Each week in The Female Gaze, Faith Newport engages the trends, events, and issues that affect women—and the men who care about them.
What do Ashley Judd, Jennifer Lawrence, and Crystal Renn have in common?
Ashley Judd’s “puffy” face drew press attention during the recent debut of her TV show, Missing—as did her smart, assertive answer to the criticism. Jennifer Lawrence, star of the hit Hunger Games movie, was repeatedly taken to task by reviewers for looking too healthy and “curvy” (a relative term in Hollywood, to be sure) to play the film’s impoverished and malnourished lead character. And Crystal Renn? More than just another pretty model on a diet, during the course of her career, Renn has gone from weighing in at just 90 pounds as an anorexia sufferer, to being an incredibly successful plus-size model. Her recent weight loss has now put her somewhere between those two extremes, nabbed her a Sports Illustrated photo shoot, and grabbed the industry’s attention.
In summary? They’re all celebrities who have recently been in the spotlight because of their appearances.
I’d like to be able to applaud the balanced and professional approach that all of these ladies have taken when handling the media’s obsessive reporting on their appearances—but I can’t. I’d like to say that a celebrity like Ashley Judd speaking out against the demeaning and sexist aspects of the industry is exactly what our culture needs—but it isn’t. I’d like to say that celebrity memoirs like Crystal Renn’s confessional book about her eating disorder struggles have tremendous cultural impact—but they don’t. I’d like to say that seeing a girl like Jennifer Lawrence, with her almost-average body type, star in a movie will forever lift my own “curvy girl” self-esteem—but it won’t.
I’m not saying that these aren’t positive contributions to the culture’s conversations about beauty and sexuality—I’m saying that we need to start a new conversation.
Our collective fixation on the physical is profoundly damaging.
Engaging in the discussion just keeps it going. And maybe that wouldn’t be a problem—but there are bigger things to talk about. Women are more than collections of body parts. Saying “I’m beautiful in spite (or because) of _____” keeps the focus in the wrong place, and the underlying insinuation is that physical beauty is still high on the priority list.
Ashley Judd is a long-time activist, and her charity work is extensive. She’s also overcome a potentially devastating personal background while maintaining a good amount of grace and humor. But, even Ashley Judd just wants to talk about her appearance? Doesn’t she have better stuff to bring to the conversation? Despite how on-point I felt her response was, I still found myself wishing she’d just risen above it and brought our attention to something else.
Modern history has given us something unique—an incredible amount of potential for the everyday woman. Yes, history has its stand-out females, but never before have so many women throughout the world had so much freedom. We can do, and be, so much. I am a woman, but not just a woman. There is more to me than my womanhood, and there is more to me than how I looked in the mirror this morning.
I carry the image of God in me. All people do.
I know so many women who live up to that, so many women who are game-changers. Who are activists, moms, missionaries, journalists, counselors, peaceniks, healers, or poets. I know a single mom who put herself through college while working and raising her daughter. I know a former prostitute who works in Beijing to rescue other girls from the same circumstances. I know a college student who reads Aesop’s work in the original language. I know girls who started businesses, traveled the world, and made a difference.
Honestly, I’d rather just talk about them.