Is Ridiculing Tan Mom Beyond the Pale?

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For ever and ever, women have been unfairly judged for something they can change only slightly at the margins -- their physical appearance -- while men have been free to be heinous, and it's been a change for the better that mocking women for their looks has become less acceptable. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, for example, learned last year that's it's not even safe to call Michelle Obama fat behind closed doors with no reporters around. Nevertheless, the cult of affirmation of all women's bodies and choices and whatever -- exploited so expertly by Ann Romney after a Democratic strategist said that as a stay-at-home mom, Romney has never worked a day in her life -- has gotten a little out of control. This was on display Wednesday as Jezebel commenters fretted over whether it was appropriate to make fun of a shockingly tan woman.

Earlier this year, The Onion deftly parodied this cult of affirmation under the headline, "Female Friends Spend Raucous Night Validating The Living Shit Out Of Each Other." There was a distinct lack of validation in Wednesday's Jezebel post about Patricia Krentcil, the 44-year-old extremely tan mom who was arrested for child endangerment when her 5-year-old daughter got a sunburn. Krentcil was accused of taking her kid to the tanning booth, which Jezebel's Dodai Stewart noted before concluding, like the rest of the United States of America, "Blah blah blah OMFG HER FACE."

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Some commenters were unsettled. Did this quip run counter to Jezebel's longstanding rule against "body-snarking," or making fun of women for not embodying strict, normative beauty standards. No one is allowed to say "go on a diet" under a Kim Kardashian photo, and no one is allowed to say "eat a sandwich" under a Kate Moss photo. Of course, it's not fair to judge a site's contents by its commenters, and it's not that these comments reflect Jezebel so much as they reflect the dominant online girl culture. Four distinct reactions to the story followed:

Level 1 Reaction: OMFG HER FACE.

  • "I knew a broad in high school who was well on her way to looking like the mom in this story. Her own mom looked like a saddle. I will never understand the desire to tan. It's very troubling."
  • "It looks like she is in black face. I can't even imagine what her skin feels like."
  • "Oof. That is a very rough-looking 44-years old. Folks, don't tan unnecessarily. Heck, don't tan at all."

Level 2 Reaction: Hey, ladies, body-snarking is not okay.

Level 3 Reaction: But it's not technically body-snarking if the woman did it to herself.

  • "Just to clarify, bodysnarking on this site doesn't include things that people do to voluntarily change their appearance like lip plumping or tanning."

Level 4 Reaction: But doing something like lip pumping or obsessive tanning is merely evidence of the devastating psychological effects of Fascist Beauty Standards.

  • "OK, clearly, CLEARLY this woman has some kind of body dysmorphic disorder. Some of these comments are a little harsh."
  • "It just seems cruel, given that there is a much worse element to this situation than her tanning and it seems likely there is a self esteem issue. Also, I've heard people called out for body snarking on all of those things before, too. It may not be against policy, but it does amount to snarking about the body. (Especially since a lot of people's argument defending their right to snark about people's weight makes the same point--that it is voluntary to be fat because 'you could lose weight if you wanted to'.) I feel like there is little difference."
  • "This is a move that normal, mentally healthy people would consider stupid - yes. However, this woman is mentally ill and needs court ordered psychotherapy - - but you know, why actually do something productive when we can just arrest her."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.