Archive for February 28, 2013

Gaining a little perspective: in honor of Nora Ephron

Watching the “in memoriam” montage at the Oscars on Sunday night reminded me that I hadn’t yet gotten around to writing about Nora Ephron, one of our country’s great writers, who died last year.

Ephron was best known as a screenwriter and has been nominated for three Oscars and won a Writers Guild Award. Many of her movies were also incredibly huge hits. She wrote films as intelligent as Silkwood and Julie and Julia and as accessible as Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. And, of course, she wrote When Harry Met Sally, probably her biggest hit of all time.

But she was also a gifted writer of essays and fiction and wrote several books including Heartburn, which was later adapted to a film starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.

While driving to see my parents over the holidays this past December, Dave and I finally got around to listening to Ephron’s last collection of essays—I Feel Bad about my Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. It was something I’d been wanting to do ever since it came out in 2008 and had been especially anxious to do since Ephron died last June.

Of course, the title of the book refers to the first essay—”I Feel Bad about my Neck”—but it is two of the other essays in this collection that are the most moving and the book’s true heart. “Parenting in Three Stages” is a hilarious and poignant look at raising children while “Considering the Alternative” is a masterful contemplation on the meaning of life. These two essays alone make this book a must-read.

But, of course, the first essay is the one I want to talk about here.

The title gives away that, obviously, this piece is all about the idea that, at a certain age, the neck starts to go. Like the butt and the upper arms and the thighs before them, the neck wilts and withers and eventually dies.

As Ephron explains, one day, you wake up and think, “I hate my neck.”

Ephron claims this change happens in your mid-forties, and she warns women in their thirties to prepare for this impending doom and enjoy their beautiful necks as long as they can.

I have been known to offer the same kind of advice to my students and random young twenty-somethings: Just look at yourself, I tell them. You are perfect and beautiful. Your skin is completely free of craggy cellulite and sagging flesh. You should just sit in front of the mirror all day, naked, and appreciate yourself. Honestly I don’t know why you’d do anything else.

I am 42 years old, and I have to admit that ever since I listened to Ephron’s book, I’ve noticed how long and lovely my own neck still is. How unblemished and smooth and taut it looks. Sometimes I stand in front of the mirror for whole minutes—just appreciating the beauty that is middle-age.

And, of course, the irony of this revelation is not lost on me: to women Ephron’s age, my neck is a lovely delicate flower, something to behold and appreciate. And to me, my students’ bodies are the same way—they are as inspiring and glorious as a flaming sunset on a pristine beach.

It reminds me of the importance of perspective.

Ephron longed for my neck, I long for the body of a twenty-something, and I’m sure there was something about Ephron that women older than her envied. Was it her full head of hair? Or her slim figure?

As for me, I want many things Ephron had: her wisdom, her life experience, her success. In truth, I’d trade a smooth neck for Ephron’s accomplishments any day.

So I will continue to appreciate my neck until I can no longer do so.

I feel it’s the least I can do to honor Ephron, a woman who gave us all so much.

Oscar recap: people still care way too much about what women look like… said another way: give Renée a break

It’s time for my annual post-Oscar post. Some years the Academy makes me feel good about the world, and other years…

…well, others years it makes me feel like we are still living in the paleolithic era.

Unless you live in a cave, you know that the biggest problem with Sunday night’s Oscar telecast was the host, Seth MacFarlane, whose performance featured jokes that were sexist, racist, and homophobic while also throwing in a rape joke for good measure. (The Daily Beast called it the “Juvenile Oscars,” and you can read about some of the worst offenders in this list of the “9 Sexist Things That Happened at the Oscars.”)

But I’ve already forgotten about MacFarlane.

He’s a neanderthal, he’s Archie Bunker reincarnated in Peter Brady’s body, and he knows it.

In other words, he’s not worth my time.

What I can’t seem to forget—what was keeping me up last night with concern—was all the negativity about Renée Zellweger’s looks.

