Negative Nellies: The Detrimental Effects of Media Speculation on Women’s Appearance

by: Kevin Sparrow

If there is a family that has withstood the test of time, it is the Judds. From the early days of Naomi and Wynonna’s country duo to the individual work of Wynonna and younger sister Ashley, their name has spanned three decades. Even with the success of chart-topping songs and blockbuster films, much of what has been discussed in the course of their careers is body image. Ashley Judd recently (wonderfully) countered People Magazine’s speculations over her appearance due to possible surgery she underwent by calling out the misogyny and image-harm done to all women through such obtrusive and uninformed reportage. Let’s be clear; the point is not whether these publications are false or true in their reporting. We have a problem when any woman needs to defend her appearance for any reason and is forced into a lose-lose situation when told she is either lying about altering her appearance or condemned for admitting to having work done. Sadly, much of this shaming is being done by gay men and fellow women.

This culture of shame starts at a specific focal point of anatomy. The internet is rife with examples of commentary and memes– linking to what I think is the most respectful discussion of this situation– of how gay men perceive women’s sexual organs, mostly as something repulsive–often a squidlike sea creature.  I’ve seen this posted multiple times on Facebook; fastest way to be defriended if that’s your goal. This is the most literal definition of misogyny, communicating widespread disgust and fear over female reproductive organs.

I’ve never understood what value it has for someone to be disgusted by something he claims to not even been interested in, so the frequency with which negative language is used by gay men toward ladyparts and how often other women validate these claims for their gay friends by conflating disinterest with disgust is alarming. The clear issue is that these comments are borne out of a lack of education on sexuality, especially female sexuality; the focus is on external appearance, yet discussions are almost exclusively label the whole of female anatomy “the vagina,” an internal structure. There is a complete disassociation of how the whole, very natural system operates. Regardless of the amount of time one has spent in a biology classroom, the important thing for gay men to understand is when they make attacks on women’s genitals, they are making attacks on women.

So it goes with commentary on the rest of the body, from which men are often protected. Yes, gay men do experience and self-perpetuate body fascism, which ultimately is another response that validates misogyny: building up one’s body to be as manly as possible to avoid any resemblance to femininity. A misogynistic culture that elevates strong male bodies must also denigrate strong female bodies, so constantly questioning women’s bodies–for shape, slenderness, artificiality or any other bullshit reason you want to come up with–has become de rigueur in our society. The Perez Hiltons, D-Listeds and newsstand gossip rags of the world take this very framework, apply it to the most visible women–celebrities–and sit back to let the chaos of body negativity unfold.

As the broadest consumers of these publications, television shows and more, women and gay men need to question the dialogue taking place for any change to occur. Educating ourselves on our bodies or those of our female friends’ is step one, followed by actively sharing our knowledge with others. When you see friends sharing body-negative articles, memes or videos, call them out on it; help them question their assumptions. Additionally, you can start sharing more body-positive stories by word of mouth, articles you have read or images that strike you. Body positivity is body power, so a sea-change in the type of dialogue we use when discussing ours and others’ bodies can make a big impact

Kevin Sparrow is a Chicago writer who is interested in Queerness is both a favorite subject and pastime. His education in movies-writing has proved that he is adept at powering up computers and elementary keyboard use. Sparrow’s short stories, poetry and essays have appeared in that order in Harrington Gay Men’s Literary Quarterly and LIES/ISLE, as well as on the website Be Yr Own Queero.


11 responses to “Negative Nellies: The Detrimental Effects of Media Speculation on Women’s Appearance

  1. Nicely put. I would also suggest that when gay men disparage the female sexual anatomy, they also distance themselves from their bisexual brothers as well as their bi and lesbian sisters. Gay men are all about penis and butts, and expect others to be similarly enthusiastic; why do gay men have such difficulty appreciating the evolutionary and sexual beauty of female anatomy from a simply aesthetic standpoint. And before the replies start coming in, I’m speaking as an out and proud gay man.

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