Thursday, June 07, 2007

"And you hear what my heels are saying, too, don'tcha, baby?"

I'm violating copyright by using the photo at left but in this case I don't care, because it embodies (literally) all that's wrong with the imagery modern culture puts out to young (and not-so-young) women. This is what Glamour magazine last night anointed its Woman of the Year. This Eurotrashy, hooker-garb-wearing anorexic with a bad boob job and that icy, you-KNOW-you-want-it mien.

Look, I apologize to any female readers who are offended by the cutting references in the preceding paragraph—and to all readers for being so damn humorless about it. But this clearly, if you've been reading along, is one of my pet peeves. We are killing young women with this crap; at the very least, we're messing with their minds. (Tell me: Is the photo at left really what we mean when we say someone has a "sense of style"? Is this how you'd want your daughter to leave the house? This is glamorous? And we wonder why the Islamics call us "infidels.") On so many levels, and for so many reasons, it just needs to stop.

It's a surreal irony, isn't it? In this culture, we spend so much time lamenting supposed offenses against self-esteem, and exalting empty expressions of same...while in the meantime we tolerate (if not encourage) the very real erosion of self-esteem that's set in motion when we hold up a Posh Spice/Beckham as a role model...

I'll be back, later, with the post I'd intended to run today.

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AND ON A NOT ENTIRELY UNRELATED NOTE, comes word that Paris Hilton has been freed from jail after serving just three days of her 23-day (re-)sentence. ("Free at Last!" declares the headline of one report on today's development.) Though in fairness to her, there is talk of an unspecified "medical problem,"* apparently Paris was "not adjusting well" to life behind bars. She'll serve out the rest of her time on house arrest—draconian punishment indeed, given the nature of her family's digs. You have to wonder what people like Tyrone Brown must think.

* And now that I think of it... What, they don't have doctors in jail? If they just summarily released everybody who got sick, who'd be left?

29 comments:

Two Write Hands said...

Awww. Maybe someone just forgot to tell her you're supposed to put something over the girdle.

a/good/lysstener said...

I see what you’re saying here Steve, and I basically agree about the imagery, but to play devils’ advocate I think in the name of caring about women you are actually being pretty hard on them and hypercritical as well. And frankly I’m not even sure you’re being consistent with your basic message. If I follow the logic of your book and blog correctly, and I think I do, one of your main themes is that self-help or self-discovery is not one size fits all. That each of us should be finding her own path in her own way. So if this is what Posh Spice wants to be and to project to the world, if this is her path, especially if it’s profitable for her which clearly it is, then isn’t it her right as a “self” to do that? And isn’t it up to each woman individually to decide as a “self” if she wants to follow that image? If you’re going to give people the obligation of turning away from self-help for the masses, you also have to give each and every one of us the right to decide what we want to be and do. Even if many of us all end up pretty much in the same place after all. That’s how I see it anyway.

Steve Salerno said...

I have a rebuttal, but I'm going to keep my own counsel for now and see what others (if any) wish to add. They're interesting points, Alyssa, that touch on a familiar and troubling paradox.

Two Write Hands said...

So now we've turned a general question into a specific one.

Let's say the Posh Path makes Posh happy, but consequently imparts an inferiority complex on 5 girls/women who can't afford Rubbermaid boobs. Which counts more, Posh's happiness or the plight of the 5 girls who (reasonably or not) think they're living worthless, inadequate lives?

Is the individual's only obligation to self?

a/good/lysstener said...

So then Two WRite Hands, are you saying Posh herself doesn't even have a right to her fake boobs if she wants them? Just because maybe they send a bad message to some impressionable teens?

RevRon's Rants said...

It is my opinion (hopefully free of condescension) that the concept of noblesse oblige should apply to those who exert influence through their wealth, power, or even celebrity. Individuals who benefit from being in the public eye have a responsibility to remain conscious of the statements their actions make, and to at least attempt to behave in such a manner as to not inspire others to act irresponsibly.

