Words by Ellen Cregan
Illustration by Sarah Haris
The concern surrounding the media’s idolisation of thinness is by no means unwarranted. The supposed desirability of “bikini bridges” and “box gaps” mean that young people—teenage girls in particular—are willing to going to extreme lengths to embody these trends. But the backlash surrounding willowy limbs and flat stomachs also risks making thinness a freakish trait. Amid the fierce criticism of these unrealistic depictions of beauty, those who do possess thin bodies become offensive in their physicality, or are labelled as unhealthy. In this frame of mind, thin people become fair game for anonymous, public criticism. Female celebrities in particular bear the brunt of these criticisms, some even being put to blame for the obsession parts of our society have with extreme thinness.
One much-criticised female body is that of fashion “it girl” Alexa Chung. Chung is frequently idolised by sites that glorify extreme thinness and offer tips on how to become better at self-starvation. Yet while Chung is an icon for these internet communities, she also constantly receives online vitriol for her appearance. One Instagram commenter tells her she “looks like a skeleton”, and “should seek help”, while a few comments down a young girl states she strives to have Chung’s life and body. Chung has publicly stated numerous times that her high-stress lifestyle is the reason behind her thinness, and that at times she becomes worried by the state of her own body. She does not dole out diet tips, yet is still regarded by some as a villain, as if she is using her body to put body-conscious fans at great risk of developing a fixation with thinness.
The bodies of men in Hollywood do not receive the same treatment as those of women. This is exemplified by the actor Matthew McConaughey’s recent physical transformation. During the filming of Dallas Buyer’s Club, McConaughey underwent an alleged 20kg weight loss. The previously muscular and bronzed McConaughey transformed into a very gaunt and pale cowboy figure. He gave interviews about having to subsist on tiny amounts of food each day, and even stated that he began to lose his eyesight as his weight plummeted.
If we were to alter this situation, placing a female actor in McConaughey’s position, things would be very different. Criticism would be rife, and speculative headlines would adorn newsstands everywhere. McConaughey becomes a ‘serious actor’ because of his weight loss—Oscar material, willing to go above and beyond for his art. But a female in his position would become ‘scary skinny’, a recklessly negative role model and a danger to her own wellbeing. Alexa Chung’s thinness is on par with McConaughey’s at the time of his weight loss, yet she is treated like an ill person, or as a body-image bomb about to explode in the vulnerable minds of teenage girls. No one speculates that a male actor might be mentally ill when he changes his body for a role, yet questions arise for the young and female Chung. She has to justify her body to the masses while McConaughey receives veneration for his.
A comparison between the way Chung and McConaughey’s bodies have been received and critiqued by the media reflects a double standard present in the entertainment industry. It suggests that women’s bodies are inherently dangerous while men’s are their own business. Eating disorders are not exclusively a female issue—eating disorder diagnoses, poor body image and exercise addiction in males is on the rise. So why is it that these men, who have the same protruding collarbones and knobbly knees as women like Chung, do not come under media speculation?
This stigmatisation of female thinness is damaging. Nobody asks for their body to harm the self-esteem of others. We have to be careful that the opposing commentary of thin women’s bodies in the media does not persist in rendering thinness freakish. Male thinness too falls into this category. McConaughey’s transformed body, while representative of his serious acting skills, is still seen as something to gawk at. The number of interviews that have delved into his weight loss regime make this apparent. Thin bodies are both ideal and grotesque, an inspiration and a health risk, all at the same time, often depending on the wording of tabloid headlines. Whether we are thin or fat, male or female, our bodies are our own, and it is not fair for any individual or group to make another’s physicality a discussion point, or blame one body for the mental health issues of others.
Words by N. Nemaric
We all watch porn; let’s not bother denying the facts. According to Family Safe Media, 9.4 million women access adult websites each month, and 90 per cent of 8-16 year olds have viewed porn online. So when I watch porn (oops, confession!), I make sure that no one is around. It would be pretty embarrassing if someone walked in on me and found me… watching naked people perform the same act that you and your parents have all engaged in.
