Can this be the end? Really and truly, can this finally be the last time we have to see a woman defend herself against body shaming?
Of course it won’t be, because utopia is a long way off, but even the trolls have to admit that putting the crosshairs on Daisy Ridley for setting unrealistic beauty standards for young girls in her role as Rey from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is jumping the shark. Hell, it might even classify as nuking the fridge. Choose your favorite platitude for describing this situation, because we’ve hit peak futility.
In case you missed DaisyGate this week, here’s a quick refresher: An Instagram user posted a photo of Ridley as Rey with a speech bubble that read “I can’t believe the unrealistic expectations I’m setting for young girls. Who cast me anyway? Don’t they know that real women have curves?”
Ridley responded to the troll with a screen grab of their original post and comment that said, “‘Real women’ are all shapes and sizes, all ethnicities, all levels of brave, have families, don’t have families. I am a ‘real women’ like every other woman in this world.”
This resulted in hordes of Ridley fans attacking her offender on Instagram, prompting Ridley to delete her original retort and replace it with a longer version of the same empowering message she delivered the first time, asking her supporters to please stop harassing the troll.
And with that, we are now declaring the fight to codify what defines a “real woman” to be officially dead. That’s it, everyone! Pack up your judgments and go home, because on a planet with 3 billion of them, using any one description to define what makes a real woman is an exercise in insanity. And so is picking on an actress for playing a part that has been instantly adopted as iconic.
Upon the release of “The Force Awakens,” Rey was immediately recognized as a hero, a role model for little girls and a triumph for women on screen, in part because her physicality was a non-existent aspect of her character. And coming to Ridley’s defense by enumerating all the ways she looks great is a trap for two reasons.
First of all, it misses the point by pulling the focus to her body – which is exactly the wrong thing to do. And second, if we get caught up evangelizing the particulars of what makes Daisy Ridley a validly beautiful woman, we will have to start making lists of why every woman who’s been body-shamed has the right to feel embraced by society. And unless you want to clear your calendar until 2017, we can’t even get started on that.
Because there is literally no winning this fight. And famous women being attacked for how they look isn’t more sad because they’re famous. Many women and men of lesser means are dealing with being shamed everyday by cruel people, and their plight is just as tragic and just as serious.
But our anointed Hollywood stars are generally considered to be the best physical specimens we’ve got! They are the people – for better or worse – we put on our vision boards. We buy Fitbits and post pictures of them with the word #GOALS laid over the top. So if not even they can be spared the vitriol of Internet trolls, no one is safe. Just consider these few examples.
Selena Gomez: Too fat.
Giuliana Rancic: Too skinny.
Gabourey Sidibe: Too black.
Jennifer Lawrence: Not hungry enough for “The Hunger Games.”
Gigi Hadid: Too fat.
Yes. You read that correctly. Gigi Hadid was criticized as too fat for the runway – in an industry that rightfully comes under fire for pressuring models to be too thin. Are you closing your head in a door jam yet? But see, a funny thing happens when everyone is at the same level of risk: Everyone is suddenly the same. If real women have curves, why did NBC and ABC just refuse to run an ad for Lane Bryant clothing that featured voluptuous models? If real women are thin, why is Gigi Hadid too fat for fashion?
If you want to put all this crazy in a jar and look at it up close, just consider the case of Kim Kardashian. No. Seriously consider it. She’s been fat-shamed and slut-shamed and family-shamed and money-shamed and generally insulted for existing for her entire adult life. And it’s happened with impunity. Society has decided that Kim is their property, which gives us the permission to comment on, judge and rip her apart on every available media platform like it’s some kind of sport.
Somehow, Kim Kardashian has become an outlet for our baser instincts to gossip and bitch, and the ability that people have demonstrated to strip her of humanity is practically terrifying. You might protest and say that’s too extreme, but it seems like the only explanation for people’s willingness to public target and insult her. Sure. Kim Kardashian is incredibly rich, but if she’s crying herself to sleep at the end of most days, it would be pretty understandable. Bullying hurts no matter who you are.
But you know what Kim has also been criticized for? Promoting unreasonable beauty standards for women. During her book tour to promote “Selfish,” Kim was asked to respond to the notion that she sets the bar impossibly high for her fellow ladies. She responded by saying the basis of the question still takes her by surprise, because when she was growing up she didn’t have any role models that looked like her. She had almost no one to identify with, no one in film or television to make her feel like she, too, could be considered desirable by society at large.
And within that dilemma we find the only answer to the problem of classifying “the right kind of body,” and that is better representation for people of all shapes, sizes, colors, physical ability levels and gender designations. The person who criticized Daisy Ridley probably doesn’t look like Daisy Ridley. But the answer isn’t recasting Rey. Or kicking Gigi Hadid out of fashion. Or evicting Kim Kardashian because she’s… well, pick which thing Kim is too much of today.
Whoever criticized Ridley probably just wants to identify with the people they’re told are worth loving by virtue of their validation in the popular arts. That’s a completely understandable desire, but until everyone becomes a casting director on their own show, we must look to the people in charge of creating our mass entertainment to broaden the palette of what we see on screen.
Asking any one person to represent the paradigm for an entire gender or race is absurd. Not to mention impossible. And the Daisy Ridleys of the world should be celebrated for everything they are, instead of persecuted for everything they aren’t. And that sounds like something all real women, and men, can strive for.