Sadly, the notion of responsibility for one's actions has become, for the most part, passé. If I enjoy doing something, or profit from doing something, I (supposedly) no longer need worry myself with how others might view or mimic my behavior. If Posh Spice gets more publicity for exuding caricaturized sexuality than for her musical talent, then by all means, she should don the mantle of a super-slut. That many thousands of teenage and even pre-teen girls choose to emulate her behavior is apparently beyond the realm of her concern.

Now don't get me wrong... I'm as big a fan of creative sluttery as the next guy, but I feel it does have its proper place, and not held forth as a model for young girls struggling to develop their own identities and understand & express their sexuality.

Two Write Hands said...

Alyssa, I'm merely pointing out the recurring theme in Steve's posts.

It's not a question of rights in my mind. She obviously can and has procured her set. I will suggest, however, that a concern for others never hurt anyone.

a/good/lysstener said...

Also, it just hit me that you wrote "girls/women who can't afford" fake boobs. So this is a money issue? You agree that it's basically a "look" we all want, but you're upset that it's not within reach of all of us? Or maybe yourself? I'm not trying to make this personal, TWo Write (or STeve!) I'm just trying to follow your argument and get to the crux of what that argument really is.

Two Write Hands said...

Alyssa, honestly I just wanted a chance to write "Rubbermade boobs" on Steve's blog.

No, I don't think everyone will want to adopt Posh's look, but I think it's reasonable to assume that there may be 5 girls who will. And if so, let's consider them for a moment--women with real boobs are people too.

It's bigger than Posh. Hedonism can produce any number of negative effects. I think we owe it to ourselves (sorry, couldn't resist) to consider them all.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron: Yes, and what you say here takes on an even more wistful and plaintive quality, to me, in light of Paris Hilton's early release. (If she knows the term at all, her concept of "noblesse oblige" probably means tossing her panties, if she's wearing them, back into the adoring masses when she finishes a night of clubbing.) It amazes me that so many young women look up to people like Hilton, and Lohan, and Spears...but they do. And with society coddling Hilton et al, and protecting them from the consequences of their own wantonness and disregard, their image becomes cooler still. They are the Teflon Tarts.

RevRon's Rants said...

Let's do a minor gender switch here for a moment and see if we can manage to avoid pushing anyone's personal buttons.

I ride a motorcycle, and have for over 40 years. And there was a time when I rode irresponsibly, to a great extent because I saw people I admired doing so. Peter Fonda didn't wear a helmet in "Easy Rider," so neither did I. Really macho dudes pulled wheelstands on the freeways, so I did, as well. And I've worn my share of casts & gotten more than my share of ambulance rides as a result.

Do celebrities have the "right" to exhibit behavior that, if emulated, may cause someone harm? I guess they do. But do they also have the *responsibility* to refrain from doing things that they know will be mimicked, and could result in serious consequences? In my opinion, certainly.

Back to the "other" side, perhaps my opinion is based - in some very small part - by the fact that I've never been a fan of women who sport silicone sisters.

Anonymous said...

Teflon tarts, I love it!
-Carl

renee said...

From Broadcast News (1987) - written by James L. Brooks and delivered without parallel on screen by the always brilliant Albert Brooks:

"What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he's around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I'm semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing... he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance... Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he'll get all the great women."

Somehow feels mostly appropriate to the topic at hand.
Victoria Beckham doesn't have the most influential job on the planet but she does have influence. I doubt she's evil but she and those in her milieu are insidious. And lowering the standards of those they influence - consciously or not - bit by little bit.

Steve Salerno said...

One of my favorite movies, Renee. And though it made a splash in its day, it hasn't had the shelf life I would've expected. To my mind (and clearly yours), it's as relevant as ever--if not more so. And in more ways.

Cosmic Connie said...

I second Carl's opinion, Steve; I love "Teflon Tarts." Actually that would make a good book title. Quick, throw together a proposal and shoot it off to your agent!

Other than the fact that I don't think Posh looks anorexic, I agree for the most part with what you are saying, Steve. Alyssa, I agree that Posh has a right to her own path, such as it is, but the implicit message she and other "Teflon tarts" are giving young girls (and the rest of us) is that looks are everything.

