Monday, September 10, 2007

Context is king

Over on Feministing, Jessica Valenti blogs todayabout Britney Spears at the VMAs last night, saying "... if I hear one more person comment on how 'fat' she was, I'm gonna lose it. Whether it's a news story saying she has a "paunch" or a cable news dude calling her chunky and fat--it's ....gross and wrong. When was the last frigging time a male musician's beer belly made news?"

I'm honestly conflicted on this. While I tend to agree that it's wrong and misogynistic (Etc...) that society imposes a certain standard of beauty/appearance on women, I can't help but think that Britney Spears sure as hell benefited from that system. Don't we all remember her writhing around with the snake around her shoulders? I might even go so far as to argue that her behavior and image (up until recently) sent a darn high physical standard for other young girls to fail to achieve.

Sure, I feel bad for her, in a way. But I'd be more likely to agree with Jessica on this if Britney had attempted in some way to call out this impossible standard of perfection (maybe by not wearing a bra and panties onstage), rather than what it appears that she did: try to convince herself that she still conformed to it.

To be clear: I don't think that women need to be a certain size, shape or hair color to dress however they see fit. But I think it's disingenuous to pretend that the audience, or the performers, or Britney herself -- agrees.


Jo said...

I'm with you on being torn on this. My initial reaction to seeing Britney in that too-small sparkly bikini was, "Whoa! What is she thinking?!" Then I remembered that she's a mother of two young children and, in that context, looks freakin' amazing.

Her problem was what you pointed out, though - she went out like that thinking she still had "it" (i.e. the media-worthy body that few normal women will ever attain), but really - she finally looks like the rest of us.

Unfortunatenly, pop culture doesn't allow that to be seen in public. Especially from a former superstar.

Cara said...

For the record, I thought that she looked perfectly fine in her outfit . . . at least as fine as anyone wearing something that ridiculous can look.

I agree that Britney benefited from the system that is now tearing her apart. But I think that we also have to be very careful to remember that just because a woman benefits from a patriarchal structure doesn't mean that she's also not a victim of it. I don't like Britney Spears. At all. But I've never heard stories about her trashing other women's bodies or being judgmental of others. If that were the case, I would agree with all of the people arguing that she got what she deserves. THAT would have been karma.

I think that because she's a celebrity, we've come to expect more from her. We expect her to call out the entertainment industry on its impossibly high beauty standards while we don't expect the same from the women that we work with, live with and pass on the street. If we can, and do, regularly accept that women don't even realize how beauty standards are oppressing them, why do we expect anything more of Britney?