Spreading Your Legs to Spread a Message

by Elissa Stein

Last week Kathy Griffin held a pool-side press conference to bring awareness to cervical cancer. To make sure she’d get the press to pay attention, she had a pap smear done in public. While the up-close-and-personal details were kept under a drape, the chair and stirrups were there for all to see. She dressed for the occasion in a blue spangled bikini—something I’d never think to wear to the gynecologist–a matching vajazzle dipping into her bathing suit bottom, rhinestones sparkling in the sunlight. On one hand, go Kathy. You are fearless and brought awareness to something many don’t feel comfortable talking about.

Having said that, reading the story sparked something in my head. But it was scrutinizing the photos—and I’m not proud to say that I did—that got me really thinking. 

Having someone stick a speculum up your vagina in front of cameras and reporters? I’m all for promoting openness and conversation about important topics so often women have been taught to be silent about—I did just write FLOW: the Cultural Story of Menstruation (with Susan Kim)—but sharing a medical procedure with the world at large is a little bit too much of a reveal. For me. I also spent time thinking about the crystals decorating her lower pubic area, which must have been recently waxed to look pre-adolescently smooth. Vajazzling, which many mistakenly think is encrusting one’s vagina with shiny bits (they’re actually affixed above the vulva), is a relatively new fashion fad, popularized by Jennifer Love Hewitt, who shared on late night TV that she was in fact sporting pubic sparkles.

While I’m not a fan of public displays of speculums or swarovski-encrusted bikini lines, those aren’t what bothered me most. It was Kathy Griffin’s super taut stomach. I’m not kidding.

There were many parts to the story that could have (and did) sparked outrage, ridicule, admiration, cringing. But I couldn’t concentrate on any of that while I got lost in her concave belly, skin stretched tightly across her middle, not a sag, bulge, droop in sight. At some point, I tore myself away to google how old she was and discovered she’s almost 50. Yes, 50 but with a firmer middle than much of America’s youth. And it’s certainly far firmer than mine.

In the end, the message I got from Kathy spreading her legs in public wasn’t about cervical cancer, about the importance of pap smears, about a craft project involving my vulva—it was another smack in the head reminding me that women’s bodies are held to an almost unachievable standard. That at almost 50 someone can hold her head up on bright sunlight, feel confident in a 2 piece bathing suit, while her entire middle defies gravity and the aging process. But how many woman can do that? Certainly Kathy’s got resources most of us don’t. I’m assuming she’s got a serious workout routine going with trainers making sure she sticks to it. There’s also the issue of airbrushing. There’s been a lot in the news lately of women refusing to have their photos airbrushed. Britney Spears released before and after photos of a new ad campaign. One of the Kardashian sisters recently celebrated her cellulite. Whether Kathy’s photos were retouched or not, the image of her teen cheerleader worthy middle is etched on my brain.

Feeling comfortable in your skin is almost impossible these days. Through advertising and the countless products lining shelves or available online, marketers are not-so-subtly insinuating we need to dye our hair, erase our wrinkles, thin our thighs, end our periods, lengthen our eyelashes, plump our lips, be bare of all hair, erase our smells. We can opt to have fat sucked out of our butts and bellies while injecting chemicals into our foreheads and cheeks to smooth our facades.

We can, and do, spend fortunes trying to achieve the impossible. But what does all that do to our self-esteem?

Thanks Kathy, not just for making people think about pap smears, but for making me think about how much I don’t want to feel pressured into forcing my body to be something it’s not.


Photos from Huffington Post.



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