Friday, February 15, 2013

Who Is the Fairest? Lena Dunham or Kate Upton

Forty years into the second wave of feminism, a woman looks at her naked body in the mirror and freaks out because she does not look like Kate Upton.

By her own testimony, comedian Kate Spencer, when naked, looks a lot more like Lena Dunham than Kate Upton.

We are happy to take her word for it, though we must wonder why she feels a need to expose her shame to the world entire.

In her blog post Spencer engages something of a meditation on body shaming. Four decades of feminist talk about strong and powerful women, four decades of talk about how women are not sex objects or pieces of meat has produced women and girls who are ashamed of their bodies.

To be fair, Spencer cannot bring herself to mention Kate Upton or even Kate Moss, but clearly, she believes that her shame derives from the fact that the culture promotes feminine body types that do not resemble her.

She also does seem to notice that the vast majority of women does not prance around naked. Most women do not go to bed naked. No man or woman's social standing depends on how he or she looks naked. Wherever did anyone get the idea that it does?

Most normal women spend a great deal of time putting together a look that presents them at their best, their most attractive and most respectable. The strength of the fashion and cosmetics industries testifies to this fact.

To be fair and balanced, most men would sell their souls to spend a night with Kate Upton. Precious few would want to marry a postmodern Aphrodite. In truth, precious few men do marry the Kate Uptons of this world.

If Spencer is worrying about her ability to attract men, she might spend less time looking in the mirror and more time revising her attitude, especially her envy of women who are better looking than she. Envy and resentment are decidedly unattractive.

For all Spencer knows, she might be ashamed of herself for spending so much time agonizing over the image of her naked body in a mirror. It feels like a scene out of fairy tale: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”

You know about the magic mirror in the story of Snow White. And you know that one day the magic mirror tells the Wicked Queen that her step-daughter Snow White is fairer than she is. Overcome by envy and resentment, she banishes Snow White.

Perhaps Spencer is ashamed of herself for resenting women whose naked bodies are more aesthetically and erotically appealing… to say nothing of younger.

Spencer believes that the culture is conspiring to make her feel ashamed of her body. Considering the reaction her post has elicited, many women feel her pain.

But, how does it happen that four decades of feminism have left women so insecure and so ashamed of their bodies? Perhaps it’s not very mysterious. What if all the talk about strong, powerful women, and all the talk about how there are no significant differences between men and women has tended to stigmatize bodily signs of femaleness. Perhaps feminism has taught girls to feel that their developing bodies are a betrayal of feminist ideals. Burgeoning breasts, widening hips, and other signs of female fertility signify potential motherhood, not potential upper management.

No one seems to consider this option, because it’s easier to be consumed with envy about Kate Upton and Kate Moss. It’s always easier to blame someone else for your character flaws.

Spencer is not alone in thinking that other women can rescue her by exposing their naked bodies. She believes that the best therapy for her body shame is the naked body of Lena Dunham. When she watches Dunham cavort around naked on her HBO show, “Girls,” Spencer gets a feeling that she is… how can we describe it… normal.

Spencer writes:

Lena Dunham is really the first woman I’ve ever seen on-screen who looks like me. But not only that - she’s comfortable in her skin, in her nakedness, in her sexuality, and as herself.
Of course she doesn’t exactly look like me. I am tall, she seems short. She has smaller breasts, I’ve had the same saggy size-C mom boobs since I was 14. But her thighs touch together when she stands, her shape moves, her arms aren’t skeletal, and sometimes her clothes don’t fit “right.” (See: the endless comments about the jumper she wore in ‘One Man’s Trash.’) But even in her own form, I still see myself. I see my thighs that touch when I stand, I see the round yet flat shape of my ass that moves when I do, I see my own non-skeletal arms. And every time Hannah/Lena takes off her clothes, every time she establishes that she is, for the most part, comfortable in her body, it gives me a little bit of hope for myself.

It’s good to know that the woman who looks like her doesn’t really look like her, but when you are pretending to be making a serious point, why bother with facts.

Anyway, Hannah Horvath has lots of sex with lots of different men— this year, it’s been a different one every week—so Spencer takes this as yet another affirmation that women who are comfortable with their bodies are happy to strip naked before the world and to invite lots of different men to savor the delights of their flesh.

One does not know where to begin here. Surely, Spencer is not thinking clearly. Were it not for the fact that she is rattling off the conventional wisdom about body shame, her views would not be worth any attention.

But,, now that her reflections have circulated widely on the internet, one must recognize that she has just told young women and girls that sending naked pictures of themselves out over the internet is a sign that they are comfortable with their bodies. She may not know it, but Spencer is promoting sexting. Let’s not blame Kate Upton for this appalling piece of advice.

Besides, exposing her nakedness is not a sign that a woman is comfortable with her sexuality. It shows that she is shameless. Does Spenser think that porn stars are exemplary for being comfortable with their bodies? Does she believe that young girls should told that they should aspire to become like Jenna Haze?

If Spencer thinks that Dunham’s display is such a good idea, why isn’t her post accompanied by a naked picture of herself.  Is she ashamed of her body?

Unfortunately, Spencer shows no concern for the effect that this self-exposure is going to have on Dunham, herself. Does she understand that women who expose more of their flesh tend to suffer consequences for it? Does she care? Is she so thrilled that Dunham has sacrificed her dignity in order to let Kate Spencer feel better about her body that she does not have enough empathy left to care about the effect this will have on Lena Dunham?

