Dance, Law, and other Loves

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Category: Pop culture

If your body works, it is beautiful.

I am pretty sure this is a fairly obvious point, but I still feel the need to reiterate it. Your body is made to sustain life and consciousness. If it is doing that fairly well, you should consider it the most beautiful thing in the world. Because sometimes, for some people, their body doesn’t work. And when that happens, all you want is for your body to work again. To feel better. To let you live life. Maybe not a perfect or great life. Maybe not the absolute best life you could live with a 100% perfectly functioning body. But a life anyway.

Ask anyone who has been through a serious illness that threatened their life, or seriously limited their functionality. After you go through something like that, judging the external beauty of your body seems almost completely ludicrous. It’s not that you don’t do it. It’s completely programmed into our culture to judge the external beauty of women’s bodies in particular. So you notice and judge sometimes. But even as your brain automatically judges, you also note how ridiculous that is.

I can be walking through the grocery store and see a magazine with a celebrity in a bikini, and a headline about how great/horrible the person looks, and almost start laughing out loud about the stupidity of it. I’ll think, for half a second, “shit, I need to lose weight,” and then just laugh and think, “5 years ago I couldn’t work a full day. Why the hell would I worry about my weight for any reason other than my health?”

Girl culture makes this really hard. The longer I have been mostly well, the easier it is to worry about these things again. This is particularly true because external changes are easier for others to see and comment on. And other girls note and comment positively on changes in physical appearance frequently, reinforcing the standard.

I understand this, and that most mean no harm whatsoever, but I still find myself being somewhat offended by it. I have made some monumental physical changes in recent years: I made a myriad of lifestyle changes over a twelve year period that were incredibly hard, harder than you could ever imagine, that have allowed me to go from bed-ridden and completely non-functional, to running my own law firm and living an almost normal life. I also lost 50 pounds. Which do you think I get more congratulations for? Worse yet, which do you think I got more offers of help for? Even from people who know quite a bit about the length and seriousness of my illness. I appreciate the congrats on my weight to an extent, but a part of me thinks, “well, bfd.” It was hard, but not anywhere near as hard as being sick.

This isn’t at all (well, usually) a reflection on those individual people. They are usually being very sweet and trying to support me. They are just reflecting the values of our current culture. Now I am trying to support other women, and men, who live in a beauty-obsessed culture by asking you all to consider a perspective change: If your body works, it is beautiful. Period. You can whine and complain about your minor imperfections – we all do. Just try to remember that to someone whose body hasn’t always worked very well, you sound spoiled. I sound spoiled to my own ears when I do it, and I think that’s a really, really good thing.

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Miley Cyrus is not a slut.

Or, at least no more so than most female performers her age. 

Since her VMA performance and the sound thrashing she’s gotten from it, I have been conflicted. I hate it when women are called sluts publicly. I also don’t particularly like it when women behave like sluts in public, either. But I tend to think that the former contributes to the latter by killing the general self-esteem of women everywhere, so I dislike it more.  

But the Miley-show was abominable. Truly horrific. And she completely did it to herself. And I like it when pop culture actually discourages women from behaving like they are whores.

So I was having a hard time figuring out why I still felt some form of feminist anger at her critics. I just kept wanting people to shut up and leave her alone already!

It finally dawned on me. Miley’s critics were bashing her for being too lewd, too slutty, too whorish, when she really didn’t do anything any more whorish than at least a dozen other female pop stars I can think of. That weird tongue thing? Lady Gaga’s done way weirder with weirder and more overtly sexual body parts. Masturbating with a giant foam finger? Madonna masturbated on stage in the 90’s, Brittney did it with a snake in the ’00’s. And the twerking? Please. That’s  just a new name for rump shaking, which every video ho has done since there were video ho’s. (Nicki Minaj in Starships? Hello!)

No, Miley wasn’t any sluttier than anyone else. She just was bad at it. And that’s the real problem I have with her critics. They emphasized the wrong things because she’s a woman. They shouldn’t be criticizing her performance for being slutty. They should be criticizing it for being bad. Because it was. She just really didn’t hit the right note. She didn’t perform well, didn’t have anything really choreographed or planned. It was like she was winging it in a club. Which is fine for the club, but not for the VMAs.

She was lewd and obnoxious to cover for not being prepared. And who could blame her, really? If there’s one thing pop culture is fantastically good at getting across is that being sexy and flaunting it are the very best ways for women to get praise and attention. Talent is only a very distant second, and not really necessary. Everybody’s just a little confused because we aren’t used to an attractive woman attempting sexy and failing so abysmally.

Which is why I am ticked. Instead of being fairly criticized for having a bad performance, as every performer does from time to time, she is being thrown under the bus for being slutty. Because she is a woman, the immediate criticism focuses on her use of her sexuality, and then criticizes her in an astonishingly harsh way for it. She is being called a slut for actually just not being a good performer. This is how we still punish women in our society? With attacks at their sexuality? Feminism will have truly gotten someplace when a woman can be criticized in her own right for doing a crappy job, without some reference to her sexuality, or even gender, being brought into it.

Miley is being unfairly called a “slut”, and she is also being hit harder than another male performer would be for the same level of crappiness in her performance. And that’s because in American pop culture, the most unimaginable crime is to be a woman and fail at being sexy.