Type in the words “Renée Zellweger Oscars” into Google over the past thirty-six hours, and you’ll get hundreds of hits about Zellweger’s appearance (as well as her supposedly drunken behavior, which has since been refuted). The internet and Twitterverse have been downright aflame with talk about Zellweger’s face—claiming she looked overly botoxed and completely “unrecognizable.”

All I can say is, what the hell are they talking about?

Zellwegger has always had a unique face, but saying she looks unrecognizable is a strange charge to level when she looked almost exactly like she always has if a bit older and thinner:

And, yes, her face does seem unusually smooth for a women in her mid forties, but no smoother than mine or any of my friends who are the same age as Zellwegger.

I mean, come on. Forty is not sixty or even fifty.

And so what if she’s had botox treatments? We live in a society that is obsessed with scrutinizing the appearance of celebrities—especially female celebrities. I sincerely hope that Zellwegger and other “middle-aged” celebrities reject botox and other types of plastic surgery, but honestly, I cannot blame them if and when they don’t.

It also seems like a vicious cycle that we are helping to perpertrate when we criticize women like Zellwegger who get work done—these women are put under a microscope so harsh that we have entire tabloid magazines devoted to seeing celebrities looking bad in their bathing suits—and then we have the nerve to criticize them when they want their skin to look smoother?

It makes me wonder what they could do, if anything, to make us happy. I fear that the answer is nothing.

Possibly worst of all of the criticism about Zellwegger’s looks Sunday night was a comment tweeted by Jesse Tyler Ferguson (@jessetyler), one of the stars of Modern Family, who said:

Renee Zellweger arrives as a Ghost of Christmas Future for Jennifer Lawrence, bearing warning about Botox. #Oscars2013

Not only is Ferguson’s comment intentionally hurtful, but it also furthers this never-ending cycle of making women feel like nothing they do is ever good enough.

Ironically, it also alludes to the real problem: that women in Hollywood are glorified for their natural beauty when they are young—like Zellwegger was around the time she was in Jerry Maguire and Jennifer Lawrence has been lately—and then ripped apart and rejected when they age naturally. Yes, there are some exceptions, but they are few and far between, and those exceptions are usually only granted to “serious” actresses like Meryl Streep and Susan Sarandon.

The other problem with the attacks on Zellwegger is that when we criticize female celebrities for their looks, we simultaneously hurt ourselves and our collective self-esteem. After all, if the internet is obsessed with Zellwegger’s too-smooth skin and her squinty eyes, how on earth are the rest of us real women supposed to feel when we look in the mirror and see that—next to someone as thin and polished as Zellwegger—we look even more flawed? The answer is that we often feel like crap.

And a big part of me wonders if the reason Zellwegger got a bit too much botox or looked too shiny under the bright lights of the Oscar stage or seemed a bit squinty or unsure of herself (to the point that people thought she was drunk) is because she’s been out of the limelight for a while and isn’t as used to the intense pressure and scrutiny that comes along with that kind of international stage.

To put it simply, maybe she was just nervous.

One of my former students posted these words on Facebook today:

If you see someone struggling to keep their head above water, it’s probably best not to push them under.

That’s honestly the best thing I’ve heard in days.

The Evolution of Me… a guest post by Fallon Willoughby

I want to tell the story of my own struggle with weight.

As a child I was always very pudgy. I never really thought about it because I wasn’t really that overweight. My mom always said I just hadn’t grown into my weight, hadn’t yet lost my baby fat.

But one day when I was in sixth grade my father told me I was getting fat and needed to lose weight.

I was utterly devastated. Honestly, I do not remember much beyond the simple fact of my father saying those words. I did hope to lose weight though I never thought about doing anything drastic. But, Lord, his words hurt.

Not long after that, I grew into my weight. I went from being chunky to weighing 110 pounds. I mean skinny…

That was my senior year of high school. Then I married and became a college freshman. So I gained the freshman fifteen and the married fifteen: thirty pounds in such a short time. I’m not sure how I managed not to notice until suddenly my pants wouldn’t fit over my bum and my shirts were too low-cut because I suddenly had boobs!

Here’s me a year later…

The crazy thing is at first my weight gain didn’t bother me.

