- Urbino, Italy - The fascination with women, or more specifically with their bodies, has almost always been a universally debated topic. I frequently read American websites, so I obviously couldn’t avoid reading of all those Hollywood starlets fighting to gain the covers of the gossip magazines over an amazing “bikini moment,” or for undergoing something like ten plastic surgeries in just one day. I do read foreign websites, as I exclusively read new online. I do not buy tabloids, and I have dramatically cut my time in front of the television, but I live in Italy, and therefore I cannot avoid seeing what’s going on here.
Let me give you a sample. In order to sell us a caulking gun to seal our frames, an Italian commercial shows two girls wandering in their home and acting like lesbians. At Italy’s main car expo, each car is sided by a gorgeous, half-naked girl, who I am sure knows all about mechanical engineering – in fact, nobody asks her anything, and I’m sure most people pay the entrance fee just for the eye candy. Our Minister for Equal Rights is an ex-showgirl and... do I really need to say anything about Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi?
A few years ago this matter was discussed in a short documentary – you can watch the English version here – entitled “Women’s Bodies”. Actually, Joel Bain, another writer here on Sour Grapes Winery, was the one who told me about it, since there was barely any news about it at all here in Italy initially. Even now that it has gained some popularity through word-of-mouth advertising, it sort of stays banished from mainstream TV channels. I suppose letting people acknowledge the state of things that they’re anaesthetized for would compromise several industries – advertising, television, and I would dare include politics. I suggest you watch it, as it’s the best way to get an idea of what we Italians see everyday.
Before I fully go on that topic, I’d like to spend some time to explain how we've been anaesthetized. I feel discomfort every time I have to explain Italy to any of my foreign friends. My country is delightfully, yet ironically complicated. It is known through stereotypes, and in someways we tend to organize our reality by tight compartments of ourselves. We’ve become insensitive to situations that instead have pathological elements. Our looks don’t get scandalized anymore, while our ability to judge can’t act with those facts of today that have now become a habit.
We’re anaesthetized – but this happens everywhere, all over the world in fact. The same thing happens when we see a homeless person begging for money on the sidewalk – we’re not hurting anymore – or when a dramatically thin model walks the runway. It is all normal. Does this happen because these situations are no longer considered abnormal, or because we feel powerless when we think about trying to change the state of things?
Unfortunately, I’m afraid we’ve simply gotten accustomed to how things are. I can’t really tell how we got to this point; when television started broadcasting, Raffaella Carrà caused a sensation by exposing her belly, while also the Kessler twins by waving their endless legs. In the 1980s, an Italian program called "Drive-In" showed the first openly sexy ladies, showing their breasts, while our parents told us how it was something extremely confined and someway coherent with its context. Now there’s just no border, and I’m not just talking about quantity, rather quality.
If the exposure of the sexuality of women's bodies were massive but contextualized, I don’t think we would dissent or be appalled, we’d just avoid watching, or, instead, we’d seek just that content. Instead, we find ex-Miss Italia contestants reading the weather forecast, a newscast – if you can call it that – updating us on how to flirt and new sexy calendars for half of its length, followed by useless little games on Sunday afternoon talk shows whose rule is "you lose, you go under the shower."
We’ve gotten to the point where our oldest female hosts, working in journalism or sports news, are now the ones who just cover gossip for fear of the competition, being terrified by the possibility of no longer being the main subject of people’s fantasies. Even after one plastic surgery after another, they still insist upon having the spotlight shone straight on their faces when they go on air so as to disguise their wrinkles. We now call them Madonnas, and I don't mean the popstar one.
Some of our female politicians also seem to have a difficult time accepting not being considered for their beauty. It looks like in Italy that a woman can’t, or won’t, detach herself from her erotic, attractive, and sexual potential. Femininity is now mistaken with sexuality. What depresses me the most is the belief that this process is actually self-imposed rather than induced. We have wonderful examples of beautiful, smart women who do not fight against aging at all, who do not display themselves as mere bodies, but as individuals. Wonderful, successful examples, but they’re just a few.
Women put themselves into this circus, women are not really shocked by all of this. Our showgirls build their careers focusing on their appearance, but I really can’t consider this an exclusively Italian issue. It has been a few days since the leak of the reportedly naked pictures of rising actress Blake Lively. In the photos, she was supposedly gazing upon her body in a hotel bathroom. It was initially said that she published them herself with the idea that it'd help her career. However, Black Lively's representatives have since denied the veracity of the photos and have promised legal action against those who distributed them in her name.
How did we get here? I don’t consider myself a feminist – and never will. I believe the very founding principle of feminism to be wrong: if we think we’re the same now, we do not need emancipation. That said, I’m not going to tackle this topic from a feminist point of view. I do not believe we’re under chauvinist dictature but I’m firmly convinced that we’re fully aware of having a power in our bodies that is immense. Captivating. And not just because our society seems to be founded on sex – otherwise, we would see an equal amount of gorgeous, half-naked men on our commercials. So, I’m asking, what do you think caused this overall approval of the exploitation of women’s bodies?
Universally, the female body is definitely considered beautiful and harmonious. It satisfies our aesthetic principles. Women must not despise seeing a beautiful female body – otherwise, it wouldn’t be exposed this much. After all, if men liked male bodies as much as the female body gets universally admired, we would expose them equally.
I don’t like thinking of us as a society of stupid good-for-nothings pervaded with excitement. I don’t like thinking that the sight of a woman passing by makes us imagine her naked, and I don’t even like thinking that all a young Italian girl dreams about is dancing in her shorts on teleivision program. I hope I can trace back all of this to bigger issues, to our anxious society, how fast we’re going, and the cages we have locked ourselves into. I hope the state of Italian television is actually due to a choice of shows that really want to be lightening for all of those people, men and women, who get home in the evening, feeling tired and worried, and would rather watch something that does not demand any attention; something praising happiness and beauty. It would be sad, but I really hope these are just a means to distract us from our own problems. I’m afraid I’m wrong though. I’m afraid these selling strategies actually appeal on a real, pure and simple perversion that we all have; all of us, men and women. A sexual perversion for men, and a sick desire for perfection for women. All women, even our soubrettes who destroy themselves with surgeries as soon as another younger starlet comes on their way.
Have we really gotten to the point where our desire of being liked is stronger than anything else? We’ve all experienced the intoxication of being wanted, the shiver in knowing that that person likes you. But I also think all of us women shudder at feeling people’s eyes on us while walking down the street. This Italy, the country of sexuality always and ever present, is the same country where a 16-year-old girl was probably killed by her cousin because she was "so thin that it hurt me even more." The same country where a 13-year old girl, exiting her gym was probably killed for sexual purposes. These things are happening everywhere around the world. They are due to perverted attitudes ascribable to our animal nature, our primeval instincts: it’s our rage.
I can’t help but ask myself though, if we would be less angry if we weren’t so obsessed by perfection and physicality. Or if we weren’t seeing skin and winking, television shows on plastic surgery, people dancing in their bathing suits, or strategic framings all the time. Or if they didn’t need to show us a woman's bare ass in order to sell us a dress, and if Photoshop wasn’t used mercilessly on even the most naturally imperfect figure.
I can’t tell how much our television says us, nor I could be able to quantify how it influences our behavior. I don’t know who, what or how things have lead to this point, nor do I know when, and if, we will able to change things to a more decent level. And, in the end, I don’t even think it’s right to worry too much over these matters. After all, television is an extremely democratic medium: if you don’t like what you see, you can always turn it off.