Give me a damned break

Posted at 1:45 PM Apr 06, 2010

By Andrea Grimes

All you harpy feminists can quit your bitching about the beauty myth, because the New York Times has profiled a female basketball player who, along with a handful of other famous women in the entirety of the world today, has REDEFINED BEAUTY!

That's right, you read it in the Style Section first: all those weight-loss articles, "dress for your shape" missives and body-shaming commentary from style analysts will soon be a thing of the past, because Baylor's Brittney Griner is really tall and has big feet AND WAIT FOR IT! people think she's pretty!

Writes Guy Trebay:

Feminine beauty ideals have shifted with amazing velocity over the last several decades, in no realm more starkly than sports. Muscular athleticism of a sort that once raised eyebrows is now commonplace. Partly this can be credited to the presence on the sports scene of Amazonian wonders like the Williams sisters, statuesque goddesses like Maria Sharapova, Misty May Treanor and Kerri Walsh, sinewy running machines like Paula Radcliffe or thick-thighed soccer dynamos like Mia Hamm.

Memo to Mr. Trebay: feminine beauty ideals have shifted "with amazing velocity over the last several decades." Into a white-washed, plasticized Heidi Montagtastic amalgam of thin-curvyness. Open any women's magazine or grocery store tabloid rag, and what you'll see are explicit instructions to women on how they can look more like this ideal. Where you don't see explicit instructions, you'll see body-shaming. And here's what you won't see, 99.999999 percent of the time: women of color, disabled women, fat women, women without an hourglass figure, women between a size 8 and a size 14 ... I could go on.

Not only that, Trebay willfully ignores the rampant mockery and body-shaming that surrounds female athletes. For every blog or article celebrating the beauty of the Williams sisters, expect to find hundreds more calling them unfeminine--and much, much worse.

I get part of what Trebay's trying to argue, which is that athleticism in women has changed the way some people think about beauty. But most often, exceptional women who challenge the "beauty myth," will still be shamed and cajoled into fitting the myth-model once the novelty wears off. (See: Snooki, ever-slimming Kim Kardashian and the transition of Nicole Richie from curvy to barely-there.)

In fact, with his article's closer, Trebay merely illustrates my point about women who don't fit into the singular idea of beauty promoted in media and advertising. He calls up a modeling agent to ask about Griner's fitness for the world at large:

"I always love one-offs and amazing creatures," said Mr. Rowland, who immediately after this reporter called busied himself combing the Web for recent photographs of Ms. Griner. "Maybe I should represent her?" Mr. Rowland said. "Why not? I can imagine a market for that."

So much to unpack in that one, short paragraph. If Griner is a "one-off" and a "creature" (not human! ugh!), she is not indicative of a larger shift in beauty standards. Rowland is not certain he should represent her unless he can "market" her. Griner's beauty doesn't stand alone, but is understood to Rowland as something he can sell. And to do so, he's got to have someone to sell to. Someone he can "imagine." Someone he doesn't say actually exists. There's a big difference between using your imagination to picture a world in which Griner could be seen as beautiful, and the reality of understanding that in terms of the larger culture, America is not actually that world.

(For the record, I think Griner is stunning--not only because of her looks but because of her BADASS DUNKING SKILLS Y'ALL.)


Ruth said:

Rule of thumb: If you have to talk about why she's so special in an article, then she's nowhere near the norm yet.

I've seen so many of these articles "celebrating" someone who's "redefining" our standards of beauty...but the standards themselves never change.

BorgQueen said:

I love how he calls her a "one-off" like she is the only exceptionally tall, big-footed, beautiful, athletic woman of color(he didn't say that part but he didn't have to) in the world today. Newsflash, beauty media: there are FAAAARRR more of these "one-offs" than the thin, white ideal that you try to sell us. They did this shit with Candace Parker and Lisa Leslie too. Although Leslie did have a sucessful modeling career in addition to her own BADASS DUNKING SKILLS everyone was all "oooh, see beauty and athleticism in one neat, marketable package"!!1111

It kills me how, for the most part, women have to be conventially pretty in order to get noticed as athletes. I'm not saying you can't be both but come on, Anna Kournikova was a friggin superstar and I think I play tennis better than she does. (that statement is a lot funnier if you have ever seen my clumsy ass attempt it). Can athleticism in itself not be a form of beauty? Expanding on what Ruth said, until our ridiculous standards themselves don't change, or completely go away in recognition of the bazillion different forms of beauty (hi, Vogue magazine)these proclamations are completely and utterly meaningless.

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