Why That Photograph of Cindy Crawford Made me Cry

A photograph of Cindy Crawford went viral late last week. I discovered the photo not via some dude slobbering over how hot she is (though she is, indeed, totally hot in this picture) but via a mom friend who described it as “awesome” and “powerful.”

What was so awesome and powerful? Described as un-photoshopped—though I’m sure that the photo is retouched in one way or another—the image shows Crawford posing in a black bra, underwear, hat and open feathery coat. Her expression exudes sexual confidence. And the contours of her body—the lines, the dimples, the curves—are all on display, unhidden and unmasked, defying a few of the taut and rigid beauty standards so often directed toward nothing but men’s satisfaction.

Hell yeah, that’s awesome and powerful.

Initially, this photo was billed as a preview from an upcoming issue of Marie Claire magazine. It turns out, however, that the photo was leaked from a session for a 2013 Marie Claire Mexico and Latin America cover story.

The basic fact of this leak bothers me in myriad ways. I’d hate if Crawford feels violated or otherwise embarrassed by an image that neither she nor the photographer intended to make public. I’m also more than a little disappointed that Marie Claire won’t be featuring an empowering (and not pitying) series of un-flawless photographs of Crawford, or of any woman, for that matter.

But leak or not, there is still a part of me loves this photograph. I love it and the visceral reaction it inspired in me.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Crawford’s body and appearance in this picture conform to approximately 99% of our cultural beauty norms. She is thin. White. Long-haired and lithe and gorgeous. Nonetheless, the beauty-norm deviations that this photograph does make are significant: especially for people whose bodies also carry the marks of age, parenthood, and unretouched reality.

Crawford’s stomach and thighs are dotted with tiny dimples. These dimples are familiar to me. I have them too, those vestiges of my pregnancies past. At age 46 in this photo, Crawford has parts that sag and hang, even if only marginally so. I also have parts that sag and hang, breasts that need some assistance from a solid bra in order to perk them above elbow-level.

Nevertheless, it’s not simply that Crawford has a few dimples and sags here and there inspires an emotional reaction in me. Her body and appearance are beyond the grasp of most women, myself included. No, what gets me is the magic that happens in the juxtaposition of her amazing, norm-defying beauty with that sexually confident, “I give no shits” look on her face.

What I saw in my initial viewing of this photo was a woman saying, “Yes, I have a dimpled belly, I am a mother, I am aging, I am slowly easing away from our society’s standards for beauty and sexual desirability and I am still a worthy and confident sexual being.”

I saw someone—a beautiful celebrity, I’ll admit—claiming their sexual agency and refusing to be erased or silenced by our culture or by a photo editor’s touch.

This move is different from most “unaltered” photos of celebrities, which tend to skew pathetic (like tabloid “exposés” of stars without makeup) or wistful (like most articles on the “brave” celebrities who agree to be photographed without makeup or retouching). It’s a different type of revelation. A different type of bravery. It’s not the epitome of bravery, but it’s bravery nonetheless. And perhaps most importantly, the image challenges the virgin/whore trope and the erasure of maternal sexuality, all at the same time.

It reflects a badass confidence that I would like to see in myself and my own body image.

Given the truth about this photo’s leak, however, maybe Crawford didn’t feel so confident after all. Maybe her confidence came from the part of her that knew that her dimples and sags would be erased in the final edit. Maybe her confidence isn’t as near-perfect as her body, as she herself has claimed in an interview with Marie Claire.

If that is indeed the case, then even if Cindy Crawford doesn’t have a body just like the rest of us, she’s likely vulnerable just like the rest of us.

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10 Ways to Love the Most Annoying People on Facebook

The days in between the Winter Solstice and New Year’s Day are always some of my favorites. For me, they are a time of reflection. A moment in which the world softens and quiets, even if only for a handful of days.

These days are also a time when people ramp up their most annoying social media habits.

