Archive for photos

Paparazzi Headlines and the Female Body

Earlier this year, I stumbled upon a BuzzFeed post that featured several celebrity gossip headlines that had been reimagined by readers. The post complied several photos that came as a response to this challenge, courtesy of Vagenda Magazine:

Vagenda magazine's reworded version of a paparazzi headline

Vagenda magazine’s reworded version of a paparazzi headline

Reading this post and looking at all the headlines really made me think about the way female celebrities are written about.

Most people are exposed to celebrity gossip in one form or another. Even someone who has no interest in celebrity culture might have a difficult time avoiding the headlines splashed across the gossip rags that line the checkout lanes in the supermarket.

Our culture is obsessed with celebrities. I’m certainly guilty of a certain interest in the lives of the beautiful people. In spite of all the unnecessary  attention I’ve paid to these matters, I’d never considered the way these headlines were worded.

But reading this BuzzFeed article changed that.

In retrospect, it seems so obvious! In a society that is just as obsessed with celebrity as it is with female bodies, headlines like this are inevitable:

Emmy Rossum on The Daily Mail

Emmy Rossum on The Daily Mail

What a weird and creepy headline. What part of this outfit invites this kind of commentary?

I feel a little ashamed that I never recognized this kind of thing before. I’ve always considered myself a feminist. I think I’m in tune with women’s rights issues. But in spite of this, I’d never seen headlines like this as problematic.

As I said before, that’s all changed now. And, oh, how the floodgates have opened.

Let’s start with the photo above. What part of Emmy Rossum’s outfit makes this kind of headline appropriate? The big question this article made me ask was this: What does a woman have to wear in order to not invite commentary on her body?

Let’s look at some other examples. Here’s a post about Drew Barrymore:

revised drew barrymoreHow exactly is she “hiding” her figure? To me it just looks like she’s wearing clothes the same way anyone else is. The phrasing here really irks me. It seems to suggest that a female star’s body is subject to objectification and criticism at any time. Barrymore is hiding her figure from the people who feel they have an absolute right to see it.

This is very much a gender-based thing, too.  Compare a couple of headlines from the same website featuring male celebrities:

Seth Rogen

No mention of what Rogen is wearing as he “plays the role” of dutiful husband. The only thing the headline is making a big deal out of is Rogen helping his wife carry bags of groceries. There’s no reference to Rogen “hiding” his figure under his clothing. There no mention of clothes or bodies anywhere in this article.

The following headline does mention the male celebrity’s clothing, though not in the same way you’d see a female celebrity being talked about:

Kelsey Grammer

The author of this piece does make a point of describing Grammer’s attire, though it’s not written in the same breathless and voyeuristic tone used to when describing female celebrities above. Again, there is no mention of Grammer’s body. He apparently has nothing to hide.

As I said before, after I started noticing these things, I was unable to stop. Headlines like this are everywhere. They’re a symptom of a culture that constantly polices women’s bodies.  How are normal women supposed to feel good about themselves when glamorous movie stars are picked apart by tabloids? And is there a solution?

The answer to that last question is pretty difficult. I’d say one step to changing things like this is awareness. Now that I recognize what a problem this is, I can speak out and try to change things. I don’t have a lot of power, but I do have my voice. You do as well. Actions like this, however small, can make a difference:

Amal Alamuddin and George Clooney

Amal Alamuddin and George Clooney

We just have to keep trying.

The inherent misogyny of photo leaks
… and what we can do about it

It seems like everyone has a cell phone these days. Most of us walk around with nice cameras in our pockets, fully equipped and ready to blast our image to whomever we choose. This incredible technology is so commonplace we don’t even stop to think about it.

As I’ve said before, I am pro-selfie. But the selfie has taken on a more sinister connotation over the past month. The ultimate tool of self-love has been turned into a tool of hatred and exploitation.


Yes, I am talking about the latest celebrity nude “scandal.”

Over Labor Day weekend, a hacker (or a group of hackers) breached the iCloud accounts belonging to several celebrities. The victims include actress Jennifer Lawrence, model/actress Kate Upton, singer Rihanna, and many others.

Before we move on, I’d like to note that there is not a single male on the list of people who’ve had their pictures released. Let’s hold onto that thought for a minute.

