Beyoncé, “Partition” and female role models

In the week since its launch, the Ban Bossy campaign has been making waves online. I’m not interested in talking about Ban Bossy, but I’m interested in the celebrities who have jumped on board to endorse it, and the notion that these celebrities are good role models for young girls. Namely, I’ve got a few thoughts on Beyoncé.

(I’m hesitant to tear into this topic, because if you’ve been awake since December, you know there are myriad facets to Beyoncé—the woman, the entertainer, the eponymous album, among others—that it requires a hell of a lot of context to talk about her in a way that is balanced and fair. I’m going to try, but this is me acknowledging that I’ll likely fall short somewhere.)

Have I been drinking the Yonce Kool Aid since her super-secret album dropped in December? Maybe I’ve been sipping on it. Full disclosure: I am a fan of Beyoncé, the artist. I grew up listening to Beyoncé as the lead singer of Destiny’s Child. By the time I got to high school she had broken out as a solo performer. And now, years later, she’s a solo performer megastar, a mom, a wife and a self-proclaimed modern feminist.

A lot’s changed since I was bopping to “Bills, Bills, Bills” on my Walkman en route to junior high. In particular: Beyoncé’s age. Beyoncé’s life stage. Today, she’s a 32-year-old married mother of one. Her latest album speaks to her maturity, with songs about marital conflict, jealousy, her daughter, and yes—sex.  Continue reading

Misogyny Monday: 7 Flaws With A Man’s 7 Flaws He Likes In Women

I’ve been in blog hibernation for almost a year now, but I just thought of a new feature that could bring me back on the scene: Misogyny Monday. Or maybe just a Misogyny Monday, May 6, to get things moving.

It was around noon today when I took my lunch to my desk and started scheduling and reading Tweets for work. I’m a sucker for all kinds of Twitter bait, and the headline “7 Flaws I Like In a Woman” predictably hooked me.

I don’t know how I expected the article could be anything more than misogynistic drivel, but I read it. I got irritated (again, predictably) — being a career-oriented risk-taker is the trademark of a flawed female? That’s news to me.

I looked into the author, Mark Manson. He runs a “self development website designed to help men adjust to the necessary social and sexual realities of the post-industrial, post-feminist and post-modern era.” He also penned a piece on the Thought Catalog titled “Why Is Every Woman You Date A Crazy Bitch?” (That tidbit presented without comment.)

So, for good measure, here are my 7 (or more) flaws with Mark Manson’s 7 flaws he likes in women.

1. “She’s Slightly Neurotic” 

Girls who are slightly neurotic feel right to me for two reasons: for one, if there’s something I should be worrying about, but I’m not, they’ll always catch it.

I am slightly neurotic. I’ve told myself that past relationships were successful because of the yin and yang between my neuroses and his laid-backness. There’s something to that, but only to a degree.

If you should be worrying about something, then you should be worrying about it regardless of whether I — your girlfriend — advise you to worry about it. I’d rather be with a guy who already knows his staggering credit card debt is a problem, than a guy who really appreciates it when I advise him that it’s a problem.

Manson sounds like he’s looking for a mother, or a life coach; not a girlfriend. Flaws I don’t like in men: inability to prioritize or recognize when it’s time to worry.

Ah, but it’s not just about what your woman can do for you, it’s what you can do for her:

And secondly, when they’re worrying about something that’s unnecessary, I enjoy being able to help them relax and feel more secure about it. It’s a nice dynamic, as it makes me feel needed and they’re always appreciative.

They’re always appreciative? Are we still talking about women (human beings, for those of you keeping track at home), or have we started talking about house plants and domestic animals? Continue reading

In case you doubted that sexism still exists…

…let’s take quick peek into the world of Internet commenters from my sweet home, Chicago, on this article.

Sara Glashagel, 27, a special education teacher who is the wife of Antioch’s head football coach, allegedly got hold of an administrative password and inflated the grades for 64 students — 41 of them football players, authorities said.

[Antioch police Chief Craig Somerville] said that while most of the students whose grades were changed were football players, many had no eligibility issues; other students did not participate in any extracurricular activities.

“Our understanding is that some changes were made to make it less obvious, so it wasn’t football players only,” Somerville said.

—Chicago Tribune, Nov. 22, 2011

The article brings to mind what I think is an important and timely topic, especially in wake of recent events: the stranglehold of football programs on our nation’s schools, high schools and universities alike.

And hey, wouldn’t this be a great time for Internet comment boards? Community members could discuss how the overemphasis on athletics may be compromising academics; or, if they don’t think that, they could say why it isn’t. Democracy! Free speech! Public forums! Changing the world, one productive comment at a time!

LOL just kidding, let’s talk instead about how freakin’ HOT this chick is with her tig ol’ bitties.

Continue reading

The Real Housewives of Failure

The Miami housewives, in all their boring glory.

The formula seems infallible: Every year, Bravo churns out new seasons of the Real Housewives,” revisiting our favorite flamboyantly wealthy women from familiar locales (Orange County, New York, et al.) and introducing us to new ones — most recently, the lackluster Miami.

