Monday, February 11, 2008

Feeling good naked

It's my day off and on a co-worker's suggestion I'm watching Carson Kressley's How To Look Good Naked. From the get-go let me say that I have always loved Carson. I think Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was unfortunate and trashy but I always loved his exuberance for people and life. This new show, based on three episodes I watched, is phenomenal.

The show avoids racial issues that promote low self-esteem in women, and it focuses on consumer-based ways of achieving happiness. However, despite those short-comings, Carson and his producers manage to let women of all shapes feel sexy and hot just by showering them with positive messages and showing them basic tips on how to dress their body types. My partner knows that I cry easily over happy things, and I have cried a good deal over this show as these women come to see how beautiful they are. It also helps to show that the beauty we try to emulate from runway models and fashion spreads is merely a question of access to photoshop and expensive fabrics. As one of the women said, and I paraphrase, the woman at the end of show is the same woman from the beginning, only now I'm accenting the positive and feeling confident because I finally see something sexy. Carson is basically fulfilling the role of the stereotypical gay male friend, continuously telling these women that they are sexy, strong, confident, and worthy of love. And this message, even if it is delivered through consumption and access to money, is a message everyone should hear.

The show would be improved, of course, if it developed it's help for women of color. Two of the three shows I watched had gorgeous women of color on them, all feeling negative about their bodies because of images and messages about women in general that were immersed in and because of specific issues of body type and race. There was a young East Asian woman on the show who felt that people looked down on her and treated her like a child because of her height. Of course, this is an issue of women in general who experience patronization on a daily level but is also specific to the experiences of Asian Americans in the US. A mother-daughter pair on the show discussed issues with their bottoms, and this was discussed without any reference to the fact that they were both Black, and pop culture has tied blackness and rear ends together. Issues women have about their body are tied to their socio-economic status and their race and nationality.

Body imagery is also affected by standards of normalcy, and it's no surprise that there have been no women with disabilities on the show. I imagine the producers thinking that discussing body imagery of women with physical disabilities would be "too much". That they would have to tackle ideas of normative bodies on top of issues of beauty. I think it would be really healing to show positive body imagery of women with physical disabilities, especially if their "body issue" isn't a prosthetic appendage or being in a wheel-chair.

I would also like to see the show address super-skinny women, women who have fast metabolisms or skinny frames that might always feel skeletal no matter what they eat. Of course, it would also be fantastic if the show invited men and transpeople on it. Transgender women have so many issues with their bodies and looking feminine, it would be fantastic to give transgender women a best-friend willing to boost their self confidence in the wake of all the negativity surrounding transgender experiences with femininity. It would also be a boon for men to be able to talk confidentially with someone about body imagery as men are not supposed to have self-confidence issues surrounding their body. The invisibility issues surrounding men's disordered eating allows it to continue without any real concern. Women make jokes about men's bodies without the kind of concern they show for each other's bodies. While not as many men suffer from life-threatening low self-esteem around body issues as women, men could still benefit from being invited to discuss their bodies.

That said, I have noticed that post-transition (or after deciding that I am male and should live as one) a lot of my body issues have melted away. Clearly, this has a lot to do with feeling confidence in my gender and realizing why I never felt good as a girl. Additionally, though, as a man I am able to have a larger stomach, less well-done hair, and unruly body hair. So Carson's show, while not wonderfully in-depth and clearly consumer-based, is discussing issues that used to consume my life. Understanding that my issues with my body were related to my perception of myself, and that feeling confident as a man would allow me to feel good about my body, shows me that the basis of this show is correct. Feeling confident and sexy is going to change your life more than dieting and going to the gym.

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