My husband loved it. I bought new clothes. Friends from high school saw me and commented on how much better I looked. My family said I no longer looked like a bean pole. My favorite comment would be from a friend in Walmart who loudly announced that my new curves, bum, and boobs looked amazing.

As I said, it was a change that didn’t seem to bother me.

Fast forward another two years, and I gained some more weight.

My thighs, already large, were getting bigger. My new clothes weren’t fitting. My stomach… oh, the stomach.

Still, I ignored it.

Then a nurse commented on my weight gain. I could no longer ignore the problem. I was gaining quite a bit of weight and I was way over my healthy weight. I became self-conscious in ways I never was before.  I worried about my weight and my stomach chubbyness most of all. I noticed other women who looked so much better than me. That’s when envy set in. Ooooh, the envy for a better body. (Pinterest sucks, by the way.)

I finally decided to do something. I lost weight by exercising and cutting back on fast food last summer. I was very, very proud of that.

But I didn’t diet. I have never ever believed in all those stupid diets. I knew that just because you dieted for a bit and drastically lost weight doesn’t mean you won’t gain it back the instant you go back to normal habits.

I wanted to change.

Since last summer, I have basically quit exercising. It’s depressing, but I tend to have problems finding the time. Of course, that’s also procrastination on my part. I love to Zumba and to walk, but walking is much harder to do when it’s freezing outside. At the moment, I’ve hit a stalemate. And fast food is soooo easy during the semester.

My husband still tells me I’m beautiful. But some days I have a really hard time believing it. Not to mention my acne has taken a major turn for the worse.

One day I mentioned all of this to my friend Heather, and she let me have it. She wrote a blog post about why we should stop hating ourselves and dedicated it to me. I squealed. And I felt beautiful.

I try to hold onto that most days.

FALLON WILLOUGHBY is a self-described wacky college student, a double major in history and English. Her dream job is to be a history professor focusing on the history of magic or the Middle Ages or Renaissance. She is married toher high school sweetheart. You can read her blog at Historian in Progress.

Model Cameron Russell admits the models we see in the media are nowhere near reality

I’m not a huge fan of “TED talks.” There’s something about them that seems too slick, too polished, too homogenous, for me. But a friend turned me onto a TED talk last week that I think is worth discussing.

In her TED talk, model Cameron Russell makes the argument that the images we see in the media are not real. That even models don’t look like models in real life.

This isn’t a revolutionary idea—we all know that the images in our magazines and on our screens are not real—but hearing it from a model is somehow more convincing, especially because she gives us the photographic and anecdotal evidence to back up her point.

Two photos of Russell taken when she was sixteen.


At one point, Russell tells a story about how people sometimes don’t even realize she’s a model when they meet her in real life:

“In December I was shooting in the Bahamas, and on the way back I was in a boat with other people staying on the same island. One woman was going on and on about the model she’d seen on the beach who was ‘so gorgeous.’ Of course, that model had been me in hair, makeup and a neon bikini. The whole 30-minute boat ride she didn’t recognize me. I was sitting directly across from her wearing sweatpants, a windbreaker, no makeup and hair up in a bun.”

Russell on the cover of a magazine and in real life.


Russell also reminds her audience that being beautiful doesn’t make anyone happy. She explains, “If you ever think, ‘If I had thinner thighs and shinier hair, wouldn’t I be happier,’ you just need to meet a group of models. They have the thinnest thighs and the shiniest hair and the coolest clothes and they are the most physically insecure women, probably, on the planet.”

Still, Russell admits that “How we look—though it is superficial and immutable—has a huge impact on our lives… people pay a cost for how they look” while also challenging the notion that our looks should play such a strong role, implying that our obsession with models and celebrities is unhealthy:

“When I gave a talk at TEDx, I thought that if I did a good job, the video might go viral. But … it has 140,000 views while Colin Powell’s (who spoke at the same event) has only 2,700. He is an incredibly experienced and intelligent man. And yet our society’s obsession with celebrity and models means more people were interested in listening to my talk.”

Until today I didn’t know who Russell was, but the fact that her TED talk is 500% more popular than Powell’s proves her point that our obsession with beauty is completely and totally f***ed up.

