WINDOW DRESSING

OK, I'll join the rest of the internet in offering two cents about People magazine's decision to put Gabourey Sidibe on its annual "Most Beautiful People" list. Let me attempt to explain what I think is so stupid about this without sounding as vicious and ugly as Debbie Schussel. Just to get everyone on the same page, this is the actress in question, star of (by all accounts) the unbelievably sappy Oscar bait Precious:

Rather than approaching this from the predictable (and already well-worn) "She is fat and ugly, and hence not beautiful" angle, I find this bothersome simply because People does not actually think she is beautiful either. They are using her to show the rest of us what progressive views they have on beauty standards. We are supposed to break into applause and say, "Way to go, People! Fatties can be beautiful too!" And we are also supposed to pay attention to a stupid annual list that we would otherwise ignore. So far, People is 2-for-2.

The problem is that if People really considered her "beautiful" their list of the 100 most beautiful people would not consist of Sidibe and 99 people who look like the 100 most beautiful people list always looks. The rest of the women on the list are the usual size-three-and-under suspects: Halle Berry, Zoe Saldana, Julia Roberts, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Aniston, Sofia Vergara, and numerous other stick figures. If People has such an open mind about beauty, why isn't the list a nice mix of people of different sizes and appearance? Why is it 50 supermodels and Sidibe? And how much would anyone care to bet that next year the list is back to being fatty-free?

People is trying to establish some progressive street cred with a "most beautiful people" list, something that is inherently shallow and stupid. The depressing thing is that in a world in which KFC can be lauded for social consciousness by offering pink buckets of fried chicken, this will probably work.

40 thoughts on “WINDOW DRESSING”

  • Wow. Shussel REALLY hates this girl. But not because she's fat. Or black. No, it's because… she's… like… umm… a bad role model… or something… and… ah… GUBMINT BAD!!!1!1!!!

  • ladiesbane says:

    People is in the business of selling magazines to a public that watches the Hallmark Channel and Lifetime. Is it pandering to reflect the opinions of their readership? Or are they betraying the scientific standards of Objective Beauty Metrics?

    And why do Americans, 5% of the world's population, make up almost the whole list? Whites, same deal.

    And how in hell does Julia Roberts keep dominating the list? Does anyone find her more beautiful than Laetitia Casta, for example? Is this celebrity gossip rag violating its journalistic integrity by not including the starting lineup for Victoria's Secret?

    I mean, the 2010 list also includes Justin Bieber, who reminds me of Adam Rich from "Eight is Enough." Really, People Magazine?

  • Grumpygradstudent says:

    The critique you went for is the right one. One deviation out of hundreds does not make them open minded.

    However, the critique you didn't go for (the one about her being fat and ugly) is incredibly offensive and closed minded. I'm glad you left that one alone.

  • Elder Futhark says:

    People magazine, SNL, and people who like that kind of shit, etc. are further empirical evidence that we, as a species, are doomed. Our extinction event will be the equivalent of choking on our own vomit… or poo.

  • Aaron Schroeder says:

    Grumpygradstudent,

    How is the "Fat/Ugly Argument" offensive and close-minded? You praise Ed's critique, but one notes that the Fat/Ugle Argument has to be hold in order for us to consider People Magazine's decision cynical and close-minded. The claims just seem inconsistent to me.

    Unless, of course, you're saying that the list should've included more fat people….

  • Has anyone seen Gabby Sidibe interviewed? She is fucking hilarious. Sassy, confident and waay more cool and self-assured than someone her age has a right to be. Yes, the People feature is retarded, and gets worse every year, but I have a tiny bit more respect for People magazine for putting someone who completely bucks the trend, the "ideal", on their list. Still not buying it, but this is the first time in a while I don't have to suppress the desire to burn every copy I can find.

  • Tangential: Why is "sassy" one of those adjectives that only gets applied to fat people?

    Anyway, I didn't really consider it an opinion statement to note that she is fat (although some might prefer a less ugly term than "fat"). No matter how much lip service the Hollywood media and industry leaders give her, I seriously doubt we're going to see her cast as a romantic lead or as Iron Man's love interest anytime soon on account of this fact.

  • Grumpygradstudent says:

    Yes, that's what I'm saying. I think that was Ed's point too. If you're gonna really diversify what counts as "official" beauty, then you can't just have one person out of hundreds. It's fat tokenism.

    This fat=ugly and fat=dysfunctional thing can blow me hard.

  • Grumpygradstudent says:

    To clarify, what I disagree with is dismissing off hand the fact that this woman is, indeed, quite beautiful. If you don't think so, that's your business. But I guarantee you there are men and women in the world who desperately want to jump her bones.

  • "Sassy" is an American word I happen to love, though I attach it to everyone I think sassy-esque. I also love the phrase, "don't sass me!", but being a Limey, I can't pull it off. And I don't think sassy is solely attached to fat people– what of the youtube sensation, "sassy gay friend"? Hmm?