Not a single male had his photo hacked.

The leaked photos have been released on sites such as Reddit, 4chan and imgur.

In a situation like this, a celebrity has a scant few choices as to how to react. The first is to deny, as Nickelodeon star Victoria Justice did last month:

Option 1: Deny

Option 1: Deny

The second choice is simply to ignore the leak and go on like nothing has happened. Third is to “laugh it off” as no big deal. Fourth and final is to go after the hackers via lawsuits. This is the strategy that seemed to work for Scarlett Johansson a couple years ago—the person who hacked her photos and leaked them is currently serving a ten-year jail sentence.

Lawrence and Upton have both released statements confirming the photos and announcing intentions to prosecute the offenders. Lawrence’s spokesperson responded to the leak with this statement: “This is a flagrant violation of privacy. The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence.”

Jennifer Lawrence

Any sane person would agree that these leaks are a massive violation.

There are plenty of people decrying the leaks and insisting those responsible be brought to justice. That’s easy enough to agree with. But with situations like this, hypocrisy abounds. Some of the people complaining about the invasion of privacy are the ones scouring the internet for links to the photos. What really troubles me are the people who insist these women “had it coming.” Even those expressing sympathy will turn around and mock the victims for being stupid enough to take pictures of themselves.

In the culture we live in, victim blaming is so common it’s almost expected. Sadly, it’s not surprising to see dozens of articles popping up on various websites insisting that the violation is offensive but inevitable. If you take pictures and allow them to be uploaded to the cloud, they reason, you should be prepared for them to be seen by everyone with access to the internet.

How on earth does this make sense?

These pictures were taken for private use. They were stored on devices with a reasonable expectation of privacy. Such technology isn’t impenetrable, of course, but that doesn’t mean people should live their lives in constant fear of being hacked. And if they are hacked, it’s certainly not that fault.

Imagine your credit card information was stolen. How would you feel if someone told you this kind of thing was inevitable—that you knew the risks when you went to the ATM or the grocery. How would it feel to be blamed for the crime someone else committed against you?

It wouldn’t feel good.

It’s also important to consider the fact that many people don’t understand exactly how “the cloud” works. A person can buy an Apple product and take a picture without ever realizing that photo was automatically uploaded to the cloud. Even deleting the photo on one’s phone won’t take it off the cloud.

What’s really frightening is how common this is. It doesn’t just happen to celebrities. There are plenty of “revenge porn” websites where disgruntled people can send risqué photos of their exes. Unlike celebrities, the women this happens to—and the victims are, of course, overwhelmingly female—don’t have the power and money to go after the men who share these images and post them all over the internet.

It’s a disturbing trend, and it’s only getting more pervasive.

This kind of violation is a virtual sex crime. Some of the hackers held photos hostage until they received deposits to their BitCoin or PayPal accounts. This is, simply put, the commodification of women’s bodies, and it’s happening completely without their consent. This isn’t just about sex for the viewers of these images—t’s about the power they feel from seeing women naked without their consent.

Earlier I mentioned the fact that none of the pictures leaked have been of men. The only male depicted in this “scandal” was Upton’s boyfriend, baseball player Justin Verlander, and he was shown in a picture next to Upton. I find it unlikely that a massive undertaking like this (the hacker said it took him two years to build his collection) wouldn’t produce some pictures of men. It’s more likely that the hacker did obtain some male nudes but chose not to share them.

Kate Upton

Yes, women were deliberately targeted. Again.

There are so many hurdles facing girls today. They’re constantly bombarded by a media that tells them their bodies aren’t good enough. And “scandals” such as these drive home the message that their bodies don’t just belong to them. It teaches girls that society wants to rob them of their agency and is cruelly invested in taking away their power.

It’s a scary world to live in. There are things we can do though.

The first is to refrain from clicking on these pictures. These women have already had their privacy violated—there’s no need to violate them further.

The second is to not let anyone get away with these attacks. This includes legal action, of course, but it also means calling out those who continue to spread the images. This is something we can all do. We have to make it known that this kind of breach is unacceptable, and that viewing and spreading the pictures is just as bad as leaking the photos.

