Want to see objectification in action? Look no further than celebrity culture

I was all ready to go on a rant after reading about Beyonce’s lettuce-and-treadmill diet – you know, your standard “OMG unrealistic beauty standards are the WORST!” rant – but upon further reflection, I decided to leave that to all of other bloggers and writers who are sure to tackle the same topic.  I mean, really, I’m not going to go after Beyonce for owning up to just how much suckage is involved in attaining the celebrity “post-baby body.”  As I said on a friend’s Facebook wall, I’d rather have Beyonce admitting that she practically had to starve herself to lose that weight than some celebrity women, who insist that it’s enough to just chase their infant around all day long (because infants are known for their physical activity?) to drop the weight.   The more the Beyonces and Julianne Moores (who once said she’s “hungry all the time”) and the Ashley Judds and the Scarlett Johanssons come out and say exactly what they have to do to meet our society’s standards for beauty, the better off we all are, I think.

(By the way, if you haven’t heard, Ms. Johansson gave a juicebox of a reporter the what-for after she* asked what she awesomely termed the “rabbit food” question while asking Robert Downey Jr. about his character’s development.  She wins the universe for that one.)

No, there’s something else that bothers me about this, something that runs a lot deeper than simple resentment of body ideals.  I think that what bothers me is that the way our culture treats celebrities – particularly female celebrities, but male celebrities too – is essentially objectification in action.  We as a culture don’t care to think of celebrities as people.  I mean, we pretend like we do, which is why we pore over gossip magazines with those idiot “Stars – They’re just like us!” features, but really, we want them to be these perfect enigmas upon which we can project our most powerful desires and our more ferocious judgements.  When they exhibit any of the foibles of humanity – baby weight, illness, addiction, bad moods – we are offended, as if Kristen Stewart’s refusal to smile while on the red carpet is some personal affront to us, simply because we once paid a couple of bucks to see her in a movie.  I mean, look at the reaction to Aishwarya Rai after she had a baby and failed to starve herself back into shape.  She tries to resist the pressure and suddenly people are taking to the internet to criticize her for eating “too many kebabs.”

When I see the laser-like focus on the bodies and appearances of celebrities, I can only imagine that it’s like a distillation of the body-hating garbage that we mere mortals deal with on a daily basis, only ramped up a thousand percent to retina-scorching levels, and then with the added pressure of huge financial incentives added on top.  They inhabit a world that rejects the idea of them as human beings, that says they don’t get to spend time hanging out with their baby in loose pants or they don’t get to eat burritos without a dozen ravenous tabloids wondering if they are pregnant or basically have bodies that do anything beyond give us all something pretty to look at.

Listen, I enjoy pop culture.  I like movies and television, and I like pop music, and I love pop stars.  I like watching them perform.  I like when they wear sparkly clothes.  I But I also recognize that this does not mean I can lay claim to some kind of ownership over them.  This also does not mean that they cease to be people.  This does not mean that they don’t have feelings and emotions of their own.  So I would encourage all of us – myself included – to lay off these people already.  Don’t make a sport of talking shit about them.  Resist those god-awful gossip magazines and websites if you can (although if you are a fan of Michael K on DListed, I totally understand why you might not want to). Don’t click on celebrity stories on news websites.  One of my responsibilities at work is tracking the traffic on our website and I’ll be damned if stories about celebrities are not among our consistently most popular stories.  (Ask me how I felt the day a story about Paris Hilton going to a Super Bowl party in Tampa was our second most popular story.  No, don’t ask me – I’m sure you can guess.)

Because you know what?  When we talk about how so-and-so has gotten so fat and why hasn’t she lost the baby weight and damn she looks old and what’s up with her weird inflated lips, we make it a lot easier to turn that kind of critical eye on each other.  And guess what?  We don’t have access to trainers and nutritionists and plastic surgeons and aestheticians and stylists and all the other people who devote their time to prettying up the famous people.   If celebrities can’t stand up to our critical eye, what hope is there for the rest of us?  If sparkly Beyonce, with all of her gajillions of dollars, has to starve herself while doing two-a-days to lose her baby weight, then what chance does a single mom who can barely afford day care have?  When we objectify celebrities, we make it easier to objectify each other.  We are better than that.  We deserve more than that.  All of us do.

*That’s what I get for assuming.  Of course I shouldn’t be surprised. Ladies can be juiceboxes too.

8 responses to “Want to see objectification in action? Look no further than celebrity culture

  1. Again, another great post. 🙂

    It’s overwhelming how much pressure is out there to look perfect after having a baby and I definitely don’t envy celebraties when it comes to losing the baby weight. It took me a good two and half years to get it off and now (3 years later), I got my first comment ever “wow, it looks like you never had a baby!”. I kind of have mixed feelings about that one a number of levels but for way too many reasons to disect here.

    I just wish there was more openess about what happens to your body after giving birth. Beyond just the weight gain/loss thing. I’d be nice to have more information about how common stretch marks are, having softer breasts, different weight distribution, and loose skin. Instead we’re forced fed this ideal (and all the airbrushing isn’t helping!) that we can have our pre-kid bodies back -just like the celebraties- if we exercise enough and eat little enough. However, in reality some of it just doesn’t go back. It doesn’t make us less beautiful but it’s something we have to learn to accept and love.

    • June, that’s a good point about how little people talk about what pregnancy actually does to bodies. Like, I was surprised when I learned that body parts change color due to hormones released in pregnancy. I’ve been reading a lot about pregnancy and half of the stuff has me going WTF? I’m not exactly uninformed, as I worked in a women’s health clinic for a year! And yet there is so much I don’t know. But to listen to certain media figures talk, the only thing that happens is your belly gets big for a bit and then it deflates like a balloon.

  2. Someone claimed in the comments section of the CSICON link that the “juicebox of a reporter” was female, as was her translator. I didn’t watch the video myself, but I thought you might be interested in that.

  3. Excellent post. On the reporter/Johansson bit: I can virtually guarantee you that’s a freelance reporter who was assigned to ask that for a ladymag, which fill all sorts of basically ad pages with celebrity quotes. (Beauty product pages, fitness pages, etc.) Whenever reporters would interview celebrities the beauty/health editors of these places assign a few questions to fill all that space and make it “newsy!” and “relevant!” Ugh! Not excusing the practice in the least, and of course I don’t know for sure who this reporter is, but just to add some context. it’s less about any individual juicebox and more about…the system juicebox? (And the velvet steamroller rolls on…)

  4. I try to keep all of this in mind when I see a chubby/fat female celeb I love has suddenly lost weight. I don’t know her business, I don’t know the reasons, and I certainly can’t blame her — my issues with weight are bad enough and I’m not scrutinized by millions of people everyday.

    • I think it’s okay to be disappointed when a bigger female celebrity loses weight but like you said, it’s hard to get on the judgment horse when they do. That said, I think it’s also important to critique the fact that we do live in a culture that has such a narrow definition of beauty.

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