A few weeks back Britney Spears, whom I think most people around here are probably aware by now, is someone whom I admire the fuck out of did something else I kind of admired. We’ll get to that.
We kind of grew up together, Britney and I. She’s a year younger than I am, give or take a few months (we are still on the “give” end, right now), and there were stages in her music and over-exposed by the media life that hit the stride w/ my life that really helped me cope. She was the first pop star who was around my age who normalized the idea that it was OK to struggle between the idea of the Madonna-Whore dichotomy, and prove that you could come through the other end of it defining your sexuality on your own terms and really decide for yourself what it all meant to you.
While I lamented that Britney had to go through in public many things that I was desperately trying to keep private, I secretly was relieved to have someone to look up to and see that there was this celebrity, this literal nigh rock star who bounced back from it, to tell me that I was going to be just fine. Here is this mother, this woman, this divorcee, this person who lived while wearing all of these hats, and didn’t have to do it perfectly, and yeah, people were really fucking harsh on her. But here she was, and if she could do it all with all of these people watching her, then surely I could come back and heal and do it OK for myself and maybe find the fight inside of me. I did and she did, and I think we are both still healing a wee bit. I haven’t asked her directly, but I would over coffee if given the chance.
But now back to that other thing that I just love that she did. Britney released the original, untouched pictures from a recent photo shoot with Candee’s shoes, showing all of the things that were ‘Shopped out for the advertisement.
Not ignoring the fact that Britney Spears is not the majority of women who will consume this advert, I have to have a lot of respect for this. As a woman who opened magazines as a teen and wondered what the poop was wrong with her own knees, I appreciate this gesture. I have no illusions that Britney Spears has a great deal of privilege that allows her to be able to find more comfort that might make it easier to do something like this, but I also can’t ignore the fact that even thin women are allowed to feel insecure with their own bodies. We fat women don’t own the copyright on that. I mean, what kind of world do we live in when a woman who has been a professional dancer for most of her adult life isn’t deemed perfect enough? That she has to have the bruises one would find business as usual to that kind of activity to be unsightly erased to be considered conventionally beautiful; that her ankles have to be smoothed, that some of her muscle tone has to be smoothed away as if it were ZOMCC TEH UNSIGHTLY FAT!!!1!ELEVENTYONE! is telling of where women are in society.
This is a far cry from “she is a manufactured pop star, what do you want?” also. As previously noted by Melissa McEwan, even Britney Spears isn’t Britney Spears ™ anymore. In fact, I kind of like this Britney Spears better, because she seems to have settled into a more creative and comfortable her — a Britney who is fine having un-‘Shopped pics of herself released because she knows that she is comfortable enough in what she has that she is proud of what each mark and bruise means to her. A stronger and more confident woman. A woman who is strong enough to say “This is the person I am outside of the image someone else carved out for me”.
She knows that she has come by all of this in her life and she knows the stories behind all of it. Every bruise, bump, fold, wrinkle and dimple.
I am glad to have someone who can do this to look up to. And while yes, beauty is a construct of society that at the end of the day is another hierarchy that is set up to privilege some women above others, I can not fault some women for abiding by it or even succeeding by it, not when there are so many things that are set in place to hold us pack within the Kyriarchal structure. Like Natalia Antonova noted once, beauty “goes hand-in-hand with terror”. Because, for women who depend beauty to get by in our society, “losing your looks is extremely hard in a culture that somehow manages to both reward and punish you for having them”.
We can argue all day the privilege of being a conventionally thin and attractive woman. We can argue all day that a celebrity sets hirself up for that by trading in fame for privacy (note: HA! no, you can’t do that here, on this thread, b/c comments to that effect will not be allowed, b/c I don’t believe that a celebrity has an obligation to trade those things for a job, nor are people the sum of their jobs, nor is a thin person or a conventionally pretty person not allowed to feel insecure, etc. Go get your own blog and argue that crap. I can search Google and find about a dozen celebrity gossip sites where that shit is just fine. This is not one of those).
What I will argue, is that I am shockingly low on all the news and magazines who are clawing all over themselves to run the photos of men in the buff — au naturale if you will, because it isn’t such a big deal. I don’t see men who are dragging themselves around to the same degree to be impossibly beautiful. I see pores and stubble and grey hairs and the signs of aging all over magazine covers. It is not the same standard, no matter how hard you argue it or how loud you yell at me. It’s not the same thing. I am not seeing young men killing themselves trying to meet impossible standards b/c the world’s most perfect men aren’t perfect enough, and haven’t read stories by any young men about how they didn’t know until college that their knees were really supposed to look like that.
It’s not the same standard.
But, thank-you, Ms. Spears, because, as has been said before, by women who have written it better, I admire the fuck out of you. It’s been a long journey, and you have walked it admirably.
Here’s to the next decade, and I hope it brings us great things, sister!