Monday, April 6, 2009

A Feminist Essay: Birthday Bikinis, Nude Supermodels and Me

April 6, 2009 8:05 pm

A Feminist Essay: Birthday Bikinis, Nude Supermodels and Me

Cindy Crawford: A modern Dorian Gray? Photo Credit.

The closest I’ve ever come to a celebrity is sitting about 20 rows behind Billy Corgan at a Jazz vs. Bulls playoffs game, unless you count the time I swore I saw Pamela Anderson waiting for a shuttle at the Southwest terminal out of LAX. (My brother rightly pointed out at the time that surely Pamela Anderson didn’t fly Southwest and even more wouldn’t take a shuttle to the park-n-ride like the rest of us non-tattooed peons. It must have been a good impostor though because it looked just like her, I swear.) So you’ll understand that I must offer Reader Elizabeth my apologies on that point. I don’t know a single celebrity. Other than what I read about them, I don’t have anything on which to base a judgement about any of them.

This is not about Valerie Bertinelli.

In my not-as-funny-as-I’d-hoped April Fool’s Day post, I used the Jenny Craig spokeswoman as point number four as to why one shouldn’t take advice from fit mag experts:

4. “I run for 45-60 minutes on the treadmill every day and slashed my calories to 1200.” Valerie Bertinelli to People magazine on how she got her bikini bod back in time for her 49th birthday and their cover shoot. (Valerie: The miracle plan you are on? Is called a crash diet. It will soon betray you. Grow up and realize that if the best thing you can say about being 49 is that you can still wear a bikini, then you haven’t accomplished much in your half century on earth.)

Reader Elizabeth took offense and replied in her comment:

Ok, I don’t get what the problem is with Valerie B. So she wanted badly to be fit and look pretty. Maybe wanted it obsessively.

Are there people posting here who are religious about their workout/ calorie counting/ foods? Why is it that if Valerie does it, she needs to grow up and realize her self-worth is not dictated by her body fat composition? It seems to me a tad hypocritical and judgmental — look at the comments here: “Oh Charlotte, we know you’re too OCD to not go to the gym and just do what feels good.” No one is telling Charlotte to “grow up” and get over her desire to have a fit body and go eat gummy worms with her kids already.

I like this site, but I think given its slightly obsessive nature, that comment was out of line. Also, 1200 cals a day for a woman who is 48 and 5′4″ is not too out of whack. Check out what her BMR is — a tad over 1300. If her activity is mainly derived from that hour in the gym, she is probably right around the 500 cal deficit she needed to lose a pound a week.

I’d like to thank Elizabeth (really!) for her comment because she makes an important point and one I’d like to clarify my stance on. First, as I mentioned above, you are right about Ms. Bertinelli. She is no worse nor better than any of her H’wood peers. If I were inclined to guess, I’d say she may be even less aware of The Machine than most, having been a cog in it from such a young age. I have nothing against her. She just happened to be the most current example of a growing phenomenon that I detest: the glorification of beauty above any other accomplishment.

We saw it in Faith Hill’s October 2008 cover story in Shape magazine in which she said, “wearing a bikini on a magazine cover is my 41st birthday present to myself.”The accompanying article detailed her nutrition and exercise regime but said almost nothing about her family and nothing at all about any outside interests aside from mentioning at the outset that “her beautiful face” has sold millions of CDs. Her beautiful… face? Surely she is that but I would say it is her stunning voice that did the selling. Julia Louis Dreyfus did it again for the April 2009 cover of the same mag, celebrating turning 48 not by talking about her impressive career as an actress or her ecological work (although that was covered, slightly, in a pictorial about her Green House with actual information slipped in between sound bites about 400-thread-counts and Egyptian cotton) but by posing in a bikini and going over her eating and workout plans in more detail than NATO’s last assessment of Afghanistan. Cindy Crawford upped the ante by commemorating her 43rd birthday by posing nude for Allure magazine. Multiple other celebrities, including Valerie Bertinelli in People magazine about two weeks ago, have jumped on the same birthday bandwagon: I’m 40/50/60 and look at my greatest accomplishment - I’m beautiful!

Ms. Bertinelli may have done other things in her runup to 50 besides do Jenny Craig, lose weight and pose in a bikini but if she has, nobody knows about them. A google search for “Valerie Bertinelli charity” gets you nothing but links to her People promo material and - wait for it - a time where she did actually help out a charity… by posing in a bikini. Even her wiki page lists nothing but her film credits and her Jenny Craig work. Again, I’m not criticizing her perse. I’m angry at the media machine that keeps spewing the message that no matter what a woman does in her life it matters not unless she is beautiful. Age used to be a limiting factor. Katherine Hepburn was gracefully released from her ambiguous role as a sex symbol and allowed to do her considerable aid work until she died. But no more! You’re a grandma? You should be a GILF! Talk about demeaning women.

As to your second point, Elizabeth, that I suffer from the same obsession with dieting and weight and exercise - with a heavy sigh, I will concede that point to you too. Heaven knows I spend way too much time and energy caring about how much I weigh. But here’s the thing: I don’t like that about myself. I’m trying to change it, which is a big reason that I do this blog. However, you are wrong by saying none of my readers here call me out on it. They do, regularly - see Chilerock’s comment on that same post for one example. This is something for which I am profoundly grateful, even if it does sometimes sting. You all are one of the biggest reality checks I have and I’m grateful for the times you guys call me out, masters of tough-but-kind that you are! I know I have a problem. I’m currently in treatment for an on-again off-again eating disorder and the accompanying OCD. And I daresay I’m making progress. Although it is slower than I would like most days.

You have to understand, it is my worst nightmare that I will get to the half-century mark and the only thing people will remember about me is, “Well she sure knew how to lose weight!”

Don’t get me wrong, I do think losing weight and/or getting healthier is absolutely commendable. It does getter harder as one ages and one should be celebrated for doing difficult things. Good health, proper nutrition and exercise are worthy goals. But they are not ends unto themselves. My problem with the Faith Hill, Julia Louis Dreyfus, Cindy Crawford, Valerie Bertinelli stories (not the people - remember, I don’t know a single thing first-hand about any of them) and others is that the beauty - something they arguably have the genes for to begin with - is the accomplishment. When will we start celebrating women for how they better the world rather than how they better themselves?

PS> Reader Elizabeth, this reply was in no way meant as an attack on you or your comment. You brought up a great point and I am grateful to have the chance to talk about it. Your comment has been rattling around my brain ever since you left it. I’m so glad you (normally) like my site & I hope you stick around!