Remember when Redbook photoshopped Faith Hill from elbow to earlobe into a physical impossibility? You might have already seen the latest victim of such tinkering, America Ferrera, in images circulating the web. If you haven’t, hold onto your eyeballs, because the photo-chopping you’re about to see transformed another beautiful body into such an awkwardly proportioned mess that the end result looks like somebody’s mischievous five-year-old was swapping heads around on cardboard cutouts. The irony of this situation is screaming from every airbrushed corner of the cover of Glamour‘s “1st Annual Figure Flattery Issue.” Didn’t the Ugly Betty pilot offer a little commentary about this very thing? Have you ever even seen the show, Glamour?
So here we go. This is America Ferrera at the Teen Choice Awards on Aug. 26, 2007.
And this is America Ferrera as cover girl for Glamour‘s October issue:
Words! I’m still trying to find the words. But the photos really do speak for themselves. Here’s a side-by-side view for your comparing pleasure (well, withering scorn):
Besides the abnormally slenderized neck that gives her head the appearance of tottering more precariously than Britney Spears at the VMAs, what shrieks to be noticed is the way they’ve treated her “curves.” Instead of reducing her to Faith Hill-in-Redbook proportions (and I am grateful for small mercies), they offer their own version of a “curvy” woman, paring down arms, shoulders and chest while leaving lumpy vestiges of hips, waist and bust.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get more ridiculous, here’s the title of the Ferrera feature: “Surprise! She’s a bombshell (and you can be one too).” (Surprise! That’s insulting. But that’s not really a surprise.) The opening paragraph — and I couldn’t make this up — reads in part, “she’s ignoring the unwritten rule that says stars must be blond and Twizzler-thin.” You know, except for when a magazine highlights her hair, thins her down, and makes her look oddly like Mandy Moore. Am I the only one who sees it? Fine.
The article itself manages to be so simultaneously condescending, flattering, and patronizingly racist that the snarky Latino site Guanabee.com offers a handy translation guide to the interview’s subtext. Here’s a sampling, under the heading “Glamour asks America Ferrera what it’s like to be fat”:
GLAMOUR: So 11 Emmy nominations for Ugly Betty, two new films in the works. You’re huge!
Translation: How can you be successful? You’re huge!
GLAMOUR: Have you ever felt limited by your status as a Latina?
Translation: Have you ever felt you should be cleaning someone’s house?
GLAMOUR: Do you still pinch pennies out of habit?
Translation: Are you the first in your family not to live on welfare?
GLAMOUR: How do you feel about being the newest spokeswoman for curvy figures in Hollywood?
Translation: How do you feel about being fat?
Look, I know that we’re talking about Glamour magazine here, whose very name warns us that it’s selling a remanufactured vision of beauty, femininity and the female body. But one reason people love Ugly Betty (besides its clever writing, campy fun and Salma Hayek) is that Betty Suarez quite literally embodies the struggle of being female in American society. It’s not enough to personally reject the airbrushed version of the female form that Glamour sells, because we still have to live in a culture that daily questions (persecutes) women who don’t conform to social expectations.
The most repellent thing about Glamour‘s image manipulation is this: They co-opt the one pop culture image that constantly and humorously confronts the stereotypes of femininity that the magazine itself still perpetuates and try to sell it back to us, but only after making it conform to their standards. I’m not shocked by such shameless hypocrisy any more than I am by the fact that they photoshopped her image; both just make me sad. Even as the interview feebly tries to celebrate Ferrera as an oddity in the world of the blond and the underfed, holding her up as an outsider who can succeed despite the handicap of being, you know, normal, they’ve given us their real message right on the cover: Normal is still not good enough.
Speaking of normal. When asked that question about being the “spokeswoman for curvy figures,” Ferrera drops this little fact: “I’m a size 6 or 8, which is totally normal.” (Less than normal, actually — normal American size is 12–14.) Guanabee.com‘s translation of this comment is, I think, the perfect response to Glamour: “Bitch, get some perspective.” Here’s mine: I prefer all real, all beautiful, all America.