And our society seems to encourage this p.o.v. As long as you're young, blonde and busty -- or just young and blonde -- you can get away with just about anything. Well, being rich and famous helps too.

On one level, Posh and Paris are simply reflections of our silly, celebrity-worshiping culture. We might be able to laugh them off, and I usually do. But as Steve and Ron noted, when young girls strive to emulate the airhead celebs, the consequences can be serious or deadly. And it's not just anorexia; high school girls are getting boob jobs and other elective plastic surgery these days. Of course you have to wonder: where are the parents? Oh, that's right; they're out proving that 40 is the new 20. Hmmm... I think we've had this discussion here before...

Well, once again I'm rambling, so I'd best go for now.

PS - I am *really* ticked off about Paris' early release.

Lana said...

Rights, roles, responsibilities, choices. We've come a long way, baby!

It's good to be reminded how "free and easy" it is now to have such individual freedom in this country.

And as a free society, we'll continue to experiment and discover what works and what doesn't. (It does seem we're slow learners though.) For example, perhaps a few years from now the sheer number of emotionally and physically impaired young women will be too hard to ignore, and society will have to do something about it (we can hope).

Steve Salerno said...

Cosmic, you're right about the whole 40/20 thing; and that merely compounds the problem and its effect on young girls, because the moms in this category--instead of "showing the way"--spend much of their time trying to emulate That Youthful Look, such that they act more like sisters (or "girrrrlfriends") than mothers. And yes, while this phenomenon is nothing new, for my money it's far more prevalent today amid our youth-obsessed culture.

Give you an example. Not long ago I'm in the grocery store, and I see a mother and daughter stroll by. Mom is 40ish, daughter is maybe 14 or 15. Mom is nicely shaped, an attribute she's making the most of in her midriffy outfit. (Which is fine, btw. I hope no one interprets any of this as an argument for why women should simply wilt into dust when they reach a certain age!) But it's the mentality that's often the problem here--i.e., the mom's unwillingness to create boundaries between mother and daughter, as if to do so is to admit to herself that "I'm not young in spirit anymore." I say this because the daughter is walking alongside her in those jeans that say JUICY on the rear end--and apparently (because I don't even think the manufacturer is ballsy enough to make jeans like this) she or someone has hand-embroidered an ARROW, of all things, that points from the word JUICY to the area under her butt....

Now I am no prude--and anyone who knows me would laugh at the mere idea of my being considered a prude. But I'm sorry, folks. Any mom who, in her zeal to "be one of the girls," permits her pubescent daughter to walk around in public like that... I can't even finish the sentence.

Anonymous said...

If "empowerment" is nothing more than the slutification of women, has anything positive been accomplished?

Steve, given your Rodale background, do you feel a tad guilty about working for the Hollywood hype machine that celebrates the ever-lowering standards of the alleged "celebrities"?

Steve Salerno said...

I'm not sure exactly sure I understand the terms of your question. Are you saying that it's my Rodale background that made me a one-time employee of the "Hollywood hype machine"? Or are you saying that my current publishing status makes me a current member of the Hollywood hype machine? Or the fact (to really complicate things) that I once did a TV movie?

But the short answer (though I don't think a short answer is really possible here) is...yeah. I'm not entirely comfortable with any of it. How does one get around it, though, with the ever-increasing conglomerization of American society? Eventually, the way things are going, we'll all be working for just a handful of mega-companies. Already today you have the slightly screwy situation where "straight news" stations spend a fair portion of their time promoting the prime-time lineups of their parent companies, and still more of their time doing supposedly honest reviews of films put out by another element of their parent company (or reporting on products and services offered by yet another wing of their parent company). I don't know what the answer is, really--how to escape the conflict of interest at some level--except to either work toward change from within, or subsist entirely off the grid...

a/good/lysstener said...

With all due respect you're all over the map today, Steve. Sometimes it's OK to look hot, sometimes it's not OK to look hot, then it's OK for some people to look hot sometimes, but not other people (or maybe ages?) at other times. Which is it? Amd what about men? THey have no role or responsibility here?

