So, singer Jessica Simpson is fat. And the Earth is square, the sky is green, and as my mother says, "Fish live in the sky." The flap over photos that have surfaced showing Simpson with a "little meat on her bones" is utterly ridiculous.
How sad is it that, the same week President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier for women to sue when they perform equal work for unequal pay, we were still dealing with this foolishness? Although I am not a Simpson fan, she looks better on her worst day than most women and men on their best day. So give her a break and stop the hating.
There's a lot of stuff that you could say about her public image -- I mean a lot -- but being fat is not one of them. Hollywood's obsession with being thin is ridiculous. Kate Winslet, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Tyra Banks, Eva Longoria Parker and now Simpson. A size 2 is fat? That's about as ridiculous as a subzero being "womanly." Try "manly." But I digress.
While I think this is sheer and utter foolishness, the cynic in me had to really take a step backward. After all, it was Simpson who gave interviews about her stringent workouts and dieting for her much-hyped role as Daisy in the Dukes of Hazzard. Who can forget her video for the remake of "These Boots Are Made For Walking," which was made to promote her role? Strutting around in Daisy Dukes and washing a car in a black bikini caught the ire of many but also the adoration of folks worldwide, including the media.
Some might argue that it's par for the course that the very same media that built up this problematic image is the same system tearing her down for it. Media make a ton of money promoting the sex-kitten, rail-thin image of women and even more money circulating and tearing down the "thicker" version. Some would say it serves her right, and the cynic in me might agree, were it not for the greater implications of this "controversy."
It is irresponsible to promote toxic images and language about women's bodies. Why? Because of children. I often laugh when people turn their noses up at women who are strippers, prostitutes or gold diggers; is this not the image that we promote most often in the imagination of little girls? We teach women at a very early age that they are the sum of their body parts. Before you start the hate mail, think of all of the examples of this in society and in the media.
Earlier this month, a high school dance team in Jonesboro, Ga., was disbanded after performing a racy routine, most of which consisted of the very dances that have been performed in music videos for the last 30 years. I watched the performance and thought to myself, "Funny, adults are holding children accountable for something that they have yet to hold adults accountable for."
In addition to this "controversy," PETA released a Super Bowl ad that was banned because of its sexually explicit nature. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' ad featured scantily clad women performing sexual acts with vegetables juxtaposed against screens with words espousing the virtues of a vegetarian lifestyle, including better sex. I find it interesting that an organization that is against the objectification of animals is clearly for the objectification of women. I'm sure PETA's publicity machine will suggest that the commercial is tongue-in-cheek and subversive, but the reality is that this ad is playing into dominant male fantasies about women, which will undoubtedly be further enforced in the Super Bowl's beer commercials and what I like to call "fantasy ads." Sure, women just stand around gyrating against bags of chips, bending over for asparagus and are so stupid that they'll do anything for a sip of beer.
Unfortunately, I'm sure that there are women out there who do those things. I would argue that most of them are emulating what they see on TV, much like the young girls of Jonesboro High School, who only imitated what they've been consistently seeing for their entire lives. Therein lies the rub: The impact that these images have on young people is far-reaching. Can we really say that the cultural practice of teen boys and girls "hooking up" has more to do with visual media than with how adults behave? Probably not. When children perform a routine like the one at Jonesboro High School, under supposed adult supervision, Houston, we have a problem.
The mixed messages that we send girls result in the continued public "hazing" that they experience as it relates to their bodies. Hell, even celebrities do it to themselves. If Oprah Winfrey apologizes one more time for gaining weight, I will scream. Winfrey's body is her own, and like Simpson, she has suffered and benefited from its exploitation. Is Winfrey fat? I don't think so. In fact, she looks much better with the weight on than off in my opinion. Is Simpson fat? That would be an emphatic no. Now actress Phylicia Rashad is a spokesperson for Jenny Craig. They actually have her in the sweater equivalent of a jogging suit to make her look fat. When does it end? When will women stop being complicit in their own demise and objectification?
Instead of pummeling women for being human -- gaining weight as you age -- perhaps we should focus on other things like character, grace, strength and intelligence. But that doesn't sell, or does it? We might find out if we give the Jessica Simpsons of the world a break, thereby giving the girls of Jonesboro High a chance.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of communications and media studies at Goucher College and editorial director for RushmoreDrive.com.