Ordinary Bodies

The strangest thing caught my eye during the pool party scene in American Hustle: ordinary bodies. After the movie, Mr. Campbell even brought it up before I could. It was the kind of party where adults did cannonballs and got their hair wet and didn’t let the way they looked in a swimsuit keep them from wearing one. The extras completely stole my attention away from the stars.

ordinary bodies in american hustle

The male star, Christian Bale, fit right in with his awkward comb over and weight gain.

americanhustlepoolpartyandyetagain

Amy Adams, on the other hand, took everything back to business as usual.

americanhustlepartysceneright
She was supposed to catch the male lead’s eye, so it makes sense that she wouldn’t blend in. Ironically, however, she was so typically Hollywood-perfect that she failed to catch my eye. I quickly processed her exotic swimsuit, duly noted that she looked amazing in it, and peered around in hopes of catching more of the ordinary extras. Sadly, the scene switched immediately to Bale and Adams alone in another room, talking about music.

Side note: This wouldn’t be a blog about boobs if I didn’t take this opportunity to highlight the impossible waist-length necklines that Amy Adams wore for the rest of the movie. Inspired by Jerry Hall, Bianca Jagger and Faye Dunaway, her necklines were meant to establish both the confidence and vulnerability of her character, Sidney Prosser. Curious how she avoided nip slips? Double-sided tape and careful carriage.

amy adams plunging necklines american hustle-001

Fresh from American Hustle, Mr. Campbell and I began watching the Netflix series Lilyhammer. I had high hopes during the very first episode. Not only is the main character, Johnny, ordinary looking. So is his love interest, Sigrid, whom he meets on the train to his new hometown in Episode 1.

johnny and sigrid on the train

(Spoiler Alert: I don’t give away major plot points, but I do mention details from the second season below.)

I had high hopes that Lilyhammer would do with its lead actresses what American Hustle had only managed to do with its lead actor and extras–use “imperfect” women. In just the second episode, however, I suspected this wasn’t going to happen after Johnny fired a woman for complaining that the metallic shorts he wanted them to wear in his new bar were a violation of the Working Environment Act.

ordinary waitresses lilyhammer

Johnny then asks his manager, “Those were the best looking waitresses you could find?”

“Yep,” he answers.

“Half of those broads were on the wrong side of menopause.”

As the show continues, women’s bodies become more and more idealized. By season 2, the waitresses could be Victoria’s Secret models.

lilyhammer corset waitresses

The wise and loveable sheriff is replaced by a woman on the “right” side of menopause.

lilyhammer sheriffs

Finally, even Sigrid is replaced. The special education teacher at their children’s school catches Johnny’s eye when she’s no longer wearing her glasses* while drinking with a friend at his bar. (Granted, Sigrid broke up with Johnny at the end of season 1, but did the new love interest have to look like she could be his granddaughter?)

new love interest lilyhammer

——-

There’s a double standard that permits the male leads in American Hustle and Lilyhammer to look ordinary–even homely–but requires the female leads to look spectacular. The double standard isn’t going away any time soon. I know better than to look to the mainstream media for images that celebrate women’s bodies in all their diversity, but that is why that pool scene from American Hustle surprised and affected me. It made me realize how accustomed I am to standard images of beauty and how much I long to see more “ordinary” women’s bodies represented in movies and television. 

*As Rachel Dratch explains in her book, nowadays “the best friend is someone slightly less beautiful than the leading lady, except with brown hair. Or glasses! ‘Hey! She’s wearing glasses! My brain now sees her as slightly less attractive than the lead! Everything makes sense in the world!'”

Off the Rack ~ Feminism Isn’t a Four-Letter Word but Modesty Should Be

This week, a number of big bust bloggers decided to tackle the topic of modesty en masse (see end of post for links). I’ve been really looking forward to writing this post, as I am a feminist and have quite strong opinions about the topic. Please note that this post comes with a serious trigger warning. I will be discussing how the concept of modesty is problematic as well as how it relates to women’s ownership of their bodies, slut-shaming, and rape culture. Here we go!