Lastly, we need to look out for each other. In the weeks since the initial leak, the hashtag “#leakforJLaw” has been trending on Twitter. Ostensibly this was a tag started by women where they would post topless photos of themselves in support of Lawrence and the other victims of the leak. This was, of course, a hoax made up by some 4chan members in an effort to get more photos of naked women. It’s not unthinkable that some women might think of this as a legitimate way of showing support for the victims.  That being said, blatant deception like this has to stop. That means we need to protect ourselves and each other and call out schemes like this.

Time will tell if those responsible for these leaks are brought to justice.  In the mean time, the inherent misogyny in our culture has to be fought against and weeded out.

—Lauren Bunch

Before Midnight Part II: Why Photoshop is evil

As I said in my last post, Julie Delpy’s appearance in Before Midnight was truly inspiring because she looked both gorgeous and real at the same time, her flaws highlighting her beauty rather than hindering it.

But sadly even Delpy’s natural beauty wasn’t enough for the film’s publicity department to leave it alone:

The Photoshopping here is obvious:

1) Celine’s body, especially her waist, is much, much thinner. (This is most notable if you look at how much less negative space there is between her waist and her arm in the original.)

2) Her arms are not only thinner but also less curvy.

3) The area around her stomach has been darkened to make her tummy appear flatter.

4) And her hips and thighs are more narrow.

So why did the promo people feel the need to alter Delpy this way? Wasn’t she attractive enough the way she was to sell Before Midnight? Did they really think that more people would see this small independent film because she appears a little bit thinner and less curvy in this publicity photo?

I fear that the answer to that question is, yes, they did think that, and they thought it because that’s how all women look in advertisements: thinner and less curvy and less real than they do in actual life.

But the rub, of course, is that no one looks like that in reality, and in these two photos we can see why that’s a good thing. Because the curve of Delpy’s arm is so beautiful, her stomach is so wonderfully maternal, and her thighs remind me so much of mine.

If we ever needed evidence about why Photoshop is evil, this is it.

Before Midnight Part I: Why we need more actresses who look like Julie Delpy

My piece on Before Midnight appears at Bitch Flicks today, and I hope you’ll read it.

In that piece, I talk about what’s wrong with the writing in Before Midnight, the third film in the Richard Linklater Before Sunrise/Before Sunset trilogy.

But I want to talk here about what’s right. And what’s right in that film is how real Julie Delpy looks.

In Before Midnight, Delpy has a few wrinkles…

fleshy arms…

big hips and thick thighs,

a real butt and real hips…

and a bit of a stomach…

Simply put, Delpy looks like a real person—flaws and all.

Despite this, she also looks stunningly beautiful, sending the important message that we can look real and have flaws and still be beautiful. 

If we had more women on our screens who looked this real and this good at the same time, we would probably all feel a lot better about ourselves and have more attainable role models.

In the Nicole Holofcener film, Lovely and Amazing, Emily Mortimer plays a struggling actress obsessed with her appearance.

In one scene, she stands stark naked in front of another actor (played by Dermot Mulroney) and asks him to describe her flaws. But when she tells her mother what’s wrong with her appearance, her mother balks and insists she is “lovely and amazing.”

That about sums about how I feel about Mortimer’s supposed flaws.

And Delpy’s too.

And all of the rest of ours for that matter.

From the mouths of babes: college student’s art project gets everyone’s attention

Last month, Rosea Lake, a college student at Capilano University in Vancouver, posted a photo on her Tumblr account that she had taken for a high school art project.

In the photo—shown above—we see a young woman from behind. The woman is pulling up her skirt, almost to her waist, to reveal words that have been written along the back of her leg.

Just below her skirt are the words “whore” and then “slut,” at the knee is the word “proper,” and in the middle of her calf is the word “matronly”; several other words fall between these terms. Lake says she created this piece to challenge the notion that people can be judged based on how they look or what they wear, which is why she calls the photo “Judgments.”

Lake explains to Canada’s The Star newspaper, “If you see a girl wearing something you see as distasteful, then you automatically discount them as a person and you don’t give them the opportunity to really be somebody in your eyes…And that’s really shameful.”

