This is a bit of an unconventional book review so bear with me. March is Women’s History Month, but today is International Women’s Day, and the theme for 2021 is #ChoosetoChallenge. We are called to challenge the world itself, world leaders, politics, religion, racism — question it all! We need to celebrate the women who have come before us as well as come together to create a better world for future generations of women. Anne Helen Petersen’s book features 11 women who have looked into the eyes of society and pushed back against the status quo. They chose to stand up for themselves simply by being themselves and by not allowing society to dictate how they live their lives and accomplish their dreams. Each chapter focuses on a different category of “unruliness”: Serena Williams (too strong), Melissa McCarthy (too fat), Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer (too gross), Nicki Minaj (too slutty), Madonna (too old), Kim Kardashian (too pregnant), Hillary Clinton (too shrill), Caitlyn Jenner (too queer), Jennifer Weiner (too loud), and Lena Dunham (too naked).
Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen
Published by Plume, an imprint of Penguin Random House (June 20th 2017)
Hardcover, 234 pages
The inside jacket copy tells us: From celebrity gossip expert and Buzzfeed culture writer, Anne Helen Petersen, comes an accessible, analytical look at how female celebrities are pushing the boundaries of what it means to be an “acceptable” woman. You know the type: the woman who won’t shut up, who’s too brazen, too opinionated –too much. It’s not that she’s an outcast (she might even be your friend, or your wife, or your mother) so much as she’s a social variable. Sometimes, she’s the life of the party; others, she’s the center of gossip. She’s the unruly woman, and she’s one of the most provocative, powerful forms of womanhood today.
There have been unruly women for as long as there have been boundaries of what constitutes acceptable “feminine” behavior, but there’s evidence that she’s on the rise — more visible and less easily dismissed — than ever before. In Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud, Anne Helen Petersen uses the lens of “unruliness” to explore the ascension of eleven contemporary pop culture powerhouses. Petersen explores why the public loves to low (and hate) these controversial figures, each of whom has been conceived as “too” something: too queer, too strong, too honest, too old, too pregnant, too shrill, too much. With its brisk, incisive analysis, this book will be conversation-starting on what makes and breaks celebrity today.
A few thoughts that I had while reading: I’m one of those bad, bad readers who tends to skip the introduction in a book, but I read this one and I’m glad that I did. The introduction is a retrospective written by the author about the morning of election day, 2016, one of the most devastating days in history. I suppose that I could really connect to that day, from the minute that I woke up to the very moment that the tears streamed down the bridge on my nose onto my pillowcase as THAT MAN was announced as President. #NotMyPresident. I remember waking up early to vote before I needed to be on the train to work. I remember the excitement of my co-workers at the possibility of having the first woman president the next day. The women depicted in this book are trailblazers in their careers as well as what I consider “super” celebrities, but does that mean that everyone considers them to be icons? Women like Hillary Clinton, Nicki Minaj, even Kim Kardashian are buzz words and can cause an argument between two people just by saying their names. They are visible brand names and you either like them or you don’t, at least…that’s how it feels to me. But I feel like this may very well be, and I think Helen Anne Petersen even makes this point, that women — especially the women discussed here — are beloved by the public until the moment that they stop touting the company line, until the moment they become “unruly”.
Out of the 11 women discussed in this book, three resonated the most with me: Melissa McCarthy (too fat), Kim Kardashian (too pregnant), and Hillary Clinton (too shrill).
I am a huge fan of Melissa McCarthy! As a teenager — an obese teenager — I felt comforted by her presence on my television screen while watching Gilmore Girls because it was like someone noticed me. Maybe that’s strange, but it’s how I felt watching Sookie St. James make me laugh every week for seven years. She wasn’t just a side character, nor was she just the comic relief, as so many fat people were portrayed. She was given a life full of romance and drama and a whole family and it made me smile. That’s probably why it felt like such a slap in my fat face when Sookie did not return for the 2016 revival. It felt like we were hiding the fat people. Like we were no longer welcome in the thin Gilmore world. When she was only doing the one show, she was a plus size woman, contained to this one world, one script, one identity and people could tolerate that. But in between the series and that crappy crappy reboot, she became more of an outspoken icon for other plus-size (fat) women. She became “unruly” because she didn’t focus on her own fatness and didn’t care to bite back when the media remarks on her weight or the weight of a character she plays. I can’t nod my head hard enough in agreement with her when she asks “Isn’t this getting boring?” in reference to an interview with Variety in response to nasty Marie Clare blogger comments. And it’s so true. Isn’t the world tired of commenting on other peoples’ weight? Can’t you just allow people to live their lives how they see fit? When will the fat shaming STOP?
