Urban Decay’s “Razor Sharp” Ad

Urban Decay, a make-up company I adore and have written about many times in positive terms, produced this ad [click to enlarge]:

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Rightly called out for going over the edge of their self-description as a brand that sells “make-up with an edge,” UD Tweeted a baloney explanation about how they always use swatches on the arm.

I’m not buying it. Someone being paid good money decided to pair a single female arm in corpse-hued nail polish with razor cuts reminiscent of self-harming next to the product and approved that copy. These decisions are not arbitrary: advertising costs a lot of money and needs to generate a lot of money. It could have been handled differently.  Take a look at how, because every single one of the images I will share come from UD’s own Instagram account. which someone is also being paid to manage.

They could have used a neutral background with no human arm, as they did in these two cases:

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They could have shown several arms in relaxed or even fun hand formations. They’ve done it before:

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They could have shown the wrist only: an image much less evocative of cutting one’s wrists. They could have shown an open hand.

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They could have swatched the colors farther apart and gone way down the arm as they did here. In fact, the swatches would have been easier to see that way.

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They could have shown their product on actual eyes. They don’t always use the swatch design in their promos. I know. I’m a super loyal customer.

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The image they did use is a lone female’s arm in a pose that is nothing but evocative of wrist-cutting.  The position of the hand, the length and placement of the swatches  — it’s wrist-cutting. The coy, “edgy” copy for the ad confirms it.

It’s wrong, and Urban Decay should stop explaining and start apologizing.

As I said, I’m not buying their apology. As to whether I’ll be buying their make-up again, that remains to be seen.

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“Mansfield Park:” Black Suffering And White Romance

Last night I watched Patricia Rozema’s 1999 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, which I looked forward to because I knew there would be an irrepressible heroine and lots of sexy 19th century repartee done up as only Jane can do it. Great cast, too.

After the film, starring Frances O’Conner, Jonny Lee Miller and Harold Pinter (!) was over, I tweeted, “I think I just watched a movie about how slavery interferes with white people’s romantic lives?”

Because what the hell was that?

Let me summarize for you: Fanny Price is a poor relation who gets sent to live with rich relations in Mansfield Park. She is in love with her virtuous cousin Edmund (who winds up being a clergyman – score one for positive depictions of clergy in cinema!). She is courted by a super hot but untrustworthy rake named Henry Crawford.

Fanny Price’s uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, makes his fortune largely through dealings in the West Indies. Fanny, though, is concerned about the evils of slavery (as is her cousin Edmund and her dissolute, drunken other cousin Tom, as we shall see). On her way to Mansfield Park in a stagecoach, she passes a harbor and hears the distant ululations of the slaves on a ship. The driver informs her that that’s the sound of “black gold.” The ship and the sounds from it return very briefly in a couple of other scenes. They trouble Fanny, you see.  She and Virtuous Edmund make abolitionist murmurings in one or two scenes, but never to directly challenge Sir Thomas, but more to inform him that they’ve been reading.

Reading is a much more important virtue to these characters than speaking out directly against the hand that feeds them — even when they have indisputable truth, as Fanny gains through the discovery of a sketch pad filled with images by an eyewitness, that Sir Thomas is a raping marauder of African women as well as being a direct beneficiary of the slave trade. Meanwhile, she frets prettily in those empire-waist gowns. We’re meant to see her as a woman in a sexist predicament: her futures are dictated by patriarch Sir Thomas who wants her to marry a guy she thinks is of poor character. Believe me, I’m sympathetic. But if Austen can have cousin Maria abandon her husband Sackcloth or Rightcroft or Snailditch (hilariously portrayed by a Hugh Bonneville in a poodle wig, whatever the hell his name is) and flee with a hot lover, she could surely have arranged a similar, parallel flight for Fanny for more righteous cause.

Here’s where I’m like, “Wow, I know that it’s silly to expect 21st century consciousness and intersectionality from Jane Austen, but how about this filmmaker in 1999?” Given that Patricia Rozema added some dialogue and changed some plot points for her film adaptation of  Mansfield Park, I wondered why she could not have added even one scene where the characters could actually grapple with the evils of slavery in a way that wasn’t merely a device to enhance the apparently integrity of the two romantic leads. I’m talking two or three lines of dialogue.

As it was, the theft, rape, torture, murder and enslavement of Africans by the English was used as a plot device to move white people through personal issues of integrity and romantic partnerings, which is how black lives are often used in white stories.

