That’s Not Her Arm, That’s Not an Arm that Exists in Nature

I found this over at Perez Hilton’s–a photo of Britney Spears from the new TV Guide.


You can, if you like, head over there to read all the comments about how good Spears looks.  I, myself, feel like screaming, “That’s not her arm!”  Because, it’s not her arm.

That’s not what Spears’ arm looks like and that’s not an arm that exists in nature.  I know we’ve had the airbrushing discussion before and I remain a person of mixed feelings.  On the one hand, I appreciate that being able to retouch photos when the circumstances under which they were taken were less than ideal is nice.  On the other hand, I really don’t like it.  I get that it’s an art, and I appreciate it as an art.  But when we see it normally, it’s not being presented to us as an art–it’s being presented to us as a representation of reality.

That picture of Spears is supposed to be a representation of what she looks like in real life, now that she’s gotten her act back together (someone could write a great post on how photos of Spears pulling her life together and looking mentally healthy are of her looking thin and how photos of her showing her as being out of control and mentally ill are of her looking less thin, even when those photos are obviously taken either at the same time or just days apart, but I’m on a little different track here).  But that’s not what she looks like in real life.  You can even look at other photos on Hilton’s site to see that.

Still, my mind really wants to accept that as an accurate portrayal of reality.

You can stick “examples of airbrushing” into any search engine and get sites like Greg Apodaca’s.  Look here to see what he was able to do to a woman in a bikini. But, first, before you mouse over to see the “before,” just look at that.  Do you register that as a picture of that woman (meaning a pretty accurate portrayal of what that particular woman looks like) or as an illustration of a woman (meaning a pretty accurate rendition of someone’s idea of what a woman might look like)?

Because, I have to tell you, no matter how much I know that’s just an illustration of a woman, my mind wants to see it as a picture of a woman.  I want to reiterate that I don’t blame Apodaca for that.  He’s just doing what he’s paid to do and he’s damn good at it.

But I worry about what it does to us and our expectations for ourselves when our brains cannot make that distinction.

I was reading over at Kate Harding’s today about how one of her reader’s daughters was handed a pamphlet in class that directed the pamphlet recipient (a young girl about to start menstruating) to a site sponsored by Proctor and Gamble.  One of the pages on that site was this one.

On a page full of tips on how to stop young girls from becoming Fatty McFattersons, here’s some of the “advice.”:

2. Write down everything you eat. Icky, we know, but we also know there’s no better substitute (except looking at yourself in the mirror naked), that’s better than tracking what goes into your mouth to get you into the habit of thinking before you eat.

Yes, America, Proctor and Gamble is advising your young daughters to stand in front of a mirror naked, scrutinizing themselves for signs of fat.

That, my friends, is disgusting enough. (And shame on P&G for the whole post, which might as well just be a guide for how to develop an eating disorder.)

But I want you to think about it in context with that picture of Spears or the “woman” in the doctored photo.

Because how is a girl, standing there naked in front of the mirror on P&G’s advice, supposed to know how she “should” look?

I turn to food when I’m stressed or depressed. But I have a fast metabolism. I do still have a little chubby though lol.

I’m 13 and I weigh 105 pounds.

I am 13 and weigh somewhere in the range of 108-110..
Is that normal? I don’t really know.
I am scared to step on a scale because i think I will get stressed out over what I weigh.

I am 12 years old and weigh 130 lbs everyone says i m not fat but believe me i am someone plezzz help!!!!

alright, I am 15 years old, 5’5″, and I weigh about 118 lbs.

what do you think about this?I always want to lose weight but I have no freaken self control!it’s so hard!

I tell you where they turn, what they compare themselves to–to “women” who don’t exist in real life, to doctored, photoshopped illustrations that vaguely resemble the actual women they’re based on.

Is it enough to point out to girls that obsessing over what you eat is a convenient way to keep you wasting mental energy that could be spent on actually making your life better?  That the women they’re being encouraged to be like don’t exist in real life anyway?  That they’re almost constantly being lied to in order to make them feel like shit so they’ll buy stuff?

And how can we tell girls that stuff and expect them to believe it when we ourselves have such a hard time accepting it as the truth?

17 thoughts on “That’s Not Her Arm, That’s Not an Arm that Exists in Nature

  1. that’s an awful photoshop job. the elbow and proportions are all wrong; it looks like the arm of a prepubescent child copied into a whole other photo. it doesn’t even fit the hand.

