Not even the intricacies of foreign policy and financial markets are as heavily scrutinized as the bodies of female celebrities. Gossip rags hire entire staffs of photographers and writers to document the weight fluctuations, workouts, and cellulite of A-list Hollywood actresses, musicians, and anyone else who dares be a woman who is famous for what she does.
Sniping at celebrities for their physical appearance is nothing new, but a Times of India columnist has somehow managed to hit an all-time low. Contributor Nasreen Khan, a beauty writer at Times of India, is unbelievably taking the position that the legs of nine famous women don’t stack up to the “perfect 10” that their faces imply.
“Hot babes with ugly legs,” reads the headline [the article appears to have been taken down Thursday morning but you can see excerpts here, here, and here), highlighting the fact that there is clearly no part of a woman’s body that is exempt from sexist body shaming. Khan then details a laundry list of complaints that target the thighs, knees, and calves of the famous women with supposedly “ugly legs.”
Troubled starlet Lindsay Lohan tops the list, most notably for her “heavily freckled” and “chunky” legs. Khan also throws some fat-shaming at Jennifer Lopez, the physical embodiment of that Rick James song “Brick House,” for having “ugly cellulite” on her “thunderous thighs.”
If your eyes haven’t completely rolled out of your head at the inanity of these comments, the body snarking only gets worse. On the other side of the leg meat spectrum, Angelina Jolie is criticized for having too-skinny limbs, along with Bollywood actress Aditi Rao Hydari, who supposedly has “wobbly knees.” Nevermind the fact that Jolie and Hydari almost universally admired as some of the most beautiful women on the planet, they can’t be a “perfect 10” until they get a “little more meat” on those limbs.
Outside of the usual too fat/too thin dichotomy that always plagues the discussions of women’s bodies, the criticisms then target women who exercise too much. Apparently, Sarah Jessica Parker’s “over-worked out” knees are too veiny, Britney Spears’ toned legs make her look like a professional wrestler, and Katie Holmes’ muscular thighs don’t match the skinniness of her upper body.
In some ways, Khan almost seems to imply that the celebrities on this list are in some way “fooling” or “bait-and-switching” the public with their beauty. That is a relatively common criticism, especially for women who have access to a brigade of aestheticians, makeup artists, and personal trainers that can help make them look beautiful. But even the most image-driven celebrity likely isn’t focusing on what their knees look like, largely because it just doesn’t matter. More importantly, it further reinforces the standard of perfection that female celebrities have been held to since the days of old Hollywood.
To criticize women for knees or thighs that are too knobby, muscular, or fat is to establish a standard that is impossible to meet. Women are trained from birth to obsess about every single detail of their physical appearance, why should knees be any exception? The conventional standards that govern beauty are as far reaching as they are arbitrary, and they have real consequences for women who don’t meet them, especially those who don’t have any interest in forcing their bodies to comply with these standards. We all have body parts that make us self-conscious, but there is nothing worse than those who would fan the flames of that insecurity.
Not surprisingly, there has been a significant backlash to the Times of India column. Louise Court, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan UK, took the paper to task in an interview with The Independent. “This article is just mean and pointless. We should be focusing on the talent of the women on that list, not what they look like,” said Court. “Angelina Jolie is an Oscar winner and global humanitarian. Sarah Jessica Parker is an Emmy award winning actress and producer and fashion designer. Do you want me to go on? The conversation should be about their achievements."
The conversation surrounding female celebrities will always devalue their accomplishments until we have a serious discussion about the way that their bodies are scrutinized. Every time you click on a gossipy link to photos of Jessica Simpson or Kirstie Alley or whoever’s cellulite, you are endorsing the idea that dimply fat on the back of someone’s thighs (or the heft of one’s knees) is somehow significant enough to justify an article and the accompanying photos.
More dangerously, these criticisms also reinforce the fact that society doesn’t view female celebrities as people, but as commodities to be consumed. As evidenced by the recent leaks of private photos of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, Ariana Grande, and Jenny McCarthy, there is a significant number of people who don’t respect the fact that female celebrities have agency over their bodies, and that also means being able to exist in a body that isn’t constantly ripped to shreds by paparazzi vultures.
When we consider the deeper implications of snarking on the bodies of celebrities, it becomes a lot more difficult to click on those links to TMZ and US Weekly in good conscience. The only way to ensure that famous women don’t experience these kinds of attacks on their bodies is to refuse to support the platforms that make them possible. Unfortunately, it looks as if it may be necessary to add the Times of India to the list of publications who are willing to sacrifice the dignity of women, famous or otherwise, for pageviews and profit.
And, for the record, each of these women have legs that are beyond banging. Not that they needed to justify that or anything.
Images: Getty (4); Giphy (1)