Let’s start with an anecdote from my high school years. A public school without much funding located in an old building, the school did not have air conditioning (third-world conditions, I know). Additionally, most of the teachers refused to leave the classroom doors open to allow for a cross-breeze with open windows, since the halls were usually noisy even between classes. The city in which I grew up doesn’t get that hot, but during summer, including at least a few weeks at the tail end and beginning of the school year, the temperature can hit the mid-80s and 90s. So you can imagine that the school was very hot and stuffy.

With no a/c and not a breeze in sight, most students opted to wear less clothing in order to cope with the heat. Both boys and girls wore shorts and tank tops. Then the school issued new guidelines that girls were not allowed to have visible bra straps, their tanks had to have straps at least three fingers wide, and shorts had to reach past your fingertips when standing up straight. Sometimes girls who didn’t comply were actually sent home to change. Never mind that the boys wife-beater tanks were only two fingers wide and basically see-through, and that most of them were sagging their pants so low you could see five inches of underwear. Nope, the guidelines applied to girls’ clothing only.

In the US, similar stories have been making the news in recent months. A Petaluma, CA middle school held a mandatory assembly for just the female students to announce that leggings were being banned because they distract boys. A Readington Township, NJ school required all dresses at a school dance have at least one strap.

This is my problem with the concept of modesty: It is a construct that is literally only ever applied to women.

Why do women need to be odest while it’s okay for a man to walk around in public in a nipple-baring tank or even completely shirtless, with his pants falling off his ass? It’s because only women’s naked skin is sexual or deviant, so it must be covered up.

The idea of modesty is just another way to force women to relinquish control of their own bodies. Our bodies are treated as inherently sexual, no matter how young, innocent, or naive we may be. Many of my fellow bosom bloggers have stories of developing early and having little understanding of what was happening, yet being called sluts by peers just for having large breasts.

Further, women’s bodies are treated as public property. People have no compunction with commenting on a complete stranger’s body (see my previous post). Men feel entitled to catcall women on the street, as if our bodies are just there for them to appreciate and/or critique.

So when someone demands that women cover up for the sake of modesty, it’s another way to reduce women’s bodily autonomy. It’s a way of saying that women are sex objects whether we like it or not and it’s saying that we don’t have the right to dress in the way that makes us most comfortable. We must dress (and sometimes even act) in a way that agrees with someone else’s personal preferences and sensibilities.

Worse, even though women are treated as sexual objects from pubescence onward, we’re not actually supposed to embrace sexuality. Things like purity balls and modesty pledges reinforce the fact that while men are allowed to think of us as sexual beings with impunity, in practice we’re actually supposed to remain pure. Sure, men can gallivant around town with whomever they please, but women should remain chaste.

Further, with the hypersexualization of women’s bodies by outside forces, you end up with alarming things like the following list of helpful suggestions currently making the rounds on Facebook:

Ignoring for a moment the complete lack of sense that number 1 makes (I have sweatshirts that are hard to get into due to a tight neckholee–is that immodest?), number 3 is incredibly irresponsible. It’s essentially saying that if you have big boobs or a big ass or, hell, have a prosthetic foot, and someone notices that before looking at your face (completely likely in a group setting or when you’re all the way across the room from the looker), then you are immodest. Regardless of what you’re wearing or what you’re doing, your body is inherently obscene just by dint of being a woman’s body.

It’s also completely stripping the looker of any responsibility for his or her own behavior. If someone leers at your breasts, or any part of your body, then that person is a rude creep, plain and simple. Number 3 up on that list implies that the person being looked at is responsible for the behavior of the looker. It’s saying that the lookee has the ability to control the urges and behavior of the looker simply by dressing the right way.

This is where you get into some really dangerous territory. Things like this are exactly what feed the beast that is rape culture. If the lookee has the ability to control the behavior of the looker, then it implies that a woman who dresses immodestly is essentially inviting trouble. She’s not doing everything in her power to keep from being assaulted. How many times have you heard a version of the phrase “What did she expect would happen dressed like that?” when a sex crime makes the news?