  2. When I was 13 I didn’t need Proctor and Gamble to tell me to stand in front of a mirror and scrutinize my body for imperfections. I did that all by myself.

    Can you imagine a world that outlawed the publication of photoshopped images of women and men instead of outlawing, say, the sale of sex toys? : D

  3. I agree that with the media as it is, it can be hard for a girl to know what she should look like, but here’s another idea to throw into the mix:

    From these few comments you posted here, I’m getting a vibe of “I should lose weight/worry about my weight/whatever, because everyone does.”

    Maybe it’s my own bias and experience showing through, but I think they might be picking this up, not from airbrushed pictures of people they’ve never actually seen, but from their mothers and sisters and friends playing that game where they all talk about how fat they are and how much they need to lose weight but oh they’d love a cookie.

  4. What I find really disturbing about the P and G page is that 9/11 is subordinated to eating. What’s wrong with a world out of control and a war? It makes you eat!

  5. College Professor, no kidding. I want to say that it’s unbelievable, but unfortunately, it’s not. This to me is a prime example of the ways we encourage girls to be weirdly self-centered. (Don’t get me wrong, I also think we do a bang-up job of encouraging girls to focus too much on what others want to their own detriment.) You know, when something bad happens, do we really want to encourage girls’ responses to it to be “Gosh, I’d better be on the lookout to make sure that this doesn’t make me want to eat!”

    Rivikah, no, you’re right. I should have been clearer about that (I was hoping the last few sentences of my post would count towards us all thinking about how our fucked up attitudes affect our younger loved ones). But I for sure think that girls pick up on the fucked up attitudes we women have towards food. I also think, though, that they get the message that they’re supposed to be effortlessly perfect, but that even the women around them are miserable failures.

    So, while they get the message from us that how normal women look is fucked up and not good enough, I think they turn to the media to provide them with models for how they should look.

  6. Of course I come here and read this immediately after reading Sarcastro’s account of the “fat” girl who was tormented into misery and eventual expulsion out there in Rutherford Co.

    I’ve been wondering lately what all of this does for the sex lives of our young girls and how this is going to further affect the downward trend of fertility rates in Western nations.

    I suspect that there are a lot of women who are uncomfortable with their bodies in any form–especially sexually–because they’re subconsiously comparing themselves to the medically and physiologically improbable proportions in the media.

  7. What’s most disturbing about that site, which bears the imprimature of a reputable company, is that the advice it doles out is, for the most part, the same info traded among anorexic girls at the “pro ana” Web sites. The more I’ve looked into this, the more similarities I’ve found. The point at which it switches from a positive life- and health-affirming message into something more sinister is impossible to discern. It’s really very scary.

  8. Kristin, I have to say, I don’t think it ever is a positive life and health affirming message. It’s taken me a long time to come to that conclusion, but that’s the conclusion that I’ve reached. It is the same info traded among anorexic girls, but given the veneer of being “okay” because it’s at a site run by a corporation people have heard of that is supposedly staffed by experts.

    Because, here’s the thing. A positive life and health affirming message would be about eating–about putting nutrients in your body that make you feel lively and healthful. There’d be recommendations about how much fruit and how many vegetables girls needed to get the vitamins they need to grow. There’d be recommendations about eating grains other than processed white flour. There’d be information about high fructose corn syrup and why you should check labels to see if it’s in there–not because it might make you fat and being fat is supposedly the worst thing that ever happens to a person–but because it’s not healthy to pour it into us.

    They’re banking on people conflating being thin with being healthy and then they focus on making girls feel bad about not being thin (as if these girls aren’t just fine).

    Why? Well, I think one reason is that they know girls are susceptible to this message because they’re already hearing their older sisters and their moms and aunts fretting about being fat.

    And two, do you think the folks who make Pringles are going to actually teach girls about healthy eating? Fuck no. Far better to set them up in a cycle of starving and then stuffing their faces with chips to get a quick boost of energy and the fat their bodies are craving in order to work.

    If I could teach girls anything, it’s that they should suspect that everyone is lying to them.

  9. I’ve been wondering lately what all of this does for the sex lives of our young girls and how this is going to further affect the downward trend of fertility rates in Western nations.
    I suspect that there are a lot of women who are uncomfortable with their bodies in any form–especially sexually–because they’re subconsiously comparing themselves to the medically and physiologically improbable proportions in the media.

