Bridesmaids and Olympic Athletes: Living in a Skin-Deep World

Debbie and I blogged this on Body Impolitic and thought after some of the conversations at BogHer 2008 that people might find it interesting:

The New York Times is discussing a new trend in bridesmaid gifts:
for bridesmaids as young-looking and beautiful as your dreams, you, the
lovely blushing bride, can easily provide everything from tit jobs to
Botox:

“Giving them something for themselves — as opposed to something that they’ll never wear again — is more meaningful.”

Some brides pick up the tab for their attendants, replacing the
pillbox inscribed with the wedding date with a well-earned squirt
between the eyes. In other cases, bridesmaids — who may quietly seethe
about unflattering dresses — are surprisingly willing to pay for
cosmetic enhancements.

Becky Lee, 39, a Manhattan photographer, declined when a friend
asked her — and five other attendants — to have their breasts enhanced.
“We’re all Asian and didn’t have a whole lot of cleavage, and she found
a doctor in L.A. who was willing to do four for the price of two,” said
Ms. Lee, who wore a push-up bra instead.

Most of the tone of the article is about how brides view this as a
gracious gift, or at least a welcome opportunity, but the selfish "my
wedding is all about me" story seeps through both in Becky Lee's
quotation above and in this little anecdote:

A bride asked her attendants to get professionally spray-tanned for a Hawaiian-theme reception.
Alas, two women were claustrophobic and couldn’t bear standing in a
tanning capsule. "They asked the bride if they could use regular
tanning cream from a salon," [the wedding planner] said. The bride
refused; she wanted everyone to be the same shade. The women ultimately
declined to be bridesmaids. "Friendships of 20-plus years gone over a
spray tan?"

In a completely different context, U.S. Olympic softball star Jennie Finch appeared on Fox News. No sooner had she walked off screen than co-host Jon Scott described her value as an Olympic athlete:

"A great representative: blond, blue-eyed, and extremely talented."

Pardon us for being naive, but we thought her talent was the point,
not her hair and eyes. Apparently an equally talented player of Greek,
or Jewish, or Asian, or African heritage wouldn't be such a great
representative. We also thought that the friendships were the point for
bridesmaids.

At least three things are going on here. First, always, racism. In
this case, it's disturbingly close to the Aryan-ideal, master-race kind
of racism that wants young blond blue-eyed Olympic athletes. With the
bridesmaids, it's a somewhat more contemporary "Western ideal of
beauty." Tough to attain if you're Asian, but clearly some people think
it's worth the effort.

Second, always, money. If and when she goes pro, Jennie Finch will
get a lot more commercial opportunities than a woman of color on her
team would. Remember Kristi Yamaguchi,
who won America's heart, but not the endorsements? "People like Kristi
Yamaguchi don't represent, at least with marketers, the wholesome
all-American image," as one Asian-American marketer is quoted as saying
on Wikipedia. And no one gets rich encouraging brides to choose the
women they love as bridesmaids and tell them how beautiful they are
without changing anything.

Third, as the Times article reminds us in the headlines,
we're living in a skin-deep world. How you look--and by extension how
your bridesmaids, your family, and your sports stars look--is more
important than what you can do, what you have done, and what you might
do: in sports, in weddings, in job interviews, walking down the street.
Unless, of course, you want a joyful wedding--or a good life.

This is why this post is so important. The overwhelming message is "tell women what they should look like" but belledame222 has a better idea:

Have other women's backs.

"Well, I think she looks great. And even if I didn't, so the hell
what? What the hell business is it of yours? Who asked you? (if one
wishes to be combative) You're no spring onion yourself. And besides,
what does this have to do with (her experience of assault/her
leadership ability/her position on campaign finance reform/the
brilliant novel she wrote/her research in nuclear physics/anything
else)? No, I said: it's not cute and I'm not amused, and I won't hear
this."
Read the whole post.

Lynn Kendall pointed us to the bridesmaid article.

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