September 26, 2010, 5:31pm
By Rebecca S
A shameful admission from a proud feminist: I’ve been watching the latest season of the reality show competition “America’s Next Top Model.” I know, I know, I ought to be ashamed of myself, but there’s something about this show that is so far removed from day-to-day life that I just can’t help myself.
Of course I try to assuage my guilty conscience by providing a running feminist commentary as I’m watching, but I can’t deny the blatantly obvious: I’m still one of the consumers who’s caught up in this warped perception of feminine beauty.
And yet, there is a small feminist victory in all this — and it has nothing to do with the inclusion this season of a Modern Orthodox contestant.
In last week’s episode, host, and former supermodel Tyra Banks, and her panel of judges, actually scored a big thumbs-up from me for choosing to eliminate the contestant Anamaria, for the explicit reason that she looked emaciated. As Banks put it: “We are concerned about the message that your body type might send to young girls.”
(Just to describe this young girl to any non-ANTM viewers out there: This is someone whose ribs stuck out further than her breasts, who almost disappeared in her sideways-on photo-shoot, who said she likes looking in the mirror and seeing her “abs.”)
Now obviously you can argue that this is mere lip service/hypocrisy on the part of Banks and her fashionista cohorts — seeing as they are part of the whole fashion machine that perpetuates this unrealistic, stick-like body image for women in the first place. And we should not forget that they accepted Anamaria to appear in the show in the first place.
But, I would argue that Banks is clearly taking seriously her responsibility to all the impressionable young women who watch the show by explicitly criticizing this contestant for her unhealthy body image. As she tells Anamaria:
You might be the healthiest girl in the world, but it might not hurt to eat some avocado and a little bit of bread with some butter on it, so that you can book jobs and project an image that doesn’t feel as if you’re hurting your body.
Go Tyra! Not just bread, but bread with butter? Who would have thought that deliciously forbidden word “butter” would ever even be uttered on a show like ANTM?
In fact, Banks herself projects the exact image she’s encouraging this misguided young woman to build. Granted, she’s tall and thin, but she looks thin and healthy — a far cry from the waif-like, skeletal body shape she is criticizing.
It is a small feminist triumph, from an unlikely source.
One little difference between people on either side of the pond which I find quite telling is the prevailing attitude towards one’s middle initial. In England, it is common practice to basically ignore it unless you happen to be a fairly pretentious writer or academic, in which case you throw in your middle initial on your name on your book cover to look extra weighty.
For the self-effacing English natives, to put your middle initial is a bit like blowing your own trumpet and that, of course, is the worst possible crime.
But here in the U.S., it’s a totally different ball game. At first I thought that there must be heaps of extremely important people in this country, seeing as people seem to be brandishing their middle initial on every possible form, paper, email, advertisement. But I soon realised that it is absolutely the cultural norm, and in spite of my residual anglo reservations, there is apparently nothing pretentious about it.
So much so, that in my new teaching job, I was given a new work email address and horror of horrors!, they automatically added in my middle initial so that every time I send an email, it shows up as from Rebecca J. S—–a. Help! And the worst of it all is not only can I not actually work out how to remove the J, but, shameful admission, I’m actually starting to quite like the way it looks! Help! What’s happening to me?
And just to illustrate how prevalent this middle initial madness is: Downstairs in our apartment block, there is a sign-up sheet for the exterminator (yes, another fearful cultural norm in New York: the dreaded cockroach). I was walking past it the other day and noticed one of the neighbours had signed up, writing, yes of course, his FULL name, middle initial included.
I mean, come oooonnnnnnnn. How pompous can you get? Full name with middle initial – on the cockroach exterminator sign-up sheet?
So in response to my cry to heaven in my last post as to “whatever next” after discovering Americans celebrate bark mitzvas for their dogs, my answer was revealed to me today as I was walking with a friend near Central Park, when I found myself crossing paths with a funny smiley lady walking past us pushing a fluffy cute white dog in its very own buggy/stroller.
Funnily enough, I had already once noticed another Manhattanite doing the same thing but had obviously assumed at the time that she had put her canine charge in her (human) baby’s buggy and said baby was elsewhere/grown-up etc.
But on closer inspection today, I noticed that the buggy/pram/stroller was specifically designed for a small dog rather than a small person. It even had a large paw-print design on the front, which only served to confirm my suspicions. The doggy woggy in question looked very content and relaxed as it was being pushed along the street.
Its owner called out to me on seeing my look of incredulity: “He can walk too!”
And yes, of course I had to Google ‘dog stroller’ to see what would come up online and yes, of course, there are plenty of tailor-made websites specifically designed for all your dog stroller needs. Here’s one example: justpetstrollers.com
So now you know what to do and where to go if your dog gets tired walking using the time-honoured method of its own four trotters.