Hilaria Baldwin & the Perverse Myth of Reverse Body-Shaming
On the Weaponization of Body Positivity by Hilaria y Las Demás
The internet recently busted yoga instructor Hilary Baldwin for moonlighting as a Thpanish immigrant and upon learning that “Hilaria” wasn’t born in Mallorca but instead in Massachusetts, I decided to skip her recipe for Boston baked beans estilo Madrileño. In a video clip that went viral, “Hilaria” pretends not to know the English word for a vegetable her bear of a husband played in Married to the Mob, “Cucumber” Frank De Marco, and social media continues to hum with speculation as her charade dissolves like a moth-eaten mantilla. Some chisme alleges that “Hilaria” is Alec Baldwin’s consolation prize and claims that the Beetlejuice star pursued and was rejected by a Latin-American actress known for her role as a snake-dancing vampiric stripper. The tea, or té, is that “Hilaria” might be the closest her Mexican-chasing husband comes to disfrutar una esposa Mexicana o Chicana pero quién sabe. Not me. I’m just repeating what a bunch of tías are saying on el internet.
In the days leading up to her undoing, “Hilaria” used IGTV to discuss a photograph of her that comedian Amy Schumer poked fun at. The photo features “Hilaria” showing off her calzón-clad post-partum body while holding a baby and during her IGTV monologue, “Hilaria” sits on her doorstep and professes stupidity, stressing that she doesn’t understand why Schumer made fun of her picture and that she consulted with others who tried to explain Schumer’s joke to her. Their attempts at clarification failed, she still doesn’t get it, and shortly after beginning her monologue, “Hilaria” alleges that Schumer’s joke invited (cue the violin) body shaming!
Schumer knows what it is to experience body-shaming. Trolls fat-shamed her after she was cast in the role of Barbie. Hilaria doesn’t know what that’s like. She can’t. When a woman who meets waifish beauty standards TO A MOTHERFUCKING T gets teased for showing off her body, a physique that is constantly placed on a pedestal by white supremacy, the type of heteronormative body women the world over are coerced into striving for, she’s not being body shamed. Slut-shamed, perhaps. But body shamed? I don’t think so. And to marshal the slut-shaming defense, “Hilaria” would have to come out as a puta and something tells me that that’s unlikely to happen.
That something is named Señor Baldwin.
Heteronormatively hot women have been taking reverse body shaming claims to the next level, exploiting them for self-promotion and, in cases like “Hilaria’s,” using them to invite sympathy. I think of these claims as inhabiting the same mythological terrain as unicorns, reverse racism, Sasquatch, reverse sexism, and the tooth fairy. Reverse body-shaming operates according to the same logic as the aforementioned inverted oppressions: “I’m being persecuted for my BEAUTY! People are crucifying me because I’m GORGEOUS! BEAUTIFUL LIVES MATTER!”
While beauty has occasional drawbacks, it opens doors more than it closes them. If Doña Baldwin looked less like herself, I doubt that she’d be Doña Baldwin. That’s because optics matter. They are the conduits through which beauty announces itself and gets to work on the beautiful person’s behalf.
If you think I’m exaggerating about the co-optation of body-shaming rhetoric, and body positivity more broadly, visit Instagram and TikTok. The sites are rife with accounts run by white women commanding other women to love themselves and more often than not, the white women operating such accounts meet white, heteronormative beauty standards. They’re frequently milky skinned but sometimes they sport gnarly tans. They’re frequently blonde-haired and blue-eyed. They’re frequently thin, young, able-bodied, and cis. They frequently pander to straight tropes. They frequently espouse female empowerment while never explaining exactly what that means. They frequently show themselves engaged in gastronomical theatrics, fetishizing what they eat and that they eat. They tell you that they are just like you. Like “Hilaria,” they are frequently European. Sometimes, they are British.
