Monday, July 03, 2006

More On American Idol and AOL News

AOL News begs the question, “Does American Idol Have a Body Bias?”

Uh. . . yeah.

Simon Cowell really didn’t have to ask the infamous question, “Do we have a bigger stage this year?” following Mandisa Hundley’s performance for us to know that. Yes, American Idol has a body bias, but it’s only reflecting that of the culture. To be a female American idol, you have to look the part.

Fashion director of In Style magazine, Hal Rubenstein, reveals, "Whether it’s acting or anywhere, people do tend to want to look at pretty people first. . . . It is about packaging, especially nowadays." He goes on to say: “Does Britney have a great voice? Does Jessica? Who cares? Look what they look like. And it’s an unfair world: I think it’s more so for women than for men."

As the article mentions, Reuben won Idol and Luther Vandross achieved fame, despite their weight. But those are men, and there’s a different playing field. The standards are different for us.

Still, Rubenstein argues, "In the long run, talent does win out. Luther Vandross always struggled with a weight problem. Yet women would go to his concerts and faint from happiness. If you’ve got a great voice, you’ve got a great voice, and we will listen to anything you do."

True? Do men “faint from happiness” when listening to the voice of a fat female singer? Uh. . . who, exactly, are we talking about? Janet Jackson gained weight, as did Mariah Carey (though certainly not fat), and it seemed that recent interest in their careers was piqued only after they had lost the weight (and there seems to be greater interest in how they dropped the pounds than in their voices or concert dates). Who are our Luther Vandross equivalents?

If you’re a woman, you don’t get to be a pop icon, unless you have the look. And so, with open arms, we welcome to the music world Hillary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton, whose recent single, “Stars are Blind” is currently climbing the charts. Stars may be blind, as Paris notes, but unfortunately, the public is not.

13 comments:

allisonsky said...

DR. Stacey,
I wonder if Britney has recieved so much bad press because of her weight. It must be at least 2 years now since she has been "hot and sexy." She is definitely not a skinny preggar at all either. It is almost as if the press loved her when she was skinny and can't stand the way she looks now (or her husband). Everyone that gets the great press are the skinny twits (except Nicole Richie who begs to get bad press). Either way, the press could give a crap about talent. They just take a lot of pictures of people that look "Fabulous". And I must admit it, I LOVE looking at the In Touch etc. magazines and see what everyone is wearing and how they look. I read about Angelina-Jen-Brad like I am reading a soap opera. AND the worst of all is that I find myself comparing Angelina to Jen, and feel horrible for Jen. However, I can obviously see the reason for Brad's choice. Anyway..... unfortunately I must admit it..... I like to look at all the beautiful people too, know the gossip, and bring in my picure of Jen Aniston's haircut for 10 years now to my hair salon. I also buy things that I have seen those skinny twits wear and even covered my phone in crystals like Paris.
Worst of all..... this is coming from a 34 year old mother of 2 who is envying and copying celebrities!!!! I have been sucked into the culture in a bad way however it is a great escape from reality......

Haley-O said...

I was actually just watching a spotlight show on Sarah McLauchlan. She was saying exactly what you're saying here: it seemed that when Lilith fair ended, "the door slammed shut....Musically, that was the real beginning of the Britney, Christina, Beyonce, all this wildly marketed sexual stuff....it has nothing to do with music anymore....It's all about creating this image that boys are gonna drool over and girls are gonna want to be....It's not something I hope my daughter aspires towards, that's for sure."

It's definitely a double standard at it's worst. I cannot think of one female equivalent of Luther Vandros. The closest I can think of is Kelley Clarkson, who's not "skinny" or conventionally "hot." But they've managed to sexualize her by creating a girl-next-door image, the tossled hair, and she has to stop wearing her signature low low low cut tops....

I'm actually really annoyed by Nelly Furtado now. She was so spunky and creative and understated. Now she's come out with her "Loose" album--and her title single "Promiscuous." I cringe when I see her performing it in a skimpy outfit and with all her repetitive "sexy" poses. Very disappointed that she's apparently bought into everything and sold herself out....

Maya said...

Interestingly, the winner of the U.K. version of American Idol a couple of years ago, Michelle McManus, was a big woman with a great voice. She was, however, ongoingly vilified in the press about her weight and eventually the poor girl succumbed to the fascist dictates of the truly ghastly diet-and-lifestyle guru "Dr" Gillian Mc Keith and Michelle's subsequent weight and size fluctuations have been eagerly charted in the press. Her vocal talents have been given somewhat less coverage- after one or two hit songs, she seems to be out of the spotlight in that regard at least. It's tragic that this amazing, talented woman's skills have been overlooked in favour of concentrating on her size.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr. Stacey