When the concept of modesty is applied strictly to women, it absolves men of any responsibility for their behavior. If the idea that men can’t control themselves around a woman in a skimpy outfit is perpetuated, then it puts all the onus on the woman to avoid being sexually assaulted. It insinuates that the only thing keeping a man from raping a woman is the length of her skirt/the cut of her blouse (which is frankly pretty insulting toward men).

Even more damaging, this idea that immodesty is related to sexual assault completely disregards the fact that sexual assault is a crime not of lust but of power; it ignores the fact that the vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows; and it downplays the abusive experiences of people who are not considered conventionally sexy, such as children, seniors, prisoners, and the mentally handicapped, as well as the experiences of men who have been victimized. Most sexual assaults are not committed by a random stranger prowling the streets at night. None are committed by adults who are simply overcome with lust.

So, what now? I’m hardly suggesting that dressing modestly is a problem per se. If a woman (or a man) prefers to dress in a way that does not highlight the body, then there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s the person’s own personal decision. Even in my world, there is a time and place for everything. I wouldn’t wear a short skirt or plunging neckline to meet a new client, but I sure would strolling the streets of Manhattan on a hot summer day or going on a date with my boyfriend.

But there is something wrong with a person taking his or her own definition of modesty and attempting to force it upon others, particularly when that definition is only applied to women. More importantly, it’s unethical and just factually wrong to assume that anyone who’s assaulted while not following those modesty guidelines was “asking for it”.

Modesty is a concept that needs to stop being applied strictly to girls and women, and really needs to be left out of sexual assault discourse. No clothing, however much or however little, should be tied to a person’s value as a human being.

For more perspectives on modesty, check out the rest of the Bosom Bloggers’posts. The links go directly to the modesty post if it’s been published, otherwise it links to the blog’s home page:

Boosaurus
Braless in Brasil
Bras and Body Image
By Babys Rules
Contrary Kiwi
Fussy Busty (1)
Fussy Busty (2)
Hourglassy (Abreast Abroad)
Hourglassy (Corporate Curves Report)
Hourglassy (Darlene)
Miss Underpinnings
Nothing Ever Fits and Nobody Sympathizes
Red Hair and Girly Flair
Sophia Jenner
Sophisticated Pair
That Bra Does Not Fit Her
The Tit Rambler
Thin and Curvy
Two Cakes on a Plate
Undiegamer
Weirdly Shaped & Well Photographed

The Modesty Panel, May 13-17

For the last ten months, a group of us who blog about breasts and proper bra fit have begun calling ourselves the Bosom Bloggers and discussing various topics that come up in the course of our blogging. One subject that keeps surfacing is modesty. After it’s raised, at least one of us will say, “I need to blog about that someday . . . ,” usually followed by one of several reasons not to:

  • “. . . but it’s such a complex subject.”
  • “. . .but it’s so personal.”
  • “. . .but I don’t have time.”
  • “. . .but I don’t want to alienate anyone.”

Despite our reasons for avoiding the subject, we know it’s an important one. After all, even if we don’t write about it directly, each of us has experiences, beliefs and assumptions about modesty that influence how we blog about breasts. So this week we’re taking the plunge and exploring the subject from a variety of perspectives. For this discussion, we’re calling ourselves The Modesty Panel. Look for posts about modesty here and on the following blogs that represent just a fraction of the other fabulous Bosom Bloggers.

Boosaurus     BralessinBrasil     BrasandBodyImage     ByBabysRules     ContraryKiwi     CurvyHK    DressingCurves   FussyBusty1  FussyBusty2    MissUnderpinnings   NothingEverFitsandNobodySympathizes  ObsessedwithBreasts     RedHairandGirlyFlair     SophiaJenner    SophisticatedPair      ThatBraDoesNotFitHer    TheTitRambler    ThinandCurvy     TwoCakesonaPlate   WeirdlyShapedandWellPhotographed    Undiegamer

Corporate Curves Report: Dressing to Blend, Rebel or Impress?

I played around with the H&M online fitting room and created these images of basically the same style but with different impressions on how one could view the same person.

