Laurie and Debbie say:
Apparently, there’s been a good deal of controversy over Beth Ditto‘s appearance nude on the cover of NME. Ditto is the lead singer for the successful rock band “Gossip,” and is well-known as a fat activist as well as a singer.
Both of us had an initially positive reaction to the picture: she’s cute, she’s hot, and she looks like she runs the world. Before Laurie even saw the picture, however, she had a long conversation with a woman who deeply objects to the cover shot, seeing it as just another in a long line of overly sexualized pictures of naked or near-naked women.
We asked ourselves: if the woman in this picture was thin, would we like it as much? Both of us agree, that the answer is, “No.” Neither of us would be particularly offended by it, but neither would we give it a second glance.
So what’s the difference?
Perhaps the best way to say it is that we both (even though Laurie is thin) look at the picture through a fat woman’s identification: we are so accustomed to looking at how fat women are portrayed, and treated, and objectified that we are delighted when an image steps outside the accepted box. Ditto, in this picture, does not look guilty, downtrodden, or ashamed of her body–what’s not to like?
What’s more, because the picture is hot, it stands in opposition to the lie that men are only attracted to hyper-thin women. One of the reasons Ditto is on this cover is that she was nominated Sexiest Woman Of The Year in the 2007 poll for the magazine. Ironically enough, she lost that title to super-skinny Kate Moss; she did, however, come out on top of their Cool List.
In reality, thin women hate their bodies just about as much as fat women do. In reality, a photograph of a thin woman posed naked and convincingly looking like she runs the world may be just as radical as this picture of Ditto. At the same time, it’s easy to find pictures of near-naked thin women posed to look like they’re completely in control, so the delight is replaced by familiarity.
The familiarity can also easily be replaced by concern. Fat or thin, women’s bodies are still used as objects of male desire. Ditto’s fat body is a less socially acceptable object of male desire, but that’s still what it is.
The trick here is to keep both things in mind: 1) it’s good to see fat women’s bodies in all the places and all the ways that we see thin women’s bodies, especially the ones with a celebratory flavor; 2) we need to remember that as long as the main reason for women’s bodies to be displayed is for men to have something to jerk off to, there’s going to be some slime covering most female nudes.