The next one that really hit me – Kim Kardashian – which I think needs a bit of a disclaimer. I am not a fan of the Kardashian – Jenner klan. The world has granted this family way too much power and distinction over what’s hot and what’s not. However, this chapter about her being “too pregnant” (who knew that there was such a fucking thing) really had me kind of upset for her, as a woman, as a compassionate human being. The chapter opens with a description of Kim dressed in a skintight, black-and-white color block dress, while pregnant, that apparently the media took saying she was comparable to that of a Killer Whale. That hit me hard because it’s so mean-spirited that it just goes far beyond the lack of privacy that celebrities have. The book talks about a post from Kim’s blog where she says “pregnancy is the worst experience of my life” and that she “wanted the cute little basketball bump…she wanted a ‘normal’ pregnancy.” I haven’t had and do not plan on having children, but I know plenty of people that have had children and they all love being pregnant – as much as they feel like their body is no longer their own and as overwhelming as everything that comes with pregnancy can be. It made me really sad to read that because I think a big part of her hatred toward pregnancy – and her OWN pregnancy at that – was due to the taunting of the media when her body failed to fall in line. She failed to fit into the status quo of Hollywood pregnancy and that was terrifying for someone whose entire life is in the limelight.
This entire section on Kim K. and her pregnancy got me to thinking about how women are always the first ones to come after mothers — whether they are expectant first timers or what I call “long-haulers” the ones who have a few — and judge them for their every little move. Like, leave them alone. Mothers know what they are doing and what they need to do. It makes me absolutely crazy to see women tearing down other women for every freaking little thing, ESPECIALLY pregnancy, a thing that no one has any control over except for HER body and nature. I mean, as it is pregnant women and the very word itself were essentially barred from the doors of Hollywood until she were no longer in that state. CRAZINESS! It was the media that created the coveted “Bump Watch” among celebrities which incubated this terrifying need for the “cute” pregnancy bump, which later became a thing to be styled, discussed, and photographed by the media for the entire world to judge. Well, the world judged Kim’s pregnancy and said “Sorry, but this isn’t good for marketing or publicity for the show which only fed into her anxiety and sadness and, in my unprofessional and non-medical opinion, probably contributed to all of the medical issues that came with her pregnancy. She gave birth to North six weeks early and suffered from preeclampsia (I had no clue! As I said, I have never tracked or followed this family and try to avoid celebrity gossip.) Not even Kim’s delivery was ideal and I am sure the media gobbled that up. It’s sickening and this entire chapter had me feeling like the media bully fest really needs to stop, particularly against women. When does it end? Where will it end?
Hillary. Rodham. Clinton.
Need I say more? No, but, of course I will, haha! It’s only within the last ten years or so that I have really paid closer attention to politics. I turned 18 in high school and registered to vote soon after. Shortly after that, I was eligible to vote in the 2012 election. It didn’t dawn on me then, but I noticed it in 2016 that government politics are a lot like high school — it’s all about being popular and no one likes the hard working nerds. Everyone wants to be the rich kids or the jocks. As a young voter, I couldn’t understand why people said Hillary wasn’t “likable” or “warm”. Not that I had ever met her in person, but she always left an impression on me during interviews and conferences that had me saying “yes, I’d vote for her”. I found it almost ironic that it’s always men saying this about her but you never hear anyone concerned about the likability or the emotional control of men. I mean…LOOK at our last President! He lost the popular vote…TWICE, would angry tweet at 3am if someone called him a name and, somehow he was still put in charge of our nuclear codes and weapons. Interesting.
When she became the first lady, people were more concerned with her wardrobe and physical appearance that the causes that she stood for in the White House. Her sensible pants suits needed to be “softened” for the American people…whatever that fucking means. Along the path of her career, she became known as “shrill” by both men and women because they felt she didn’t “know her place” as a woman. Her voice, a higher pitch than a man’s, was viewed as her shouting emotionally to get her points across. No. It’s just that as a people, we are familiar with and almost programmed to only recognize the male vocal intonations in positions of authority because…well…look around. They aren’t too many women running the place (although I am very glad to see Kamala Harris in the Bravo 2 spot of command). Women are slowly trickling in, but we need more. Sadly, the world wasn’t ready for a woman President in 2016. We had to learn our lessons the hardest way possible and now we are suffering the consequences of those poor decisions. But remember — no matter how “shrill” men say Hillary is, she won the popular vote in the election. If we didn’t still have the antiquated system of an Electoral College, we might not have ended up where we are today, but that’s a post for another time and place.
My Rating: I feel like I have so many more questions and things to say about the passages and topics and women explored in this book. I only wish that I needed to write a paper! I think that Anne Helen Petersen did a good job exploring these current women in media and I’d love to see her thoughts on some more current women, seeing as this book was from 2017. When I first opened the book, I thought it would be a dry subject and that I would end up DNF’ing the book. Then, I lost it in my move from Connecticut and thought well, it must be destiny at work. But, I am very glad that I found it and continued reading because I feel like I got an inside exclusive on topics that I want to read more about, on topics that I wish to write about, for that matter! Well executed and well-written!