Emily Ratajawa famously defends her right to be sexy and confident. She entered into the media young, beautiful, and dancing topless in a flesh colored thong in Robin Thicke’s music video “Blurred Lines,” and the world became a brighter, joyus place. “Blurred Lines” is a catchy song, I downloaded it, and listened to it and without knowing it, learned all the words. But one day when it came on the radio I finally realized what I was singing so happily while stuck in traffic:
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
You’re a good girl
Can’t let it get past me
You’re far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted”
If you actually say the words “talk about getting blasted” out loud- I mean, try it and see how you feel. Because I felt like I suddenly was balding, had a penis, was blackout drunk, and at a Hollywood Blvd strip club with no money, trying to coax a stripper into buying me buffalo chicken wings. And it was the first time I really considered the song in correlation with the music video. The fact is, Emily has the right to dance naked on the Internet, and she also has the right to be respected by the audience viewing her performace. Every woman deserves the world to be a safe space to express sexuality and body confidence. Men too. I was a fan of J Lo’s “I love you Papi” music video where she’s surrounded by muscely, greased down men wearing metallic speedos. But in J Lo’s video the presence of sexualized men felt comical for some reason, while Robin Thicke’s presence of sexualized women felt…rapey. Maybe because the men in “Blurred Lines” were fully clothed and gawking at the women, while J Lo was also wearing booty shorts and dancing in the middle of her smiling, objectified men. J Lo’s men looked like they were having fun on the yacht, and the “Blurred Lines” women looked…solemn.
My male co-worker was the one who first showed me the “Blurred Lines” video, and his comments were mainly about Emily and her physique. As a woman watching this video alongside a man, I without even knowing it, internalized his comments and watched as I saw another woman, topless and holding a white rabbit, while Robin Thicke moved around her looking at her naked body, become validated by another man watching Robin Thicke move slowly around a naked woman holding a rabbit and licking her lips while shaking her shoulders in beat to “talk about getting blasted.” I, the woman audience member wasn’t really validating her, because I was too preoccupied with what the actual fuck was happening. I was intensely focused on the concept of the overall video: the color aesthetic was nice, but I didn’t know what to make of the images. Boobs, lips, and farm animals. “Is that a goat? This is very visually stunning,” I think I said. As a woman, I felt the need to defend Emily’s honor, but also, personally, the whole thing made me uncomfortable. Is this how you gain power and respect as a young woman? Is this how men take you seriously? Should I be caring that men want this? Would Emily ever be cast in a music video like this if men didn’t exist?
In 1975, film critic Laura Mulvey described this as the “male gaze,” or the way in which the visual arts and media depict the world and women from a masculine point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure. I mean it’s basically the concept of Robin Thicke’s video. Three men stalk around three naked women who are wiggling around, “dancing.” It’s a hot, tricky, and controversial topic to talk about as a woman, especially with the recent election of a sexual predator as President of our country, and with the added pressure of being crucified for not standing with your fellow sisters and supporting everything any woman minus Ann Coulter says or does. Am I tearing Emily down if I have a question about her feminism? Am I not supporting women everywhere if I think self objectification of our physical features may be damaging? I honestly have no idea, because Emily, like every woman, deserves to be respected, but what she is constantly representing also doesn’t feel like it’s “freeing” other young women from misogyny. Men still seem highly involved in her image, and her decisions.
There is a girl I met in Hawaii who I follow on Instagram and who is contantly posting pictures of her sprawled out on the beach, or topless, covering her nips under a waterfall, or a close up of her very nice ass. She will get so many likes and so much attention from these images and a new one appears almost everyday and they are stunning self portraits, but everyday another portrait of her hip bones is appearing on my feed and I start to tire of her physiology. Is she always at the beach doing nothing or does she have a library full of these images and posts when she’s bored at work? The comments are usually emoji’s of fire or an encouraging message of true friendship, “dang mama, looking good,” a lot of approval directed towards her physical features from both men and women, some friends, some acquaintances, and some even strangers.