    And while I don't want to jump Gabby Sidibe's bones (I'm tragically attracted to men) but I do want to hang out with her. Faaar more than I'd want to hang out with Julia Roberts or Macrobiotic Gwyneth.

  • Ed you are on a roll, m'friend. On. a. roll. When I saw this news, I was very suspicious. My fat-positive advocate lady friends were all excited, but can't they see the tokenism? It's all part of Precious fever.

  • Crazy for Urban Planning says:

    I just don't get the attention she gets. A teenager who skipped high school to go to a movie casting call is now borderline positive influence or role model for girls? Its dumb…

  • If there's one thing I take from this, it's that Debbie Schussel is one miserable bitch. I agree that this whole thing is bullshit (having a "Most Beautiful People" list and putting a morbidly obese person on it), but Jesus – that article she wrote is way over the top.

  • The arbitrary inclusion of an anomaly on an arbitrary list? Outrageous!

    I'd be outraged at the outrage if it wasn't so silly.

  • The young woman played a girl who had suffered horrible abuse from her parents and hated her body. She managed to hang on to enough self-respect to eventually escape that abuse and self-hatred, an unbelievably difficult thing to do under the circumstances. The character is beautiful because she learns to value herself, something a lot of pretty skinny white people often do not manage to do. Her strength is beautiful, her ability to love despite never being loved in beautiful, and yes, her dark skin and fat body are beautiful. The weight is unhealthy and should be lost, but the fat is not the person.

    For once in its miserable, shallow life, People said that dignity, strength and self-respect are things of beauty. Good for it.

  • ladiesbane says:

    Re: "sassy": my guess is that it derives from "saucy", but that the modern application comes from the 70s. Civil Rights and Feminism spawned the trope of the Sassy Black Woman (Pam Grier's blaxsploitation roles, Florence from The Jeffersons, Nell from Gimme a Break!, Aretha Franklin's character in The Blues Brothers, etc.) Eventually the impertinence franchise was extended to children, starting with Arnold from "Diff'rent Strokes" and continuing to that child who grills his mother's date in the Superbowl ad.

  • And Schussel will eventually reap her reward, because no amount of hair dye or exercise can stop her from aging, and when the prettiness is gone, the ugliness will shine out even stronger.

  • Ed: Tangential: Why is "sassy" one of those adjectives that only gets applied to fat people?

    It's also used as a euphemism for "sexy" when applied to, for example, Bratz dolls.

    (although some might prefer a less ugly term than "fat")

    If you believe the fat-acceptance movement, "fat" isn't an ugly term, just a descriptive one; euphemisms don't really help if it's the concept that bothers people.

  • @Crazy for Urban Planning:
    You might have a good point, if she weren't in her late 20's, NOT a teenager. You never bailed on a college course to do something stupid, much less audition for a movie? And she gets attention because she really was good in that film, which is more than I can say for Julia Roberts' last screen foray.

  • @Susan of Texas: You said, "Schussel will eventually reap her reward….when the prettiness is gone…"

    Prettiness? Schussel? Are we talking about the same bleach bottle hair-like-straw blonde big mouthed fat-necked stocky little meatball Schussel? With the voice like a pick-up dragging chains?

    If someone with cataracts sort of squinted at an out-of-focus TV screen that was twenty-feet away and had problems with the vertical hold during an earthquake, might, for a fleeting moment, think "Little" Debbie had any, even tangential relation to "prettiness".

    Unless you intended it as a joke, like "truthiness"?

    And wow, the photo of Gabourey at the top really is strikingly pretty!! All her features are lovely: eyes, nose, mouth. The dress ain't bad either!!

  • Aaron Schroeder says:

    Grumpygradstudent,

    Sorry to jump back into this so late, but even if the "fat=ugly and fat=dysfunctional thing can blow [you] hard," I don't see why anyone would think that a morbidly obese person would qualify as being among the top 100 most attractive people in the world. Surely, as ladiesbane noted at the outset of the post, a morbidly obese woman (or man) will meet almost none of the objective beauty metrics (tested cross-culturally, if you haven't read the studies). But worse–though that is bad enough–to find a fat woman attractive in virtue of her being fat is, in the end, finding her attractive for something about her that is bad, or vicious. That is, we would be praising the woman for something that her life would be better for, were she not that way. It's like having a retarded finger painter on your list of the world's most creative artists.

    As for those who would "gladly jump [Gabourey Sidibe's] bones," perhaps there are plenty of them. But (1) there are plenty of people who'd bang a real cow rather than this one, and there aren't any Holstein's on the list; and (2) my suspicion is that, for most of those plenty, they're overweight themselves or in a pretty distinct minority.

  • Regarding "SASSY!"

