Tag Archives: Body image

I think I’m impressed by what he said

I saw something in the paper yesterday and thought that I must blog it but in the upheaval of tradies and school and work and organising a sale and a move, I threw the paper into the recycling and one of those exciting experiences when you have to go through the recyling to find the thing you want…. May I give you some gratuitous advice? Think very carefully before moving house.

Back on topic, the Brownlow Medal ceremony was held on Monday night. It’s the night when the Aussies Rules players are honoured for playing AFL. It’s a big deal for the players. And for the WAGS. I find that such a horrid term: the Wives and Girlfriends, appendages of the men, reduced to a mere acronym, and one that sounds derogatory at that. In recent years, each player has arrived accompanied by his partner, and they have sashayed down the blue carpet, with the woman’s dress being assessed, a la the red carpet at the Oscars. So not only are they WAGS, but the only thing that matters about them is what they wear.

But not everyone wants to play this silly game (that would be the WAGS / appearance / blue carpet game, not AFL).

But some football players are not a fan of the Brownlow fashion parade. Collingwood’s Harry O’Brien lashed out at the media when asked what his partner, Video Hits presenter Faustina “Fuzzy” Agolley, would be wearing. “There’s so much emphasis in our society on materialistic things. Women have so many issues with their body shape and have all these external things that they think will make them complete,” he said. “There is certain media that adds to the general feeling, the psyche of women in terms of that whole materialistic nature.”

From All eyes on the Brownlow’s blue carpet on AFL big night

I’m not quite sure what he meant to say, but I think I’m impressed by it. I think he was trying to say that the whole focus on appearance is ridiculous, and harmful.

Onya, mate.

Drawing a line

At what point is it fair enough to criticise other women for the choices they make about their bodies?

I’ve been turning the question over for the last month or two, ever since I made a negative post about women injecting their feet with botox in order to wear what I regard as “silly shoes” [link], and in comments at Hoyden about Town, Tigtog and the Queen of Thorns had an extended discussion about whether it was fair to make such comments [link]. In particular, QoT was concerned about linking “silly shoes” and health.

Nobody owes staying in perfect health to anybody, or maintaining “natural” feet, or not bleaching their hair because “it’ll dry it out”, or any other number of “harmful” things we do.

Well… hmmm… I don’t know. As in, I am in epistemic doubt, not that I am trying to indicate that I disagree with QoT (‘though I may well do, but if I disagree with someone, I prefer to say, “I disagree with you” rather than faff around with weasel words). You will see that this is a rambly, thinky piece, and I don’t think I’ve even answered the question, but that’s because actually, I really don’t know what I think about this. I’m hoping that people will have more thoughts to add in comments.

I think it is a moral failing to neglect to take reasonable care of yourself if that then means that other people near to you will be required to turn around and look after you. For example, a few years ago, a young man in New Zealand got some cheap cats-eye contact lenses to wear for a party. He left them in for three days without changing them, and got an eye-infection. He didn’t use the medication that his doctor prescribed, and eventually, ended up having surgery on that eye. And then he neglected to look after his eye post surgery, and ended up losing his sight in that eye. [link] I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that the young man should not be given as much assistance as he needs in order to function as well as possible in the world. But all other things being equal (there could after all, be some other reason that we don’t know about that explains why he so neglected his own health), I think that it is reasonable to at least make a moral judgment that he was negligent. (NB: In New Zealand, his health care would have been paid for by taxpayers.)

And even if we can make a charge of negligence with respect to health, it’s still not going to give me the machinery I need to defend the claim I made about silly shoes and botox. As far as I know, botox administered properly has no long term effects. It does however, entail a certain amount of pain. So the question becomes, for me, to what extent it is reasonable to endure pain in order achieve a particular fashion look?

I have tried to think through what I do for the sake of ‘beauty’. I use cleanser, toner and moisturiser, and wear a small amount of makeup (I buy foundation and loose powder, and use the freebies that come with the regular ‘gift packs’). And I choose my clothes carefully. All aimed at making me feel as though I look good, of course. Otherwise jeans and t-shirts and jumpers would be just fine, n’est ce pas? All temporary, and able to be changed at a whim.

But then there’s beauty techiques that have a longer lasting effect I got my ears pierced when I was 14. My earlobes were numbed with ice, and the piercing studs were shot through. It was momentarily painful. I get my legs waxed, which is momentarily painful. And I get my hair coloured – sometimes the dye stings my scalp, also momentarily painful, and I suppose that in the longer term, it may damage my hair. I see these as minor and trivial pains, a nuisance and nothing more.

That’s it. I’ve not considered cosmetic surgery, and I don’t think I’m likely to. With the exception of ear piercing, I’ve had nothing done that has a permanent effect on my body. I don’t necessarily reject permanent body adornment; although tattoos are not for me, if another woman wants to get them, well, whatever. The same thing goes with piercings – not my thing, but if someone else wants them, fine. It’s her body, her choice.

