The ‘fempire’ strikes back: More women should denounce unfair body critiques

    Public scrutiny of famous men and women is nothing new. We crave proof that the stars experience the same worldly imperfections we mortals do. Unfortunately, as the Internet and mobile technology make access to everything more readily available, I have noticed an increase in those criticisms, particularly aimed at female celebrities.

    The following is a work of opinion submitted by the author.

    Public scrutiny of famous men and women is nothing new. We crave proof that the stars experience the same worldly imperfections we mortals do. Unfortunately, as the Internet and mobile technology make access to everything more readily available, I have noticed an increase in those criticisms, particularly aimed at female celebrities.

    This may be due in part to the growing prevalence of women in high-ranking positions as CEOs, presidential candidates, and lead anchors for local and national news programs. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was described variously as looking “tired” and “haggard,” while former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was asked outright by the likes of Fox News if she had undergone breast enhancement surgery. Noticeably absent from the conversation was any mention of the male candidates’ appearances.

    Celebrities and leaders are more prone to criticism due to their visibility, but it does not excuse the practice of reporting negative criticism about women’s bodies as important news. As young people are being warned about the evils of bullying and cyber harassment, it’s worth considering the message they see when these famous women do nothing to correct the attacks.

    It seems that these targets of scrutiny are now starting to publicly taking a stand.

    ‘Puffy Face Manifesto’

    The backlash against body criticism was ignited back in April of this year, when actress Ashley Judd issued a strongly worded statement on “The Daily Beast” against the barrage of stories insisting that she had undergone plastic surgery (evidenced by Judd’s visibly “puffy face”) and that her weight gain between film shoots was causing tension in her marriage.

    “If this conversation about me is going to be had, I will do my part to insist that it is a feminist one, because it has been misogynistic from the start,” said Judd. “Who makes the fantastic leap from being sick, or gaining some weight over the winter, to a conclusion of plastic surgery? Our culture, that’s who.”

    ‘Fat news lady’

    The trend continued this month when Wisconsin news anchor Jennifer Livingston’s response to a viewer email went viral. Livingston used the comments on her weight as opportunity to not only point out their ridiculousness (“[T]o the person who wrote me that letter, do you think I don’t know that [I’m overweight]?” Livingston said), but also to stress the importance of leading by example in respecting differences in other people.

    “This behavior is learned. It is passed down from people like the man who wrote me that email,” Livingston said. “If you are at home and you are talking about the ‘Fat News Lady,’ guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat. We need to teach our kids to be kind, not critical, and we need to do that by example.”

    Thanks to the efforts of Livingston and Judd, a move towards changing the conversation about women and their appearance is gaining momentum. The more female celebrities, heads of state, and reporters stand up and dispel the negativity directed at them, the more likely that young girls who observe those responses will realize that being assertive is a normal trait.

    The non-famous can change perceptions

    Sometimes, as in the case of Balpreet Kaur, standing up for oneself may change perceptions in the process. A man posted a photograph of Kaur at an airport on the link-sharing site Reddit in order to make fun of her facial hair. Upon learning her appearance was a topic of online discussion, Kaur, a Sikh woman, posted a response:

    “I’m not embarrassed or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positive] that this picture is getting because, it’s who I am. Yes, I’m a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body – it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn’t reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us.”

    This young woman could probably have gotten support from other Reddit users no matter how she responded. What she chose to write acknowledged what her photographer must have felt, but managed to address it with humility and even educate a large group of people.

    Days later, the man who posted the picture responded on the very same website.

    “Balpreet, I’m sorry for being a closed minded individual. You are a much better person than I am.”

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