I’ve seen Housewives” fail before, namely when the series came to Washington, D.C. (that season’s only saving grace was the party-crashing Salahi duo). But Bravo has hit the jackpot in nearly every other city. The ladies of Orange County are six seasons strong since 2006; New York, Atlanta and New Jersey have followed suit, and I won’t be surprised when season two of Beverly Hills airs.

Miami, I thought, was primed for success. And not just because Larsa Pippen was on board (I grew up near Chicago at the peak of BullsMania, so I had high hopes for Scottie appearances on the show). Miami seemed like a breath of fresh southern air after so many Cali-centric seasons in the OC and Beverly Hills. The cast seemed bubbly and slightly less botox-y than their West-coast comrades, and certainly less snobby and mob-y than their neighbors to the north. It never occurred to me that “The Real Housewives of Miami” could suck.

Did you know?! Rich ladies do lunch!

And suck they did! I watched every episode of the short season, waiting for the plot to thicken, but instead it stayed watery. Diluted with blasé luncheons and an ongoing (yet so uninteresting) beef between Lea and Cristy over tickets to a charity ball. Alexis was the self-proclaimed “Cuban Barbie”; Marysol was relatively level-headed, with a hilarious mother to boot; Lea was The Old Crazy One; Adriana was the sassy Brazilian (is that an archetype?); and Larsa and Cristy were the resident mean girls. And nothing happened.

To add insult to “Housewives” injury, Bravo didn’t grant the ladies the typical reunion affair that’s hosted somewhere swanky and delivered over three consecutive weeks of two-hour specials. No-siree: The girls of Miami got a live, one-hour shot at a reunion by way of an extended episode of Andy Cohen’s lo-fi “Watch What Happens Live” talk show. And the ordeal is so boring that as it airs now, I’m typing this blog. Because guess what? Nothing’s happening. He should totally call this show “Watch What Doesn’t Happen Live” (……. I’m sorry).

Andy Cohen's mozel of the week is totes not going to the cast of Miami.

For the past 54 minutes, the sapless sixsome has fought about god knows what. They talk over each other, Adriana drops an occasional F-bomb and Andy looks antsy and ready to ditch the women in favor of a gin martini. When even Andy Cohen can’t feign interest, it’s a true benchmark of Bravo failure.

Is there anyone out there who’s keeping the faith in Miami? Who thinks that this reality turd could be — just maybe — salvageable? I don’t have any more to add to the Miami conversation as of press (er, blog) time. This reunion special is so uninspiring that I think I’m going to re-watch my DVR’d episodes of Orange County and watch what happened, edited.

How Ke$ha (sort of) made me feel like P. Diddy

I’m a feminist.

I could go ahead and itemize every reason why, but in short: I dedicated my entire undergraduate thesis to analyzing feminist critique of mainstream women’s magazines. I peruse feminist blogs during nearly every idle moment of my day. When I hear a friend react to a photo of an impossibly slender celebrity, I’m the first to chime in: “It’s not real! It’s a farce! She’s a victim of Photoshop!”

I know as well as any other savvy and feminist consumer of media that the photos we see of famous people are often works of fiction. I know that there are pop stars with pores and celebrities with cellulite. I know that they have flaws, even if they have the time and money to commit to seven-hour daily training sessions in their fully loaded home gyms.

But here’s what troubles me: Despite how well I know this (and trust me, after writing that thesis, I know it well), I can’t stop comparing myself to photos of thin and subjectively “perfect” women, doctored or otherwise.

Eat your heart out, crazed community of TMZ commenters. (Photo from

Let me rewind and explain why I’m even writing about this. It all began with Ke$ha.

Last week, photos came out of the arti$t at the beach. Call me ignorant, but I was shocked to learn that Ke$ha’s body isn’t model-size. Don’t misunderstand me — she’s not fat — but she’s unquestionably Not Model Size.

As one might imagine, the photos drew in a slew of vicious comments on Web sites like TMZ (if those are even worth considering, because seriously, who comments on TMZ?).

The language TMZ used to describe the photos wasn’t much better than what the site’s commenters had to say. As TMZ put it, in a not-so-subtle pun: “The 24-year-old has let herself go two-pieces.” (There’s also been a lot of debate about whether or not that high-waisted black bikini did Ke$ha’s figure any favors, but that’s beyond the point. I’m interested in her body shape, not her fashion choices).

Before I saw those photos, I falsely assumed that Ke$ha was stick-thin, meaning a size two or less. Because that’s just the way pop stars are supposed to be! So after I got past my initial shock, a new feeling came over me: confused relief.

In some perverse way, I felt like my own body was validated by Ke$ha’s less-than-rock-hard physique. Her shape, to me, is far more relatable than Lady Gaga’s petite, svelte bod. I felt a sense of affirmation upon seeing candid photos of a woman close to my age, who has what I’d call a sexy image in the media and in her music, who didn’t immediately inspire the usual allergic reaction I have to images a young, sexy, skinny starlet — which is to get my ass on a treadmill and commence a liquid diet. And no, that is not hyperbole. I’ve done things like that more times than I’m proud to admit, purely out of self loathing that started with comparing myself to other women.

