On the heels of the loss of the legendary talent Whitney Houston we have once again witnessed the dichotomous fickleness of the media. Where before her death Houston and her “issues” was a cash cow for media outlets, gossip rags and blogs, after her untimely passing these sources have continued to milk the situation for every penny they can get. While praising her for her magnificent voice, presence and career they simultaneously dredge her image through the muck and mire recounting her struggles with substance abuse and her troubled marriage to singer Bobby Brown. With Houston laid to rest the media attention is now the birthright Bobby Christina the daughter of Houston and Brown. The question becomes, when will it stop? When will we as a society being to set, and respect the bounderies that everyone whether they are unknown or famous are entitled to? Where in this commercial, capitalistic society does common human decency factor in?
I posit these questions because earlier this week I read an article about radio shock jock (are we still calling him that after all of these years and all of his antics, are we still “shocked”?) Howard Stern calling singer and The Voice host Judge Christina Aguilera “Plus Sized”. It was during and interview with Marron 5 singer Adam Levine who is also a judge on the hit show. Stern was trying to get Levine to comment on her weight gain, he said:
“This is a sensitive subject with women,” he says to Adam. “Why do you think she got so heavy? Is she upset? She used to be so f–kin’ hot. What is that? And her clothes are too tight, right?”
* Side bar: Like really Howard who cares if you think they are hot or not? ‘Cause you’re the guy we girls are thinking about impressing when we are in spin and yoga class…
A class act, like the Artful Dodger Levine skirted the topic (cue applause). Where Xtina’s weight gain has not gone unnoticed (by herself or the public) and there as been speculation about her allegedly drinking to excess. Gossip blogs are quick to post photos of Aguilera in the form fitting leggings she favors, or scanty costumes that accentuate her fuller figure and posting them with disparaging text. I find it interesting that even though she has come out and said that she embraces her curves, it still seems to be a hot topic. It’s clear that she is fine with her figure, she has not altered her wardrobe to camouflage or conceal the fact that her Disney child star figure of yesteryear is a thing of the past, but it seems like there are a lot of people how have something to say about it. She is not alone we have seen Brittany Spears, Aubrey O’Day go through the same ridicule, and more recently two more Disney child stars Demi Lovato (who sought treatment for an eating disorder) and Miley Cyrus have been publically ridiculed for weight gain. So my question is: What’s the problem with a little weight?
Thing that gets lost in all the gossip poundage chatter is the fact that Aguilera still possesses one of the only pure voices in the industry today. She has a talent akin to a Houston or Mariah Carey, a pure voice that does not require auto tune; she can sing a capella live and be as thrilling as she is if you had pressed play on an MP3 player. However that all counts for little if you don’t look a certain way and wear a certain size. The real problem with these sorts of weight comments and conversations is that they are reducing to women. They take a woman who is talented, powerful and successful and cuts her value and worth down to a dress size. This sort of reduction of women happens in the arena of intellect as well. When women are smart, eloquent and powerful, the conversation often goes back to their appearance. Enter the MILF. During her bid to get into the White House in 2008 though Hillary Clinton was informed, knowledgeable and eloquent her political acumen was overshadowed by Palin’s sexy librarian appeal. The fact that most straight men were more interested in getting Sarah Palin into bed dulled the acute fact that she was no where near qualified to be on *any party’s ticket. As women often we are professional tariffed if men are not sexually attracted to us.
This is nothing new in the gender power game, regardless of how talented, successful or intelligent a woman is somehow she always wants to be the prettiest girl in the room too, and if she is not, then she feels like she is nothing at all, or that her strengths are little more then consolation prizes. You know what they say, “God gives everybody something when looks ain’t it, and you get t dose of brains”. Oddly (or not so much so) men do not hold these beliefs about themselves. Regardless of how they look they are often feel larger then life for their accomplishments alone, and if they are handsome well that’s a bonus not the other way around. Take the catalyst for these writings, Howard Stern; some might say he has a face made for radio. He is highly talented at what he does (regardless of what you think of what he does) however he would even tell you that he is no Mr. Universe, Brad Pitt, or George Clooney is yet no one talks about the way he looks, (and he has married a very young, very blonde second wife). You will find great diversity in Male stars, there are more chunky funny guy next door types that get hyped up and become cool (Jonah Hill, Seth Rogan) Then they trim down only to get more love. There are the average guys who beef up for roles and then after the film go back to their natural fleshy selves and are still considered “hot” (Russell Crowe, Denzel Washington), and there are the male performers who’s looks are not a factor at all, their skill is what we herald them for. Women are not so fortunate, in order to stay relevant basically you have to be f*&kable, point blank.
