body image

Men Body Shaming Women: Just Stop!

gal-mannequin12-620x414It’s been a horrible week on my Facebook timeline for people drawing body shaming stuff to my attention.  First, we get another zinger from Lululemon founder Chip Wilson.

Those poor quality yoga pants, remember the ones that are practically sheer and needed to be recalled? There’s nothing wrong with the pants. It’s just that “some women’s bodies don’t work for the pants.” Say what?  Here he is saying that in all seriousness on Bloomberg TV.

And then someone sent me this piece from the Jezebel archives (it’s dated April 11, 2012) about a special vaginal cleaner marketed in India that includes a bleaching agent to lighten vaginas that are “too brown.”  Not new, but new to me.  What’s especially troubling about this product and its marketing is that the couple in the ad are incredibly light skinned to begin with.

As if vaginal odor, floppy labia, and pubic hair haven’t been constructed into sufficiently unattractive to make women self-conscious about what’s happening down there, now we’re supposed to add color to the list. Here’s what an ad executive said to dismiss people who find the vaginal lightening cream to be offensive and even racist:

It is hard to deny that fairness creams often get social commentators and activists all worked up. What they should do is take a deep breath and think again. Lipstick is used to make your lips redder, fairness cream is used to make you fairer-so what’s the problem? I don’t think any Youngistani today thinks the British Raj/White man is superior to us Brown folk. That’s al” ad l 1947 thinking!

The only reason I can offer for why people like fairness, is this: if you have two beautiful girls, one of them fair and the other dark, you see the fair girl’s features more clearly. This is because her complexion reflects more light. I found this amazing difference when I directed Kabir Bedi, who is very fair and had to wear dark makeup for Othello, the Black hero of the play. I found I had to have a special spotlight following Kabir around the stage because otherwise the audience could not see his expressions.

Good grief, has this man been talking to Chip Wilson or something?

And finally, there is this creepy dude in Venezuela who is so arrogant that he literally takes credit for promoting a beauty norm that has women rushing to go under the knife for breast enhancements, liposuction, and other cosmetic adjustments to their bodies. As Upworthy says, “within 5 seconds you won’t like him” and “by the time he laughs at the end you’ll hate him.”

He says that “inner beauty doesn’t exist. It’s just something that unpretty women have invented.”  Why have the unpretty invented “inner beauty”?  One reason: “to justify themselves.” Oh, because if a woman does not succeed in being attractive to superficial men who think that outer beauty is all that matters, she cannot justify her existence on the planet?

A couple of things are worth mentioning here. First, there must be a lot of other pressures influencing women in the direction of cosmetic surgery in Venezuela. And also, it’s not as if cosmetic surgery to correct “flaws” is endemic only in Venezuela.  So dude can’t take all the “credit.” But that he thinks he can makes him seem awfully sinister.

Venezuela’s wildy mis-proportioned mannequins have made the news lately (see here and here), and some think there’s a relationship between them and the surge of interest in cosmetic surgery.

I can’t say one way or the other whether the link is really there.

But I can say that men like this, who body-shame women and try to convince them that they are somehow inadequate if they do not have surgery to “correct” their natural shape, or that the yoga pants don’t fit because there is something wrong with their bodies, or that they need to lighten the color of their vaginas, should just shut the fuck up. Pardon my language.

[image credit: The New York Times]

11 thoughts on “Men Body Shaming Women: Just Stop!

  1. Here’s the one that gets me. labial dye so you can keep youthful genitals. I won’t link to the product so I’m linking to Jezebel’s reaction:

    My New Pink Button: “Restore The Youthful Pink Color Back To Your Labia”

    “WHAT THE FUCK. Women make about 75¢ for every dollar that men earn. Shoes, handbags and fashion “must-haves” are aggressively marketed to us. We’re expected to be thin, wrinkle-free and not have any gray hair (which, of course, is “distinguished” on a man). Vogue declared armpits are “nasty.” Anal bleach exists. And now we need to shell out cash so that our labia can to be the “right” color?


    So sometimes your ladybits change color when you age or after you have children. Who cares? Why be embarrassed? If your parts work, and there’s someone in your life who wants to get up close and personal and explore your secret garden, you should have no complaints. My New Pink Button is pitched as a product which “restores sexual confidence to Women everywhere!” But it seems like it could actually instill anxiety — if you didn’t know you were supposed to have a “youthful” look between your legs, doesn’t the discovery of this stuff foster insecurity?”

  2. Ick.

    It’s easy for me to hate on Chip Wilson or another guy for talking about women’s bodies, but I don’t think this body shaming stuff is confined to men. Sometimes I worry that calling men out for body shaming women just turns things into an us vs. them debate instead of getting at the real issue: body shaming (of men and women by men and women – of people by people). Sure, there’s far less talk about men undergoing plastic surgery or buying “enhancing” products or things like that, but I think this is an issue that goes far beyond gender boundaries. Thanks for pointing out these stories–other than the lululemon hubbub, I hadn’t heard of them!

    1. I agree that women body shame one another as well (remember the “what’s your excuse?” mother a few weeks ago). I don’t think anyone should do it. But when men do it, I think it’s different (that is, I think there is an importantly gendered dimension to body-shaming, and that body-shaming of women by men has a slightly different social meaning than women shaming women. I’ll think about that for a later post. Thanks for the idea!

  3. Preach!

    This reminds me one of the things that annoys me whenever conversations like this come up, which is the idea that women are the worst enemies of other women, as if women are the only ones enforcing the ever-ridiculous body image standards. I’ve had too many experiences with boys and men who make sport out of critiquing women’s bodies to accept that line of thinking. This isn’t to say that some women are unfairly harsh on other women, but let’s not pretend like there aren’t a lot of men out there feeding into this as well.

    And of course, here is the obligatory “I know not all men are like this…” disclaimer. Because I know that not all men are like this, just as I know not all women are like this. My issue is mostly with those who try to claim that one gender or another is entirely responsible for what I perceive as a society-wide issue.

  4. Thank you great article, if somewhat depressing. I think body shaming is just another way of controlling women and keeping them in their place. What we know is those men and women who do that have no inner beauty themselves. While both men and women do it, it is because we live in a patriarchal society so those women who do it are adopting the male gaze. Thank goodness though that now there are public outcries like yours so that it is challenged.

  5. No apology necessary for swearing; in fact, I think a great deal MORE cursing would be both justified and appropriate.

    When I read “The Beauty Myth” 20 years ago (and promptly stopped wearing makeup, or reading fashion magazines), I never thought we’d still be going over this same issue this far into the 21st century. Jeez.

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