On Body Image

I’m a female musician. That means that in addition to being an incredible musician, I have to be beautiful and toned to be respected. When male hosts introduce me before I come onstage, they often say “the beautiful and talented Siena,” as if somehow saying that I’m beautiful is an adequate introduction to my music. The fact that I’m beautiful actually has nothing at all to do with my music, yet it’s an unspoken requirement that I must stay beautiful to get noticed.

My male counterparts can go out with scruffy hair, unshaven faces, potbellies, and outfits that look like they’ve been slept in. I’ve seen it. Too many times. They can look as ridiculous as they want, and people just focus on the quality of the music they’re playing. But if a female musician goes out with even the hint of a muffin-top, people wonder if she’s really serious about her craft. People start to give unsolicited advice about her weight, about her work ethic, about how much time she’s spending with her family, and about her character. They talk about these things instead of the music she’s creating and putting out into the world.

Yes, there are female artists like Billie Eilish, Lizzo, and Kelly Clarkson who are actively pushing back against the scrutiny that female performers are under about our bodies. Is it enough to make me relax and “let my body go?” No. Plus, I’m speaking as a white woman: I can’t even begin to speak to the much harsher scrutiny of Black female musicians.

So why is it like this? Where does this pressure come from? Let’s take Women’s Health Magazine as just a small example of the cultural prevalence of scrutinizing women’s bodies. First of all, “health” is in the title, but this publication focuses mostly on diet and weight loss. It equates health with being super thin and toned. This is bullshit. Health is not the perfect body. Health is not obese, either. Health is somewhere in between. Health has nothing whatsoever to do with how we appear, past a certain threshhold (obviously someone with a grey and clammy complexion isn’t doing too well).

In an article about Lady Gaga’s body in her 2017 Super Bowl HalfTime performance, Women’s Health Mag tried to claim that people shouldn’t (and generally don’t) scrutinize the bodies of female performers. The magazine paints a utopian portrait of a world that doesn’t care how a woman looks. This is just simply false. You can read Fox’s report on the actual comments made on Twitter about Gaga’s body. Everyone, including women, scrutinize women’s bodies. I do it, you do it. We all do it. Some see an imperfect female body and say “it’s too bad she let herself go.” Some just subconsciously respect her a little less. They think she doesn’t deserve their respect because she doesn’t respect herself enough to starve herself and work out for hours each day.

Even WHILE Women’s Health Mag describes this fantasy world where society is beyond criticizing women’s bodies, they display other shit that reveals quite the opposite. Literally on the same page. Here’s a smattering of other stuff you’ll encounter as you scroll through this article:
1) a video explaining “Grocery Shopping for a Healthy Lifestyle,” which dictates how to to avoid tempting bakery items that are sure to “derail your diet” by carefully planning your route in a grocery store, all while depicting extremely thin women picking up fruits, vegetables and, of course, Grape Nuts
2) the “Workout Advice” section at the bottom of the page, which boasts results like “visibly toned abs” and “sculpted arms”
3) the “Must-Have Fall Athleisure Styles” section, showing a sporty woman looking alluringly at the camera

Clearly, Women’s Health Mag knows that women are CONSTANTLY under the scrutiny of the public. They not only know it, but they are actually making a shit-ton of money off of that reality. Despite reporting in another article that “when people (feel) bad about their bodies, they (are) more likely to experience…a cluster of health issues,” the magazine proceeds to make women feel bad about their bodies throughout their website. Here’s the cherry on top: down at the bottom of the screen in small letters, you can click a link that reads “PEOPLE WITH THIS TRAIT HAVE SMALLER HIPS AND BELLIES.” This ‘enticing’ (and shaming) headline leads to a page that displays an ad for “Belly Rehab” and plenty of “How to Lose Weight” articles. So much for us living in a world where shaming Lady Gaga for having stomach flab is outrageous, blasphemous, and “unheard of.” The haters are here to stay, folks.

I’m not sure how to navigate this world. I’m not ready yet to give up the patriarchal idea I’ve been brainwashed with: that I have to look “good” (aka not flabby) to be taken seriously in the music world as a female musician.

2 thoughts on “On Body Image”

  1. You are very talented as a musician and as a singer. I have purchased your cd as a friend but also because I enjoy your singing and your lyrics.

    However some of your fb posts have emphasized your feminine attributes. When you post them, aren’t you contributing to these very concerns of yours.

    Like

    1. Hi Tim,

      I’ve thought about your comment a lot in these past couple of months. I really appreciate you continuing the conversation, thinking of me as a friend, and encouraging me to think about the issue in a different way.

      Here’s what I’ve concluded:
      1) yes, the pictures I share on social media actually DO contribute to the problem I outline in this post. I am going along with the expectation (society’s standard of beauty is very much ingrained in me) and therefore I am strengthening the expectation. Other women will see my photos and they will assume they should also look like that.
      2) I am still not ready to let go of the expectation/pressure for female performers to be beautiful as well as talented. It takes a lot of courage and active unlearning to give up on something that you’ve learned your whole life you’re supposed to strive for. As of now, I am juuuuust starting to build up that courage. I have a long way to go.
      3) When I wrote this post, I think my original point was that women should do what they want. If they want to “be feminine and attractive,” they should. If they want to not care what people think, they should. If they want to try to change the norm, they should. Female performers should have the freedom to present themselves in whatever way feels good to them.

      Those are my thoughts. This is a process for me too, so I’m constantly learning, unlearning, and reevaluating.

      Since writing this post and reading your comment, I actually have started to be more genuinely imperfect on social media – not posting pictures of myself looking flawless and “feminine” all the time. Instead, feeling comfortable posting pictures and videos of me being silly, or just being myself, without trying to conform to society’s standard of beauty. It has been freeing. And also very scary. And also confusing.

      Like

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