Fame in the age of the freeze frame

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2013 MTV Awards: Miley Cyrus's raunchy performance

Back in 2013, Miley Cyrus’s controversial performance with Robin Thicke at the MTV Video Music Awards stole the show but sent the internet into overdrive.

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I have a photo of myself that I really love. I’m in a purple short sleeved dress, one arm flung around my friend and the other dramatically pointing skyward, a giant open-mouthed grin on my face. If I was prone to flowery language like “her visage was suffused with elation” this would be an instance where I’d be breaking out the ten-dollar words. Instead I’ll just say that I look genuinely happy in that picture. And I was.

A male friend of mine saw that beautiful shot of me and said with a jerk smirk, “Ha! I can see a five o’clock shadow under your arms”. I believe I shot him a withering look and said, “Women do grow hair there, you know.” I’m glad I let him know that I was pissed off by his remark, but I don’t think he knew quite how irritated I truly was. Now when I see that picture I’m reminded that he tried to make me feel bad about my body and used it as the butt of his unfunny joke. How joyously free I remember feeling when the photo was taken is instead overlaid with that newer unpleasant memory. (Don’t feel that sorry for me, overall I still think I’m pretty awesome.)

I’m recalling this incident of late because of some of the current meme shaming being directed towards Miley Cyrus after her rather attention grabbing MTV VMAs performance. It’s a grim reminder that women’s appearances are always, always, always up for discussion and criticism. If you didn’t see it, the overblown drama is that Cyrus wore a flesh coloured latex bikini while twerking on stage with a giant foam finger. 

Miley Cyrus performs during the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.

Miley Cyrus performs during the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.

Regardless of how you feel about Cyrus’s I’m-all-grown-up antics, some of the comments flung at her, particularly regarding her freeze-framed derriere, were simply gross. Twitter hashtag #mileyasssmallerthan sprung up (spoiler alert: it’s smaller than all the things) and a photo gallery of memes were created about items that her bottom looked like. Hmm, if only there were a word to describing the comparison of women’s bodies to objects and the dehumanising effects that can wreak – oh wait, there is... objectification!

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No, her bottom doesn’t look like an uncooked chicken or an apple or Hank Hill’s middle-aged cartoon bottom. It just looks like a regular behind squeezed into some beige plastic knickers. No news here, folks, and certainly nothing befitting the viral mockery that has been spewed her way. Discuss her performance, discuss her styling choices, but please can we not sit around contrasting and comparing the butt of a 20-year-old? And if you’d argue that if she hadn’t wanted anyone to talk about her bottom she shouldn’t have worn that outfit, then where does that lead us? Is it okay to discuss a woman’s body on the beach if she’s wearing a bikini? In the bedroom when she’s in lingerie? It seems better to just agree that perhaps we should lay off the body judgement altogether.

Fame in the age of freeze frames is indeed a cruel mistress, a fact Beyoncé also learnt at this year’s Super Bowl. She put on a particularly energetic performance and as a result there were some images going around that her publicist tried to get pulled down from Buzzfeed for being ‘unflattering’ (Buzzfeed much more positively described them as ‘fierce’). Press photographers were then banned from her current world tour, with some saying it was an effort to control the photos released of the singer. There are already incredible demands on women as to how they are expected to look – now it seems the bar has been raised that any female star should look like a perfectly posed mannequin for every single one of the 24 frames in a filmed second.

Beyonce performs at the Superbowl earlier this year.

Beyonce performs at the Superbowl earlier this year.

Now some might say that a bunch of celebrities who are handsomely rewarded for their efforts to entertain us probably shouldn’t be getting our sympathy for a few jokes about their behind or grimacing. But it seems to me that this is an instance writ large of something many of us have experienced – the unflattering Facebook tag or Instagram snap we’d prefer hadn’t been posted. We live in an age where we are visually documented at an unprecedented level and that can put a lot of pressure on how we are expected to look. So we can either go the Beyoncé route and try to curate how we are presented (a task that’s only going to get harder as social media flourishes), or we can stand up and say please cut it out with the body snarking.