The vaguebooking. The bragging. The complaining. The sympathy-baiting. The relentless insufferability. It’s all there, every day, every time we scroll through our Facebook feeds. The holidays only seem to make these annoying habits worse.

Though my response to this behavior has often resided somewhere in between eye-rolling and passionate unfollowing, I’m trying something different this year. These quiet, softened days have inspired me to follow the mantra that I repeat to my children every time that they complain or snipe or belittle:

Choose kindness.

This year, I resolve to choose kindness when an annoying Facebook status crosses my path. And I urge you to do the same.

Choose kindness the next time you check your Facebook feed. Search for your last shred of empathy and exploit the hell out of it. Even if it’s for this week only. Alright, fine, a day. Or just next time you check Facebook.

Choose kindness even if it only ever manifests itself imperfectly and strangely and inconsistently (and that is, in fact, the only way that kindness ever manifests itself in our imperfect, strange, and inconsistent species).

Because sometimes–perhaps all the time–the most annoying people on Facebook are the people who could most use our kindness.

 

most annoying people on facebook

The person who shares every inane detail of their day

“Going to the gym!” “Working out!” “Leaving the gym!” “In the car getting ready to leave the gym!” “Home from the gym!” “Washing my workout clothes!” “Gym!” “Going to the gym tomorrow too!” “Gym! Gym! Gym!” “DID YOU HEAR THAT I WENT TO THE GYM TODAY?!” “let every stupid detail about my trip to the gym haunt your nightmares tonight.”

“gymmmmmmmmmmmmmm”

You gave your last shit about this person’s thrilling trip to the gym after the first status update. I know this. You know this.

And maybe they know this too.

Maybe they actually have nothing more interesting in their lives than this solitary trip to the gym or the grocery store or whatever other silly detail they are sharing. Maybe they are lonely. Maybe they feel empty and isolated even though they’re surrounded by people, doing things, all the things (all the GYM THINGS!), every day.

You don’t have to like or comment on these updates. (Not unless someone actually posts a “haunting your nightmares” update. You can like the hell out of that.) Just feel some compassion for the person behind them.

The person who overshares every last detail of their whole godforsaken lives

Someone you only kind-of-not-really knew in high school has been giving the painful, embarrassing play-by-play of their latest break up. For the past month. Every day.

Your weird cousin just shared something about his hemorrhoids.

Your neighbor posts a selfie every day and never forgets to add the TMI description of what they are doing. They tell you about their drama at work. They make vague (or not-so-vague) references to their raucous sex life. They announce that they’re about to get a pap smear. WITH SELFIES.

Resist the urge to shame them, in public or in your head. Overshares are often a desperate plea for someone, anyone, to listen. So open yourself up, and listen. Listen to whatever pain is there. Listen to that loneliness. Acknowledge the words that aren’t being said, the signal beneath all the noise.

And if you see that person in real life–you know, the life that still goes on outside of and beyond the screen–be ready to listen. Be ready to open your damn heart up until it breaks because this person might really, desperately, painfully need someone to listen.

 

The person with terrible grammar

I’m not talking about someone who confuses “lie” and “lay” or who uses the occasional dangling modifier. I’m also not talking about the person who agonizes over every grammatical mistake they’ve committed on social media, obsessively editing any past posts that might contain the slightest error.

I’m talking about people who make updates or comments like this:

“congradultion in you’re acomplishmants so proud 2 have uy as my nephew.!”

“SO blesd with my famly this Chrissmas all my kids r so GREaT i luv evry oen off them wish you all a HAPPY NEW YEEAR”

“PEOPLE SUK. HOWEVER HEI S NOT MY HUSBEND ANY MORE. WHEN THE HOLIDYAS,”

Put down that proverbial red pen and think about what’s going on behind the scenes.

Maybe they didn’t finish school.

Maybe they went to a sucky school.

Maybe their teachers gave up on them.

Maybe they have a learning or visual disability.