Just when you think things are getting better, misogyny and hypocrisy come back with a vengeance

Several things have happened this week that have made me want to throttle someone, so I figured I’d tell you about all of them at once.

1) Hypocrisy at the Grammys…

The people who run the Grammys warned celebrities who were attending the awards show to cover up, reminding them to “Avoid sheer see-through clothing” and clothes that “expose female breast nipples” and to “Be sure that buttocks and female breasts are adequately covered” (but not male breasts?). They also noted that “Thong type costumes are problematic.”

But when TV ads show women in revealing cothing, it’s perfectly acceptable.


2) Thanks but no thanks, Sports Illustrated

In an attempt to appeal to its female readership in its infamous swimsuit issue, Sports Illustrated has added a section for women called “Secrets of Swimsuit” that includes “information on swimsuit trends and advice on how mere mortals, not supermodels, can achieve that sexy beach look.”

I think I just threw up in my mouth.


3) Screw you, male entertainment writers…

Lena Dunham’s character on Girls had a two-day tryst with a super hot doctor played by super hot Patrick Wilson, and a bunch of entertainment writers, mostly male—at places like Slate, Entertainment Weekly, and Esquire—said that, since it’s so hard to believe that someone who looks like Dunham could be with someone who looks like Wilson, then the whole episode must have been a dream. This even though there was nothing else to alert us to the episode being dream. One writer even compared Dunham’s character hooking up with Wilson’s to the dream episode of The Cosby Show when Cliff Huxtable gives birth to a submarine sandwich and an orange soda. As Jezebel said, he was implying that a “man giving birth to food as being in the same realm of ludicrousness as Joshua telling Hannah she is beautiful and wanting to spend the day with her.” Jezebel says a lot more really important stuff—about how men expect certain kinds of women to thank them for deigning to date them and—and I would highly recommend checking out their piece.


4) Are you kidding me, Good Morning America???

A woman was basically made to get married today on Good Morning America when her boyfriend proposed and then announced they were getting married… immediately… or anyway in like thirty minutes on the air. The woman looked completely shocked for most of the episode, but what could she do? Say no on national television when all of her friends and family had been gathered for the event? Forget about planning her own wedding, this woman had it done by TV producers desperate for ratings and a boyfriend who has serious control issues.


Let’s hope things go better next week. 


Let’s all take a deep breath and calm the fuck down about Lena Dunham… a cross post by Stephanie Rogers of Bitch Flicks

Lena Dunham and the cast of GIRLS


Dear Lena Dunham Haters,

I’m sick of the Lena Dunham hate.

I’m not referring to the criticisms of Dunham, which are—in most cases—valid and necessary critiques of her privilege, especially how that privilege translates into her work. The first season of Girls in particular either ignored people of color entirely, which is problematic enough since the show takes place in Brooklyn (a predominantly Black neighborhood), but when it did include people of color, they tended to appear as stereotypes (nannies, homeless, etc), and Dunham absolutely deserves to be called out for that.

But I’m sick of the Lena Dunham hate.

Just take a moment and Google the phrase “I hate Lena Dunham.” Feel free to spend some time browsing through the more than a million results. Searches related to “I hate Lena Dunham” include such gems as “Lena Dunham annoying,” “how much does Lena Dunham weigh,” and “what size is Lena Dunham.”

We live in a society that constantly undervalues and devalues the work of women while simultaneously expecting that the work we do—from mothering to directing movies—is performed fucking flawlessly. That said, we can’t sit back and pretend the vitriol directed at Dunham isn’t largely about a young woman breaking barriers in an industry that doesn’t like women (especially women who aren’t conventionally attractive and who aren’t gasp! spending all their waking hours apologizing for it). We shouldn’t pretend either that we, as a culture—and that includes women and feminists—haven’t internalized a little bit of this uneasiness surrounding successful women. It makes sense, then, that the undercurrent bubbling beneath all this Dunham hate is the very sexist notion that somehow Dunham doesn’t deserve her success.