There have been studies done that show a picture of someone’s face will get more “likes” than a picture of a landscape, people like to see other people. I like to see pictures of people’s faces too, especially their eyes, because that’s how you can verify if they are dead inside or if they have a lot going on deep within. Validation that you aren’t hideious is great, but I keep hearing women use the word “empowering” in regards to posing naked. When I think of the word “empowering” I think of someone with a high rise office filled with honorary degrees, or a woman firefighter who saved a life, or female athlete, or a Nobel Peace Prize winner, or a man holding a baby tenderly. I don’t instantly think of someone validating their ass. But womanhood! Be proud of your body! Emily is! I have lived my life without any desperation for female friends, but maybe I’ve been missing out. Maybe my sisters are onto something!
So when I was in Hawaii, I had my friend take a picture of me on the beach in a swimsuit, and it took me forever because angles can be so unforgiving, but when one finally came out ok, I filtered it black and white because zoom feature, and then spent almost twenty minutes lying on the beach staring at it trying to think of how to post it without looking narcissistic. The caption was the hardest part. For inspiration I referenced other women’s pictures and captions.
Some woman post a sexy picture with an inspiring quote underneath:
“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”
Some girls just simply stated the day of the week and add an emoji:
“Monday, pineapple emoji.”
If you are closer to the weekend it seemed more justifiable:
“It’s Friyay. Weekend vibes. Palm tree emoji, tropical drink emoji, sun emoji.”
Some women tried to down play the high matinence look of the picture and wrote something like:
“Sometimes I dress up. But usually I’m just chillin’ with my bra off and my sweatpants on.”
Mermaids were also really big:
“Mermaid hair, don’t care. Shell emoji”
I definately am guilty of using that one before. In retrospect though, the ocean does not turn your hair into a flowing golden dream, the sun and curling irons do. A real life mermaid’s hair, an actual woman with a fin who lives in the ocean’s hair would eventually just become one giant dread. Airelle in The Little Mermaid was falsely portrayed by Disney. As I looked at myself, my body, there I am, but what do I say? Why am I doing this? Deep down, I knew it didn’t have anything to do with empowering myself. If I truly wanted to empower myself I’d go read Maya Angelou poetry. It had to do with wanting validation from others and from Emily Ratawaja. Women should be sexy and confident is what I internalized from her. For all people right, not just men. You’re far from plastic. Talk about getting blasted. Right?
I posted the picture with an emoji of a dolphin…like a real dummy, but like, a sexy dummy, and waited. Slowly, random men started to like it, my girlfriends did too but more in a surprised way, like “Jenn, you’re usually a nun, look at you!” My bitter chastity aside, the likes from men made me feel good for a moment, but that moment was fleeting. Their “likes” did not make me feel empowered like my college degree does, or validated like when I make someone laugh. Instead of thinking, “I’m hot, I’m gonna take on the world,” I thought, “Men like female bodies, they don’t care about me. They just see a butt and ‘like it’ it doesn’t matter who’s butt it is.” It was comparable to running down a public road in spandex workout attire and each “like” was a man in a car yelling out the window, “Nice Yams!” If I didn’t like to be cat called in real life, why was I sexualizing myself online. And how confusing for men. These images just fall into their lap without them even asking for them, because women are providing them. How confusing for all parties involved, I thought. Maybe Emily feels empowered because she gets paid? But if I was getting paid to be naked, I feel like that may make it even worse. Unable to derive any sense of self worth or self respect from what I had just posted, I deleted the pic.
Then, I came across an interview on a morning show with two Victoria Secret angels. I love Victoria’s Secret, I am constantly in awe of models like Gisele who are so bronzey and svelte and have such nice hair. But these two models were young and talking about how their biggest dream came true when they were cast in the show. “As a little girl,” the one model gushed, “all I dreamed of was to be a Victoria’s Secret model. Other girls wanted to be doctors or teachers and I had my heart set on being a Victoria’s Secret model.” And that’s when I paused. “Angels” walk less than 100 meters on a glitter runway, wearing underwear and fake, feathered angel wings. Sometimes they don’t even smile while doing it. And sometimes they are forced to wear little hats like a cartoon character, or hold stuffed animals like a little girl. Is that the dream? What’s the real dream? The money and again, validation that you are good looking? To be desired? By who? Leo DiCaprio? Other woman? That old Ed guy who is the senior creative director, or the old guy Lex who is the new CEO of Victoria’s Secret? These are men controlling a women’s lingere company. One of Victoria’s Secret’s more famous photographers, Russel James, is…also a man. So while we can say these men are celebrating the female form and it’s true, they are still controlling the images of women’s bodies.
