Friday, 1 March 2013

Thinking about Wolf, Living Dolls, & the Oscars...

I wonder what Wolf thinks about some of the things going on in the beauty world at the moment. What would she say, for instance, about the "living dolls movement" proliferating in the Ukraine or the recent Oscars night as a "festival of misogyny." ("The Onion" issued its first apology EVER for calling nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis a "cunt"!) Seth MacFarlane apparently--I didn't see it--"reduced female actors to 'boobs'" and joked about domestic abuse, among other things. 

Let's take a look at the "living dolls" idea against Wolf's chapter on "Religion" and her broader theory of the beauty myth...

Valeria Lukyanova describes herself as "striving for self-impowerment." She teaches spiritual journey classes and believes that she can travel in her spiritual body. How does this work? I'm thinking about Wolf's ideas about the appropriation of religious and spiritual language to control women inside their own bodies; diet books abound, for example, with "references to religious ideas of temptation and sin" and "the Rites of Beauty redefine original sin as being born not mortal, but female" (88, 95).

In fact, Wolf says, "A woman who does not feel damaged cannot be relied on to spend money for her 'repair'" (96). Susie Orbach takes Wolf's theory in a new direction with her book Bodies, describing the extent to which women have ceased to exist in a real body, to experience our bodies from the inside-out as opposed to the outside-in. We see ourselves as though through a third eye, Orbach says. 

So I don't get it. Lukyanova and her barbie buddies say that it's empowering for them to starve and oppress their own bodies into looking like animate, fictional entities? Isn't this one of those cases of feminist principles being appropriated for anti-feminist ends? Is there anything about this kind of extreme physical manipulation that can be empowering? It sounds to me like arguing the fallacy that eating disorders are empowering because they involve a person's control over her (or his) own body, while in fact, though control can definitely be a part of the explanation, there is something bigger and much more sinister at hand, requiring a wider consideration. 

I did read Naomi Wolf's recent/new book, Vagina: A Biography and took away from it mostly a call to women and men to promote safety, healing, and pleasure in women's experiences of their bodies--sexually and otherwise. And her recent blog posts address issues of politics and power (more than physical considerations of beauty, image, etc.). For instance, she responds to Sheryl Sandberg's new book about the glass ceiling and women leading in the workforce. 

Yet I come back to the current climate around issues of beauty in particular. In what ways and to what extent are we making progress in what Jean Kilbourne describes as a toxic cultural environment? In what ways and to what extent are we making it possible for women and girls to exist in this culture in states of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being? 


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