Tag Archives: body image

Black History Month 2013: Martha Wash

13 Feb

MWashToday we honor and celebrate an amazing singer whose perseverance has made the music industry a more just place while entertaining millions and advocating for social justice. Martha Wash was born in 1953 in San Francisco. By her early 20s she was already known as a powerhouse vocalist. She teamed with Izora Rhodes Armstead as regular vocalists with gay disco icon Sylvester. Celebrating their big voices and ample frames, the duo billed themselves as Two Tons O’ Fun.

Two Tons pursued their own career starting in 1980, recording two albums that were very successful on the dance charts. Their first brush with pop stardom came when songwriters Paul Jabara and Paul Shaffer offered them a song that had been rejected by Donna Summer, Barbra Streisand, and many others. They renamed themselves the Weather Girls and had a huge international smash with It’s Raining Men. The track also solidified Wash’s credentials as a diva of the gay scene, an honor she has embraced throughout her career. Izora moved to Europe in the late 90s and Wash began planning a solo career.

In the meantime, Wash did session work with a number of producers. In 1989 and 1990, her voice was everywhere as she sang on hits credited to Seduction and Black Box. She had been led to believe that she was creating guide vocals or demos, but the producers were so impressed with her voice that she ended up on the final products. Sadly, she was not given vocal credit, however, and Black Box used French model Katrin Quinol as the face of the songs. Infuriated with the lack of credit, low scale compensation, and clear discrimination against her size in the video realm, Wash sued Sony music. She received an undisclosed settlement that included credit and royalties. Occurring in the wake of the Milli Vanilli scandal, her actions also changed music industry law, requiring proper credit and royalties for anyone used as a lead vocalist.

Besides her amazing talent and business determination, Martha Wash has used her fame and fortune for social justice. She is active in charitable work for autism and is the official spokesperson for Quality Services for the Autism Community. She is also a staunch supporter of gay rights and an outspoken advocate for marriage equality.

Look, from my perspective, there have been more gay couples who’ve stayed together longer than straight couples. My feeling is, if you are a citizen of the United States, you should have all rights and liberties of everybody else. If you’re paying taxes like everybody else, why can’t you have the full commitment from the United States government, from marriage on down?

Recognizing her debt to her early gay fans, she is flattered by the many drag performers that cover her songs. She also enjoys telling stories of the many people who have told her they came out while one of her songs was playing.Wash was part of the opening ceremonies at the first OutGames in 2006 and performs many benefits.

Having come to fame during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, she is also a strong advocate for the HIV+ community. She has no patience for those who stigmatize the LGBT community for the disease or for those who marginalize those impacted by HIV. On World AIDS Day in 2012 she was awarded a lifetime achievement award from the AIDS Emergency Fund for her ceaseless advocacy and fundraising.

Martha Wash isn’t resting on her laurels, however. She started her own label, Purple Rose, and released her first full album in 20 years on January 10, 2013. Something Good proves she’s lost none of her vocal fire and is aptly named for her presence in the world.

Happy Birthday, Sigourney Weaver

8 Oct

Happy Birthday, to Sigourney Weaver.  She is not just a brilliant actor, but she is a wonderful social justice activist as well.  While I love most of her work, I have to confess that one of my favorite movies she starred in was A Map of the World, also one of my favorite books. She’s run the gamut, from tough-as-nails woman in space in the Alien franchise ot the delightfully unlikable boss in Working Girl, from the tragic housewife in The Ice Storm to the washed-up action heroine in Galaxy Quest. She made history for her acting in 1988: she was the first person to win two acting Golden Globes in one year (Working Girl and Gorillas In the Mist). She also became the first actor to be nominated for lead and supporiting Oscars in the same year to win neither.

