This morning I read an Associated Press article announcing the approval of Botox for wrinkles around the eyes. Only that's not exactly what it said. The term actually used — in both the article and in the headline — was "crow's feet."
Crow's feet. It doesn't sound pretty. Crows are known as mean, terrifying birds with sharp, nasty, clawed feet. To possess "crow's feet" sounds like something you wouldn't want, even if you had no idea about the slang use of the word.
And so it goes with so many words we use to describe our appearances. Nothing is neutral. If a characteristic is considered unattractive or undesirable, you can bet there's a widely-used and negative nickname for it.
These nicknames become so ubiquitous that we rarely think about them — but maybe we should. Phrases like these come with inherent value judgements on traits, subtly reinforcing the idea that these are flaws and degrading anyone who has them. Here are six words and phrases to describe body traits that we should stop using now.
1. Crow's feet. As we established above, it's not a nice image. Why not just refer to wrinkles around the eyes as " wrinkles around the eyes." There, that was easy. No confusion, no subtle revulsion. Win-win.
2. Parentheses lines. Another term for wrinkles, this one used to describe those around the mouth. This one isn't quite as bad as some of these phrases, and yet — doesn't "laugh lines" sound so much nicer?
3. Muffin top. Do people say muffin top anymore? (Er, I guess so.) I get the impression it's the kind of phrase no one young and self-respecting would use, but something your obnoxious uncle or Rush Limbaugh might still say. The whole concept of the muffin top is just one more thing for women to feel self-conscious about. Screw it. As blogger Joanna Rafael says: "Muffins are a wonderful treat and dragging their name through the mud in the pursuit of body negativity is defamatory. Plus, if you buy different pants, your imaginary muffin top will probably disappear."
4. Cankles. If I told someone that the base of their legs seemed marginally wider than average, they'd probably a) think I was a weirdo for noticing and then b) move on. Marginally-wider-than-average ankles don't seem like something worth worrying about. But if I accused someone of having "cankles" — different story. It somehow shifts it from me being an over-observant weirdo to their flaws, because we know cankles is an insult. We know we are supposed to feel bad about this. So let's stop saying it?
5. Camel toe. File this one in the same category as muffin top — a term designed to make you worry about how all body parts are interacting with all clothes at all times. Plus, you know... gross.
6. Bingo wings. This is more of a Britishism than a U.S. phrase, proving America doesn't corner the market on insulting words for women's body parts. Bingo wings is used to describe the"flabby undercarriage" of the upper arms. Like "crow's feet," the term bingo wings is sort of inherently insulting. And what's more, it's not even describing something we need a phrase for. There is no situation in which you'd need to describe your own or anyone else's arm undercarriage except to make them or you feel bad.