So, as I was perusing Yahoo just to see what fluff was on the reel and came across yet another body-image controversy- this time over Disney’s promo poster for Cinderella. Lily James, who launched her career on Downton Abbey, looks very much like the Cinderella we all remember from our childhoods with the voluminous blue gown and iconic glass slipper in full view. She’s been updated a bit, with a digital color palette lending to the fantastical atmosphere of the story, her bouncy blonde curls floating behind her in contrast to the animated version’s composed chignon. While I initially had my reservations about the changes to the story and wondered how well Lily James would look in a ball gown instead of the Chanel-inspired fashions of Downton Abbey, I’m excited to see it in theaters.
Now, how is all this related to fluff on the Yahoo news reel and a body image controversy: apparently, Lily James’s waist is too slim and somehow setting a bad example. Folks, this body-image war is both ridiculous and disturbing on a number of levels. The profound hypocrisy in and of itself is troubling. We are being sent simultaneous conflicting messages about which part of our vanity to embrace and what to do about it. There are words like “acceptance, inner beauty and self-confidence” being tossed into articles decrying a girl for having a slim figure, as if being thin is somehow not as natural as being fat. At the same time, “fat shaming” still exists. In February, British commentator (for lack of a better term) Katie Hopkins took to Twitter to mock Kelly Clarkson for her weight, saying she must have eaten her backup singers and ranting about how society has too many cute names for obesity. Both Kelly Clarkson and Lily James have handled the situations with aplomb, but it is ridiculous that they should have to handle them at all.
It’s bullying to end bullying. We’re told obesity is both an epidemic and the new normal in the same breath. Abercrombie & Fitch refuses to carry women’s clothes larger than size 10. Women in particular are targeted as sexual objects in advertising based on our bodies, and young people are taught to value sex over intimacy. How can anyone say “we must be more accepting and teach the youth of this country to value people for themselves” when the daily bombardment is that people have no value beyond their bodies?
It has become a game of one-upmanship between those that somehow believe they are elevating normal (which can variously be read as plain, healthy/unhealthy, boring, natural, average or realistic) and those that celebrate beauty (can be read unrealistic, healthy/unhealthy, unnatural, beautiful, artistic, or attractive). The “Average Barbie” receives rave reviews as a step forward for positive self-image promotion as those who are or wish to be above-average are demonized. It is hypocritical and says less that we truly desire positive self-image projection and more that we are vain and jealous. If we cannot be a cut above the rest, we shall lay the rest low. It evokes Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergereon“- which is perhaps the only thing I’ve ever found palatable from Vonnegut- even if it sends a chill down my spine.
A quick summary for those who haven’t read it, America is now a forcibly equal society. Over two hundred amendments to the Constitution limit how wealthy, successful, intelligent, talented, attractive or physically fit a person can be. Everyone is reduced to a common denominator. Harrison Bergereon, the titular and tragic hero of the story, was born more. He’s smart, strong, fit, handsome and clearly a threat to society, so he’s simply locked up. One day, he escapes, casts off his mask and restraints, pulls out the implants and goes on a rampage. He comes to a dance studio, where the ballerinas are practicing. He chooses the ballerina wearing the heaviest weights and the ugliest mask and frees her and they dance. The ending is they both are shot by the sheriff and neither of their families realize or are allowed to care what happened. It seems, with our obsession with vanity and body image and how this picture or that picture is too pretty or not pretty enough is leading us down this road. If we truly cared about positivity, we would stop trying to force people to conform to an average and let them be. Some are thin, some are tall, or have better curves or clearer skin: we are all built differently. Self-image is a very personal struggle yet, like many other things in society at this time, we are insisting some institution fix it for us, as if we have a God-given right to never feel inferior, offended or ashamed.
There is a reason Envy was listed as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. The energy we put into obsessing over how we feel about how we look, how attractive we are compared to others is destructive. I know it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to never have a worry about how they look ever again and I’m not saying we should necessarily since presentation does count. What I am saying is that there is trying to look your best and there is this unhealthy level of commentary on how this, that, or the other somehow influences someone else and continuing to foster a society that fixates on comparing ourselves to others. I hold the media culpable for this, but not in the way a lot of the commentators have. Others are saying the media needs to talk more about how appealing average is (whatever that means) and preemptively attacking people who might, through no fault of their own, make someone else feel bad. I’m saying they need to back off a bit and stop feeding the green eyed monster. The shaming of Lily James and other slim/thin girls in the spotlight is no more helpful than mocking Kelly Clarkson and heavyset women. Ultimately, no one really feels better about making someone feel worse and that is an attitude we should not be fostering. Either raise yourself above the rest through hard work be it in health, beauty, intelligence or accomplishment for your own sake or accept and make peace with your limitations and move on. You are not a victim of someone else by their simple existence.