Friday, September 2, 2011

wonder women

an interesting comment thread started on facebook recently after i posted this article positing that female action movie stars have gotten too skinny to be believeable. the conversation about it really got me thinking  - and wanting to say more than i could fit into a facebook comment.

here's the thing. whether or not she was believable (because it's true that believability is clearly not an essential criteria in a movie), i'm sure zoe saldano was hot in the movie . and yeah, i'll still go watch angelina jolie in anything, despite her loss of muscle mass.

but i do think that attractiveness - and guys, disagree with me if this is wrong for you all, since i obviously have no experience but my own to go on here - is more of an on/off switch than a gradient. a matter of threshold. meaning that, it's entirely likely people (men in particular) would still find zoe hot if she had 10 - 15 pounds of muscle on her bones. whereas - and this i know from experience - women absolutely see the degree of skinniness when trying to figure out what's attractive. we see a 10 pound skinnier zoe and think it's that exact 10 pounds that made the difference in her hotness. in fact, one study that asked both men and women to pick the most attractive women found that women actually selected the skinnier model than men. perhaps because we are responding to an internalized ideal that's based on degrees - and ever skinnier models where we think each pound lost matters - not on thresholds.

and i don't even think it's some insidious, well-thought-out plot by media types to drive us to this lower threshold. these changes happen organically over time. maybe it's more a matter of accidental, incremental slides to thinner women....not because they've done market research and know that more men will respond, but simply because the media is always tinkering with things, adjusting things, trying to find the absolute profit-maximizing formula. and one successful - even if it wasn't due to it at all - tinker down in weight with one star leads to another tiny tinker down in weight in the next.

the problem with this downward slide - as opposed to an equally plausible incremental climb towards the top weight threshold of 'hotness' - is that never before has the gulf between ideal and reality been greater. as humans all over get larger, and the media push is towards ever smaller, the result is millions of more women, deeply, deeply unhappy about their appearance and size. and we know the effect it's having on girls, with more and more girls unhappy and dieting young.

i mean really, ladies...when was the last time you ever felt anything but shitty about your appearance when you looked at just even the covers of any of the popular magazines staring at you in the checkout line at the grocery store? or is it just me? i don't know, but great britain has banned ads  that are too heavily altered. they know that obsession with dieting and body hatred are, in fact, social ills that have identifiable roots and can be fought against.

if hotness is constant across some spectrum of weight - for men and women - yet we know women will see the degree of almost-impossible skinniness and feel like shit the further they are away from it - then this slide toward the bottom threshold, whether intentional or not, will only be stopped by real intentional action on everyone's part.

what do you think?


  1. I think body image is used as a weapon against humans to sell products for corporations. This is how it is. It has been this way for a long time, and it will continue. The individual has to control their own consumption of marketing content or they will be influenced to do things that are bad for them. It has been like this since Money was invented, as far as I know.

  2. agreed on the use of body image to sell things. but i think the slow decline of mass in ass-kicking super heroes is a different beast. maybe.

  3. Some scattered thoughts: Kudos for not going for the simple answer with your questions on this. It's too easy to blame corporations and marketing for all of the body image issues in the world. There's no question that it is an issue that needs to be addressed, but marketing is really reflection of our society not the cause of our ills. It will take a change in attitude across the board, as you suggest. When it comes to movies and believability? I'm not sure it matters. I believe people relate on some level to the character much more than what they look like. Sure, it would help if Karen Carpenter wasn't throwing fools all over the place, but I know I won't watch an action movie solely based on how hot the actor is unless the movie has something else that it's bringing with it. I've made that mistake before!