Lena Dunham, looking all ungrateful for her unearned success


Admittedly, I have a soft spot for Dunham, having written about her wonderful film Tiny Furniture way back in 2011, before she’d manage to offend the entire nation with her giant thighs and sloppy backside. I think she comes across as genuinely funny and interesting, and I hope that her success—and the hard hits she’s taking because of it—will make the next woman who dares to step out of line (where “line” means “the patriarchal framework”) do so with just as much fearlessness.  

Lena Dunham, probably getting ready to annoy people with her incessant whining



Lena Dunham, being all entitled and shit


When I was 26, I was spending my fifth year failing undergrad, drowning in student loan debt (that’s still happening), smoking pot incessantly, binge-eating pepperoni rolls, sleeping through most of my classes on a broken futon, and shoving dryer sheets in my heating vents because my shitty always-drunk neighbors wouldn’t stop chain smoking. Occasionally, out of nowhere, a giant fly would swoop down from some unseen cesspool where flies live and attack me. Those are my memories of being 26. Maybe your memories of being 26 suck way less, and if so, congratulations! But you’re allowed to make mistakes at 26. You’re allowed to learn from those mistakes and evolve into a person who looks back and thinks, “Wow, 26 was rough, and I sucked at it.” That’s a general goddamn life rule, and we aren’t taking it away from Lena Dunham just because she’s a young woman who dares to make her mistakes in public. (Read Jodie Foster’s thought-provoking essay on society’s disgustingunsurprisingly misogynist reactions toward young women acting like young women in public.)

I mean, just to double check, we’re all still cool with Louis C.K., right? I haven’t yet seen season three of Louie, that award-winning show that C.K. writes, directs, produces, edits, and stars in (sound familiar?), but I remember the first few episodes or so of this New York City-set critics’ darling being fairly fucking White, except for a few peripheral characters outside of Louie’s inner circle. And the Black people who do exist (at least in the first season) pretty much serve as vehicles to illustrate Louie’s uncoolness by comparison. (Has anyone given a name to that trope yet?) So, did I miss the accompanying INTERNET FREAKOUT, or does this bro maybe represent—I dunno—society’s favorite quintessential middle-aged, balding white dude who can’t get laid, that we all find so endearing and impossible not to love?

Did I also miss the 100% JUSTIFIED NOT REALLY BECAUSE IT NEVER HAPPENED OUTRAGE over C.K. exposing his huge gut and sloppy backside to the masses—whether he’s climbing on top of hot women (duh) or getting a totally unnecessary (because assault is funny!) rectal exam from doctor-character Ricky Gervais? And we’re all still cool with his awkward and embarrassing sex scenes, right? Because they’re just … so … what’s that word people keep railing against when it’s used to describe the sex scenes in Girls … oh yeah … “REAL” … ?

"Eh, what are you gonna do?" --privileged White dudes everywhere, in response to rarely getting called out for their bullshit


My bad. I’m probably missing something, since Chuck Bowen called Louie “possibly the most racially integrated television show ever made,” (I’ll admit “Dentist/Tarese” is an interesting episode toward the end of season one) and there isn’t at all an inkling of a double standard at play here regarding what we consider “acceptable” bodies to display onscreen. (Sidenote: I love, not really, how groundbreaking it is that C.K. cast a Black woman to play his ex-wife in season three of Louie, yet we’re still treated to that “schlubby dude landing a hot lady” trope. I can’t keep suspending my disbelief forever, boys.)

Sorry, tangent. But seriously.

If I sound like a Lena Dunham apologist aka “a fucking pig who can go to hell,” let me clarify (again): Lena Dunham should be—and certainly has been, I mean fuck—criticized for her show’s failings. Most television shows and films for that matter would benefit even from a miniscule amount of the kind of intense anger flung at Girls over its racism and lack of diversity. But I’m angry that people—including women and feminists—can’t seem to criticize Lena Dunham’s show without launching into sexist attacks against Lena Dunham, in the same way I was angry when people couldn’t (and still can’t) separate their criticisms of Sarah Palin’s conservative policies from their sexist attacks against Sarah Palin.

