Thu, Sep 13, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Music: Toxic critics sink their claws into Britney

Critics have harsh words for Britney Spears' body, which was on display at MTV's Video Music Awards. Sexist? Or was she asking for it in that outfit?

AP , New York

PHOTO: AFP

The consensus is clear: Britney Spears performed like she was sloshing through mud at MTV's Video Music Awards (VMAs). No one disputes that the troubled pop princess royally mangled her much-heralded comeback.

But what about the nastiest comments of all - those about her body? "Lard and Clear," read Monday's headline in the New York Post. "The bulging belly she was flaunting was SO not hot," wrote E! Online. And so on.

Was it fair? Did Spears, a mother of two, deserve to be held up against the standard of her once fantastically toned abs, sculpted by sessions of 1,000 tummy crunches? Or was she asking for it by choosing that unforgiving black-sequined bikini?

More profoundly, in an age where skinny models and skeletal actresses are under scrutiny for the message they are sending young girls, what does it say that we are excoriating a young woman for a little thickness in her middle? Certainly people were curious to see her. The show drew 7.1 million viewers Sunday, up 23 percent over last year's VMAs, and was the highest-rated cable program of the year among people aged 12 to 34, according to Nielsen Media Research.

On the morning after what the VH1 channel called Spears' "already historic" performance, the blogosphere was buzzing with opinions. For every "fat" comment there was an impassioned retort.

"Give her a break," wrote one blogger on aboutthink.com. "The girl's had two kids - I hope I'm a size 10 after having kids!" "OK, she isn't fat," wrote another. "But she isn't fit enough to be wearing (or not wearing) what she is."

For many observers, the issue was not so much the body, but the body in THAT outfit.

"In that ensemble, you just can't have an ounce of anything extra," said Janice Min, editor of the celebrity magazine US Weekly. "Many women wouldn't eat for days if they were wearing that. Did she look better than 99 percent of women? Yes."

"But compared to her earlier form, she probably didn't look as good." Besides, said Min, "Britney Spears has always been about the whole package. It's never been 100 percent about the talent. Is it sexist? Probably, but she's built a career on an image of sexiness."

Talk of Spears' physique comes amid an increasingly critical focus on overly skinny actresses in Hollywood, who have largely replaced supermodels as the world's fashion plates. It is hard to pick up a celebrity magazine without a critical photo of, say, Angelina Jolie's birdlike arms. And curvy actresses are getting positive attention, from Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson of Dreamgirls to Golden Globe-winner America Ferrara of TV's Ugly Betty.

In the fashion industry, there has been an effort to promote healthier-looking models. "Girls aren't looking as skinny this season as they did," said Suze Yalof Scwhartz, executive editor-at-large for Glamour Magazine. "There's food backstage.They're looking sexier."

At Glamour, she noted, a model will not be featured "if she shows too much clavicle."

The nastier headlines about Spears are uncalled for, Schwartz said, but at the same time, "when you walk around the stage in a black bikini in front of millions of viewers, people are going to notice."

An obvious question is whether a male performer would have been subjected to the same standards. Many would say no; Dave Zinczenko, editor of Men's Health magazine, says yes.

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