Weaver has built on her work in fiction to improve reality. After her role as Dian Fossey in Gorillas In the Mist she became a champion of Fossey’s work and is the honorary chair of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. She has expanded her animal rights and environmental work, speaking before the United Nations on the threats to ocean habitats posed by aggressive fishing practices. She is also a sponsor of Trickle Up, a non-profit organization focusing on those in extreme poverty, mainly women and the disabled. It’s wonderful to see someone using their talent and fame to make the world a better place.

As an added bonus, Weaver is a woman of 63 who is proud to wear her years. She is famously opposed to plastic surgery and other cosmetic treatments, having observed:

Actors’ faces have to move. I do think life should put lines on your face, or you’re not getting out enough.

In an age of artificial beauty and youth-obsessed culture, that healthy attitude is very welcome indeed. I find her even more beautiful today than ever!

I also want to congratulate Sally Field for being honored by the Human Rights Campaign for being such a strong ally to the LGBTQ community and supporting her openly gay son.

I also want to acknowledge one of my favorite writers.  On October 8, 1993, Toni Morrison became the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Beloved is one of the best books I have ever read.  Morrison is a National Treasure.

My Love For Kathleen Turner

29 Sep

Kathleen Turner first caught my eye when I was quite young, and she was starring on a soap called The Doctors.  Her beauty and sultry voice were captivating. And of course who could forget Turner on the cover of Vanity Fair?  Later I saw her in Body Heat, and wow what a performance.  It was not until Romancing the Stone that I truly fell in love with Turner.  Not only was she amazingly beautiful, but she was bright, independent, and finds her own voice. Here we are in the 21st Century and I think I actually am more in love with her now.

Turner is one of the handful (and I do mean handful) of women who have refused to alter her appearance and has not succumbed to superficial pressure of what women are supposed to look like. For this she has earned my eternal devotion. In fact, I find her even more beautiful because she is her own woman, and her own person.  Her brilliance shines through!

Of course, I also find her politics and use of celebrity amazingly sexy.  Turner has used her celebrity for civil rights causes, including marriage equality and health care rights for women.

Last night, my husband and I watched The Perfect Family, in which Turner gives an absolutely amazing performance and shows how hypocritical and dangerous Catholicism can be.  Turner plays a devout Catholic who is up for The Catholic Woman of the Year Award.  The movie does a great and subtle job of exposing the misogyny and hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. It also does a nice job of dealing with LGBT families.  What is also worth noting is that Turner looks her age, which I find brilliant!  What an amazing role-model for women. Ms. Turner, if you ever get to Portland, I hope you will have supper with my husband and me.

Hero of the Week Award: September 28, French President François Hollande

28 Sep

Hero of the Week

What a delight to celebrate a world leader taking a strong international stand for basic human rights. French President François Hollande made an historic speech at the United Nations this week. Using his own nation as an example, he discussed the obligation of leaders to fight for universal human rights and freedoms.

France will continue to engage in all these struggles: for the abolition of the death penalty, for women’s rights to equality and dignity, for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality, which should not be recognised as a crime but, on the contrary, recognized as a sexual orientation.

All member countries have the obligation to guarantee the security of their citizens, and if one nation adheres to this obligation, it is then imperative that we, the United Nations, facilitate the necessary means to make that guarantee. These are the issues that France will lead and defend in the United Nations. I say this with seriousness. When there is paralysis… and inaction, then injustice and intolerance can find their place.

Well said, Mr. President! How nice to see that France replaced Sarkozy with someone truly presidential. Let’s hope American voters are smart enough not to do the opposite this November.

Honorable mention this week goes to two women who shared their personal struggles to help improve the lives of thousands. Katie Couric revealed her youthful battle with bulimia in an interview. A few days later, Lady Gaga expanded on her Born This Way foundation to include victims of poor body image, discussing her battles with anorexia and bulimia because she “felt like a freak.” Let’s hope that the courage and leadership they have shown help remove stigma and move the dialog forward productively.