    Growing up in the seventies and eighties, the word "SASSY!" was applied, constantly and ubiquitously, to every single fashion accessory, dress, shoe, and thing in every single fashion magazine everywhere. Also to shades of lip gloss, nail polish, and eyeshadow.

    I think there was even a MAGAZINE named "SASSY!!!"

    It may be used a lot to describe black ladies, but it has been applied to many many other nouns as well.

  • Grumpygradstudent says:

    I take issue with the idea that there are "objective beauty metrics." That, indeed, is my whole point. But I have now officially spent more time arguing about People magazine than I care too in my life, so I will bid this conversation adieu.

  • ladiesbane says:

    Dear Grumpy,

    You're not following any more, but I must forlornly point out that you are reading too earnestly if you didn't notice the sarcasm. "Objective beauty metrics" was used mockingly, as was my reference to People's journalistic integrity. Whether or not anyone approves the topic of physical appearance as worthy magazine fodder, that list specifically has nothing to do with beauty, and never did.

  • Grumpygradstudent says:

    I lied…i came back. Just to say to ladiesbane that I was responding to the other commenter, Mr./Ms. Schroeder.

  • "That is, we would be praising the woman for something that her life would be better for, were she not that way."

    You could say the same thing for every person that has endangered their health for some other reason, whether it be through dieting or extreme sports. But you won't. Because the real issue here is that fat disgusts you. You are terrified that it could happen to you and that people would judge you like you are judging people right now. We all know you spew venom like this because you hope it prevents people from seeing your own less obvious inadequacies.

    There are many people that think Gabourey is beautiful. And many more would if they could get past what society tells them what is and isn't beautiful.

    As for Ed's point, yeah she's a token entry, but so was Hattie McDaniel and I'm sure glad she got that Oscar regardless.

  • ladiesbane says:

    Grumpy, my apologies; I hadn't read the Schroeder post. Now that I have, I don't know whether to shriek with laughter (he bought it! My totally made-up Objective Beauty Metrics will now be quoted in high school debates!) or to sit agog at the dude's pathology. Reminds me of a guy I knew (gorgeous, bright, witty) who stayed a virgin until he was nearly 30 because he thought girls were "germy."

  • ladiesbane says:

    I think the topic is handled better in:
    http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0001201
    — I think facial attractiveness among white people as rated by a small sampling doesn't mean much (though it seems to be the method People uses, too.) Standards of beauty change over time, which supports the notion that attractiveness is subjective. The classic proportions of Greek sculpture seem mediocre compared to modern extremes in everything from cheekbone angle to bust-waist-hip ratio. Were they wrong, or were we? To each his own taste, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, etc. — and while I'm utterly certain that People's editorial board would not have picked Gabourey off the street as an example of a certain aesthetic ideal, I know that they didn't pick anyone else on the list for his or her beauty, either. Their metrics are strictly based on market value.

  • grumpygradstudent is right: It is the idea that there is an objective standard of beauty that is offensive and just plain wrong. People, scientists included, have tried to claim there is an objective standard, but there simply is not. All standards of beauty are changeable and malleable according to cultural shifts in consumption, scarcity, and other factors. Who does it benefit to uphold this standard of beauty? Think about it–it makes a certain segment opf capitalism very happy when mostly women spend tons of money to try to fix whatever is "wrong" with their appearance. Anyway, Sidibe is beautiful, in my book, because she is confident and stunningly so. Beauty is not determined by People magazine. And I agree with Ed that their sorry attempt to include her should also include some other fat people. Won't happen again, probably.

  • I find her a lot more (physically) beautiful than, say, Gwyneth Paltrow, but the People list always includes a few tokens amongst the army of clones.

    What's worse is that they always sprinkle in a few "beautiful on the inside" picks, with tiny pictures, alongside the full-page photos of Brad Pitt or whoever. If the list were really about having a beautiful soul, then it would be a totally different set of people. Instead they should just be upfront, and admit that it's a intended to be a list of hotties.

  • I know I'm jumping into this conversation really late and most likely no one will even read this, but here's my two copper anyway.

    Beauty is and has always been relative, changing with majority opinion, but what this seems more about, in my opinion, is the general acceptance of obesity as "ok" in our society. People have begun to think of it as unchangeable as race or sexual orientation, and discrimination against obese people like racism or bigotry. But it should not thought of this way because, unless you are part of an extremely small margin of people whose bodies are meant to be obese, there is probably something you can and should do about it for your health. Obesity related illnesses and deaths are fast overtaking smoking in preventable deaths, all because we're not willing to lead healthy lifestyles.

    Americans have the right to do almost whatever they want with their bodies, but like any other type of destruction through substances (drugs, alcohol, cigarettes) extreme overeating/obesity shouldn't encouraged or looked up to.

  • Let me also say that I disagree whole-heartedly with the name-calling of obese people and I think it's counter productive to solving the health crisis.

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