[Today's essay rapidly outgrew its original incarnation as a response to the many excellent comments on yesterday's post about the so-called "real" women in the current Dove ad campaign. It doesn't say anything new, but it's a marginally better essay. Cuz it's longer!]
When strolling down the avenue–which avenue, by capitalist mandate, is entirely papered over like some sadistic Cristo installation with glossy hot young airbrushed babes humping whatever it is they’re trying to sell you (or humping each other; check out that one on the right) — it’s all right, I guess, to see a different girl once in a while, just to break up the monotony. But it is rash to assume that because the girl doesn’t look like a junkie skeleton with tits that the ad agency has landed some momentous blow for women’s empowerfulment
Or even a trifling blow. These Dove girls are still sex objects. That they are not professional models only magnifies the pathos. I invite you to inspect the photos in closer detail. Observe the body language. In their attempts to project empowerment they all look self-conscious and awkward. And why shouldn’t they? They’ve been posed in their fucking underwear by some fashion choreographer as though they are each wearing a single invisible stiletto pump on one cocked foot. Ouch.
As radical as it seems that they have used images of awkward pretty girls rather than of sophisticated, haggard drug addicts with lips like raw liver, Dove has not dismantled patriarchy. No. What they’ve done is, they’ve sold butt cream.
Check it out: in our society, a chick in her underwear, regardless of body mass, exists for one of two purposes: to make money for some male-dominated butt-cream entity, or for the pleasure of the male voyeur. Cosmetics companies can set themselves up as dispensers of self-esteem, they can even tell you that pictures of size 10 women in underwear are empowerfulling you, but they are fucking lying in order to sell you stuff. That’s because in our society all women are sex objects, whether they agree to it or not, until they are too old to make money or excite boners when shown in their underwear, and then god help’em.
What commonly-sized women–by whom I mean those gals whose weight-dot on the bell curve falls somewhere northeast of anorexic– what they appear to be responding to in these ads is the slender possibility, the faint flicker of hope, that at last the beauty standard might actually relax sufficiently to include them.
On the surface, a move toward a more inclusive, ‘healthy’ beauty standard seems a reasonable request. But gaze, if you dare, below the surface, where patriarchy’s greasy gears are relentlessly churning out their ever more sadistic tools of oppression. On the wall, carved in stone lo these past few millennia, is the company motto. It says “Normal Can Never Be Beautiful.” Beauty, by definition, is extraordinary, rare, and conspicuous.
The desperate desire to be beautiful, based on the lie that beauty is attainable, is the result of patriarchal mind-control. Here’s what the mind-control says: the only way a woman can really attain power is through her ability to stimulate desire and/or envy in total strangers, traits that are commonly thought of as”beauty.” Beauty makes people hire you and love you and invite you and it gets you more stuff. Beauty = power. And how do we measure beauty?
You are beautiful if you look like someone who sells butt cream.
But a size 10 can’t sell butt cream unless she’s Oprah, so naturally she is anxious that the rules change so she can get a piece of the action. But even if she succeeds, and size 10 becomes the new size 2, all she will have won is the opportunity to be even more grossly objectified. And the opportunity to buy more butt-cream. She will not be a fully-realized human being. She will not have achieved personal sovereignty. She will not be unrapeable. She will not escape pressure to !smile! or be feminine or have cosmetic surgery or buy softcore porn costumes from Victoria’s Secret. And for damn sure she’ll still be cleaning 8 out of 10 of the nation’s toilets.
Beauty standards come and beauty standards go, but one thing is constant: women are the sex class.
Rise up! Reject the beauty mandate!