WASHINGTON, January 10, 2015 — Justin Bieber’s Calvin Klein underwear photos were photoshopped. When Breath Heavy.com released before and after images of Bieber in his Calvins, traffic to their website was so heavy the server crashed.
It turns out that Breath Heavy’s skinny Bieber picture was photoshopped. The buffer Bieber picture released in the Calvin Klein ad was probably photoshopped as well, as advertising images almost always are — a nip here, a tuck there, a shadow added here and removed there — but the Breath Heavy image was designed to ridicule Bieber as an underdeveloped, Marky Mark wannabe.
As the father of a 12-year-old girl who likes Justin Bieber, I have my own reasons to dislike the kid. I think he’s a lousy role model, and his voice hits me like nails on a chalkboard, but I know my daughter will outgrow him. She is smart and independent enough not to model her life on pop stars. He will develop as an artist and mature as a human being or not, but there is no need to waste time “hating on” Bieber.
What parents have plenty of reason to hate is an industry that creates false, unrealistic images of young people. Kids already hate their bodies. It seems near universal that girls think they’re too fat, boys think they’re too skinny or too fat, and companies like Calvin Klein and Abercrombie & Fitch and magazines aimed at teens are only too happy to feed their insecurities.
Parents who talk to their kids and give them a loving, supportive environment will still have kids who aren’t happy with their bodies, but they’ll usually get over it. I’m not about to demand that Barbie and GI Joe be thickened up and trimmed down to more human proportions, or to tell Victoria’s Secret that they should hire some size 12 models. If they have love and support, kids will eventually settle into their bodies and think more about other people and getting A’s in math (we hope).
But the body shaming that has erupted over the Bieber images, the delight that some people have taken in mocking everything from the size of his head to the implied size of his genitalia, leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
When girls and women go in for breast augmentation, who exactly are they trying to please? There are people happy to tell girls that not only should they have the waist size of a Disney princess, but the breast size of a Bond girl. But why?
And why should anyone make fun of a woman whose breasts are “too small”? (e.g., Hey there, you’re a pirate’s dream! You have a sunken chest.)
The same could be asked of a man who doesn’t impressively enough fill out his Calvins.
Bieber’s personal trainer has bizarrely come forward to attest to Bieber’s superior size (opinion seems divided on whether Bieber has or is a big – well, never mind), as if that’s something that needs defending. Why should it matter?
It doesn’t, except as a tool of humiliation. This sort of body shaming isn’t meant to help anyone or make the world a better place, but to establish superiority. Superiority is a matter of rank ordering. It’s like being popular, attractive, or special.
If everyone is special, no one is. So someone has to be put in his place.
The message of all this to teens is loud and clear. It isn’t the content of your character that matters, but the content of your underwear; it isn’t the quality of what’s in your head we care about, but the quality of what’s under your clothes.
Don’t ever be caught generalizing about blacks, Hispanics or gays. That’s professional suicide. On the other hand, generalizing about people who work at McDonalds, who live with their parents, and who are obese is fine. Fat people are lazy and have no self control; fast food workers are stupid and uneducated; people who live at home are immature losers.
We can always find people who fit the stereotypes, but stereotypes are caricatures. Not all Christian conservatives are hypocrites, not all liberals are lazy parasites on the public, not all blacks are drug dealers, not all Muslims are Islamist jihadists.
The stereotypes usually apply only to a minority of the group. They’re a way to categorize, diminish, and dismiss with a word: Black, Asian, fat, Republican, Democrat, Christian, Muslim — a code for something less than we are.
Body shaming depends on stereotypes that give the shamer a sense of superiority, and is rooted in a deep insecurity that many of us never lose. We justify it by attributing what we hate to voluntary behavior rather than the luck of the genetic draw. We shouldn’t stereotype blacks because race is not a choice, but only a morally defective person would get fat, not get a good education, go to work at WalMart, or move into Mom’s and Dad’s basement.
We make fun of fat people, as if that will suddenly make them realize that overeating is unhealthy and all they have to do to be beautiful is stop drinking soda and go to the gym. We gasp when 50-year-olds dare show up on a beach in Speedos and bikinis, and then act as if they’re enjoying themselves.
We smirk at Justin Bieber’s photos and remind ourselves that whatever success he has, he’s a skinny kid who will never fill out his Calvins.
That’s not much improvement over the day when we would look around our trailer homes and think, “well at least I’m not black.”
I want my kids to be happy. I want them to be happy for who they are, not who they aren’t. I want them to be happy because of what they’ve achieved, not because of what others haven’t. I want them to be happy to be themselves, as long as what they are is honest and good. That’s the best any of us has can hope for. The rest of the world can take care of itself.