Essays, opinions and rants

Let it Be

Let it Be

Cohasset virtually never makes it into the Boston Globe, so when we do show up and it’s for something crappy, it feels like a double insult.

Last Sunday the Metro section contained a brief story on a local swimsuit designer who angered the internet by criticizing Amy Schumer’s cover shot for InStyle magazine.

“Not everyone should be in a bathing suit,” Dana Duggan, owner of South Shore Swimwear, commented on InStyle’s Instagram post of its cover.

My first thought (after Oh, Cohasset’s in the news, cool! Oh, wait a minute…) was along the lines of Hmmm. I think anyone should be in a bathing suit who either a) wants to go swimming or b) wants to wear a bathing suit. That sentiment underpinned most of the comments readers posted in reply to Duggan’s comment, though many went on to insult her and urge a boycott.

Then I sighed about our town being publicly associated with judgement for the second time in as many weeks. (And I’m the one who publicly dinged us the first time. Sorry/not sorry, gang.) Our weekly town newspaper ran my opinion column about living on the (comparative) wrong side of the tracks highlighting how some locals (not all!) judge others unfavorably and behave in a (read in a whisper) snobby way when someone else’s address lacks swank.

The column was received with enthusiasm, by which I mean strangers and friends called, emailed, texted, posted and are still stopping me on the street to discuss it, high-five and in many cases relate their own personal experiences with (lower your voice) snobbery in our midst. (The perils of an affluent town; they exist.)

But back to the bathing suit situation: The Globe contacted Duggan regarding her comments, and she was steadfast: “…With the new PC culture everyone thinks they can be a cover girl swimsuit model and I don’t think it’s right…in my opinion being overweight is not stylish, it’s not healthy, it’s not attractive.” After national media outlets including Huffington Post chased her down to discuss the matter further, she eventually apologized for causing offense and said she had a right to her opinion.

Certainly she does, though her articulation is rather convoluted. Amy Schumer is a huge celebrity and therefore automatically a cover girl; that’s how celebrity culture works in our society whether or not Schumer herself “thinks” it, as evidenced by InStyle’s putting her on its cover. To judge what others should or should not wear is presumptuous to say the least, and to declare that some people shouldn’t wear the very product you sell seems an odd position indeed from a business perspective.

It’s a snobbery-sexism mashup. And while this bathing suit-shaming emanated from around here, it’s sewn into our entire culture.

Economically privileged women possess more time and money to mold their appearance into what Duggan (and plenty others) deem worthy of presenting publicly, so it’s snobbery to look down upon those who can’t afford fitness studio passes, monthly Botox, Cool sculpting (whatever that is), plastic surgery and other high-priced beautifications.

We know this, but it bears repeating: Companies selling to girls and women often drive a message built around making us feel inadequate. We’re ceaselessly directed to “obssess” over and “covet” objects and people, and to buy things others will allegedly covet, thus inciting envy and spreading inadequacy and insecurity like a virus.

The InStyle cover, while noteworthy in its glamorous depiction of a non-emaciated woman, is still an advertising vehicle pulling the same old shit on us month after month. The May cover suggests we can “be ourselves” with purchase of a lipstick that someone paid massive money to get onto the cover. Never mind that we could be ourselves without lipstick quite effectively. “Secrets of Gorgeous Women”? Envy porn featuring people who pay on for hair each month than many people spend on their cars – or whose personal chef and trainer salaries exceed annual rent or mortgage expenses for what’s likely a majority of readers. But happy women’s secrets would not move product.

In can be a difficult thing in our society to wear a bathing suit in public, as the brouhaha over the May InStyle reminds us. It’s not like this everywhere.

Awhile back a group of women went to St Barth for a friend’s 40th birthday getaway. We spent four days soaking in the island’s magic surrounded by vacationers we assumed were mostly European (gauging by the high percentage of topless women and Speedo-clad men). What was remarkable and wonderful was that those topless women and Speedo-clad men were all shapes and sizes and ages. There were grandmas and grandpas who did not look to have ever seen the inside of a gym – or a Botox needle. Everyone looked so clearly and completely at ease in their skins. Duggan would have had a heart attack.

My friends and I had all engaged in, shall we say, extensive preparation for the trip, exercising our butts off and spray-tanning et cetera, and still we managed to feel uncertain and self-conscious – at first. We envied the nearly-nude Europeans their ease with themselves, and we talked about it as a goal.

Grandma and grandpa and the others hadn’t let themselves go. They had let themselves be.

The ease was contagious, and by the time we got home our perspectives on our bodies had changed dramatically. We hoped it would last. It did not. We re-entered a hamster cage and wheel of panic at the inevitable shifts brought by time, gravity, sun, pregnancy and nursing; panic amplified relentlessly by photoshopped, money-driven media messages masquerading as legit content and advertisements.

If we feel bad about ourselves, we buy their products in an attempt to feel better – they sicken us to sell us medicine (to which we build up a resistance and require ever more). The money would be far better spent on a trip to St Barth.

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6 thoughts on “Let it Be”

  • Excellent article!!!
    I have never heard of South Shore Swimwear before and now I have no desire to hear or see them anywhere!!!

  • Great piece – One of the buried issues who decided that Amy Schumer is overweight? I agree that she is certainly not model-sized. That seems to hover around a size 0-2. Yet, I don’t think Amy is shopping at Layne Bryant or Catherine’s. I look at that cover and think maybe she is in a size 8-10. I used to shop at Layne Bryant and Catherine’s. I aspired to a size 10. More than 1/3 of adults in the US struggle with obesity.(See some nice statistics here … https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html.) I think most of the women in that group would be thrilled with a size 10. I would rather read magazines that feature real-sized women and buy products whose designers create for real-sized women. I’m all for boycotting the size-bigots so they can slim down where it hurts … in their pocketbooks.

  • Dead on. Love this post! So interesting to see Amy’s quote on the cover: “I have always been really confident.” She is gorgeous and funny and confident because she feels great about herself, and doesn’t seem to take a lot of bullshit– and yet she is somehow shamed as being “overweight.” It’s so demented. I agree with Laura– who decided what overweight is? I’m guessing if Amy Schumer were to walk into a Cohasset cocktail party, most people would actually envy her wonderful body– but wouldn’t it be amazing if we couldn’t quite remember her body shape or size because all we would remember is her fire-cracker spirit? (kind of like the warm, smart or engaging man who is allowed to be a person first and a “body” as an afterthought?)

  • I loved this instyle cover. Can’t believe Duggan would have such hurtful comments. As I watch my daughter grow and look more closely at these covers and their content it increasingly concerns me. What are our girls led to believe? A conversation for another time. Thanks for a great read.

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