Ashley Judd Tackles Patriarchy

11 Apr

Today it’s a pleasure to celebrate the words of a woman who clearly understands our world, misogyny, and its power structures. I’ve found Ashley Judd to be a strong voice for social justice, surprisingly so given her upbringing and fairly vapid relatives. A strong advocate for youth empowerment, a voice for HIV education and prevention, and an activist against exploitative mining practices, this ardent feminist has a powerful voice that needs to be heard!

When she was recently attacked in the media for daring to look “puffy” during an interview, Judd spoke out. The whole article is required reading, serving as a brilliant indictment of the power of patriarchy. She starts with a smart analysis of the fact that most of what poses as journalism is attack pieces and pop culture obsession. Dismantling the 24-hour frenzy on her puffiness, she notes that she was attacked both for possibly having had plastic surgery AND for not doing enough to improve her appearance on TV. That one interview led to reporters picking apart her every appearance (including scenes shot when she was in character for a show), leading Judd to observe:

the remarks about how I look while playing a character powerfully illustrate the contagious and vicious nature of the conversation. The accusations and lies, introduced to the public, now apply to me as a woman across space and time; to me as any woman and to me as every woman.

Building on these observations, Judd smartly observes that many of the attacks came from women, demonstrating an ugly internalized misogyny:

That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly.

She then clearly articulates why she chose to use this personal public moment to start a conversation and makes a call to action:

I hope the sharing of my thoughts can generate a new conversation: Why was a puffy face cause for such a conversation in the first place? How, and why, did people participate?… What is the gloating about? What is the condemnation about? What is the self-righteous alleged “all knowing” stance of the media about? How does this symbolize constraints on girls and women, and encroach on our right to be simply as we are, at any given moment?… Is what girls and women can do different from what boys and men can do? … I ask especially how we can leverage strong female-to-female alliances to confront and change that there is no winning here as women. It doesn’t actually matter if we are aging naturally, or resorting to surgical assistance. We experience brutal criticism. The dialogue is constructed so that our bodies are a source of speculation, ridicule, and invalidation, as if they belong to others—and in my case, to the actual public.

It’s also worth noting that Judd is healthy enough to generally ignore the press pieces about her. She understands her own power and privilege and knows that irresponsible journalism is a consequence of that position. Brava, Ashley Judd, for taking this opportunity to craft a brilliant teachable moment about larger issues and how we must evolve as a society to ever achieve true equality.  Brava, Ms. Judd!

Women’s History Month 2012: Wendie Malick

28 Mar

Today we honor and celebrate actress and activist Wendie Malick. Born in 1950 in Buffalo, NY, Malick graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University and began a career in modelling. She did some political volunteering and then began to focus on her acting career. Understanding the value of her public persona, Malick has focused on the power of bringing light to people’s lives.

I think people underestimate the benefits of laughter.  It’s one of the reasons I’ve come to be very proud of the work I do, because I know how much I value the people who make me laugh before I go to sleep at night, and I know that without Jon Stewart, the world would be a far more difficult place to live in.

She is also a vigorous advocate for many causes. She has spent most of her adult life on Planned Parenthood’s Board of Advocates. She is also concerned with body image and self esteem issues for women. Speaking about those issues and how they play out on her smash sitcom,Hot In Cleveland, she observes:

But what I do think we’ve lost in our culture, and it’s the complete opposite of what our characters do, is embracing this stage in our lives and owning our experience. I think it’s funny because when we first did this show, [show creator] Suzanne [Martin] kept talking about how we’re the late 40-something women.  But I said, ‘Let me play my age. Let me turn 60.’ It’s important to remind women out there that you don’t have to crawl under a rock  at any given age. Also, obesity, which we are dealing with. Now the ways we deal with these issues are as quasi idiots. These are serious problems that we tackle in a comedic way.

Malick is also very involved with PETA and the Humane Society of the United States, passions she shares with co-star Betty White. She has testified before Congress about animal cruelty. Wendie Malick is a woman who is happy being herself and finds pleasure in bringing joy to others. How nice to see a star who is so engaged in social justice!

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