Girl, Look at That Body

Girl look at that body/I work out/When I walk in the spot, this is what I see/Everybody stops and they staring at me…LMFAO, Sexy and I Know It

Becks

Hey, straight guys—wondering how you can cash in on the profitable and ego-enhancing gig known as objectification that the ladies have been working for the last century?  Worried that objectifying yourself might make you less of a man?  Worry no more—David Beckham is modeling for you as well as the ladies!

If you missed Mr. Beckham’s ad for H & M, which debuted during the Super Bowl, feel free to check it out here:

Make no mistake, fellas—Mr. Beckham isn’t working it primarily for you.  Becks knows the ladies like to look.  And yes, that does include yo mama.  So let us pause here, at this moment in history, to examine what it is like for a woman to watch such a glorious display of manhood, all for the rousing cause of capitalism.

In the interest of full disclosure, I shall present my reactions in slow motion.  Keep in mind, however, that in real time they are all happening at once, and they are a mix of the id and the intellect.  Guys, I’m sure you can relate, as you have been dealing with this kind of thing for quite some time.  So, here goes:

The Blatantly Obvious

O….M….G.

Did you see that? I am not talking about the muscular arms, or the fascinating if slightly confusing profusion of tattoos, or even the sculpted torso, though all of that is quite worthy of discussion.  I am, of course, talking about the whole package.  We were given a brief, if obscured, view and it was…well.  Most unexpected.  That business right there was not at all the usual business.  No, not at all.  My, my, my and double my.  Some marketing genius sure has done his audience analysis homework.  Yes, indeed.  I might need to see that again.

The Fairly Predictable

Well, it is about damn time.  Seriously, how many women’s bodies have I seen, selling how many products?  How often have I wondered how men would feel, living in a world in which their bodies are commodities?  So often that I’ve imagined a world in which there is a restaurant named Cahones.  That’s how often.

Here we’ve been all this time, with our imperfect bodies, sometimes growing babies, sometimes hurting, our boobs leaking milk, and meanwhile we’ve had to watch all these other bodies enticing our men and it’s not like we don’t experience desire, it’s not like we wouldn’t like to see a little somethin somethin now and then.  And now here he is.  Damn straight here he is.

The Reasonable, Though Grumpy

Oh, for heaven’s sake.  This is just silly.  And manipulative—did you see that steely but coy look in his eyes, like he knew he had me right where he wanted me?  Where does he get off?  No, scratch that—who does he think he is?  Soccer playing ego maniac, thinks he can turn me into a hypocrite.  I’ve never even heard of this stupid company, and I’m sure as hell not buying anything they make.  So take your package and take a hike, Becks.  I’m not buying it.

Yes, all of those reactions happened for me in the space of the 30-second ad.  I’m not saying I’m proud of them all, but hey, I’m human.  And I don’t expect guys who watch women display themselves in ads to be unaffected by them—though in my younger days I used to wish they could be rendered immune to the reactions of their bodies so that it could all just disappear.  No, I no longer expect immunity in the face of sexual advertising. But I think I can ask for—and provide—reason.  And more.

The more, though, happens later—not in the 30 seconds of the ad.  The more takes time.  You have to let things sink in.  Once you do that, here’s what shows up:

The Compassionate

I’m sorry, guys.  I hate to say it, but I think our culture is gonna put your body through the ringer too.  It looks like you’re going to have to find out what it feels like to question your body at every move.  Get ready for eating disorders and distorted body perception—these are already on the rise for young men, and I think it’s gonna get a lot worse before it gets better.  I don’t mean to be cynical, and obviously I think there’s hope or I wouldn’t be here, but I gotta say I’m not seeing a new attitude about sexual objectification—just a new set of bodies to objectify.

You know that look Mr. Beckham had, the one I thought was steely but coy?  I bet you saw a way to slide into a masculine groove.  There was seduction in that look.  Seduction is manly—it doesn’t involve pedicures or talking about feelings.  You can be seductive in cowboy boots.  And David Beckham is covered in tattoos—he is so badass, right?  You can be badass and pose for the camera, then.  Yes, here the marketing machine has found a way to consume you too—they have found something you just might buy.

