Earlier this week a certain web site offered a certain fashion magazine $10,000 to run un-retouched photos of an actress whose body has ignited a tiresome and insipid media conversation.
That anyone is spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about an actress’s body, whether or not she should be naked on TV, and now, the meaning of her retouched photos (by the way, the actress whose name I refuse to mention seems perfectly fine with them) when there are so many truly important things to think about, is ridiculous.
Also egregious is the polarization of views on women’s bodies — not only how they are discussed and displayed by the media, but also the way we judge women for how they choose to look.
I had professional photos taken for my business web site. The photographer offered me two free re-touches, and I debated which ones to use: the real-me with a middle-aged lady’s crow’s feet and smile lines, or the photo-shopped me with smoother skin.
For research purposes, I sent out a mass e-mail to friends with both pictures displayed, and asked them to choose which they liked better. The results were 50-50, with no consistency in gender response. Some people preferred me au naturel because they felt they would want to talk to that person. Some voted for the photo-shopped version. The reason? Photo-shopping is de riguer for 21st century self-promotion.
After much pondering, I chose the photo-shopped pictures for the reason above. AND because I preferred myself without the crow’s feet and lines. Does this make me vain? Maybe. Does this make me a victim of female objectification? I think not. Does this mean I suffer from internalized hatred, that I devalue my un-retouched self because I’m a slave to beauty and age bias? Please. My choice was a personal one, no better or worse than someone else’s decision to display herself with her imperfections.
I dye my hair. I favor fire-engine-red nail polish on my toes. I do arm exercises because I like my triceps toned. I don form-fitting clothes. I wear nice lingerie everyday, even to the grocery store, and have been called, at times, a vamp.
And yet I vehemently reject any suggestion that I am anti-feminist, or a hostage of convention. I am particular about the way I look, much the way I’m particular about how I arrange the picture frames and vases on my vanity. I’m comfortable in my skin, and how I choose to present myself to the world — which is pretty much the same as how I present myself to myself when no one else is around.
I make personal style choices based on my own preferences, not anyone else’s. I am able to do this because I have a confidence that comes from maturity and a desire to live life on my own terms. Ultimately, it is this confidence that makes me more “desirable” at 50 than I was at twenty-five, when my self-concept was far less defined than my appearance.
We need to stop judging women for whatever external choice they make. Someone who foregoes Botox isn’t any better than someone who partakes, just as a Pilates enthusiast doesn’t trump someone without the time, money, or inclination, to visit a gym.
It is my hope that we deep-six either bias, both of which diminish women. And that we start having conversations that matter. This week, for instance, The Atlantic hosted The Shriver Report Live, a summit on women and poverty. While not as click-baity as articles on women’s bodies, that is the woman’s issue that should have taken hold of the Internet, not the bounty put on an actress’s photos.
So let’s start talking about real dilemmas facing women, and how to solve them.