I came across this open letter written by actress Ashley Judd in 2012. Its appearance on my computer screen happened through a typical Facebook chain reaction. Ashley Judd posted an article that was written about her essay… a friend of mine liked her public link… it showed up on my news feed. Bingo, bango I got to read an interesting and valid essay regarding the objectification of women’s bodies. What makes this essay relevant four years later… not much has changed in regards to people thinking they have a right to comment and critique your body.
I encourage you to read this open letter in its entirety but I will share with you some of what had an impact on me.
We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.
I see this every day. People troll the pages of women who are out in the public trying to spread the self-love message. Loving yourself is apparently a radical thing to do and it upsets so many people. Why is MY happiness with MY body so offensive to strangers? It is beyond me! What is wrong with a person loving themselves? Why do I need to be miserable because I carry extra weight? And most importantly why do you care? What kind of human being wants another human being to feel terrible about themselves? Probably another miserable human being as misery loves company.
I do not want to give my power, my self-esteem, or my autonomy, to any person, place, or thing outside myself. I thus abstain from all media about myself. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself, my personal integrity, and my relationship with my Creator. Of course, it’s wonderful to be held in esteem and fond regard by family, friends, and community, but a central part of my spiritual practice is letting go of otheration. And casting one’s lot with the public is dangerous and self-destructive, and I value myself too much to do that.
I agree with this statement. Caring what others think about you only leads you down a road of self-destruction. Placing your happiness and acceptance in the hands of others is never a good idea.
For instance, here is a list of “critiques” that the media has done on Ashley Judd’s body.
One: When I am sick for more than a month and on medication (multiple rounds of steroids), the accusation is that because my face looks puffy, I have “clearly had work done,” with otherwise credible reporters with great bravo “identifying” precisely the procedures I allegedly have had done.
Two: When my skin is nearly flawless, and at age 43, I do not yet have visible wrinkles that can be seen on television, I have had “work done,” with media outlets bolstered by consulting with plastic surgeons I have never met who “conclude” what procedures I have “clearly” had. (Notice that this is a “back-handed compliment,” too—I look so good! It simply cannot possibly be real!)
Three: When my 2012 face looks different than it did when I filmed Double Jeopardy in 1998, I am accused of having “messed up” my face (polite language here, the F word is being used more often), with a passionate lament that “Ashley has lost her familiar beauty audiences loved her for.”
Four: When I have gained weight, going from my usual size two/four to a six/eight after a lazy six months of not exercising, and that weight gain shows in my face and arms, I am a “cow” and a “pig” and I “better watch out” because my husband “is looking for his second wife.” (Did you catch how this one engenders competition and fear between women? How it also suggests that my husband values me based only on my physical appearance? Classic sexism. We won’t even address how extraordinary it is that a size eight would be heckled as “fat.”)
Five: In perhaps the coup de grace, when I am acting in a dramatic scene in Missing—the plot stating I am emotionally distressed and have been awake and on the run for days—viewers remarks ranged from “What the f–k did she do to her face?” to cautionary gloating, “Ladies, look at the work!” Footage from “Missing” obviously dates prior to March, and the remarks about how I look while playing a character powerfully illustrate the contagious and vicious nature of the conversation. The accusations and lies, introduced to the public, now apply to me as a woman across space and time; to me as any woman and to me as every woman.
Seriously? She had work done… her face looks messed up… she gained weight so her husband will leave her… enough! That’s enough to make a person crazy. Don’t put stock in other people’s opinions of you. There is no happiness there.
I don’t know if you remember but this same thing was also done recently to Carrie Fisher. When Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out the media and internet trolls alike were commenting on how she hasn’t aged well. Did people seriously expect Princess Leia to step out on screen directly out of episode VI?
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.
Yes this is so true. It is not just men that are internet trolling and negatively commenting on women’s bodies. Women are also doing it to other women and sometimes their comments are the most catty. Most of their negative commentary comes earmarked with their own insecurities… “I’m overweight and I think it is gross to show your body” … “I have rolls and I cover them up with flattering clothes” … “I used to be obese just exercise and not eat a lot and stop being lazy” blah blah blah
People say these things under the guise of “I am free to have my own opinion”
Yes you are but you’re opinion doesn’t invalidate my freedom to wear what I want and be happy doing it. Just because you’re free to speak your mind doesn’t give you right to ridicule others. What does that say about you as a person? That you think this is a proper way to speak to someone?
It doesn’t actually matter if we are aging naturally, or resorting to surgical assistance. We experience brutal criticism. The dialogue is constructed so that our bodies are a source of speculation, ridicule, and invalidation, as if they belong to others—and in my case, to the actual public.
My body belongs to me and only me and I will cover (or don’t cover) it anyway I feel comfortable. No one can comment on your body without your permission.
Who makes the fantastic leap from being sick, or gaining some weight over the winter, to a conclusion of plastic surgery? Our culture, that’s who. The insanity has to stop, because as focused on me as it appears to have been, it is about all girls and women. In fact, it’s about boys and men, too, who are equally objectified and ridiculed, according to heteronormative definitions of masculinity that deny the full and dynamic range of their personhood. It affects each and every one of us, in multiple and nefarious ways: our self-image, how we show up in our relationships and at work, our sense of our worth, value, and potential as human beings.
Yes so much is said on the impact of negative body image for girls and women but men and boys are equally a part of this. Culturally it is not “acceptable” to talk about their body concerns as they are often told to “man up” or “grow a pair” as if to have body concerns makes you a female.
Four years later and this conversation is still going strong. More and more people are joining in the body positive movement which is causing those who try to oppress it to lash out. I’ve only had one incident thus far when a man told me to “stop you look like a ham planet”… old me would have thrown a fit, perhaps cried… no definitely cried… but instead I laughed and told him I am perfect the way I am and to have a great day!