Maybe they are, in fact, drunk. All the time.

Let any one of those scenarios sink in. Let them ignite your compassion. Let them set that kindness on fucking fire.

 

The humble (or not so humble) bragger

So they have the “most thoughtful girlfriend in the world.” Or “the most beautiful baby.” Or “the most incredible view from their beach house.” Or “aww shucks, a major life accomplishment that they didn’t even know they deserved, but let them spell out their latest accolade in the most nauseatingly self-promotional details possible.”

Are they a bit narcissistic? Sure. Are they seeking attention? Of course. People love to decry social media for increasing our narcissism and look-at-me tendencies. But I’ve always thought that finding a narcissistic human being is like finding hay in a haystack.

We want to be acknowledged. We yearn to be recognized. We want someone in front of us to say, “Yes, I see you. I see you. I see you as a person. I see your humanity. I see all your flaws, and I’m still going to accept you.

I’m still going to like you.”

So just see them. Like their update. Say congrats. Or ignore them. Block them. Take a break from them if you need to. Just remember that any jealousy you feel is about you, not them.

 

The ranter

Did you know that Barack Obama is literally the worst president who ever took the oath of office?

Are you ready to read a paragraph-length piece explaining everything that is wrong with Fox News?

I bet you’re super-ready to read a daily rant about whichever political party or ideology or bill or law is ruining the country, the world, and, most of all, THE CHILDREN.

Choosing kindness in these situations is trickier than acknowledging the hope and beauty and goodness in all people. Nonetheless, kindness is still possible. Sometimes it means sending your aunt to snopes.com when she rants about how the Democrats forced Tim Horton’s to take away her precious Timbits. Sometimes it means posting your own viewpoint without adding “plus, you’re an idiot.”

Sometimes kindness just means staying quiet and remembering that few people have ever said, “But then I changed my mind because of that one thing that that one person posted on Facebook.”

 

The constant inviter

“Geoff needs just one more life in Candy Crush!”

“Andrea wants to invite you to her next Pampered Chef/Pretty Nails/Extravagantly Priced Make-up/The Tupperware of the 21st Century Party!”

“Your Candy Crush invitation is waiting!”

“Like my page [so that I can spam you every day with pointless and irrelevant self-promotional material]!”

“DAMMIT, I SAID THAT GEOFF NEEDS MORE CANDY CRUSH LIVES!”

I get it. The constant pestering is obnoxious. But behind the updates, you never know if someone is hustling to make some extra cash to buy a birthday present for their kid or pay their sick spouse’s medical bill or supplement their income just because they damn well want to.

Maybe they are launching a new business. Maybe they’re a wiz when it comes to tutoring or carpentry or artisinal cheese-making, but they still haven’t mastered non-annoying marketing.

Maybe they are obsessed with Candy Crush. This is only human.

Or maybe their kid loves Candy Crush and presses ALL THE BUTTONS, even the ones that connect their mom or dad to Facebook and demand that all of their friends give them the extra lives they so desperately need.

And no. You don’t get to judge them for letting their kid play with their phone or tablet.

 

The sympathy-baiter

There’s always some sort of drama going on in the sympathy-baiter’s life. Chaos, mayhem, illness, death, tragedy, loss. Sometimes it’s exaggerated, sometimes not. But it always gets a status update.

Someone seeking sympathy this frequently probably doesn’t receive it all that much in their non-social media lives. They might have a hostile social circle. Or they might not have a flesh-and-blood social circle at all. Facebook might be all they have.

I don’t think that Facebook necessarily created this type of loneliness and awkwardness. There were lonely, agoraphobic, and awkward people before the advent of social media. They just didn’t have a space for their voices. There was no one to listen.

Let them have a space. There’s room enough for all our voices.

 

The vaguebooker

“I guess that SOME PEOPLE don’t appreciate a good thing when they have it.”

