naked: using your powers of observation for good

I’ve been watching that show on Lifetime, How to Look Good Naked. Carson Kressley, from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, who, with his long
history of being gay in public, is non-threatening enough to allow women to
strip down in front of him and the rest of the nation’s basic cable
subscribers. Then they stand in front of a mirror, and slice open a vein–they
talk about everything about their bodies that makes them feel ugly, unlovable,
untouchable. Everything that makes them not want to be naked in front of
another person, to let anyone see exactly how flawed they think they are.
Unsurprisingly, it’s heartbreaking. Unsurprisingly, it touches a red-hot nerve.

What also touches a nerve: how the show points out their
skewed body perceptions. The guest is taken to a lineup of ladies in their
underpants, who lined up in order of their measurements for a particular body
part–let’s say their hips. She’s instructed to fit herself in the lineup–how
big do you think your hips are? Each show, she slots herself in with women who
have much larger hips than she does. And the message seems to be You’re so crazy! You thought you were that
fat? You’re not that fat!
And the guest responds with shock and relief, and
each time, I sit there and wonder how those women standing on either side of
the manifestation of the guest’s insecurity and body image issues feel about
that, when Carson screams “No! YOU’VE ADDED FOURTEEN INCHES TO YOUR
HIPS!” Is it a bad thing to have hips that size? Does that message–whew,
you dodged a big, fat, cake-eating bullet right there, lady!–fit in with the
rest of the show?

What I want to believe is that I am misinterpreting this.
That the show is not about comparing yourself to other women, and finding out
that you win–don’t we get enough of that shit every day of our lives?  What I really want to believe is that it is
about looking at women who have big hips–not flaws, but just hips of whatever measurement, and thinking
“That is not ugly. That woman is
beautiful. That woman has got a body
like mine, and if I can think that I look like her, and that she is beautiful,
why the hell am I not thinking that I am beautiful?” I want to think that
we can use comparing ourselves to other women, putting ourselves in a lineup
with other bodies, of all sizes, doesn’t mean it is a contest, but it means
that we are figuring out that we are a part of a continuum, without a good end
and a bad end, without grades and prizes and gold stars for either end
of it. That we’re all here because we have all got bodies, and isn’t it awesome
how they come in different shapes and sizes like beautiful snowflakes?  I like beautiful snowflakes. So tell me that
that’s true. Or we can make it true, anyway.

3 Replies to “naked: using your powers of observation for good”

  1. I interpreted the line up in a positive way — the “she’s beautiful and sexy and ‘bigger’ than me, so why am I thinking I am too big to be beautiful and sexy?” way. I fully expected to hate this show, but I can’t stop watching it and getting sniffly.

  2. I also can’t help but get a sniffly when I watch it – except for another bone to pick. On this and other “let’s recognize how beautiful our bodies are” shows, it’s really common for the host to say: “We don’t have to look perfect” or “No woman is perfect, but lots of us are beautiful” or some such thing. That validates that the fictionalized female form to which these ladies are aspiring is “perfect.” You’ve just defeated your whole argument right there. It implies that there is such a thing as a perfect body. What we need to do is not say “oh well, I can’t be perfect” but say “That’s not perfect. There is no perfect. I have a hot ass.”

  3. I actually like this segment, not only because it does point out that when you get all weird about your body you suddenly start to think you’re much bigger than you are. What I love about it is when Carson brings the woman over to the other girls they’re always smiling and they look just stoked to be standing there on TV in their underpants. I know a bit of it is probably acting or what the producers told them to do, but I love the idea of a whole line up of beautiful women who aren’t TV thin just so proud of thier bodies that they strip right down and don’t give a f*ck.

    Also, the best part is that there isn’t a big deal made of it, like “Oh my lord, look how brave all these women are! They are bigger and they are standing here in their underwear just like a skinny girl would!” In fact there is very little mention of it at all, which is positive in my world, because it sort of proves that it shouldn’t be a big deal.

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