Ashley Judd on Sexist Scrutiny of Women's Appearances

Ashley Judd lists five ridiculous and sexist ways her appearance has been picked over in the media, below is just one of them and an important part of her takeaway:

Four: When I have gained weight, going from my usual size two/four to a six/eight after a lazy six months of not exercising, and that weight gain shows in my face and arms, I am a “cow” and a “pig” and I “better watch out” because my husband “is looking for his second wife.” (Did you catch how this one engenders competition and fear between women? How it also suggests that my husband values me based only on my physical appearance? Classic sexism. We won’t even address how extraordinary it is that a size eight would be heckled as “fat.”)


That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Phil Studge

    This is good: “Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate.”

    But this neglects to mention something: “It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women.”

    Why doesn’t she say it also privileges the interests of girls and women? (over integrity, autonomy, and dignity of same)

    Clearly, Ashley believes this is so, as evinced by the rest of the paragraph.

  • Ace of Sevens

    Unfortunately, more fodder for celebrity mags. They make money both on telling their readers that they are better than celebrities and that celebrities think there’s nothing wrong with them. This just shifts the narrative from “Ashley Judd put on weight. Doesn’t this make you feel better about your weight problem?” to “Ashley Judd says there’s nothing wrong wrong with putting on weight. Doesn’t this make you feel better about your weight problem?” Celebrities basically get roped into being the vehicle for all our securities. Some, like Ashley Judd, are cut out for it and can push back against the press. Others, like Britney Spears, not so much.

  • Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

    Phil, go read some Feminism 101 and get back to us.

  • reasonbeing

    The concept that women are often objectified is a problem in our society. I think that men are mostly at fault here. However, she does a nice job of illustrating that many women are also to blame.

    My wife works in a field where her brain counts for everything–we are talking multiple advanced degrees. She is paid for what she thinks. While she is not overtly objectified for her looks at work, there is quite a bit of sexism. The sexism that she faces, on a daily basis, comes equally from both men and women. They types of sexism that she deals with comes in differing forms–men in one way, women in another. Yet–they are both still very real. It frustrates her to no end. The fact that women are complicit in this problem needs to be stated if the problem is to be corrected.

    Ex: A Man will demand item A. Women who are in position to grant item A will often give it to men and not to women. When asked why this is so the usual responses are often one the following two: a)that the man will become angry and make a big deal out of things if he does not receive item A. The women will not react that way. or b) well Mr. so and so really needs item A to do his job better. Leaving women to point out they also need item A. If they push this issue, they are labeled as “bitchy”. Is this passive or active sexism? Does it matter? It is still a form of patriarchy. I have little doubt that similar scenarios exist for women in many fields.

    I believe sexism is a major problem in society. Sexism also goes beyond the flagrant objectification of women. Focusing on the misogyny of men, while very real, will not be enough to move forward.

  • eric

    I have never really understood the obsession with celebrity to begin with. She’s a good actress, but why the frak would I care about her life outside of her movies?

    Is she eating babies? Part of the new hitler youth movement? That might cause me to tsk tsk her life choices. A delta in her dress size? Not so much.

  • Desert Son, OM


    I have never really understood the obsession with celebrity to begin with.

    I’ve long puzzled over this, too. I have hypotheses, but no research to back anything up.

    One hypothesis is that the cult of celebrity is intimately connected with the myth of the United States. I must carefully note, however, that the United States is not the only nation and/or cultural entity that possessively, passive-aggressively observes and commodifies and makes demands of celebrities and celebrity. It’s just that the U.S. is the cultural referent with which I am most familiar.

    In the case of the U.S., though, I wonder if the cult of celebrity is intertwined with the myth of “Anyone can make it here! Anyone! Land of opportunity!” It’s not just that [insert celebrity name here]‘s life is so compelling, it’s the packaging of that life that suggests, overtly and/or very, very covertly, that the consumer of that story might . . . just . . . get there . . . too! Or might just get it . . . even better!

    It’s not so different from religion: “here’s this thing that we’ll tell you is the best thing ever by any measure, and it can be yours, all you have to do is undertake these rituals, spend time, money, and resources in these ways, adopt these perspectives about these things, conform to these standards of presentation (regardless of how they may or may not intersect with your own self-assessment), act accordingly in relation to groups designated as “other,” don’t ask too many questions, and just keep believing. Just keep believing. It will happen for you! It really will! Say it with me now!”

    Still learning,


  • Xenolith

    He he he… celebrity cult is also pursued in Europe, definitively in Sweden.
    I don’t really understand it either -maybe it has to do with celebrities being “public characters” -(almost) everybody can relate to them. Thus its more meaningful to say “Ashley Judd reacts on sexism” at the coffee break, rather than “Anna Jonsson reacts….”. More specifically (for some reason) we tend to pay more attention to statements coming from extremely attractive persons (male or female) in our everyday life and perhaps the same in the news. In the case of Ashley: we listen when one of the worlds most beautiful women speak out (even in Sweden on the other side of the globe…)?

  • George Locke

    Thanks for linking to this. Great!

  • ugotstahwonder

    I found this article while searching for insight into my immature, retaliatory boyfriend’s comments about my weight (I am admittedly 15-20 pounds overweight, but have been for about a decade and don’t believe it has negatively impacted my health. I also believe that it is age-related weight gain that should go down once I am through menopause). I am commenting even though it is at a late date to do so. As opposed to several other comments before mine, I don’t believe that A.J. is commenting first as a celebrity, but rather as an observer of human behavior, and I agree with her keen insight whole-heartedly. Women are caught up in pleasing men who are threatened by independent women and so are just as likely, to potentially moreso, to condemn a woman for her failure to be absorbed by what men think. Women are probably even more threatened by strong, independent women than men, because it provokes in them self examination of a much more personal nature and they don’t like it because they’d have to realize a call to change that is quite challenging.