The Rebel Girl: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall….

Catherine Sameh

IT’S NOTHING NEW to write about women’s bodies. You know, how women continue to be measured in terms of the one rigid type of look popular at the time. it’s all been said before. We’ve been up, down and around it since the birth of feminism.

But I can’t keep it up.I mean, just when I had finally come to terms with this image of woman as buff—perfectly in shape, hard and strong—along comes a new image. Well, not entirely new. Like all good fashion, recycled from the old.

I was ready to accept this superwoman, buff as hell, kick-ass thing. At least women are in tennis shoes, not pumps, I concluded. At least women are biking, not beautifying. It’s a lot of pressure, but there are rewards in the end. We feel good. We can do and be more. Go harder and longer. We needed to get off our asses anyway. Women just don’t do enough.

Now, I’m really confused. This new look—woman as waif—contradicts all that has gone before The all-natural (supernatural, ethereal?) woman/girl thing, as exemplified by supermodel Kate Moss, is more about fading into the background than it is about force and motion.

Kate Moss. Subject of Calvin Klein ads and considerable controversy. Big-eye and sunken-faced, she’s the one who posed with Marky Mark. The one Calvin Klein says “has this childlike, womanlike thing. It’s a kind of sexiness that I think is very exciting.” For some reason I don’t think he means young—as in alive, vibrant and confident. Wispy, passive and minimal come to my mind.

But enough complaining, right? At least the images are changing, not forever set in stone, right? Why can’t feminists find anything hopeful in these images? Well, we can. The athletic look certainly did challenge notions of women as passive and weak. It was refreshing to see strong, able, androgynous women “playing hard” like men And Nike caught on that there are more than blonde, white women in the world, and included women of color in their ads.

Even this new look has an androgynous aspect to it. The women are mostly short-haired and flat-chested—boyish, really. That’s good, maybe even liberating, though the look is again about being pale, and therefore white.

Noted left author, Christopher Hitchens, wrote an homage to Anna Nicole Smith for Vanity Fair recently. She’s the pre-Drew Barry-more Guess model who’s all flesh. At 5 ft. l1 in. and l55 pounds, she was an image Hitchens found refreshingly womanly—plenty in the midst of starvation. An undiscriminating collector of all women’s magazines, I perused my collection and found her beefy body in all its poses. Sporting a platinum-blonde Marilyn Monroesque look, Smith is a dramatic departure from the skin and bone Mossites.

But call me picky, one thing struck me. Smith has an enormous chest And when all is said and done, it’s precisely her breasts that Guess photographers are zeroing in on. No excess of her tummy, thigh or bottom get quite the same attention.

My point is, whatever the latest image we are to measure ourselves by, women are still under the pressure of some kind of rigid formula. Whether we’re starving, siliconing or sporting, we’re prey to the male-defined now market. For women of color the pressures are only greater, as most popular representations of beauty are still about being white, or at least lighter—-rather than darker—-skinned.

I’m no bore. I’m ready, willing and able to honor beauty. But I’d like a diverse palette. And one that I took part in creating.

November-December 1993, ATC 47