Some musings on Body Ideals

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about ideal bodies, and what a society’s concept of an ideal body means.

My thoughts on the subject started with watching this wonderful gender swapped parody of Robin Thicke’s disgusting music video. I don’t like Robin Thicke’s video because I don’t like the way he uses naked women as props while he sings a song about knowing what a woman wants more than she does. Anyway, I like the gender swapped one. But what got me thinking was their description under the video, which says “It’s our opinion that most attempts to show female objectification in the media by swapping the genders serve more to ridicule the male body than to highlight the extent to which women get objectified and do everyone a disservice.”

A few days later, I found “men-ups,” which are photographs of men in poses common in pin-up ladies. But I find that, despite the photographer’s description stating that the purpose of the series is to question gender norms and stereotypes, the series in fact does exactly what the Mod Carousel’s description says–by putting men in a position traditionally seen as female and traditionally inhabited by a female body ideal, it in fact ridicules the male body for its lack of “sexiness.”

So I was thinking about how our society views the female body as so much more beautiful and perfect than the male body, to the point that a naked male body is gross and disturbing while a naked female body (that conforms to beauty ideals in some way) is hot and art and not adult material.

One of my best friends exercises every day, a lot, and she doesn’t conform to society’s beauty ideals because she’s not thin. She told me a story about a friend of hers, who knows how much she exercises, but whose body is more in line with what people think of when they think of “fit” becoming angry when they went on a run together and my friend was faster. She shouldn’t be faster, because she’s bigger. As if size is a direct correlation with speed. It makes no sense to me. My friend is beautiful, and she’s so in shape it’s ridiculous. But when the two of us walk down the street, people think I’m awesome and she’s lazy instead of the other way around, which is the truth.

And then a friend of mine linked to this article on Facebook which discusses how to tell whether photographs of women are objectifying. It’s a really interesting article in that it lists five specific clues as to whether a photograph is objectifying. And looking at the ways that women are portrayed and men are portrayed, it’s so much more common for photographs of women to by objectifying than men’s.

After that, I was thinking about when we learn about the Greeks in school, and how they saw the male body as perfect and the female as less perfect because it was not the man’s. Now, I am positive that I have readers who are much better educated on the intricacies of ancient Greek body ideals than I am, and I’m not going to pretend that this impression is based in research. But given my thoughts about mind/body dualism and history, I’ve come to the conclusion that, (aside from the fact that the ancient Greeks were totally gay and had boners for those hot male bodies) the reason for that is that both the ancient Greeks and the modern Americans viewed the male brain as superior.

If the ancient Greeks viewed the male brain as superior and also were before mind/body dualism, then the male body was perfect because the male was perfect. Now, the female body is sexy because the male brain is superior and men want to look at those female bodies, and control them. By making women’s bodies the subject matter of most media these days, and by photoshopping those images to such an extent and creating an impossible ideal, the men can maintain control. They can be seen as smarter and powerful, while women are just bodies.

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