Lake’s right: it is shameful to judge people based on their clothing or their appearance, and I applaud her for creating such a piece that makes our thoughts when we see someone who looks different than we do.

The Real You Project—I need your photos!

Since Thanksgiving is fast approaching, I think this is a good time to launch a new project designed to make us think more positively about our bodies and appreciate what we have.

I always try to do something fun and interactive to start the New Year (see my “Non-resolutions for everyone” post from last New Year’s), and this year I’ve decided that what I’d like to do is feature pictures of people who look real here on I Will Not Diet.

By “real,” I don’t necessarily mean curvy. I simply mean people who don’t look like the unreal Photoshopped images we see on the covers of our magazines.

Sure, that means curvy women, but it also means women who don’t have button noses or men who don’t have biceps. It means women who are flat-chested and men who are beanpoles. It means women who wear glasses (hello, Tina Fey) or men who are losing their hair.

Simply put, it means whatever you want it to mean. You get to decide what real means for you.

The only rule is that it doesn’t mean women or men who have had all of their flaws Photoshopped out of existence.

To that end, I’d like to ask YOU to send me a picture of yourself, a picture that you think makes you look great, but a picture that also looks real and highlights your individuality and doesn’t obviously hide your so-called flaws. You have over a month to get me a photo, so start thinking now about what it is you like about yourself that is different from everyone else and definitely different than the women and men we see on our magazines and our screens.

Please send your pictures—nothing sexual or explicit please—to molly at iwillnotdiet dot com with the words “Happy New Year” in the subject line by midnight on December 30th. If you want to include an explanation (or a link to your personal website), you can, but that’s not necessary. All I need is a photo and a name.

I’ll post everything I get to welcome the new year on Tuesday, January 1st.

Thanks for your help!

The camera never lies:
why photos give us a false sense of who we are

I wrote last week about two people close to me—one 94 and the other just one—who were struggling with major health problems.

Since then, the 94-year-old has left us, and I can’t lie. Even though she was a nonagenarian, I feel a great loss at her passing.

Thankfully, the one-year-old is doing well, and I got a chance to visit him this past weekend at the children’s hospital where he’s staying. Though he seems as happy as ever, he has a LONG road ahead of him as he has just begun eight months of chemo. That also means eight months of nausea, eight months of living with his parents in a hospital room with one bathroom and no kitchen, eight months of a central line that wraps around his body like a plastic snake, and eight months of hospital food and constant check-ups.

While I was visiting, his dad got out the iPad given to the one-year-old by an uncle. Dad showed me some baby apps and then videotaped me holding the one-year-old and flying him over my head, Superman-style.

As I’ve said here before in my “Who is the girl in the picture” post, I’ve never been comfortable looking at pictures of myself, and I don’t feel much different about video. Still, it seems hypocritical for someone with a blog devoted to body acceptance to act negatively about having her picture taken, so I try as much as possible not to voice my insecurities—though it’s often hard to do.

For this reason, I wasn’t anxious to look at the video, but the one-year-old’s dad insisted.

I was actually surprised by what I saw.

Yes, there were plenty of angles I didn’t like—angles from which my chin looked long and out of shape or my posture looked crooked—but because the image was moving, these problems didn’t really bother me as much. Sure, I didn’t always look perfect or even my best, but I also looked real and happy and alive—like anyone else.

And it occurred to me then that that’s probably what we look like in real life—happy, alive, sometimes good, and sometimes bad—and that still pictures—the kind I often grimace at—aren’t really an accurate representation of who we are because they capture us in split seconds rather than in full moments.

For that reason, I hope that the next time I see a picture of myself that makes me unhappy, I’ll remember that it’s only a fraction of who I am, not even close to me in my entirety.

Why, in my fantasy life, Annie Leibovitz is my best friend and travels with me everywhere I go

I was spending the day with a friend of mine recently when she showed me some pictures from a recent family trip. I noticed almost immediately that there weren’t any pictures of her, and when I asked about it, she said, “I don’t like having my picture taken.”

I get it. I really do.

Because that was my attitude most of my adult life—until a few years ago, I HATED having my picture taken and looked pretty awkward almost every time I was forced to do it, which I talked about in my “Who is the girl in the picture” post. I’m still not great about posing for photos now, but I’m working on it and try my best to have a good attitude, which I think is crucial to taking a good photo.

