Monday, February 2, 2009

"Body Positive" Simpson and a Girl's Internalized Ideal

I can't name a single song Jessica Simpson sings, and I only saw her act once in The Dukes of Hazard film which some ex-boyfriend or other dragged me to see, but I've followed her life and beauty transformations via the continuous updates to the headlines on supermaket tabloids. When she lost weight after the divorce and emerged better than ever, I took note because her weight loss was accompanied with muscle tone; for that reason she's been a fitness icon for me along the same lines as Angelina Jolie (another fitness letdown since post-babies she's just ghastly thin) circa Lara Croft films.

But since last week pictures of a heavier Simpson have emerged, along with long lines of discussions about it that range from nasty and abusive to celebratory, or murmurs of publicity stunt. I stand somewhere in the middle of all these ideas. On one hand, yes, in the middle of a global economic crisis why is the media giving a celeb's weight gain this much press, and shame on all of us including me for giving the topic so many brain cells. And while she's not super-skinny she's not "fat," and if she walked into a bar just as she is, she'd find herself surrounded by admirers, some of whom are denouncing her weight gain at present. Really she should be applauded for not apologizing away her weight gain as depression-related and instead just saying she's happy with herself as she is.

At the same time, well Simpson at present is no fitness icon. When I pulled her picture up on my computer, I said to my husband "Oh, my goodness, Jessica Simpson is bigger than I am!" I felt betrayed. I work out for 2 hours 4-5 days a week to stay in my size 4-6 clothes, and when I do all that work, I have the vision that my life is resembling as closely as possible that of the rich and famous at least when we're all sweating at a pilates class. I don't do it for men to notice me. My husband wouldn't care if I wore a size 12, but I do it for the little girl inside of me who hasn't outgrown her dream to be revered on the red carpet, and it's important to me that the women who do "make it" appear as perfection I'll never achieve. That makes it feel fair to me that I'm at home eating peanuts while they wear ball gowns that cost more than my car. This is the same line of thinking that causes me to hold writing from writers my own age who've "made it" to an insanely high ideal.

Perhaps this is a publicity stunt from which Simpson will emerge triumphantly thin and touting some diet or exercise program. And if she is really here to stay as she is, well I say let's be body-positive and extend to her the same standard we give our girlfriends whom we love and find beautiful at whatever shape or size. But for myself, I'm staying on my exercise routine at present, just in case. I guess it will take more than one star crossing the divide between "them" and "us" for me to believe it's okay for me to also relax. Perhaps there are others I can look toward instead, like did you see the muscle tone on Anne Hathaway's thighs in Bride Wars?

6 comments:

Jill said...

Though I'm not immune to issues with my own body image, I think that the brouhaha over Jessica Simpson's alleged weight gain is ridiculous, sad, and infuriating. To insinuate that a woman who weighs more than 130 pounds is overweight is only propagating the myth that skinny=sexy.

Meanwhile, Oprah's O Magazine had it's highest selling issue in over 3 years when Winfrey appeared on the cover as a before and after shot, openly discussing her struggles with weight: http://www.wwd.com/media-news/fashion-memopad/amis-new-deal-boosting-sales-1961835?navSection=media-news&toc_preselected=65#/article/media-news/fashion-memopad/amis-new-deal-boosting-sales-1961835
It's an interesting dichotomy.

Cindy said...

Interestingly, someone on the Huffington Post thread made a similar observation, but it was that we applaud a size 8 Oprah, but then denigrate Simpson at the same size.

The thing is, I think if Simpson wasn't a star who mostly has credibility from her looks, but instead she was just a girl off the street people wouldn't see her as fat at all.

coffee said...

it's gotta be nice for her to relax from what's probably a ridiculously strict diet

Sam said...

Did you watch Bride Wars?? The trailer alone made my toes curl!

I read 'Fat is a Feminist Issue' the other day (30 years too late, I know) and although I'm not quite convinced by the theory behind the fat, I'm intrigued to see what Susie's latest offering has to say about current body-hate (and all that jazz).

But yes, 'healthy' and toned is far more appealing than gaunt and bony - although 2 hours sounds a tad hardcore. I guess it depends on whether one's exercise regime comes from enjoyment/health or simply that relentless horror of fat ugly bits rendering our bodies monstrous and grotesque - I suspect that if Ms. Simpson is driven by negative motives rather than positive ones she's bound to have periods of rest/rebound. It must be extra soul destroying to have to go through all our lovely female body-trauma and be scrutinised at the same time.

Plus, it's always gonna sell magazines... everyone wins! (except that they don't really). Ah well.

mikapa said...

don't you get tired? doesn't that little girl inside of you striving for the red carpet ever get tired of your 2 hour workouts? size 4-6, i congratulate you, sincerely. That takes a lot out of a person, literally and figuratively. perhaps i'm bitter because i just had to give up my own 2 hour daily workouts and size 6 body, swapping it instead for reality and sanity, but i'm just curious how you manage to maintain it? as for jessica simpson- i was really proud of her. yea, she no longer has the perfect body, but heck- SHE is a real woman. nobody can be perfect all the time and i'm really proud of her for not trying to hide her imperfections like the rest of the hollywood world.

Cindy said...

Well, Mikapa, there's a whole section in the middle of my blog that does rally in defense of Jessica, praising her for not blaming the weight on depression, indicating that she's not unhealthy and still looks very good by street standards.

Trying to hide imprefections, though, that's not just Hollywood. Do you use cover-up? Acne creme? Do you dress to flatter your figure? That's all about emphasizing what we have and minimizing what we don't have. Even if you point to butch women who don't buy into the heterosexual feminine standards, well they just downplay the feminine and emphasize the masculine in thier looks. Another form of shaping how we are seen by others in order to reflect what we want to see in ourselves. The difference between them and us is that Hollywood people have access to the best disguises.

The thing that made my blog worth writing is that I didn't take the expected route and just sing her praises, and I also didn't just bash her (although that would not be "expected" on this forum). I dug into the personal, which is a murky, messy place that isn't always in line with my political ideal. I wanted to explore why I was reluctuant to sing her praise, and I found something disturbing in myself, but that made it worth sharing. We've all got baggage of some kind from childhood. There was no room in my blog to mention that my mom put me on my first diet when I was 5 yrs old, that I have been 80lbs overweight and 30 lbs underweight in my 29 years, that the precarious balance of my weight I've been keeping since 2004 keeps me from going insane one way or the other.