Back to Christina: The public has no idea what these women endure to become, and uphold the images that they present to us in the public eye. Often by the time they hit, they have survived a gauntlet of specialists who have manufactured and styled every element of their persona, whipping their bodies and hair into shape, teeth get capped, and a stylist is employed to establish a “look” and insure continuity of their image. They may well be shadows of their former (true) selves by the time they hit the big time, making the rounds on morning show and doing magazine articles. Xtina began her career with Disney long before she hit puberty and was apart of the machine as she entered womanhood. I feel like her Dirrty CD was the beginning of her personal rebellion from that machine. Where we (the public) might have thought that it was just about shedding the squeaky clean image assigned to the Mouseketeers, and though it seemed that she was out of control perhaps she was in fact taking control making a statement- perhaps burning a bridge. Asserting herself as a woman, no longer willing to be told what to wear, what to say, and what not to eat.
For regular teenagers this is a period of development when they break from their parents, go off to college and get their first taste of independence (and a lot of alcohol), albeit they are not plagued by paparazzi, and entertainment outlets documenting their ever peccadillo and bad decisions of which there are sure to be a plethora. That freshman fifteen (thanks to the ubiquitous ice bars in the cafeteria) is not documented (although now with the advent of Facebook in a way it is) so there is little pressure put upon them to look a certain way during what I call the second wave of puberty. Both Houston and Carrey had their years of maturing in the public eye, and with it at times were periods of weight gain. Who can forget how tiny a 20-year-old Mariah Carey was in that black cat suit in the music video in Vision of Love? Two years later she married Columbia Records Executive Tommy Mottola. After 5 Years the couple split and in 1997 when she released Butterfly she was 27 and looked like a woman and less a gangly teen. Through the years as her weight has fluctuated and she as been the butt of many a joke for it. And why, it’s all such a natural part of life. It cannot be easy
Every woman who deals with weight issues knows how horrible it is to feel like a sausage stuffed into a dress or jeans, (and for most of us at least once a month whether actual or hormonal we feel fat and bloated) we know when we have put on an “acceptable” few, and we know when we have crossed the line and we dare not go near anything that doesn’t have stretch in it for fear that we have eaten our way into another dress size. It’s depressing (which makes you want to eat more) and frustrating, and at times when it becomes a visible change, embarrassing. I could not imagine the whole world “weighing” in on my weight gain. Scrutinizing my every fluctuation. There is another aspect to this issue that we rarely leave space for, and that is, sometimes weight fluctuations aren’t just a result of stuffing your face and hanging out on the couch. They could be due to health issues, or emotional issues that people might be dealing with. In her Reality Show Aubrey O’Day admitted to being an emotional eater. Aguilera recently divorced and is now a single mother, true she as never been one to miss a party, but sometimes when you are stressed, or avoiding emotions, partying, drinking and over eating can become escapes. If that ‘s the case then one could expect to see some weight fluctuation, where Christina is concerned, and having it pointed out and being what I consider to be teased, even bullied about it public is of no help.
It seems the more she chooses to accept and not constantly address her body, the more the media entities want to talk about her, almost goading her in to making a statement, or giving an interview where she reveals something more personal that they can then turn into yet another wave of revenue. The more I analyze how the media (particularly gossip) works I start to see great parallels between these blogs/bloggers and the school bullies that are taunting teens to the point of suicide. With a relentless barrage of snide, caustic remarks attacking everything from their bodies, to there babies it’s never ending. It’s not bad enough celebrities get stalked by photographers, which is like bullies chasing you into the cafeteria or off of the playground, then they have to content with bloggers getting a hold of the photos and adding captions and posts that rip them apart, akin to the nasty writings on the bath room or locker room walls. Like bullies bloggers give you names that others begin to refer to you as in jest, although it is not funny. The gossip wielders have the power to create a mean spirited subtext to the public lives of celebrities and great speculation about their private ones. Doesn’t that sound like the bullies we are rallying against when it comes to high school students? If it were high school students who where being called names and having derogatory statements made about them we (as a society) would not stand for it. So why is it ok for celebrities? What makes it worse is that these writers and “reporters” are grown adults not children who might not know any better.
Yes Christina is thicker these days, but when she starts to sing I could careless how thick her thighs are or how tight her dress is. With some performers what they have on (or how little they have on) is all they have going for them. I love that she is comfortable with her size, and who knows it might be her “natural” body size without excessive dieting out training. I love that the majority of the women in this country who look like her have themselves reflected in a woman in the public eye who is not only a great talent but unapologetic if her body happens to offend some people. I have to give Adam Levine credit for not sinking that level and joining in debasing his co-star. In fact it kind of cut the topic off at the knees. So Christina’s Curvy and?
Theresa Ruth Howard