Durban - There’s something that has been bothering me for quite a while. It’s what I call the internet’s Outrage Brigade. These are people who always want to find fault with everything, be it a celebrity, a magazine cover or a YouTube video of two kids dancing along to a Ke$ha song.
They will be outraged, and before you know it, there are hundreds of blog posts about how outrageous whatever they are complaining about is. And most times it’s about celebrities on magazine covers, as is the case right now.
We’ve seen it happen over Melissa McCarthy’s Elle cover in November last year. Websites and blogs called out the magazine for “fat shaming” the actress.
“How dare Elle put her in a big, burly coat to hide her curves?”; “The styling is so wrong! She’s hardly showing any skin, unlike the other actresses. Is it because she’s not skinny?”; “They covered her face with hair! OMG!”
Opinion pieces were written about how Elle was disrespecting “fat women” and by putting McCarthy in a big coat, they were showing how embarrassed they were to have her on their cover.
Yet the one thing I found really weird is that McCarthy’s opinion was never asked. People were outraged on her behalf. It turns out McCarthy chose the coat. “I picked the coat,” she said. “They were like, ‘The dress is really great’, but I was like, ‘Yeah, but look at this’. Give me that coat. I earned it, damn it!”
The same thing happened in January when Elle released their February Women in TV issue. There were four different covers with Amy Poehler, Zooey Deschanel, Allison Williams and Mindy Kaling each having their own.
The Outrage Brigade then did what they do best, be outraged – all because Kaling’s cover was black and white (racism) and was a close crop (fat shaming) compared with the other covers in colour and three-quarter body shots.
What the brigade discounted was how beautiful Kaling looked – her cover was more striking.
Anna Broadway, a contributor on Christianity Today, wrote: “In Kaling’s portrait, Carter Smith (photographer) gives us an intimate photo that plays up the reasons we’ve come to like her as an actress and writer: the bright soul that animates her body.”
Once again, like McCarthy, Kaling was also happy with the cover. She tweeted: “I love my @ELLEmagazine cover. It made me feel glamorous & cool. And if anyone wants to see more of my body, go on 13 dates with me… Wishing for more skin on my @ELLEmagazine cover? Chris Messina & I are naked on a brand new #themindyproject tonight, ya pervs! 930/830 FOX.”
But things came to a head last month when Vogue revealed its February cover, which had Girls star Lena Dunham channelling Twiggy. Some loved it and praised Vogue for going the unconventional route – not putting a skinny, blonde actress with a Brazilian blow-out and an expensive Olivier Theyskens for Theory dress.
Fans of Dunham and Girls praised the magazine for putting a fashion stamp of approval on the show. Yet there were those people (and websites) who were outraged at how Dunham looked.
Feminist website Jezebel accused Vogue of digitally altering images of Dunham. And because her character on Girls insists on displaying her real, imperfect body and chin on the shows, they felt this was an outrage and a betrayal.
In an article titled “We’re Offering $10 000 for Unretouched Images of Lena Dunham in Vogue”, Jezebel wrote: “Lena Dunham is a woman who trumpets body positivity, who’s unabashedly feminist, who has said that her naked body is ‘a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive’ and ‘if you are not into me, that’s your problem’.
“Her body is real. She is real. And as lovely as the Vogue pictures are, they’re probably not terribly real. So Jezebel is offering $10 000 for pre-Photoshop images from Lena’s Vogue shoot.”
For a feminist website that is always calling out people and magazines for “fat shaming”; men and women for “slut shaming” and any other kind of shaming, this was a low blow.
It changed the course of the conversation from body image to mean girl antics.
How was getting hold of Dunham’s Vogue pictures going to help? We have all seen Dunham naked before.
The one thing that alarmed me was how Jezebel thought they were advancing the cause of feminism when instead they were damaging it. They were fat shaming Dunham.
How warped is it that they didn’t believe she could look beautiful? The irritating thing was that Vogue hadn’t even altered Dunham that much. Just some lighting; a nip and tuck.
She wasn’t suddenly made into a waif-like model, with no clavicle or disjointed legs. Compared to what Vogue has done on its cover stars before, like the November Kate Winslet cover, where every line was removed from her face, which rendered her expressionless, this is a non-event.
This sort of outrage talk moves us away from things we should really be outraged about. Things like Lupita Nyong’o’s complexion being lightened for Vanity Fair and darkened for Dazed and Confused magazines.
Things like Gabourey Sidibe on the cover of Elle with a horrible weave. Things like L’Oreal, Lancome, Rimmel, Maybelline, Photoshopping their models so much, they look like wax models. Things like not enough models of colour being represented in the fashion industry. The rape and murder rate.
If we are looking for things to be outraged about, surely it should be that Jezebel’s fake outrage leads to website traffic, which leads to them making more money.
Juno writer Diablo Cody summed it up perfectly on Twitter: “This is total mean-girl s**t masquerading as feminism.” - Sunday Tribune