In point of fact, a woman who has more sexual partners is devaluing herself. Beautiful women have FEWER, not MORE sexual partners. I am not going to insult you by explaining this.

Hannah Horvath has many lovers because she is uncomfortable with her body. She is signaling that she is desperate for male attention.

If Spencer imagines that it difficult for a woman to go out and find a man who will hook up with her, she ought to get out more often. 


Sam L. said...

Comparing oneself to what one sees on TV, people with professionally applied make-up, great lighting, tailored clothes, etc. & so on, is a losing proposition.

It seems that being a feminist is to be professionally unhappy with oneself and the world.

Which is a lousy way to go thru life.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Quite true, it's as though she has been working on finding ways to make herself miserable. Not only has she succeeded but many, many women seem to be able to relate to her experience.

Anonymous said...

I guess the question I would be asking at this point is: "Should I care?"

Also...why would anyone want to watch that show anyway? It's just nonsense, like most shows on TV these days.

Estoy_Listo said...

I'm so far out of the loop that I don't even know who these women are.

During the 70's, I naively thought women would forsake cosmetics and simply accept who they were. Boy, was I wrong!

Any woman who is happy and confident with her body is sexy to me. I have a hard time warming up to women look like they spend hours in front of a mirror.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

In the case of Ms. Upton, you're missing something.

In the case of Ms.Dunham, she's important only as a symptom of what is happening to the younger generation.

At best, she is proof positive of something a character on her show said last season: "You couldn't pay me to be 24 again."

Assistant Village Idiot said...

There is always a market for women who write this sentiment. Haven't we been reading essentially this article over and over for four decades? As if it is some important revelation and new stage of growth for the writer? Not all women like talking about the subject, but a whole lot do. It's a bonding experience of some sort that men just don't understand.

Thank God.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for the comment, AVI. It is certainly true that we have been reading this swill for quite some time now. The more people read it the more they seem to believe that it's true. The Kate Spencer piece was reproduced on the Daily Beast site and elsewhere. Nearly all the comments that I saw were extremely favorable. So, forgive me for rehashing the obvious... the more people stand up and say that it's utter nonsense the better it is.

I agree with you that women see it as a bonding ritual, and that we don't get it, but still, can't they find another more affirming way to bond?

n.n said...

Kate Upton. Not only is she the fairest, but she moderates her exposure, and does not modify her body. I'm really not a fan of elective body modification schemes, and I am really opposed to fanatics, which makes Upton an easy choice.

n.n said...

Stuart Schneiderman:

This is only about bonding in the sense that they share a mutual envy. It's ugly and diminishes them. They need to be reasonable and understand that not all people are created or develop equally. Some women, and men, are simply more aesthetically appealing than others. It's nature; it's nurture; and it is not a subject of legitimate criticism.

Dennis said...

Here is a very good explanation of women like Dunham; Many of the comments are excellent and most recognize the dark side of feminism.

Dennis said...

Oh, by the way, Kate Upton. Not only is she a very attractive woman with a great smile she seems to be a nice person from what I remember at the moment.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

It needs to be emphasized, as n.n. does, that of the two women, Dunham and Upton, only one is known for posing nude. It also matters that her body is her own, that she has not modified it.

How much of the mania over surgically enhanced female bodies is about women who do not like their bodies, or simply do not like being women? I suspect that some of the impulse behind dieting and even anorexia has to do with an attempt to modify the female body so that it looks less womanly.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha! I love it! I would have to go with Kate Upton, but then I would like to ask her a question:

Kate, who is the bigger catch?

Justin Verlander OR Stuart

I know, I know, it's a tough call. Let's break it down:

Justin is an internationallyy renowned baseball star, the hottest pitcher on the planet. He is superfit, hot, and pulls in about 18 million a year for the Detroit Tigers.

Schneiderman, on the other hand, is a 60+ um, "coach," but mainly just a stay-at-home blogger. I may be wrong, but I can't imagine he is superfit or as hot as Justin, but I'll leave that to your taste.

In making your decision, I think something needs to be pointed out.

While Justin rakes in millions a year, he wouldn't be threatened by your career or how much you pull in. Stuart, on the other hand, would. You see, you may not know this but actually, men do not like it when their mates make more than they do. Stuart would have to be the "breadwinner" in the household. I can't be certain, but I can't see how blogging would ever rake in the amount you make a year. So, I'm afraid you would have to give up your career and stay home and start reproducing right away.

I know this sucks, but in fact, studies have shown that successful, powerful women have crap sex lives, more anxiety, and are on more anti-depressants than regular women! I know! Even you! This especially bothers Stuart. (Although between you and me, I suspect he's just trying to find excuses for his own terror and impotence in the face of "successful" women. But don't let him know that).

I know the choice is hard, but I know you'll make the right one.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Very nicely written... if you write this well you ought to put your name on your work.

Anonymous said...

It's nothing personal. I never use my real name on the internet, no matter where I post. I think people who do are not very smart.

Plus, why does it matter? According to one of your posts, online relationships are "not real."

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I wanted to say that I appreciate your ability as a writer. I hope you do some writing in your own name,even if not in the comments section of a blog.

Regardless of whether online relationships are real, proper names surely are.