The other day I was fixing breakfast when I heard the ladies on The View mention that Christina Hendricks, the gorgeous and sexy “Joan Holloway” of AMC’s Mad Men would be a guest later on in the show (this is my way of saying that I was not (goodness no!) watching The View, but rather that somebody else had turned it on and I happened to be subjected to it because I was going about my business within earshot. Juuuuust so we keep that clear…).
I love Mad Men, and I love Christina Hendricks’s character, so I decided to stick around to see the interview. And while I waited I wondered if there was a snowball’s chance in hell the ladies would *not* bring up Hendricks’s voluptuous curves and how she is ostensibly breaking new ground in the debate on which of the following body types we (collectively, as a society) approve of and for which we (as women) should strive: stick thin vs. curvaceous.
The curvy among us, simple-minded as it is, are very readily tempted to make Hendricks our spokeswoman and the captain of our team. We want to drop pamphlets from airplanes describing surveys, the results of which prove that male watchers of Mad Men find her to be by far the sexiest character on the show and look, look! Doesn’t that count for something?! We want her to pay visits to all the daytime and the late night talk shows, where male audience members will whistle and drool, and every last host from Rachel Ray to Larry King will congratulate her on bringing the hourglass figure back en vogue.
Yes, it is tempting to want to exploit Hendricks based purely on her body, in the way to which we feminists claim to be so vehemently opposed.
So of course, one of The View’s hosts chimed in with a comment on Hendricks’s body. She said something about how refreshing it is to see a woman with a real woman’s body, juicy curves and all, instead of the super skinny women we’ve all come to expect. And Hendricks smiled politely and accepted the compliment and I’m sure there was more to it, but I didn’t catch the rest.
Here’s the thought I sat there wrestling with: Since when is a woman with a super skinny body not a real woman? Now believe me, I am not claiming to have no idea what the host was trying to say, like I’m somehow holier than thou and have not had the thought myself. It’s just that I realize it comes from flawed thinking about the whole thing and what it truly is to be a feminist.
Of course, of course, I want women to be healthy. If a woman is thin or even VERY thin, I would hope that it is a result of healthy eating and exercise and that the woman is happy with her body and didn’t reach where she was, bodily, because of pressure from society, stress about keeping her job, her partner, her youth, etc. But this is my hope for ALL women, no matter what their body type. Why is it that buxom women automatically consider themselves healthier than stick women? What are their own diets like? And do they exercise on a regular basis the way so many thin women do to stay in shape?
And I can never accept the stick-as-not-real-woman when I think about two of my good good, thin thin friends, one of whom is about as tiny as they come and who has borne two children from her supposedly non-real-woman’s body. Furthermore, both her girls grew big and strong feeding (exclusively the first 6 months) on milk that came from my friend’s A cup breasts. At a glance, people may consider her the poster child of the waif movement, but this is just her natural body. She eats plenty, and what she eats ranges from veggies to McDonald’s to eel to tacos with refried beans to pie with ice cream…the entire gamut of edible things on this planet. Who the hell is anyone to tell her she is not a real woman?!
What I’m tired of, more than the world’s worth of size zero models, or men who expect their women to be thin regardless of their own body type, are women (especially those who claim to be feminists) talking about what a “real woman’s” body looks like. Again, as it is again and again, this is a case of women being their own worst enemies.
A good decade or so ago there was a mutiny among Ani Difranco’s normally devoted fans. What was the crime she committed to fall out of their good favor? She wore lipstick for a magazine photo shoot. (Whore!) I think it may have even been red. My friend explained to me that this was something of a betrayal on Difranco’s part because she is supposed to be a feminist and should be above trying to change her appearance for the appeasement of others, especially men.
What women of this mindset failed to consider was the thought that maybe, just maybe, Difranco wore lipstick because she herself liked the way it looked. And what’s more, even if she DID wear it to make one or even many men happy…this too would be her prerogative as a woman and as a person. When was the last time you heard women criticizing a man for wearing cologne or shaving his beard just to appease a woman (asshole!)? It doesn’t happen. And it shouldn’t. To me, having a woman telling me that I shouldn’t wear makeup is absolutely as oppressive as a man telling me I have to. And if it’s done in the name of feminism, I would even say it’s worse.
I think of this thing with Hendricks and her bodacious curves the same way. Okay, curvy ladies out there, if you want to celebrate a person based on her body, go right ahead, I guess. But then what ground do you have to stand on when others are out there doing the same thing about a body you don’t find to your liking (because it is “too thin” or because the woman has fake breasts, etc.)? The answer is that you don’t have any ground to stand on. The best gift a feminist can give to her fellow sisters is to either celebrate women’s bodies no matter what they look like or how they came to look that way (whether by having accepted whatever body they come into without diet or exercise, or by working to make it what they wanted it to be), or to just back the hell off and not comment on it at all.
I’m pretty sure Christina Hendricks would rather be known and remembered for being a talented actor on a critically acclaimed show than for being the biggest-bootied woman they ever let play a sex symbol on T.V. To comment on a woman’s body, no matter what the nature of the comment and how positive it is meant to be, is still to focus on the wrong thing. And I look forward to the day when the largeness—or smallness—of a talented actor’s curves is no longer even an issue up for discussion.