Lately, though, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s about more than just having a good attitude. Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to have my picture taken by more than one professional photographer, and I am always shocked by how good the results turn out. (The photo of me above was taken by one of those pros.)

As a result, it started to occur to me that maybe the reason I hate having my picture taken is because I don’t have a professional doing it all the time. In fact, it’s usually my husband or one of my friends taking my picture, and they usually do it quickly—in between talking and hanging out—without really thinking about it.

All of this had been in the back of my head when I saw a new photo of a friend on Facebook and actually thought, “Wow, that doesn’t even look like her. She is so much more attractive than that.” And that’s when it hit me—the reason our photos don’t look as good as the ones we see in magazines is simply because we don’t have a professional photographer following us around all the time.

Maybe this sounds obvious, but I have witnessed too many people—men an women—bemoaning the way they look in pictures for me to believe that people understand this is the case. I think we all want to look like a celebrity every time we have our picture taken even though we don’t have half the resources that most of them do.

And then I saw something that made me sure that taking a good photo doesn’t usually happen by accident but rather requires some serious effort as well as a professional photographer.

I was watching Letterman a few weeks ago when Courtney Cox was on the show talking about a recent trip to St. Bart’s. While she was there, Letterman held up this photo of Cox from that trip:

Letterman oooohed and aahhed over Cox’s amazing physique, but she resisted the compliment, explaining that she doesn’t normally look like that and that she was doing everything she could to look her best when the photo was taken.

“Well, Dave,” she said. “You know when the paparrazzi are there, so that’s not real . . . I mean that’s real, but I was working it pretty hard . . . We made a joke about it. Let’s see how Sports Illustrated we can get. And I really was like . . . I sucked in, I moved my body, and my arms are streched out. I don’t walk like that!”

Cox even claimed that Letterman would be horrified if he saw the way she sits on the beach when nobody is looking and imitated herself seaside, hunched over and limp.

Whether you believe it or not, her message was clear: people don’t normally look the way she did in that photo. And for some reason, I believed her. I believed that she could suck in her gut and pump her arms and legs in such a way that put her best features on display.

Do I believe I could strike the same pose and appear as hot as Cox does in her string bikini? No way, but I do believe that trying to look good and believing you can look good goes a long way towards accomplishing that goal.

And while writing this post, I decided to Google “Courtney Cox at the beach” to see if there were any pics of her looking the way she described, and believe it or not, one of the first pictures I came across was one of Cox looking the same way she imitated herself looking on Letterman . . .

Is she still beautiful? Absolutely. But she also looks real because she’s not posing for the paparazzi.

It’s easy for us to imagine that the beautiful people look beautiful all the time, but the truth is, when they’re just being normal and goofing around with their friends and an iPhone, they take crazy photos too.

The only difference is that their bad photos never show up on Facebook.

Real bods in the boudoir: "What matters is how you FEEL"

My friend Alison turned me onto a story about a plus-sized woman—”Ms. N”—who wrote about her incredibly positive experience at a Seattle-based photo studio that specializes in “boudoir” photos, and I just had to write about it.

The goal of Seattle Boudoir Photography is to take alluring and provocative photos of women of all sizes.

(One of their photos is featured above, but be warned that if you decide to go to their website, not all of their photos are kid- or work-appropriate and someespecially the couples photosare pretty R-rated.)

If you do look at their gallery, you’ll see skinny women, plus-size women, curvy women, flat-chested women, tattoed women, pierced women, older women, pregnant women, women with crow’s feet, women with tummies, women with generous derrieres, women with fleshy arms and legs, women with men, women with women, and more—one of my favorite photos is of a woman who is small on top wearing a wife beater that says “Sexy Little Bride.”

The women in the gallery have different body shapes and different types of faces, but what these photos have in common is that all of them are absolutely stunning—and somking hot. I highly recommend that you take a look at SBP’s galleries (especially “Bombshells & Babes”) in order to see a great visual representation of the idea that beauty does not come in one size or shape.