But somehow, I still want to reject botox and ‘silly shoes’. I think it’s for two reasons. One is that those amazing high heeled shoes, beautiful though they can be, do seem to have a negative affect on longer term health. [link] [link] The other is that even without the effects on bones and joints, high heeled shoes prevent women from moving naturally, from swinging their legs freely, from standing with ease. They hobble women, with all the subtexts and overtones and secondary meanings implied by that, all for the sake of appearing a certain way. It seems to me to be a step too far.

As you can see, what I am trying to do is to draw a line, between appearance related activities that are, for want of a better word, acceptable, and those that are not. I don’t think it’s an easy line to draw, and by no means do I want to claim that I’ve got it right. But I do think that I have a conceptual tool that gives me a way of distinguishing one end of the line from the other i.e. the effect on health. That’s why tattoos and piercings and make-up don’t worry me, but very high heeled shoes do. I also think that is possible to make a moral claim about one end of the line, that is, that someone who engages in beauty practices that have a long term deleterious effect on health is negligent.

Having said all that, if you choose to wear high-heeled shoes on occasion, well, then, that’s your business. I’m not at all interested in stopping you, even if you wear them all the time. Your body, your choice. I simply reserve the right to make a judgement about it. It’s not a judgement based on my own beauty preferences; it’s a judgement about neglect. And even if I think that it is your own behaviour that has caused health related problems, I will happily pay my taxes to support any medical assistance and treatment for you. That’s the price of of living in a liberal democracy.

I do understand what QoT says about making judgements about other people’s choices. There’s not just a line to be drawn here, but a fine line to be walked, between making a judgement about someone’s behaviour, and forcing that person to behave in certain ways. Perhaps over the longer time social disapproval will make very high heeled shoes disappear, along with some other distorting beauty practices (extreme thinness achieved through stringent dieting, for example). My hope is that such disapproval would be based on a rational understanding of health and healthiness, on considered arguments and above all on strong evidence about what is, and what is not healthy. It certainly should not be based on simple ‘I don’t like this’ reactions. One way to avoid coercing people’s behaviour is to refuse to make moral judgements as all, but to my mind, that’s as much a failure as falling into prejudice and coercion. We actually need to do the hard work, to think hard about what reasons underpin our judgements, to amass the evidence and then make our judgements on that basis. And even then, that in no way means that we should not help that person as best we can. Not because she or he deserves or doesn’t deserve it, but because that’s what decent human beings do.

As for me, given that I don’t approve of very high heeled shoes, you will not find me wearing them. I will admire yours, if they are particularly delicious (I recommend Dr Isis and Megan for pictures of gorgeous shoes), especially if you wear them as an ornament from time to time, just as I wear earrings in my pierced ears, and dye my hair to match my car*, just for fun. If however, you insist on wearing them all the time, to the extent that it damages your body, then I will think that you are negligent in that regard.


* Given recent events, there is some concern in my family about what colour my replacement car will be.

That didn’t last for long

I was so delighted to find a lovely feminist takedown of silly research* in the New Zealand Herald. Things are getting better, slowly, slowly, a teaspoon at a time.

It didn’t last long. This is what they’ve got on their front page now.

The image shows two celebrities (I don’t know who – I’m kind of out of touch because I just don’t do celeb culture) from a gallery of celebrity shots. The text under the shots reads: Too much or too little? A new study claims to have established the ideal amount of flesh women should have on display to attract a mate, so how do the celebrities’ wardrobe choices measure up?

Then you are invited to click through and have a look at what the women are wearing and make a judgement about whether or not they have the right amount of flesh on display to attract a mate. The captions under each photo assess how much of each woman’s skin is showing.

Well, that’s them lippy feminists put back in their place then.


*I’ve changed the link to the original column in The Independent. I see no reason to reward the NZ Herald with extra clicks. And I’ve changed the link in my previous post.

Mary Wollstonecraft wept

Mary Wollstonecraft was a wonderful woman, radical in her thinking, and in the way she lived. In her great book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792, she argued that women should have the right to an education and to a political voice. When I talk about her to my students, I often say that were she somehow to see me lecturing, and the number of women students in the lecture theatre (usually around half), she would be thrilled and delighted, and she would feel that her ambitions for women had been achieved.

But then perhaps she would read about women’s fashion, and I think she would weep. Today is Melbourne Cup day, and the newspapers are full of it, including fashion tips and tricks. The latest one? In order to be able to wear ridiculous, foot-and-body-damaging 10cm high stiletto heels, women are getting their feet injected with “filler” and botox.

Botox and filler injections for the feet are the latest crazes in cosmetic surgery to make their way to Flemington – and the solution, according those with cash to splash, to the old racing conundrum of how to wear those towering pumps and not end up carrying them home after the final race has been run.

