Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fox News conversation turns weirdly tragic

A couple of Fox News pundits have their undies in a bundle about Sarah Palin's photograph on the cover of Newsweek. It's a close-up, full-page photo of Palin's face -- which some people claim is deliberately unretouched. I really don't care to speculate about what "flaws" they're referring to. There are some small lines and wrinkles under her eyes, and some slightly blotchy color variation in her makeup.

Yes, it's a cheap attempt by Fox News to generate a little partisan drama. But as a public moment in the women-and-beauty discussion, it's fascinating. In the clip, three female pundits discuss Palin's photograph: a stunning, Barbie-like anchorwoman, a skinny brunette GOP analyst, and a slightly overweight, exasperated-looking woman from American University. As they bat back and forth the question of Palin's right to look perfect on the cover of Newsweek, one can't help but think of the pressures to be beautiful that they themselves are under - particularly as women who appear frequently, or even daily, on television. The media has told us repeatedly that many women look at Sarah Palin and see themselves. Apparently, these women looked at Sarah Palin's closeup and saw their worst career nightmare.

GOP analyst Andrea Tantaros practically bares her soul here. She makes her own insecurity - and that of all women - another talking point:

Julia, this is mortifying ... this is mortifying. Any woman who would look at this cover, or if this were me, or if this were you - if this camera would zoom in on me right now, the viewers, I can tell you right now, it ain't pretty. And I tell you what, I'd be pretty upset. Any woman who would see this cover would be shocked and horrified.

Does this remind anyone of certain passages from Gulliver's Travels? Jonathan Swift's novel, adored in high school literature classrooms, is known for deep misogyny, particularly in his depiction of women's bodies and bodily functions. In one large section of the text, Gulliver is a miniature man living in a world of giants. And the breasts of giant women, seen from this zoomed-in angle, are described with categorical disgust. He sees every ugly freckle, crevice, discoloration, and hair. And Gulliver says he's never seen anything so "monstrous" as the up-close breast of his caretaker.

But, uh that was Jonathan Swift, hating on women's bodies in 1726. Centuries later, are we still telling women that the most mortifying, horrifying, shocking thing that can happen to them would be the revelation that they have pores, wrinkles, and facial imperfections? Andrea Tantaros is revealing more than her disdain for Newsweek. She's revealing disdain for her physical self, and by extension, ours.

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