Eating while beautiful isn’t heroic. Neither is rubbing glitter into your butt’s stretchmarks when, aside from those stretchmarks, your body is the type regularly held up as an ideal. Nonetheless, many of those running these body positive accounts create memes suggesting that if your stomach pops a roll or two when you sit, you now know what it feels like to struggle, that perhaps you’re feeling something akin to fatphobia. I think that these insinuations are a conflating crock of shit.
One of these accounts is run by Louise Aubery, the self-described “Fondatrice & CEO chez MyBetterSelf.” Aubery’s Parisian-based IG account boasts 465k followers and Aubery seems to revel in drawing attention to her lingerie-clad body. That makes me glad! Go for it! Run around wearing almost nothing! Run around wearing nothing! It is fun to enjoy your body and it is fun to be admired. However, when a white woman positions herself as engaged in radical self-love when white supremacy positions her looks as ideal, the gesture uncritically serves whiteness. When such women appoint themselves as body positive ambassadors, they obscure women unlike themselves, women who don’t have the privilege of having themselves constantly admired, idealized, praised, and mirrored by all of media. Most of the images posted to Aubery’s account of her being beautiful in France, and on the occasion that she posts images of herself posing with minoritized women, they seem to function as props.
On November 16, Aubery’s account posted one such photo. She sits at the center of it, its star. Aubery is the palest woman in the photo as well as one of its slimmest. The women all wear matching lingerie sets in black, peach, or purple but only Aubery wears red. Of the nine women in the photo, two are Black. One of the Black women sits on the floor, near Aubery’s feet. The other Black woman stands furthest back, obscured by so many other women’s bodies that one can only see her face, shoulder, and a bit of her arm. A lone fat woman stands in the corner and a thin woman sits in front of her, obscuring her stomach. Except for Aubery’s, everyone’s eyes are shut, squinting or blocked by body parts. Aubery’s remain wide open, revealing that they are blue. The photo’s caption links to another account where Aubery sells lingerie. Other photos which appear to be from the same shoot have similarly problematic compositions.
Another IG account engaged in body positivity co-optation is Danae Mercer’s. With 2,100,000 followers, Mercer’s audience eclipses Aubery’s and her IG bio features an empty heart followed by the slogan: “Reminding you you’re special.” Mercer generates a lot of memes where she purports to demonstrate how models “fake” perfection. She does so by posting side-by-side selfies shot in flattering versus unflattering poses or lighting. She gives these memes captions like “Posted VS deleted,” “POSED vs RELAXED,” and “BLOATING.” It seems that the intended take-away from these memes is that Mercer is exposing the artificiality of the modelling industry (which I think most of us already understand). It also seems that we’re supposed to find her brave for exposing and drawing attention to her flaws. What goes unmentioned is that while slouching and post-breakfast bloat might temporarily alter Mercer’s body in minor ways, she is nonetheless a beautiful white woman who, like every other human being on the planet, must consume food to stay alive.
Many women cannot “fake” a photo that approximates Mercer’s “fakes.” Also, because her “unposed” photos are deliberate, they’re staged. They belong to a performance. Mercer asserts that angles matter but from every angle she is a slender blonde woman with a tight stomach who on occasion gets bloated. That doesn’t make her an everywoman. She doesn’t share the same anxieties or oppressions as minoritized women and she doesn’t experience fatphobia. While she may have stretch marks and cellulite, these qualities haven’t prevented her from cultivating an enormous online following. Instead, it’s likely that being a beautiful white woman helped her. After all, Instagram is a place where optics matter and beauty remains the undisputed queen.
Myriam Gurba is the editor-in-chief of Tasteful Rude. She is also the author of the memoir Mean, a New York Times editors’ choice. O, the Oprah Magazine, ranked Mean as one of the best LGBTQ books of all time and Publishers’ Weekly describes Gurba as having a voice like no other. Her essays and criticism have appeared in the Paris Review, TIME.com, and the Believer. Gurba has been known to call shitty writers pendejas and has no qualms about it. Along with Roberto Lovato and David Bowles, she co-founded Dignidad Literaria, a grassroots literary organization that seeks to revolutionize publishing.