For about $1500, some doctors, such as Bondi-based cosmetic surgeon Michael Zacharia, will inject hyaluronic acid into the balls of the feet.

The fluid, commonly injected into joints to treat osteoarthritis, numbs the parts of the foot that become strained by wearing sky-high heels. [link]

Apparently it provides internal padding for your feet, so you can totter about in comfort. But it hurts, and all it really does is mask the pain, and possibly mask more serious problems.

Australasian College of Podiatric Surgeons president Mark Gilheany said while women might think the procedures were magic solutions to stiletto-fatigue, foot fillers could be masking symptoms of more serious problems.

He warned that for people experiencing a significant amount of pain standing in heels it could be a sign of partially dislocated bones or torn ligaments.

“If you require something of that (surgical) nature then you could have an underlying problem,” he said.

“It’s not something that is routinely done and I haven’t seen any clinical trials to say whether the injection of a biological cushion into the foot is effective.

“If there was anything that really worked I’m sure I would know about it. It seems like a waste of time when you can stick a cushion in your shoes and take some paracetamol.”[link]

Wollstonecraft lamented the extent to which women primped and preened, immersed themselves in finery and outward show, took up any fashion, and distorted their true natures, all in search of finding a husband. She argued that women needed financial independence, and needed to develop their characters, not adorn their bodies and simper and flirt and coquette.

I’m sure that most of the women who will be staggering around Flemington today are quite capable of earning their own incomes, and that they are not wearing silly shoes in order to catch a husband. But oh! The distortions of body, and feet, all in the pursuit of some idea of fashionableness. Stiletto shoes… well, whatever. If you want to wear them on your feet, then you go for it. But if you have to have surgery and injections to enable your otherwise healthy feet to sustain a day in silly shoes, then perhaps that’s just going a step too far.

Updated to say… these are the shoes I’m wearing today.

Updated to add this portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft, to which commenter Lucy Sussex has a connection.

491px-MarywollstonecraftImage from Wiki Commons

I want to see plus size models

Karl Lagerfeld has been sneering at the recent mini-trend towards plus average sized women being models in fashion shows and in fashion magazines. (Is size 14 – European sizing – really “plus” size? It looks like a perfectly ordinary size to me – nothing “plus” about it.) According to Lagerfeld, no one wants to see chubby women on the catwalk.

Well, we wouldn’t really know, would we, because it hasn’t exactly been tried much until very recently. But here’s some news for Lagerfeld; plus size models are greeted with cheers when they appear on the catwalk. I think he’s just plain wrong.

And Mr Lagerfeld – beware of those sweeping statements. I want to to see average and larger, and slimmer, sized models on the catwalk and in magazines. And I’m sure I’m not the only woman who feels this way.

But perhaps you would like to judge for yourself. Which woman on this cat walk looks fabulous?*

* If you choose to answer this question in comments, could you please do so in positive terms? I will delete any derogatory comments.

Il corpo delle donne

Thank you, Giovanni, for the pointer to this nuanced documentary about representations of women on television.

Il corpo delle donneWomen bodies

Some quotes:

Since the only sign of desirability we are able to recognize is an explicit reference to sex, we have changed our entire imagery into that of a strip club. To film these images you have to position the camera before the shot the same way you do in pornography starting with the breast, the pubic area, thighs, exactly like a porn movie. But we are actually watching public broadcasting. (8.58 ff minutes)

The damage caused by the lack of visibility of older faces is not a small one: the faces showed to the public are only shaved faces, wearing make-up, ready for the screen to sell products, goods, or politics. (15.22 ff minutes)

We see only a few images of adult and non artificial women, and those images are fierce ones: these women are harpies that attack younger ones, with whom there is can be [sic] no aesthetic comparison. This is unfair because of the age difference, and the young girls are humiliated. what happens when faces can’t show their vulnerability any more. Where can we find pietas, sincerity, where can we look for those answers that stand the grounds for cohesion in a society? (17.27 ff minutes)

Watch with care. Some of the images are disturbing (eg. 22.56 ff). Even more disturbing is that I found so many of the images… ordinary.


Snippet 1
My dad sent me a link to a radio program on pay equity (first link on this page), also linked from The Hand Mirror. Thank you, Father Strange Land.

Snippet 2
On Monday, local paper The Advertiser ran a story about diet pills creating cardiac risks, right above an invitation to join the 10-tonne challenge. All the usual imagery and tropes apply.


You will notice it is just women who bear the risk, according to the ’tiser, though the press release about the study made no such comment, and the research paper doesn’t single out women either. In fact the research paper only mentions women, and men, in the context of stating how many women and men use diet pills.


PDF of study – 346 KB


Snippet 3
I have finished all my marking, for the time being.

Snippet 4
Our dishwasher has broken down, irreparably. We have been dishwasherless for about a week now, and this sad state of affairs is set to continue until Saturday. The experience has reminded us that dishwashers are indeed labour-saving devices.