So, if nothing else, I give you these few words and phrases to move away from when talking about Lena Dunham: “whiny” … “annoying” … “ugly” … “gross” … “frumpy” … “hot mess” … “neurotic” … “slutty” … you get the idea.



The truth is, ultimately, it doesn’t matter to me who likes Girls and who doesn’t. For what it’s worth, I liked the first season, mainly because I’ve been writing about representations of women in film and television for five years, and it was nice for once to know I wouldn’t have to analyze every scene to figure out whether this show passed The Bechdel Test. It sort of blew my mind to hear women talk to one another about abortion, HPV, colposcopies, virginity, and menopause, like, repeatedly—and with no unnecessary mansplainy perspective involved. I think the show actually makes a pretty serious case against living like an entitled, culturally insulated hipster, while still managing to love its characters. But I understand, even excluding the criticisms regarding lack of diversity, that people still legitimately dislike the show for other reasons. That’s allowed. I hate Two and a Half Men and Family Guy and The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother and every other White-dominated show on television that keeps pretending women exist merely as fucktoys and mommies to their manchildren, and that’s allowed too.

But if you’re having an epic conniption over HOW HORRIBLE GIRLS IS OMG WHY DOES ANYONE LIKE IT LENA DUNHAM IS THE WORST, maybe it’s time to evaluate the hate—not dislike of, or boredom with, or ambivalence toward—but the actual hatred of Girls Lena Dunham, and why it’s really there.



STEPHANIE ROGERS is the co-founder and editor of Bitch Flicks, a feminist film and media website. Her feminist commentary has also appeared at sites such as Ms. Magazine, Women and Hollywood, and Shakesville. In her spare time, she writes poems and streams a shitload of Netflix.

Taking plastic surgery to its unnatural conclusion

We all know about the dangers—emotional as well as physical—of plastic surgery: not only is surgery always a serious undertaking (several high-profile women have died during plastic surgery), but plastic surgery also hurts our collective psyche by sending the untrue message that we can look perfect and young forever. And also that doing so is desirable.

Yes, we all know these things to be true.

But when I saw the photos above—photos of young Korean women before and after plastic surgery—and read about how common it is for such women to have work done, I became alarmed.

According to Jezebel‘s Dodai Stewart, South Korea is “the country with the highest per capita rate of plastic surgery in the world. One in five women in Seoul have undergone some kind of procedure.” This fact is perhaps best evidenced by the fact that there is now a Tumblr blog devoted to before and after pictures of Korean plastic surgery.

But it’s not just the commonality of these procedures in Korea that is alarming to me. It’s how radical the changes are.

As Stewart explains, “There are a few things unsettling about the images, especially the ones in which the entire shape of the face is changed thanks to bone shaving. Somehow eyelids and nose cartilage still seem rather surface-level, whereas changing the shape of your skulljust feels extreme and intense. And what about the parents of these men and women? Are they sad when their offspring, whom they’ve created from their own genetic material, change the jaws and eyes and noses given to them by their mother, grandmother, great-grand-mother? Or maybe the parents have already had their bones shaved, or paid for the kids’ surgery, or would if they could.”

Seeing these images and thinking about people who are willing to change everything about how they look—to indeed look like a different person, to look unrecognizable—reminds me of an episode of The Twilight Zone I saw when I was growing up.

In the episode, once a young woman became a certain age—around sixteen—she would go to a showroom and pick out her new self—a new body, a new face—from a handful of options. Then when the appropriate time came she would be undergo a procedure that would transform her into this new self. The result was that the young woman we followed in the episode became completely unrecognizable to both herself and to the viewer. At the same time, it meant that there were only four or five ways a woman could look, making society, at least female society, incredibly homogenous.

I’ve always been one of those people who has resisted making myself look different—I always hated playing dress-up when I was a kid and still don’t like wearing a costume on Halloween. And I was probably the last person I knew to start wearing makeup. And maybe the reason is because I am uncomfortable being someone I’m not. And this is why I cannot fathom why a person—female or male—would want to drastically change the way she or he looks.

Sadly, I fear I am probably in the minority on this one.

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.

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