“I can’t say anything right now, but I need all of your prayers. The biggest ones you’ve got. Immediately.”

“Something huge is going to happen. Stay tuned.”

Of course they’re seeking attention. Of course they want you to say something to them. Of course, of course, of course.

Maybe they are desperate to be seen. Maybe they don’t know how to be seen, to feel seen, to experience the singular happiness that is one person really, truly seeing another.

Or maybe they just need to feel supported. Maybe there is something huge and awful happening in their lives, and maybe they can’t talk about it, and maybe they don’t have a prayer circle or a coffee klatch or a safe space to talk.

Just remember: if you don’t need to seek people’s attention of sympathy, then your life must be pretty damn good. Be thankful for your friends and family and their listening ears and acknowledging hearts. Not everyone has that.

 

The baby picture spammer

Did you really need to see seven consecutive pictures of your college roommate’s baby’s toothless grin? No.

Is gazing upon a baby picture the most exciting part of your day? No.

Does one newborn ever really look all that much different from another newborn? No.

But when a person introduces an entirely new human being into existence, they deserve some freaking leeway. Let them post. Let them partake in some joy. They are probably sleep-deprived and desperate for some adult contact. Scoop up some kindness and give them a like or an, “Aww, what a cutie!”

And if you need to, direct your kindness toward yourself too. Miscarriage, infertility, stillbirth, the loss of a child, and a million other types of pain: they can all make the baby pictures too much, just to much, for a while. Sometimes a long while.

Sometimes blocking a person’s feed can be an act of self-care and kindness.

 

The person with the picture-perfect life

Their house is always spotless.

Their children are always happy.

They never post anything negative.

They never share a less-than-perfect photograph.

And like all of us, they curate their social media personae to their liking. Theirs might simply be more polished than the rest of ours.

Before you hate them, take a moment to wonder about what it is they are polishing away: what pain they are hiding, what realities they are sugar-coating, what vulnerabilities they are masking.

Love them. Show them kindness without resentment. Love them despite their false perfection.

Love the person behind the Facebook mask.

And P.S. I know that you probably never, ever do anything annoying on Facebook. Just remember that you’re not perfect either.

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White Boys

I’ve been thinking a lot about counterfactuals lately.

The term might not be familiar to you, but you probably use counterfactuals all the time. When you wonder what your life would be like if you’d chosen a different school or job, you’re relying on counterfactual thinking. When you consider how history might have changed if Martin Luther King Jr. had not been shot or if the United States had never gone to war with Vietnam, you‘re relying on counterfactual thinking. Whenever you think about something that is not the case and then explore how that change-in-fact might have altered other things that we know to be true, you are relying on counterfactual thinking.

We philosophers love to rely on counterfactuals. We love to use them to test our own and others’ intuitions. We even use them to define terms and complex concepts.

A few months ago, after Michael Brown was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a friend of mine posted a message on Facebook asking other white parents what sorts of things they say to their teenagers before they go out at night. He asked if one of the things they say is to “not get shot by the police.” And, of course, people who didn’t quite get what he was asking jumped at the chance to point out all the reasonable, terrified, justified warnings they give to their sons and daughters, regardless of their skin color.

White parents worry about their kids too. Why make this issue one about race?

But that wasn’t the point. My friend wasn’t asking if they worried about their kids. That wasn’t the point at all.

I do wonder if his question might have been better put as a counterfactual conditional: as a sort of exercise in logic and empathy.

Consider the question, reframed: if your teenage son or daughter were non-white, especially if they were a black son or daughter living in the United States, would you have the exact same fears you do now when your children go out at night? Would you have the same level of fear? Would you give them the same advice about their interactions with the police? Would you worry about what would happen if someone saw them running down the street, or if someone noticed them talking loudly with their friends? Can you really say that “If it were the case that my son or daughter were a person of color, nothing about my advice or fears or worries would change?”

