Today, on Us Magazine's "Body News" page, there are no fewer than six captions and headlines proclaiming that celebrities are "showing off" or "flaunting" their bodies.
"Rihanna Shows Off Sexy Bikini Body"
"One Direction's Liam Payne Goes Shirtless, Shows Off Washboard Abs"
"Eva Longoria Flaunts Bikini Body, Vacations With Ernesto Arguello"
"Helen Hunt Shows Off Slim Beach Body at Age 50"
"Pamela Anderson Shows Off Hot Bikini Bod, Reunites With Ex Rick Salomon"
"Rihanna Wears Snakeskin Bikini, Shows Off Butt in Instagram Photos"
SIGH. I guess it's outside of the realm of possibility that Rihanna, Eva Longoria, Helen Hunt, Liam Payne, and Pamela Anderson were just, you know, wearing swimsuits in public because it's August and it's hot and that's what you do when you're at a beach or a pool. No, of course they're "flaunting!" It's a no brainer that they're "showing off!" Whoever writes these headlines is forgetting, of course, that quite a few of these photos were taken, presumably, by paparazzi and without the stars' permission. I'm not sure how you can show off when you're trying to enjoy your vacation and unaware you're being photographed, but apparently, being a celebrity means you must be performing 24/7.
Although I understand that Us magazine is pretty much the last place you'd expect to see any kind of realistic coverage of stars and their bodies, I still think this kind of rhetoric, this assumption that all fit people are in an endless parade meant for the plebeian eyes of the public, is dangerous and problematic. This is how body image is portrayed in our culture: With breathless reportage on the golden bodies of golden people, praise heaped on their perfect forms. And the flip side, the underlying assumption of these types of headlines? That anyone who doesn't have that kind of body, has nothing to "show off" or be confident about.
I'm not saying that any of these famous women (and man) should cover up or be any less proud of their fit, toned, bodies. What I do wish is that tabloid and celebrity magazines didn't spin every paparazzi picture as a way to add another brick to the gigantic, glittering, indestructible castle the media has built to honor and glorify thinness.
We live in a time, in a culture, that disseminates images more quickly than at other other time in history. They're not only in magazines anymore, but there's Twitter and Instagram, opportunities for celebrities to put their own bikini pics (or controversial selfies) out into the world. While it's easy to adulate, to look at celebrities and feel jealous or ugly or inadequate, it's important to remember that the same media that congratulates actresses, singers, and reality stars on their fab over-50 bikini bodies and taut, toned abs will also be the first to tear them down if they gain a pound or get a wrinkle. I'm sure if any of the celebrities above were to gain weight or take an unflattering photo, the headlines and captions would instantly change to something like "Rihanna Hides Newly Chunky Body Beneath Printed Maxi Dress" and "Eva Longoria Doesn't Look Like Herself After 25 Pound Weight Gain" (evidenced by this 2013 headline about Keanu Reeves: "Keanu Reeves Gains Weight, Looks Like Richie Sambora"). You and I, the consumers, the fans, are along for this crazy ride, supposed to look up to and then tear down these people as the whims of the culture dictate.
Again, the underlying assumption of Us' wording of "showing off" and "flaunting" is meant to show us that people who don't have bodies that are worthy of showing off and flaunting are lesser, are not meant to be shown, are not meant to celebrated. It's this kind of implicit message that people, particularly women, see constantly and one that slowly, yet effectively, affects both their minds and their bodies. And I'm not buying it, Us.