    I’d anticipate the opposite. I mean, you’re right on people being provoked to greater discomfort with their bodies by these messages, but I think a significant number of people (not just one gender or the other) would react by using sex as an affirmation of desirability – “I can’t be that bad, people are willing to fuck me!”

    Personally, the period of my life when I was most insecure with my physical appearance (I had a mysterious allergy that covered the lower half of my face in a chronic angry rash) was the period in which I was the most promiscuous. This is also why, btw, “pick up artist” sites encourage men to poke fun or insult their female targets to a small degree, in order to put their would-be prize on the defensive. Make her feel like she has to prove herself.

  10. I think a significant number of people (not just one gender or the other) would react by using sex as an affirmation of desirability – “I can’t be that bad, people are willing to fuck me!”

    This maybe the case for gals (hell, it may be the case for guys, I’m only speaking for myself), but for me, if I’m feeling particularly insecure about my body, the last thing I want to do is have sex. For me, when I feel like I look particularly sexy, it puts me in quite the amorous mood, however when I feel like I look particularly unsexy, stirring me to sex is difficult even with a willing (or even eager) partner.

  11. Heh. I understand what you’re saying about imagery and message and all that, and I love the bit where you talk about it as an illustration, rather than a real picture, but… that looks normal to me.

    I should qualify that. It doesn’t look like her at all. It doesn’t look like it should be attached to her body. But it’s on a magazine cover, and it fits neatly into the box in my head labeled “what people should look like on magazine covers.”

    I know a lot of it is just long indoctrination. You’ve seen what I can do with photoshop… those manips are easy, if a bit time consuming. I’m used to mentally shaving and molding people into that sort of look pretty much automatically.

    But there’s also the other part… the part where people we’re putting on TV and especially on the covers of our magazines are just getting ridiculously thin. Does anyone watch America’s Next Top Model? Between Jaslene (winner of last “cycle”) and, say, Fatima this cycle being presented as perfectly normal/average body types, skinny but non-airbrushed women like Dominique being encouraged to hide their “extra juicy” bits (I swear I’m not making this up. They actually said that. See the little bit of cellulite on her leg? That.)and “plus sized” models like Whitney getting constantly bandied about as, well, plus-sized tokens because you know they’ll never win (and look, aren’t they generous and progressive-minded for including puls-sized models at all? Wow, such foresight!)… you start to get the picture.*

    * The relatively accurate picture. The links I gave you are, as far as I can tell, not substantially altered. The color and evenness of the ANTM photos are usually retouched, but they actually use a minimum of invasive work, because, well, the show is designed to let us all yell at them for their flaws. If they were edited like any real shoot would be, we wouldn’t have that opportunity. More importantly, however, the constant model shrinkage does accurately represent the decreasing size of American models in general, often in defiance of trends in other areas.

  12. Whitney is the plus-sized model this time. She has an interview here, but I don’t know what she’s saying, because I don’t have speakers at work any more.

    Tyra (or someone from her staff, anyway) says:

    Plus-size models participate in a variety of modeling jobs including print work, runway shows, and fit or informal modeling. Fashion modeling is the category aspiring models usually think of when they dream of being a model. Fashion plus modeling can include a magazine cover or layout, representing a plus-size manufacturer in print advertisements, or strutting down the catwalk in the latest Lane Bryant lingerie.

    Requirements Can Include

    Between 5’8″ and 6’0″
    5’9″ is pretty much minimum for larger markets though Wilhelmina in NYC does represent a few girls who are 5’7″ and 5’8″.

    Size 12, 14, 16
    Sizes 10 and 18/20 are also used, but are not as common.

    You may be a “plus size,” but you may have to be in shape if you model swimwear, lingerie or fitness gear.

    You should be in proportion. Your bust, waist and hips should be about ten inches apart in size (i.e. 42-32-42) or very close. In addition, the shorter you are, the smaller your size should be. Someone who is 5’8″ would be expected to wear a smaller size (12/14) than a taller model. It is all about length and proportion.

    When looking for an agency to represent you, ask if they represent plus-size or commercial models. If they do, ask what their height and size requirements are. If you fit their requirements, ask to schedule an interview or find out if they have open calls. If you live a distance away from the agency, do a mail-in with your pictures and information.

    It’s just amazing, how much their plus-size has shrunk. Comparing Whitney to Toccara just makes me want to cry.

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