This feeling of validation after seeing Ke$ha’s beach body continues to confound me, because that certainly wasn’t the first time I saw a female celebrity with what I’ll call a “normal” body for the purpose of this piece (although I realize there is no such thing as a “normal” body; Ke$ha’s body is one more commonly found in nature , i.e. the real world, and not exclusively in Hollywood).

I distinctly recall Britney Spears’ transition from teensy-tiny teeny bopper to her post-baby KFed figure. I remember tabloids filled with beach photos of Tyra Banks and Jennifer Love Hewitt after the two had gained weight — not that either woman was ever overweight, but still, their weight gain was evident. Their fans and the media reacted critically, regardless of the fact that both Tyra and Jennifer still had body shapes that many women aspire to attain.

Seeing those celebrities’ weight gain didn’t make me feel any better about my own body. Instead, it confirmed to me that their bigger bodies were unacceptable: Lady celebs who are already thin are expected to stay that way. Never mind if they’ve had a baby, retired from modeling or simply decided to rejoin the human race and eat more than 1,000 calories a day.

The same goes for celebrities who became famous with more buxom bodies. Mo’nique, Kirstie Alley, Whitney from America’s Next Top Model (is she actually famous?); they made it to the top with the figures they already had, but even that couldn’t make me feel more confident about embracing my own “imperfect” body. It only endorsed the idea that being curvy means being big — or, more specifically, it means “plus size.”

Lizzie Miller, the beautiful and "plus-size" model featured in Glamour. (Photo from

When Glamour famously published a photo of a “plus-size” model in 2009, I wanted to be thrilled. I wanted to praise the magazine for representing a woman who was bigger than the sample size. But when I saw the model, I thought, “This is plus size? This tall, blonde girl with a body like mine is plus-size?”

And that’s where it gets tricky for me. I’ve never considered myself a plus-size girl, and I’ve never worn a plus size, even as my weight over the years since high school has fluctuated significantly. But still, my body doesn’t look like the body I “should” have. The body I’ve always wanted to have. The type of tight, slight body that I can usually ignore when I see it digitally whittled down on the cover of Vogue, but the type that’s much harder to disregard when the “real women” in fitness magazines or at the gym have somehow attained it themselves. Instead, my body looks much more like that of the alleged “plus-size” model who up until that photo in Glamour, I simply would have viewed as normal. Not big, and certainly not plus-size.

So to bring this back on point and back to feminism: It’s easy enough, as an educated media consumer and a feminist, to brush off an illusion. I’m not upset that I’ll never look like Barbie, because her proportions only exist in some sick Mattel fantasy.

But when impossible (or improbable) body shapes are presented beneath a veneer of fitness and diet tips (or a cloak of “reality”), they become much harder to ignore. Interestingly, a recent study at Ohio State University shows that the difference in editorial context (fashion vs. fitness) influences the way women perceive those idealized body types; I may be able to disregard a touched-up model on the cover of Vogue, but when Women’s Health shows me the same photo and explains what I can do to look like her through diet and exercise, I suddenly feel like my imperfect body is my fault. Because hey, it’s totally feasible that with some light walking for 30 minutes a day and a healthy diet, I’ll have the body of a triathlete.

If I could, I’d write something conclusive here. Maybe something about how now that I recognize the ways that these photos affect me (in spite of my feminist sensibilities), I won’t allow them to affect me anymore. But let’s face it — that’s unlikely.

People who don’t understand feminism often assume that a woman who calls herself a feminist is so self-assured that she’s completely unfazed by criticism or insecurity. Of course, that’s not true — when I complained to one of my male friends about needing more time to get ready on a Friday night, he said (innocently enough): “You’re a feminist, why do you care how you look?”

I felt ashamed of myself as a feminist when I realized how photos of female celebrities influence my self image, whether I’m gazing at a reassuring photo of Ke$ha or even a photo of a dainty drag queen that makes me wonder, “God, if a man looks that good and thin as a woman, why can’t I?.”

Ralph Lauren's famous Photoshop massacre: Because real women don't have waists. (Photo courtesy of

We can, and we should, continue educating women about how our bodies are digitally mangled in magazines and tabloids. Jezebel has already taken on the role of chief Photoshop watchdog. But even for some of us who have seen all the proof that most women aren’t shaped like strands of angel-hair pasta, it isn’t always enough.

Even when women gain fame with more meat on their bones than LiLo, they’re still “plus-size,” and that’s still a stigma. I know that being emaciated is not the norm, and nor should it be, but that knowledge doesn’t quash my own desire to lose weight, gain visible abs and look like a lady in a fitness mag.

In the meantime, I’m making an effort to spend less time wallowing in self loathing every time I feel a tinge of body insecurity, or every time a beautiful, normal-size girl is labeled “plus-size.” I can’t erase all of my insecurities or anyone else’s, but I’ll depart with the wise words of my girl Ke$ha: We R Who We R. So let’s appreciate R selves as much as we can.