If you haven’t seen this already, it’s one of those “are you kidding me?” stories. Amanda Palmer, who headed up the Dresden Dolls, put together a video for her song “Leeds United” off her new solo album. The song leaves me cold (I was amused to read that Ben Folds produced it, and then congratulated myself for relatively consistent taste), but the video is pretty looking, and owes a lot to the creepy scenes with the Master of Ceremonies in “Cabaret”.* It seems like the least controversial thing ever.
But apparently, her belly is too fat for the tastes set by her label, and they refused to run with it, which of course created a huge blow-out and now she’s quitting them.
Because she refused to let them remove shots of her “fat” belly from the video for Leeds United (see above), and is therefore “uncommercial”. This comes from a metal label [Roadrunner] where, I have it on good authority, “you can count the number of women on the fingers of one hand and most of the people on the label are decidedly chunky hairy dudes”.
But even setting aside heady ideas about expanding our idea of what bodies are permissible to be viewed in what contexts, I watched the video and I don’t see it. And my eyes are as attuned as anyone’s to aspects of the female body that are just not permissible in public, with belly fat being one of those. The great irony to my mind is that she’s being punished for wearing a costume that already seems like a compromise to me—a belly shirt to minimize the gender-bending aspects of a woman dressed as a man, a way to make her seem less masculine. (I don’t know if that’s the intention, but it certainly reads like a modern update to the Dietrich gender-bending, with a little more flesh so you know it’s safely sexy and not a grab at power.) The video looks expensive, too, so there’s money being wasted on what seems to me to be an invisible issue. Her eyebrows freak me out, but outside of that, I think she looks really sexy. But then again, I tend to think that of women who wear masculine drag well.
My guess? I’m sure in her day to day life, Amanda Palmer is not dressed in ways that flatter her figure as well as this costume, and she has a bit of a belly (though you can’t tell in this video at all). And the guys at her record label know it, because they see her in jeans and a T-shirt. So they were primed to see something that’s not there. They can’t disapprove of her looking like herself going through her daily life, but they could attack her body using this video as an excuse. Because it’s true that once you’re on camera, things that are impolite to say about someone’s appearance in regular life become something you can talk about as a quality-of-video issue. But even by rigid beauty standards about what may or may not look good onscreen, there’s no belly to notice or speak of. They are full of shit on many levels.
And that’s leaving aside the debate about whether or not these rigid beauty standards are fair. I highly doubt the video’s director would have let Palmer run with a costume that didn’t flatter her figure. To think she looks “fat” in that outfit you would have to have ingested nothing but a diet of photoshopped fashion magazines where all the models are underweight, and you certainly haven’t left the house or seen women in the wild. Seriously, that’s the only way I can imagine you’d think her belly is noticeably different than what you’d expect in a music video to the point where it unnerves you. That, or you have a pre-existing agenda and latched onto her stomach as a way to work it out.
*A total side note, but there’s a shot of a flag that, if you weren’t looking too closely, seems to have a swastika on it. It’s not! I rewound it and watched. But considering that the video and Palmer’s entire persona deliberately invokes the campiness of the cabaret in “Cabaret”, well, there’s baggage there that I shouldn’t have to spell out. Why didn’t anyone think to take that out?