Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Christina Hendricks and the issue of role models

Last week UK Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone further fuelled the fire that role models when it comes to body type and image. In stating that she believed Christina Hendricks (Joan Holloway from Mad Men) was a ‘fabulous role model’ for women I’m not sure she expected all the criticism that was to come from the British media who were claiming that Hendricks ‘perfect’ hourglass figure was just as ridiculous to achieve as a Kate Moss size zero body. This comment appears to be blown out of proportion with media institutions such as The Daily Mail jumping on the bandwagon to slate Featherstone for her remarks and papers such as this claiming that Featherstone is encouraging women to aspire to a size 14. If you actually look at what she said this is not the case, instead she is opposed to the over exposure of air brushing and photo shopping in magazines which could place unnecessary body confidence issues on young women. In regards to Hendricks she simply states that she thinks she is fabulous and that women who have a curvier figure should not just be celebrated as an anomaly in a field of slim models, it should be a normal occurrence. At no point does she say that we should try and change the body type we have, in fact I believe that she is saying that we should celebrate the body type we have and this should be represented in the mainstream media.

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Hendricks has come under scrutiny, particularly in the US for being a curvier body type than is the norm in Hollywood; this was most evident at this year’s Golden Globes when a New York Times fashion journalist wrote that ‘you don't put a big girl in a big dress’ in regard to the Christian Siriano dress that she wore. This comment was met with the kind of derision that you would expect and hope for, especially because she really isn’t a ‘big girl’, except maybe by Hollywood standards. The point here being is that Hendricks has already been portrayed in way as the champion of the regular woman, an appointment that I would imagine comes with a lot of pressure and means that her excellent work in Mad Men is often overlooked to deal with issues such as this one. It is a catch 22 problem as her figure is different from what viewers are necessarily use to and that yes this is something that should be applauded but at the same time it would be great if there could be a conversation about Hendricks where weight and body type were not the focus and I think that that is the point that Featherstone was perhaps trying to make in her comments. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t mention her appearance and yes it should be celebrated, it should just not be the continued focus when discussing Hendricks and yes this piece is guilty of what I am complaining about (as are other pieces that I have written), and in fact is this the issue? That there are certain people that you can’t write about without mentioning certain aspects or qualities and is this a gender issue or one that happens to both sexes?
I don’t think that the debate regarding the portrayal of both women and male body ideals will die down and it is definitely a debate that appears to be pretty cyclical, it would be super  though if this debate did end up with a more healthy and obtainable image for people to strive toward. When thinking of the women of Mad Men it is actually Elisabeth Moss who probably has a healthy obtainable body shape if you are looking for someone ‘normal’ with January Jones meeting the slim end of the register. 

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Though Jones in a recent interview with Tatler magazine revealed that Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner told them to not work out and to actually eat as women of the sixties didn’t use the gym, another great reason to be working on Mad Men.
Whilst this debate remains endless, I am glad that Christina Hendricks is now a household name on both sides of the Atlantic and that those curious by Featherstones comments may actually go and check out Mad Men and see how terrific she is as Joan. Though next time I write about Christina Hendricks I hope that it is about her portrayal of Joan or the she has won an Emmy on the 29thof August.

Photos courtesy of JustJared

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