 

I have three white sons. Three white boys who will grow up into three white men. Their whiteness and their maleness will confer mountains of unearned privilege upon them as they move and speak and think and learn in this world.

I don’t want them to wear their white privilege like a burden. Recognizing privilege is not about guilt. It is not about shaming.

It is about justice.

I want my three white sons to know their privilege as a reminder: as a memento of the work they can do to ensure that when there is injustice, they must seek justice, and when there is pain, they must seek compassion.

Wherever they go, their privilege goes too. And I want them to see it. I want them to see how much it gives them, and how much it takes away from others, and to remedy that systemic unfairness as they grow into white men.

I saw this privilege in action when I was a kid. White boys cashed in on their privilege without even realizing it existed, without knowing that it was a thing they had that others didn’t.

White boys rode their trucks through country roads, baseball bats smashing mailboxes to splinters. White boys vandalized the school principal’s house. White boys vandalized their school building and lived long lives in which they could laugh about the fact that their acid graffiti still appeared on the brick wall of their high school whenever it rained. White boys bought drugs, did drugs, sold drugs, but they were always described as good kids–not as non-angels, but as good kids who made bad decisions.

White boys stole Swisher Sweets and gum from the convenience store. White boys used fake IDs to buy cheap beer from the liquor drive through. White boys staged an elaborate kidnapping prank that resulted in multiple calls to the police. Yet they were good kids, maybe a few bad kids, but no one got shot.

White boys and their white girlfriends berated and heckled the police, resisting arrest in the middle of their beer-soaked college streets, and they not only lived they also laughed to tell about it.

White boys set fire to cars. White boys lit couches, left them blazing in front of their frat houses. White boys threw beer bottles at police officers. White boys shouted, “Fuck you, pigs!” White boys were silly college boys, making stupid mistakes, just stupid mistakes, but they were never defined by these mistakes, and they never defined their friends by these mistakes.

White boys never had to answer for why yet another white boy had taken a gun into school and massacred a group of children. White boys never had to answer for why yet another white serial killer or white wife-murderer or white pedophile had been arrested, had become part of yet another sensationalized news story. Their violence wasn’t about their whiteness, it was about them.

White boys were always good kids, mistake-makers, young, stupid, wrong, penitent, nostalgic reminders of our lost and reckless and wild youth.

I want my white boys to be more than that. I want them to be better than that.

And I want them to know that their brown friends deserve better too.

 

The grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson has incited so many varied responses that I can begin to count or describe them. We have access to the documents that the grand jury saw. We have access to photos of Darren Wilson, and responses from Michael Brown’s parents, and video of a prosecutor almost smugly describing how he did not get the indictment his office was seeking.

I do not know for certain if Michael Brown attacked Darren Wilson with as much ferocity as Wilson claims. I do not know if Darren Wilson acted out of fear for his life or from racial motivations.

But I know the situation might have been different if Michael Brown were a white boy. He might still be with us today.

And the situation in its entirety requires a moral response. As a parent of three white boys, I think it demands a moral response.

Imagination and creativity are just as important to  morality as are logic and reason and truth. That’s why I think that exploring race and privilege and parenting counterfactually is its own act of moral kindness. It’s at the very precipice of justice. It does not change much, but it is the beginning of change.

Because when I think counterfactually about my white boys and their privilege, when I imagine how it might operate in my own life, when I let it really seep into my bones, when I think about what my life would be like and what their lives would be like if my white sons were black, I feel plenty of worry and anxiety and anger, and it’s nowhere near the worry and anxiety and anger that parents of actual non-white children feel, and if anyone refuses to see that this worry and anxiety and anger are not only real but also justified, then they are hiding in a muddled mess of willful ignorance.

 

Please consider donating to the Ferguson, Missouri library. They are doing lots of  good for lots of people.

See if your town is hosting a local event in response to the events in Ferguson. I’ll be at the one in Columbus, Ohio with my three white sons.

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