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Beauty makes the world go ‘round, or at least the United States, probably Brazil too, and several other countries. It’s the billion dollar industry of cosmetics, hair processes, and diets we buy into—some of us on a small scale, others much more so. It’s the biggest topic discussed in magazines, there are television shows about it, and it all gets presented to us under the guise of some anonymous being known as “the media.” At this point that should probably be code for women because typically there’s a female editor-in-chief, art director, and/or marketer presenting these beauty ideals to us, while in the next breath speaking out against the pressure on women to be light, white, and thin.

Ashley Judd recently spoke out about this idea rather harshly in an op-ed piece for The Daily Beast in response to the negative attention she’s been receiving about her looks. Her 43-year-old face has been described as “puffy,” in the media, which she says is a result of a combination of a thing called aging and a sinus infection she’s been treated with steroids for, but she goes much further by calling out her criticism as sexist patriarchy men and women are all too comfortable participating in these days. She writes:

“That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.”

No one is arguing that women aren’t more vicious toward one another than men have ever been about our bodies but what people are questioning is the validity of the argument’s source considering Ashley has benefited quite nicely from this system. Now that she’s no longer in her prime and feeling some of that backlash 99% of other women experience on a regular basis she wants her body to be off limits and some say that isn’t fair. She reminds me a bit of Tyra Banks making a big deal about the “media’s” focus on women’s bodies on her talk show only after she’d gained 30 pounds or so. Everything is good when these women are on the desired side of the beauty equation but when things move a little downhill for them personally suddenly the outcry comes. The stance seems a bit contrived. But still I wonder, was Ashley upholding a patriarchal system of sexism when she appeared nude in movies or basked in the celebration of her beauty by the press or was she simply being herself and making good use of her genetics?

I think this is a hard line for women to walk on a daily basis. Who doesn’t want their physical beauty to be recognized, even celebrated, at least by one other person on this earth? Does that make us hypocrites because in the same breath we also don’t want to be scrutinized for our perceived shortcomings? I remember reading an article on ForHarriet.com when an author mentioned not complimenting little girls on their looks in order to make them see their value outside of the physical and that’s a very interesting concept and one that certainly doesn’t follow the norm. We’re almost trained to acknowledge one another’s beauty as a universal complimenting system that in the case of Ashley Judd can come back to bite us.

I think all women are in solidarity on not wanting our physical characteristics to be objectified, but what objectification looks like from one woman to the next is quite different as well. A video vixen calls herself a model and says she’s profiting off of the genes the good lord blessed her with. A woman outside of the industry might consider her a h*e who sells sexual fantasy for profit and sets women back centuries. Like beauty, objectification is sometimes in the eye of the beholder, as is oppression. It could easily be said magazines are preying on the insecurities of women when they spout out tips to drop 10 pounds in two days or suggest how to look younger, prettier, and thinner but is it fair to assume all of that advice is rooted in a desire to help women become more desirable for men as opposed to simply wanting to look good for ourselves?

The other day someone mentioned on an article I wrote about knowing when something is really an example of racism that the word sexism would benefit from a similar breakdown, and I agree. I do think the criticism directed at Ashley Judd totally comes from a place of ill motive intended to break her down I’m just not sure it’s rooted in sexism. As a whole, we’ve become an increasingly insensitive and judgmental society in all respects, with beauty being the most obvious because it’s most easily displayed (or not). The question is, if criticism of women’s bodies is internalized patriarchy, then what is celebration of distinct ideals of beauty and is it wrong for men and women to participate in and benefit from that as well? If so, Ashley Judd may need to backtrack because her change of heart from enjoying being the object of men and women’s admiration to now not wanting to be critiqued for having fallen short somehow may have just stuck her foot in her mouth.

What do you think about Ashley Judd’s comments? Is her point valid or is she a hypocrite?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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