Hello again all you lovely readers! Corporate Curves was attending an intense management course last week, but here I am again. Today’s topic comes  from a news article that caught my eye a few weeks ago about a study that examines how teachers judge their colleagues by how they dress. According to the study, hardly anyone found anything wrong with how they dressed themselves, but they certainly had opinions on how their colleagues dressed and how it affected their credibility as teachers.

The categories found in the study were:

  • model citizens who emphasize appropriateness and ordinariness;
  • unconventional rebels who dress to push the limits and reinvigorate how their profession is seen by dressing casually and looking approachable to their students; and
  • sexualized teachers.

The last group was picked on and badmouthed most often, especially the women. I found this a bit shocking as this group didn’t necessarily even dress sexily, it was more about how they looked. They can’t exactly help it if people see them as sexy. I can see this being an issue in a teaching environment, but it’s not really fair.

This got me wondering if the study’s results apply to the corporate world as well and if so, how much, and does it vary between different industries? My conclusion is that it does apply and it does vary. In the corporate world you need to fit the brand image of the company, but that also depends on the department within the company. IT tends to be more relaxed, but even in IT it’s fairly clear who is more technical and who works with the business side of things, as the latter tend to dress more business-appropriate. Consultants are easy to spot because although they are usually instructed to dress according to their client’s dress code, they nearly always wear suits.

But should we try to blend in? I don’t think so–up to a limit. I think dressing personally and even in bold patterns and colors just brings light and joy to the workplace. At least on this dark and cold autumn day, quite a few people have commented on how nice it is to see colors on peoples’ clothes, and this Wallis dress has received compliments:

But as for the sexualization, it happens to both men and women, and it’s more about their looks and not their clothes. Unlike the teaching profession, I don’t see it as a big obstacle in the corporate world. It can even be an asset as people remember you. However, in my opinion, you should purposely avoid any sexy dressing if you have already been sexualized to some extent, even at office parties. At last week’s training we had evening activities every night, but I did not take any sexy dresses with me and dressed smart business casual or smart casual the entire time. It was a good choice as the management was there overseeing the training.

Looks are noticed, and that can’t be avoided, so I gathered some quotes from friends of mine on their experiences:

“I know my appearance has been, er, noted by colleagues over my career but it’s not been the cause of any issues. I apparently got one job because the hiring manager quite fancied me compared to other candidates, but I soon proved myself and outlasted him by miles. And I’m hardly innocent of spying interesting things about them along the way, if it comes to it 😉 “

“I hate how if you’re perceived as being attractive, it’s assumed you’re somehow not intelligent enough to do anything worthwhile. For the record, I don’t see myself as anything above average in the looks dept, but when I had my interview for my current job, the female part owner said, “You’re not here to stand behind the desk looking pretty.’ I’ll NEVER forget that. I’ve sooooo proved her wrong 😉 “

“Sigh. It’s so frustrating. I can remember hearing a lot of ‘Well, at least you’re clever,’ when I was a kid – as a result, you couldn’t knock my confidence in my brains if you tried, but it’s only since turning thirty that I’ve worked out that I’m not, in fact, the ugly kid any more. Flip side is a woman I used to work with who was always told how pretty she was but never had confidence in her brains – so she was outwardly super-confident but needed some serious mentoring to come to believe she was in fact very capable in the working world. We put people in boxes far too much and far too young.”

Using or not using makeup is another sometimes debated issue. I personally stand in the use-makeup-in-moderation camp. I would not go to work without any makeup. For more on this subject, consider a thought-provoking study about makeup on Wild Beauty’s blog. Volunteers rated made up faces as more attractive, but they also rated them as more competent, likeable, and trustworthy! This effect varied depending on whether viewers were shown the faces only briefly or had unlimited viewing time. When allowed to look at faces for an extended time, viewers rated the “glamorous” look as less trustworthy and likeable, but still more competent than the no makeup look.

All in all, judging book by its covers is wrong, but thinking looks don’t matter is also wrong. No one needs to be a beauty queen–I’m for sure not one–but make the best out of what you have and carry it with pride, and your own style will impress people in and out of the office.