It’s strange though… I hide porn from my family but I’ll happily leave toxic magazines strewn around the place. People might criticise porn for its glamourisation of violence or for the pre-pubescent hair styling it favours. But women’s magazines are worse. Masquerading as a fashion, health, or beauty glossy, they tell females that there is only one type of attractive. If you’re not a five-foot-seven C-cup with blonde hair, then YOU’RE NOT BEAUTIFUL.
True, some magazines have taken it upon themselves to self-regulate, a step in the right direction for sure. But these editions, which star a token curvy girl, don’t address the real issue. If magazines wanted to help women, they would use healthy girls as models every month. Porn is a film industry, which certainly has its tanned buxom blondes and women with no discernible fat. Unlike magazines, though, porn has diversity.
Caitlin Moran wrote in How to Be a Woman that nobody in porn videos seem to be enjoying themselves. I would have to argue, in porn’s defence, that she probably hasn’t done enough web browsing. The fact is there is something there for everyone. You like piercings? You’re covered. Threesomes, orgies? You’re in luck. Do you like lots of foreplay and softly lit scenes? There’s porn being made to that exact criteria. Every thirty-nine minutes, a new pornographic video is created in the United States. Big breasts, small breasts—they’re all being caressed.
Strangely, women’s magazines are prolific, yet volume doesn’t necessarily correlate with variety. I like watching and reading things that are relatable or aspirational. I don’t want to aspire to heroin chic—a so-called beauty style where the individual is so thin and fragile they look like they have a drug problem.
Porn has heard my cries (or lack thereof). The media has not. I’m not saying porn in its entirety is perfect. But read a women’s magazine, then watch some porn and tell me, which was more fun? I’d rather read my boyfriend’s deer hunting magazines than purchase a magazine designed to make me feel ugly and insecure. I’ll take porn any day.
Words by N. Nemaric
Illustration by Sarah Haris
I was on the bed. She was on the bed. And he was… downstairs. “What are you doing?” I called, clambering for my bra. To my surprise, he said he wasn’t feeling comfortable. A three-way kiss was one thing; sex was a whole new ball game.
I always assumed that every guy’s sexual fantasy consisted of him and two women writhing around on satin sheets. So the media led me to believe. But like most generalisations, this turned out to be false. Not every guy wants to have a threesome.
The mental image of a threesome was enough to excite the aforementioned male. In practice, however, Bob* became physically overwhelmed. Since another girl was involved, I couldn’t take it as a personal affront. When this had happened six months earlier, however, in a more routine encounter, my response had been different. I had wanted sex, the guy had wanted to cuddle, and his disinterest had turned me insecure, confused and angry.
But it was nobody’s fault. Blame rested with the film and the book and the billboard. They had all told me the same thing: men were sex-crazy.
In fact, not every guy thinks about sex every seven seconds. The media has largely misinterpreted the study behind this myth. Firstly, the investigation only used students. Thus, the results couldn’t be an accurate sampling of the male population. Secondly, the men in the study were asked to report on how often they thought about sex. This method disregarded the obvious: people don’t always tell the truth. Furthermore, the men had been told to count their sexual thoughts. Such direction would surely have put sex on their minds, increasing their count.
The author of the study has herself suggested a better indicator for determining the frequency of an individual’s sexual thoughts: “If you could know only one thing about people in order to best predict how often they think about sex, you would be better off knowing their degree of erotophilia (comfort with sexuality) rather than whether they are male or female.”
With that all cleared up, I felt better. But years of lies were still ingrained within my psyche. If a woman rejected sex within a relationship, that was normal. If a man was too tired or disinterested, he was not attracted, he was cheating or he was gay. In actuality, men are just far more similar to women than the media would have us believe. As with porn, not all representations are accurate.
*Names have clearly been altered. Who do you know below the age of 20 named Bob?