At one point, the apparently soul-sick Tom (that’s why he drinks! He’s guilty about supporting slavery) becomes gravely ill and Fanny is rushed back from her squalid home in Portsmouth to help nurse him. We are supposed to infer that Tom, whose ailment is never explained, is basically dying of moral injury. This effects a bedside mea culpa from his father, the evil Sir Thomas, who weeps, “Forgive me.” However, that apology is not for financially benefiting from the slave trade or raping African women who are never seen except as sketches drawn by a white man’s hand and heard by a white woman from a stagecoach, but a father’s distressed cry at the bedside of his dying heir: “Forgive me, and live to inherit my fortune and run my company.”

In other words, the forgiveness is begged not of the real victims of slavery, but of the white man whose conscience was inconveniently troubled by it.

That’s where I think I hooted and threw my remote control across the room.

After Tom (miraculously) recovers and all the romantic partners get squared away (the one character who showed lesbian leanings is exiled, of course, as she turns out to be a thorough baddie), the film ends on a quaint lawn scene as the narrator explains how things resolved. As it turns out, heh heh, Sir Thomas divests from his “interests” in the West Indies but goes into the TOBACCO industry. Isn’t that a great punch line? HA HA HA, a slave-tended crop that kills people! The cheerful music and wink-wink tone of the narrator signals that we are to find this information a mildly naughty irony rather than sickening evidence of the character’s continued exploitation and destruction of countless, anonymous black bodies, families and lives.

We so easily could have had a slightly redeeming coda saying that Franny and her husband Edmund joined an abolitionist cause, but naw. The pretty white heroine got her guy and happy ending. No need to mention slavery, as it was just there to provide a background conflict for white family drama.

Not one of the reviews I could find online mentioned this problem with the film; not even Roger Ebert’s four-star write-up.

Not even Hugh Bonneville’s poodle wig and rouged cheeks could sweeten my bitter disappointment.

mansfield park 1999 hugh bonneville











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Naked Fat Bodies: A Mental Exercise For Dani Mathers

This story about professionally beautiful Playboy model Dani Mathers fascinates me.

I’m glad there was a huge outrage about her violation of someone’s privacy. She broke the rules of the club and also broke the unwritten decency code of social media. It is always interesting to see how those “best practices” get tested and established over just such violations as this.

We all have cameras now, and we record and photograph each other as strangers all the time. That’s normative. That cat is out of the bag, but this wasn’t a cat, it was a pterodactyl attack.

But I want to talk not about social media, but about the premise of most of the articles written about this story, which is that fat people who are naked or scantily clad in public live in terror of being judged.

No, we don’t.

I’m a fat woman who wears a two-piece bathing suit, strips down at the health club with no hesitation, and changes backstage in dressing rooms among fit, young dancers without thinking a thing of my body shape and size.  Anyone who is judging me is judging themselves far more harshly, so I chalk it up to human nature and wish everyone well in their struggle. When you’re writing an article about fat bullying, please do not assume that all fat people have internalized fat phobia.

Dani, you’re a mess, honey.

You’ve got the body beautiful thing down. Now please work on your spirit, which is already badly warped.

I think I read that you’re a model, which must mean that you’re spending your time in an appearance-obsessed population where a slightly rounded stomach or bit of butt jiggle can mean the difference between paying the rent that month or racking up the credit card debt.

I get it, but you need to liberate yourself from the Playboy bunny cage. Get out more. Spend time with a variety of humans of differing body types, abilities, fitness levels and ages. You will undoubtedly discover that your “#goals” are petty concerns to many of them. You need some perspective.

I personally would have felt less disturbed by what you did if you had simply violated the other woman’s privacy and written something critical about her weight. But you wrote, “You can’t unsee this,” which gives me the chills.  “You can’t unsee this” is a total erasure of a person, a complete dehumanization, and equates an ordinary naked body with a horrible grotesquerie that might scar someone for life upon beholding it.  No one says, “You can’t unsee this” about an image that is less than utterly shocking or disgusting. You can offer pathetic apologies all you want, but we all know what that phrase means.

You need to work out your mind, girl. I feel obliged to inform you that that’s all you’re going to have to support you when your body isn’t young and fit or suffers ill health at any point along the way.

Here’s a mental exercise you can do while you’re at the gym or anywhere else. As you notice people around you, focus on them and really see them. They are a collection of fascinating individuals.  Try to imagine them as a tiny baby, then a toddler, then an elementary school age kid, and so on up the life path to elder years, and then end of life, and then death. Remember that you, too, will die, and that none of you knows how, where or when. Let humility touch your heart. As you breathe in and out, breathe in, “I am grateful to be alive in this moment.” As you breathe out, think, “I wish everybody around me the wellness that they, too, seek by being here.”

I hope that helps.  I hope it helps Dani and anyone who suffers from similar spiritual screwiness. For everyone else, let’s continue to challenge and dismantle the irrational belief that slim people are in any way morally superior to fat people.








Posted in Cultural Commentary, women's issues and feminist rants | 4 Comments