And it’s not just the look in his eyes or the tattoos or the fact that he’s a famous soccer player.  There’s also the commercial itself, the professional polish of it.  Listen to the music:  “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good/Please don’t let me be misunderstood….”  Yes, indeed—the marketing machine is coming for you, guys.  They’ve got a siren song and everything.  We won’t need to misunderstand you, to objectify you.  We can merely desire you, while you keep your masculinity, and your soul, my friends—your soul—intact.  There you have it:  the road has been paved for you, so that you can become a manly object under the lustful gaze of woman.

I hope you don’t follow this road, but I fear you will.

Finally, as is the case with most cultural phenomena, my reaction as a woman and as a person is informed by my reaction as a mother.  And I bet you can guess…

Yo Mama is Not Happy

Thanks a lot, Becks.

Now I’ve got to explain your ass to my kids.

I already had about fifteen million female asses to explain to them, and now here comes yours, draggin its fine self onto the playing field.

Now I have to make sure my boy knows that he can be a man and not be an object, and he doesn’t have to be perfect, and his self-esteem should not be seated in his appearance.  And I have to make sure my girl knows that, while noticing bodies—and feeling desire—is perfectly natural, men are not objects any more than women are.

I have to make sure they each know these things in addition to everything I was already teaching them.  I was already teaching my daughter the difference between empowerment and objectification and teaching my son to cultivate the gap between reaction and action.  I was already dreading the talks to explain the differences between TV sex and real-life sex.  You just made my job a lot harder.  And I’m already tired, man.  I’m already tired.

And you know why else I’m angry, Becks?  Cause you shoulda known better.  We’ve been telling you and telling you, those of us who are sick of seeing our bodies treated as commodities, that this way of being in the world is damaging.  You could be listening to us, helping our cause.  Instead, you’re multiplying the problem, trying to mollify us with a version of equality that leaves everyone at odds with their own bodies.  Nobody is gonna win this game, Becks.  No. Body.

But I guess you just have to learn the hard way, huh?

I guess we all do.

8 thoughts on “Girl, Look at That Body

  1. What's to look? says:

    Before I had even seen the video I broke out into a sweat reading your description … which goes to show that it really IS all in your head, it’s not what we see, it’s what we don’t see. For this same reason my kids are so keen on watching tv – not for the Super Bowl or undergarment fashions, but for all the wonders that they imagine being aired on tv.
    Now, as for explaining B’s bottom to your children, you might want to get in touch with him on that. I would be interested in hearing how he is going to explain certain aspects of his professional life to his offspring.

    … love reading your thoughts, keep ’em coming! 🙂

    Like

    • Elizabeth Hall Magill says:

      Thanks! I agree–so much is in our heads–marketers know that and take advantage of it. And I’d like to hear Beck’s thoughts on how he explains the commercial to his kids as well–I read that his 12-year-old daughter was in the room when the commercial aired during the Super Bowl. I suspect that many children of objectified women have had a similar experience.

      Like

      • Melissa Yeager says:

        He doesn’t have a 12 year old daughter – he has 3 sons, aged about 12, 10 and 7, and a daughter born last year. I don’t know if that matters, but there we go. Interesting role model for them all, no?

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  2. Always interested says:

    “How often have I wondered how men would feel, living in a world in which their bodies are commodities?”

    Maybe you could ask one. Men’s bodies have been commodities on battlefields for centuries. 615,000 soldiers died in the Civil War, 25,000,000 in WW2, 1,200,000 in Vietnam. They are just numbers; fungible men – really the definition of a commodity. This knowledge deeply affects the psyche of boys as they learn the ways of the world. It’s not the same as sexual objectification, I know, but it is a mistake to think that men are not commoditized in ways that are equally, or more, harmful.

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    • Elizabeth Hall Magill says:

      You make an excellent point. Within this post, and many others in this blog, I’ve discussed sexual objectification only–of men as well as women. But you are absolutely right that male bodies are commodified on the battlefield, and that men have always had to come to terms with this, just as women have had to come to terms with being sexual commodities. (In fact, dying on the battlefield is so “male” that there are rules prohibiting women from fighting in military positions defined as too close to the front lines—rules women are fighting to change.)

      This kind of casual dismissal of male life, and the male body, is deeply harmful, just as much as sexual objectification is harmful—it is something I hope to help my son navigate as he grows up. You’ve given me food for thought, and something to explore.

      Like

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