Steve Salerno said...

Alyssa, I almost feel that you're being purposely contentious here; for clearly this is not a case where anyone can give an answer that satisfies all people in all settings. It's a matter of tastes and standards and societal goals and expectations. As for me personally, though perhaps I can be accused of vacillating a bit, I guess I fall back on what Justice Potter Stewart famously said of pornography: More or less, "I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it." Forgive me, ladies, for what I'm about to say, but there have to be some generally agreed-upon standards where a woman can look nice, and show off her best assets--and, yes, even be intentionally provocative--yet not look, well, whorish (which is to say, not dress in such a way that her gyno could do the exam without actually removing any clothes. And no, I'm not talking about "dress codes" or any such thing, but just a certain overall "look" that different individuals are going to interpret in different ways). And whatever this standard is, it's one that we should especially seek to uphold when we're talking about young people and the celebs they admire. Alas, in practice, the more outrageous the presentation, the more of an icon you become to the kids.

Nor, incidentally, do I think that only men feel the way I feel. In fact, in my experience, adult women are far more judgmental of their gender peers--when it comes to "looking cheap"--than are men, who tend to be rather forgiving as long as cleavage is in plain sight.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you like women as much as you claim to.

Steve Salerno said...

Sigh.

RevRon's Rants said...

Alyssa, I was wondering the same thing Steve mentioned, as your "devil's advocacy" seems to have more than just intellectual energy driving it. UOK??

moi said...

I have to admit, the role models young girls have today are pretty bad. When i was in high school, I don't quite remember having idols the likes of britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Rather, there was Joan Jett, Debra Harry and other bad ass women who were sexy without being trashy(except for Madonna). Paris hilton is as low as they get, imo. A symbol of the current trend of entitled narcissism. I know nothing about this Posh woman, though, so I will refrain from comment.

Heather said...

Steve-

I actually agree with you that the media has made caricatures out of certain celebrity women (ala Paris Hilton, Posh Spice, Nicole Ricci - basically anyone whose celebrity status is based on how they look, not what they do). And you have not offended me; on the contrary, it's refreshing to hear a man express concern for young women today (no offense).

You can't deny the effects "Posh Spice" media-hyped women are having on young girls. It may be a parent's job to censor what they're children watch and listen to. But the imagery of anorexic-looking women, fake boobs, diet books ... is everywhere and constant. It's also an obvious double standard. It would be a skit on SNL if it was suddenly a social norm for men to flaunt their sexuality. The point being: the Posh Spices and Paris Hiltons of this world offer unhealthy, alien-like expectations of what women are "supposed to look like." How much time on the evening news did the Anna Nicole Smith saga steal? And the Paris Hilton jail debacle ... GOOD GOD!

If you ever doubt whether these images are, indeed, affecting young women today, look at Paris Hilton/Posh Spice as the cause and Britney Spears' downward spiral as the effect! (since I'm already name dropping ...) The fact is: 13- and 14-year-old girls are incapable of discerning what's Posh's own personal path and what is a realistic/healthy body image. I'm not saying that the media should be censored, but maybe there needs to be an open, honest, non-bull shit dialogue with all teenagers (whether this be a private conversation between parent or child, a high-school convocation or even a few overly-exposed healthy female rolemodels - [yeah, right]). The last thing they need is Posh Spice revealing her "diet" secrets or her latest line of nudity.

Steve Salerno said...

A very incisive comment, Heather, my only wish being that it had come earlier, at a time when the discussion was "fresh." That's not a criticism of you in any way, of course; I just regret that the rest of our readers missed out on what you had to say here.

Thanks for visiting....

Heather said...

Yeah, I thought about that before I posted my comment. Sorry. I've been incommunicado the past few weeks.

Steve Salerno said...

Well, we'll cut you some slack this time...but don't let it happen again. :)

I hope it was "good incommunicado," not "bad incommunicado." Regrettably, incommunicado--of any kind--is something I find it very hard to be nowadays.