It only took two hours of TV-watching yesterday to find two disturbing instances of men using women’s body issues against them in an argument. One was courtesy of Ryan Seacrest, the other courtesy of “The Situation” from MTV’s Jersey Shore. Both enhance female viewers’ body issues, as even two attractive TV personalities can’t escape scrutiny.
On E! News, hosts Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic were introducing some clip, and Giuliana’s intro line included some comment like, “Are her boobs big enough?” in response to a shot of the celebrity with large breasts. Ryan Seacrest replied, “At least she has some.” He then qualified with how he was “kidding” (I think), Giuliana laughed it off, and the world was right again.
Except that it wasn’t funny — in fact, as someone who saw the phrase “boobless” typed into calculators and shown to me more times while I was growing up than I can count, I can say that the awkward laughter Giuliana used to respond to Ryan’s offensive comment was quite familiar and uncomfortable. And sure, he qualified it with “just kidding,” but it doesn’t change the fact that he obviously had taken note of her small breast size, knew it was an insecurity of hers, and then on a broadcast to millions of people called her out on being jealous of celebrities with big boobs.
On Jersey Shore, Situation and Angelina were fighting about doing the dishes. Angelina didn’t want to do them, so Situation told her that she couldn’t be a part of the dinner he was cooking — and then added an addendum that she needed to hit the treadmill. Then, obviously seeing the mistake he made, he corrected himself and said she actually needed to use the elliptical instead.
Could this be typical banter between these two, and we don’t know of some inside joke? Sure. But do we see that on film? No. We just see this guy, obviously mad that Angelina isn’t pitching in around the house, saying that instead of eating dinner with them, she needs to go to the gym and lose some weight. I’m thinking, since they were arguing, that it’s not some inside joke — it’s him playing off her insecurities in hopes it will make her feel like shit.
So we’ve got these two TV shows, one of which (Jersey Shore) is the number one series this summer for people ages 12 to 34, that are watched by a lot of young people and a lot of women. Women watch these kinds of insults and see that (1) the woman laughs it off or ignores the comment without confronting the guy about it; (2) no matter how physically attractive a woman is, guys will still find a way to attack their body in order to feel some sense of power or accomplishment; and (3) it’s dangerously common.
Take a look at Giuliana, who despite having a smaller chest is rail thin and the perfect body size by Hollywood standards:
Take a look at Angelina, who has a large chest and curves but is not at all overweight in any way:
Body image insults are dangerous because women already feel the pressure to be thin and perfect by Hollywood standards every time they look at a cover of a magazine (despite its being Photoshopped and airbrushed to death), go to a movie, watch a TV show, or browse the Internet. We’re always picking apart our bodies, worried that men are too — and here are two beautiful women who can’t escape ridicule. Women watch these scenes and it only worsens body image issues, thinking, “If they can’t escape ridicule, what’s that say about me?”
And I wish these women would have directly confronted Ryan and Situation about their comments — of course, I’m sure if Giuliana had questioned all powerful Ryan Seacrest she would have lost her job or been severely reprimanded, opening a whole new can of worms about how power dynamics in the workplace leave instances of sexual harassment or even sexual assault unreported or ignored, simply because the ones making the comments or advances are the ones who wield the power, and women are forced to chose between standing up for themselves or keeping their jobs.
These two men were obviously playing on these women’s insecurities, and it sets a bad and dangerous example for viewers. It’s bad for men, too, who see these guys’ female body bashing on TV and think it’s the norm or think it’s OK because Ryan Seacrest and that guy from the Jersey Shore are both doing it.
I also wonder if some men — maybe Ryan and Situation included — think that especially when you make a joke or attack an attractive woman’s looks that it’s OK because she is attractive and (1) has high self-esteem and/or (2) knows she is attractive so won’t be fazed by negative comments. If so, I’d like to say that your perception of someone’s beauty is not necessarily the same as that person’s perception of herself (or himself), so those comments can still be hurtful and dangerous.