I’ve always thought that if I ever have a daughter, I’d tell her when she was little, don’t think of what you want to be when you grow up because that implies that society is in some way, showing you what you should be. Look around for yourself and think about what you’ve observed. See what society needs, then look inward at all your talents, strengths and gifts and see what you can do, where you shine and where you can make a difference, and then do it. If she one day tells me that the world doesn’t need her to be a doctor or teacher, but instead needs her to pose in thongs and walk in a straight line down a runway while holding a little umbrella, I’m going to support her obviously, but I’ll be worried.
I support my fellow women, I believe we are beautiful and should be validated as so. But I want “gorgeous” to be the adjective that follows a really badass noun. She’s a professor and she’s gorgeous, and she’s a doctor and so beautiful, and she’s a social activist and also really sexy. Emily Ratawaja can capitalize off her sexuality, and also has the right to protect her sexuality and she acted on that by wearing a feminist t shirt, jeans and holding a protest sign recently in the women’s march. Emily’s feminisim proves that however your audience reacts to you, you have the right to be sexual and treated with respect, you don’t have to cover yourself up if you don’t want to. Being sexual should never allow you to be mistreated in any way. Someone else who believes this is Lena Dunham, who is always naked on TV, only she offends almost everyone. But to me, Lena is shattering the “male gaze” window in a more powerful way than Emily, who seems to be profiting the same way Ed Razek markets Victoria Secret models for a profit. By giving men exactly the image they desire and giving women a guideline to measure their own male desirablity against. But when Lena Dunham shows her undressed body on television and men say “ew,” she doesn’t give a fuck and won’t stop showing it. And when I see that as a woman, I internalize the fact that anytime a man tells me “no” or devalues me, I don’t have to listen. Because what a man thinks doesn’t need to validate me. Lena may be men’s worst nightmare because she actually is empowering women by not listening to men and being entirely in charge of her own body, image and voice.
But no matter how you twist it, or defend it, both men and women are not just their outward image. As a female, I worry that young men will look at a young woman who is celebrating her body on a social media site, and subconciously lose respect her as a human being, because the more common it becomes, the more we are all becoming desensitized to these types of sexual images. I’ve never heard a group of men sitting around talking about which girl has the more beautiful heart, they are always ranking women’s looks. But I could be hanging around the wrong men, it’s VERY possible. And don’t misunderstand, I don’t want people walking around in sweat suits with bags over their heads ashamed of themselves, and demanding to be more than an outward appearance. Cameron Diaz once said in an interview “I think everyone wants to be objectified,” and she kind of has a point. It feels good to be told you look good. I know that Instagram is a social media platform designed for posting images catered to yourself, but when do you cross the line into obessessing over your images? Are we becoming conditioned to get pleasure and confirmation of worth from comments generated from an image of ourselves, like “you’re beautiful,” or “nice ass.” I tell men they are handsome. Once, I hollered at a shirtless man running on the side of the road just to make everything equal. But in an image obsessed culture, this triumph of attractiveness and self objectification raises questions of “are we internalizing anything from this?” and “is this becoming the only thing that matters.” Psychologists have done studies that link dopamine rushes to “likes.” Everytime you get a “like” your brain releases a pleasure hormone and you feel good. This happens to me when I consume Kraft Mac and Cheese. Posting selfies has also been linked to low self esteem. The more selfies you post, the more you are seeking that dopamine rush, and that validation of worth. The same with my Mac and Cheese, although I’m enjoying every bite, the more I eat, the more I self loathe.
To me, the bottom line, and the feminism I believe in, is freedom and respect, for both women and men. Be sexy, don’t be sexy, be nerdy, love your shape, celebrate your body, soul and mind, celebrate other people’s too. The world should be a safe place for expression and self identity and it can only get there when individuals make a concious effort to bring empathy and kindness into the equation. Note the word conscious. We have to respect one another, and treat each other as the unique human beings we are. Human beings with personal stories, families, friends, struggles, strengths, who love, and emote, and think. That’s how we deserve to represent ourselves to ourselves and how we deserve to represent ourselves to one another. And how we do that in a highly saturated image obsessed culture is going to have to take a lot of self awareness.