Lady Gaga, apparently, is “curvy and proud”. This week the diminutive Gaga posted a photo of herself to Instagram declaring exactly that after being called fat by fans–and yet, there isn’t a “curve” in sight. Having a long and public battle with body dysmorphia and eating disorders, it is understandable that Gaga feels the urge to respond to bullies with a positive message, but it’s a dangerous standard to set for the every-woman, especially when so many young fans look to Gaga for validation and empowerment.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever liked “curvy” as a way to describe female bodies. In a sense, all feminine bodies are curvy, and while some boobs are smaller than others, some hips less wide and some bums less round, every woman is endowed in such a way that makes her body more supple than a man’s. But we don’t use curvy to say “she has large breasts” or “her hips are big”– we’ve used it most generally in the recent past to mean “not thin”. It’s a euphemism for “fat”. “Curvy” is a nice way to call big girls beautiful (which they are, with or without the flowery language that makes ourselves feel better about either not fitting bodily stereotypes or describing those who don’t).
Recently, that euphemism has been eroded, and curvy has been used to describe just about anyone that isn’t a size zero. Like Lady Gaga, who has put on a little around her middle, and is maybe a size two now. “Curvy” has taken on a new, scary meaning–it now seems to mean “not as thin as one could possibly be,” which is an unrealistic standard to set for the feminine body.
When it comes to their bodies, women can be fairly stupid. It’s a mixture of social and cultural conditioning and an inability to see rationally through the fog of media perfection. So while half the blame is external, women do share in some of the responsibility for the way they chastise their own bodies, and definitely for the way they judge other women’s. I have many a friend who has deemed herself “too fat”, and yet I don’t have one fat friend. Every time I grab my tummy mound and complain about my thighs jiggling I do feel a pang of ridiculousness. But even when I look in the mirror and like what I see, there’s always a nagging when it comes to my perception of my own bodies: something is just not right. Many women I know share the same anxiety.
I’ve been this “curvy” Lady Gaga speaks of, and I’ve also been thin. From personal experience, I can say that at my biggest (picture: “average lady who eats everything in her path and only does things very vaguely resembling exercise maybe once a week if you’re lucky”), Lady Gaga in her “curvy” photo would have fit both her legs into one of my pants legs. It’s not an entirely inspiring thought–if a miniscule Gaga, calling herself curvy, was half my size, what would that have made me? A disgusting monster? A fat beast? A swamp creature from McDonalds hell?
Whatever we use curvy to mean, we generally use it in the negative, or at best as a backhanded compliment. For Lady Gaga to call herself “curvy” when she’s clearly a thin, fit, above average attractive woman is reductive for the hoards of already insecure men and women who follow her like a religion. Being proud to not be perfect is admirable, and to be able to flaunt your natural self is a skill that many haven’t mastered. But in order to unlearn our prejudices and create a positive environment for self-love to thrive, we need to divest ourselves of pop stars–at the pinnacle of beauty–who confess themselves to be “just like us.” Let’s just let women be women, and instead of having to declare ourselves curvy and proud or athletic and proud or short and proud or bow legged and proud, let’s just be proud.