Ms. N detailed her own experience at SBP for Offbeat Bride and explains, “I got to spend 2 hours with amazing people who, very honestly and sincerely, thought that I looked beautiful, and did everything they could to make sure that I knew it. And not only KNEW it, but FELT it, too. Nobody ever once looked at me and said, ‘Oh, I sure wish you were thinner,’ or ‘Wow, those stretch marks really take away from this photo.’ What I heard instead was, ‘Oh, you have killer boobs!’ and ‘You look so hot in that pose, for real!’ I could NOT believe my ears. And really, that was all it took for me to suddenly realize this: I’m freakin’ HOT! It doesn’t matter about size or scars or weight or anything. What matters is how you FEEL. And I have never been more amazed at how comfortable I could be with myself.

I could not have said it better myself.

In fact, “What matters is how you FEEL” would be an appropriate tagline for I Will Not Diet.

As long as I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve fantasized about posing in my underwear in order to prove that I’m happy with my bod—all 197 pounds of it—but also to show that women’s bodies can look attractive at an average size, one that’s more attainable than those of the models and celebrities we see in the media.

Looking at this studio’s work makes me realize I’m not the first person to have this idea and that I really do have to follow through on that goal some day.

Nevertheless, I’m not going to lie—I may pose in my underwear, but I’m never going to show any boob. I’ll leave that to the women who are braver—or crazier—than me.

Who is the girl in the picture?

About a week ago I had to have an official author photo taken for my upcoming book by the lovely and talented Victoria Taylor, a photojournalism student here at WKU.

Like most women, I’m not a big fan of having my picture taken, but over the years, I’ve tried to have a better attitude about it. After spending my entire life watching the women in my life groan every time they see a photo of themselves—and immediately pointing out their worst flaw—I grew tired of the pessimism and negativity.

For that reason, I have tried as much as I can to have a good attitude when my picture is taken. It’s never easy, but I do my best, and for a few years now, I’ve been pretty good about noticing what looks good rather than what looks bad when I see a snapshot of myself.

I do the same thing in my daily life—when I look go shopping or even just when I look in the mirror each morning—so I had naively started to believe I had kicked the low self-esteem habit.

But while sitting in front of a high definition camera with a professional photographer, all of my insecurities came flooding back to me. When I looked at the images on her three-inch screen, all I could see were the flaws—why was my nose so big? my hair so flat and dark? my lips so thin? After years of teaching myself to focus on the positive, I was suddenly and completely only able to see the negative.

Not only was my inability to see my assets gone, but so was my ability to see myself at all. When Victoria showed me the images she’d captured, I could not even recognize myself. I looked that strange and unfamiliar. It was as if I was suffering from a severe case of amnesia except that the only thing I couldn’t remember was what I looked like.

I would glance at the images on her screen and frown. Who was the person staring back at me? Where was the person I saw in the mirror every morning? The person with a few stray blonde highlights from her youth? The person with a normal-sized nose?

Poor Victoria had to put up with my inability to see the pictures clearly for two hours before she was finished. Every time she showed me a new shot, my face would drop, and she and Dave would have to reassure me that the pictures were good.

Now, over a week later and after posting the new photo on Facebook (and getting a dozen positive responses to it), not only do I know that the photos are good, I also know they really really do look like me.

So why couldn’t I see this while they were being taken? What happened to make me so unable to see my own image?

I’m really not sure, but I think it has to do with how slowly we change.

Whenever I look at anyone in my family—my husband, my parents, or my sister—I don’t see them as they are now, in 2011. Instead, I see a compilation of who they’ve been over the years. I see my husband’s longer hair and too-big concert t-shirts, my parents’ young faces and rich brown hair, my sister’s glasses and pigtails. I don’t see them as flat images. I see them as fully developed people with complex pasts and interesting histories.

And I think that’s also what I see when I look in the mirror—the little girl with the boyish haircut, the teenager with the perfect bod, the young woman with blonde highlights. So when I looked at the photos Victoria was taking I was confused—where was the girl I used to be, the young woman I was only a few years ago?

In the end, I’m thrilled with the photos Victoria took, but I have to admit, it’s also a little bit scary to realize that I’ve let those parts of me go. But it’s letting them go that allows me to see that beauty can change and evolve just as we do as people.

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