other women hate her because of her good looks. Oh yes, that old chestnut – uptight ugly-types slamming pretty girls, especially if they happen to be younger. Aren’t women just so catty? Thank goodness there aren’t more of them in government!

The Daily Mail is far from being a sole offender. Countless magazines, websites and telly offerings use the pitting of women against each other to create content that is then happily consumed as mere entertainment. For example, we are so accustomed to seeing two female stars that had the misfortune to wear the same outfit being dissected as to determine who ‘wore it best’ that it doesn’t even register with us as downright nasty carry on, which it undoubtedly is.

The stereotype of the bitch also plays beautifully into the hands of content-mad media. Cat fights, real or fake, make for a great story. Never mind the idea that people – regardless of gender – have their differences and those in the public eye are no exception, women are continually portrayed as bitchy, spiteful wenches only dying to knife each other in the back.

Whether it is Girls Aloud (Cheryl versus Nadine; Cheryl versus Lily Allen), the Spice Girls (they all hate each other, apparently, but then so do a lot of former band mates) or Lady Gaga and Beyonce opting to go so far as to record a stomping single together as a ‘screw you’ to the powers trying to pit them against each other, the media likes to depict women as embroiled in some unnamed gendered war. Quite frankly, the idea that the likes of Gaga or any successful woman, sits around plotting the demise of her so-called competitors because of her bitchy female streak is absurd and an insult to hard earned achievements.

The toxic comparisons go beyond bitchiness and catfights to weight, image and age. High profile women are compared not just to their counterparts but often to younger, thinner, more glamorous images of themselves so we, the audience, can marvel at the havoc of aging. Men retain their allure but women, we are forever reminded, don’t. For those churning out the celebrity news we so crave, there is no better, or cheaper, way to illustrate this point than juxtaposing a contemporary photo with one from twenty years ago, writing a bit of shoddy copy and calling it an article.

By inviting us to compare and critique women, the media plays into some of one of most prevailing and damaging aspects of femininity: the idea that women are objects whose worth is dependent entirely on their looks. Is it really just a bit of harmless fun to speculate about a star’s inability to lose her baby weight at the same speed as her peers? Is it an innocent laugh to compare how women look in their bikinis? And if it is just fun and games, then why aren’t high profile men exposed to the same levels of scrutiny? Would it be a step too far to suggest that we still get a morbid kick out of putting women in their place, especially those who have supposedly done well for themselves?

What happens when people consume these stories? The sheer volume makes them impossible to escape. Do we realise that what we are reading or watching is designed to appeal to our attachment to basic stereotypes, thereby hooking us in and blinding us to the fact that while we’re arguing over who wore what dress best, in reality, the Emperor has no clothes? I’d certainly like to hope so since the alternative is a very grim prospect indeed, for women and for us all.

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Skinny By Any Means: Why Are Women Told To Starve Themselves?

Is there anything worse than food poisoning? Quite possibly, yes, but when you’re in the throes of its horrors it is difficult to imagine a nastier state.  Fortunately for me, I’m finally crawling out from under the food poisoning rock, which began explosively on Sunday night and left me in a weak, aching heap for two days. Being too sick to eat however has its high points, as my friends (tongue-in-cheek) pointed out: you lose weight! And that’s good, right?

Norma was going to eat the damn sandwich, enjoy the damn sandwich & she didn't give a twopenny hoop what anyone else thought about it!

Well , of course it isn’t. The fact that I was sick negates surely any ‘benefits’, at least to my mind, but the idea that ‘skinny by any means is a worthy pursuit’ persists culturally. How many times a day do we see headlines screeching about the latest fad diet or exercise regime or miracle supplement? How many times are celebrities – who have the finances and time to overindulge their physiques -used to exemplify the perfect body? Too many, I suspect, too many even for the most sane woman not to find herself goaded into thinking, at least for a moment or two, ‘wow, I really should skip dinner/ run  for three miles a day/ go on that diet where you eat nothing but cabbage soup.’

‘Skinny by any means’ ideal is not just silly, it is dangerous. Fad diets might might help you lose weight in the short term but study after study shows the weight lost is inevitably put back on, not forgetting the nutritional and metabolic problems some of these diets cause. Extreme exercise without proper training and warming/up down is not a recipe for fitness but one for injury and defeat. None of this is a road map to health but that doesn’t stop the media churning out images and messages to the contrary. After all, if people accepted the simple, scientifically proven facts of eating less, doing more and consuming a varied diet high in fruit and veg and low in processed foods, well, who’d buy the diet books? And where would we be then?

Part of me reluctantly acknowledges there are people who would elect to have food poisoning if it meant they lost a few pounds, just like folk who mess around with laxatives, eat nothing but popcorn for weeks or exist in a haze of cigarettes and coffee (or worse) to make sure they stay on the right side of thin. In this zany world of ours, we reward women for basically starving themselves and chastise those who don’t. Honestly, if you asked me which was sicker: food poisoning or our culture, I know which one I’d chose. Sadly, it isn’t the one you cure by resting up and taking plenty of fluids. Oh ladies and gentlemen, if only it were that simple.