If Miley’s butt is mocked for looking like a piece of bread, or Beyoncé’s grimace is fair game when she’s being energetic, and we condone that as a society, of course some dude is going to think it’s okay to try to embarrass me about having underarm stubble. Bodies don’t have to look perfect at all, let alone every single second of the day. The whole thing is extra revolting as I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s when these women were being energetic and active that the mockery or fear of being ridiculed came. It’s as if women are expected to be still and silent and pretty, and never step over that line into being rambunctious or loud or potentially ugly. And frankly over that line is where a lot of the fun of life is to be had.  

So every time we speak up to say it’s not acceptable to judge women’s bodies like that it makes things a little easier for us all. If you’re with me, raise your hand (and I promise to duel anyone who dares to make a single comment about the state of your perfectly lovely underarms...)

48 comments

  • I have no idea what she was doing with her tongue in the beginning of that video..

    Commenter
    HighlyDubious
    Date and time
    August 29, 2013, 9:10AM
    • It's about time we, as a society, started looking at the messenger as being responsible for the message. This means that every person who posts a comment about slamming Miley is actually slamming themselves, and that their negative comments are a reflection of the person behind the post, not the context of the post.

      Think about it, Miley is a young American lady, who cares what she does? The house wives deriding her, the men being sexually abusive, the media revelling in the controversy, IS NOT MILEY. When a house wife slams Miley, she is slamming her own sexual insecurities. When a man flaunts Mileys photos, that is the mans sexual insecurities.

      It is about time we as a society started shooting the messenger.

      If a person is carrying a virus they are expected to be responsible for that virus, and where they share it. The same should be true for a gyrating Miley meme.

      Commenter
      Terrarocks
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 29, 2013, 9:16AM
      • Oh come on.... acting like a complete idiot deserves some negative attention.
        We do not (and should not) live in a world and anyone can do anything anytime they feel like it.

        People do stupid things. Call them out!

        Commenter
        cranky
        Location
        pants
        Date and time
        August 29, 2013, 10:13AM
      • Miley Cyrus did everything she possibly could to start some sort of controversy about herself.
        She succeeded, now she gets to deal with the controversy.

        She wanted to show the world she is an adult, and part of being an adult is recognising that there are consequences for your actions, and that not everybody is going to be unquestioningly supportive of every choice you make in life.

        It's about time we, as a society, grew the f up and stopped breaking down in a hissy fit every time somebody judges or criticises somebody else.

        Commenter
        Markus
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        August 29, 2013, 10:23AM
      • Negative attention is fine but here's a difference between saying "that was tacky" and saying "your bum looks like an uncooked chicken".

        Commenter
        Nick
        Date and time
        August 29, 2013, 12:02PM
      • "We do not (and should not) live in a world and anyone can do anything anytime they feel like it."

        Really? As long as we're willing to live with the consequences, that sounds like the ideal world to me.

        Commenter
        DM
        Date and time
        August 29, 2013, 12:44PM
      • DM, fair enough, but I would say that trying to push social change to the point where everybody is expected to provide nothing but unquestioned support for every decision every person makes in life is not exactly living with the consequences.

        Commenter
        Markus
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        August 29, 2013, 1:59PM
    • The REAL problem is that women are ingrained from birth with the notion they must care about "being judged", even if it's from people you don't know and don't give a damn about!

      Clearly this is a psychologically damaging habit, because you will never stop the multitude of people in the world from judging you, given any opportunity.

      Instead, simply cease to value the opinions of complete strangers. Then their judgements cannot ever harm you.

      It may seem hard, but once you do it, you will feel a liberation and freedom that you would never have imagined.

      Commenter
      Christian
      Date and time
      August 29, 2013, 9:18AM
      • From a guys point of view... who cares about the hair under your arms, oh that's right YOU do. That is why a comment would be made, because it will get a reaction. Men are shizzle stirrers.

        So... don't react and stop caring.

        As for celebrities.... and celebrities acting like tools. Objectify away. They are not human.

        Commenter
        cranky
        Location
        pants
        Date and time
        August 29, 2013, 9:40AM
        • Not sure about celebrities not being human? That hardly makes sense to me. Fairly sure if any of us were groomed and raised within the entertainment industry, we would end up being in it still as adults. I think saying she is inhuman is a bit far fetched....

          Commenter
          BB
          Date and time
          August 29, 2013, 10:17AM

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