This is a bit unrelated to this particular post but I really wanted to comment on your blog/title. I would have to strongly disagree with your notion that "every woman has an eating disorder". It is very misleading to suggest that all women suffer from what is, in reality, a very debilitating (both physically and psychologically) illness that carries carefully and strictly defined clinical criteria. Though I would agree that MANY many women struggle with disordered eating habits and chronic disatisfaction with their bodies, this in no way suggests the wide-spread epidemic implied by your title. I strongly believe that it dilutes the grave nature of the accurately defined disorder (by DSM-IV standards) where those who are suffering experience significant impairments in their ability to function at a most basic level. I fully agree that our collective culture renders it virtually impossible for girls and woman to feel good about, or even respect and tolerate, their bodies. It is a profoundly sad circumstance that many young females grow up tortured by their otherwise "normal" and healthy bodies. However, many, in fact the great majority, are able to come to a compromise at various points and maintain a relationship with food and weight that may be bumpy but not eating disordered. I do sincerely hope that I do not come across as disrespectful or critical, as I have enjoyed reading through the ideas and comments of this board.

drstaceyny said...

as--could be (re: Britney's weight). I like reading celebrity gossip, too. It's amazing the power the whole celebrity focus has on us (you mention the cell phone--the Motorola Razr didn't seem to catch on until the stars picked it up!) So, yes, it's an escape to read the mags, but not so much of an escape if you constantly compare yourself (and come up short).

drstaceyny said...

Haley--interesting abt Lilith fair (which seemed to represent a gathering of v. talented artists, in my opinion). It seems that Kelley Clarkson's lost a lot of weight since she first appeared on Idol. I agree--the Nelly Furtado featured now is not the one we first saw. It may have something to do with the fact that she took time off to have a child and now has to prove herself?

drstaceyny said...

Maya--good to hear that things are somewhat different in England (and Australia, as KathrynOh informed us a couple of weeks ago). While she did win, though, it seems that she was made to pay for it. Sad. . .

drstaceyny said...

anonymous--you're not disrespectful at all--I appreciate the feedback.

The point of the working title (I'm not 100% committed to it) is to be inflammatory, to raise consciousness about the millions of women who struggle with EDNOS or sub-clinical eating (and related) disorders, such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Anorexia Athletica, etc. I do not believe that all women suffer from Anorexia or Bulimia (see my "about me" for that). And, I certainly am not trying to lessen the focus on these two incredibly painful, physically and psychologically devasating disorders.

What I AM trying to do is increase the focus on all other types of disordered eating, to show how absolutely devastating these disorders can be. They, too, can cause significant distress and affect interpersonal and emotional functioning, as well as overall well-being. As women who have binged somewhat regularly (but not purged), dieted off and on, restricted their intake, and hated their bodies can tell you, these disorders are just as intolerable as anything else for them. Moreover, I believe that an anorexic mindset is as painful as an anorexic body (which yes, would lead to more physical complications). Recent research has suggested that yo-yo dieting (and not obesity) is primarily implicated for the health-related consequences of being overweight, so even those who don't meet criteria for A or B are still devasating their bodies.

As you say, "our collective culture renders it virtually impossible" for us to feel good about our bodies. That's my premise, and an upsetting fact that I'm trying to address. I have to disagree, though, that the majority of women are able to come to a healthy relationship with food. I wish that were the case, but my experience as a woman (surrounded by women) in this culture and my experience as a therapist over the years (to mostly female patients) has convinved me otherwise. Again, I'm not saying these women have A or B, but I am illuminating (and trying to normalize) the incredibly high incidence of EDNOS and other sub-clinical conditions.

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you'll continue to read. . . .

PalmTreeChick said...

DrStacey, I loved your response to "Anonymous'" post. It was very eye opening. I can attest to what you said about the anorexic mindset being just as painful as the anorexic body. I do not look anorexic, but my brain totally thinks like an anorexic person.

I'm going to read up on anorexia athletica to find out more about that. I've read some stuff on it, but I don't remember much.

I'll probably respond more to this later. I'm pre-occupied (in a good way) by my nephews. :)

ps22 said...

The discrepancy in the entertainment industry between men and women is so true and, unfortunately, part of a larger picture that extends to many industries. I start to feel a little guilty when I think of some of the harsh and unfair criticism I have towards women in entertainment (emphasis on the word 'some').

I do see the point made by anonymous, as does Dr. Stacey it seems. But I do agree with Dr. S about the need to highlight the universality of the root of these problems. Its always a fine line when putting these issues out in public...do you highlight the simiarlities between a disease and a "problem" behavior or attitude? Or do you highlight the differences? I think anonymous and Dr. S are doing a great job...this type of back and forth allows all of us to think flexibly and dynamically about a complex issue.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr. Stacey

Thank you for your response and yes, I definitely see your point regarding the need to bring awareness to lesser known disorders (e.g. EDNOS, BDD and Anorexia Athletica). Undoubtedly there is a shared mindset and inner turmoil among each of these disorders as well as the more traditionally recognized disorders like Anorexia and Bulimia. And I must reluctantly agree with your counter-point that most women probably do not ever achieve a peaceful co-existence with food. As a self-described "recovered" anorexic/bulimic, I guess my statement was very much based on wishful thinking. Though my behaviors are no longer harmful, my mindset continues to be even as several years pass where I no longer have a clinically diagnosable eating disorder. I would love to believe though that one day I could relax and ease up regarding food and weight, as I doubt my body REALLY needs such an incredibly hypervigilant keeper! It must be possible to live more naturally.

Barmaid said...

I don't know, does Aretha Franklin count as a pop icon? I'm a little surprised nobody's suggested her in all these months.

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