Yes, I can hear some of you groaning even as I type. Not *that* topic again! But we are about to explore more in-depth several themes of body image, privacy and gracious living.
It was amazing how many commenters to yesterday’s post felt that Megan Gale has a right to avoid criticism of the very thing she uses to make a living, i.e. her public image. But let’s take a look at an interview she gave with Andrew Denton about her image:
“The thing is well you know what I think because modeling is very much so much is concentrated on the exterior and the outside part of yourself that I’ve really, you know acknowledged that is just such a small facet of it and you can’t take it too seriously, and you can’t because every time is always especially in the beginning whenever you didn’t I or I didn’t get a modeling job, it was because something about me physically wasn’t right, whether it was I too tall, too short, wrong hair color, wrong eye color, not thin enough. What ever it was. I knew that I wasn’t the prettiest girl, I knew I wasn’t the skinniest girl and I was aware of that but I thought no I’ve got a lot more to offer as a person and with how professional I am and I just wanted someone else to see that and give me a go.”
Gale choose a modeling career in which critiques of her appearance are an integral part of the job. She has been criticized and alternately accepted and rejected by an industry that thrives on measuring physical attractiveness. Gale’s face can sell magazines or not sell magazines or clothing lines or TV ad space depending on consumer preferences. When you put out any product for consumer consumption, be it your body, your face, your artwork, your opinions, your political position, your services, your integrity/character, you lose all rights to be exempt from criticism of the product you are trying to convince others to either like or buy. This is not an issue of invasion of privacy when the thing being critiqued is the very thing *you* put out into the public domain. It only becomes an invasion of privacy when private areas not offered for public consumption become public information through no fault of the original owner of that information. A good example of this are the miscreants who expose the children of public figures to derision or harassment merely for being the offspring of someone they dislike.
Although I am no celebrity, I am, in legal terms, a “public figure” and with that comes a whole different set of criteria governing how I can react to disparaging statements about myself. Assuming the statements in question are damaging and untrue, a public figure must prove there was actual malice (an intent to harm) when legally addressing the falsity. The attorney who advises me on the legalities of this site has commented often that some people who are routine submitters to the site can be viewed as “limited purpose public figures” — someone who has intentionally placed themselves into prominence, such as a vocal activist on a given issue–and therefore in limited cases, held to a higher standard of response to any criticism they may receive.
The point is that given the greater legal burden on public figures to prove malice when addressing slander or libel, they also have a greater burden to accept the slings and arrows of poor opinions others may hold of them as part of the responsibility of being a public figure. Public figures, especially those in higher positions, are role models, that is they have a profound influence on the behavior, lifestyles and culture of the general population and therefore cannot be immune from criticism. Megan Gale wasn’t slandered. Two teenaged girls were overheard expressing their opinion of the product Megan Gale put forth for public consumption in a magazine. Gale feels she should be exempt from the burdens of public life while apparently enjoying the many benefits. Perhaps it’s time for Gale to step away from the public limelight.
Years ago, a wedding photographer posted the link to his professional site asking for input. I accepted the invitation and told him his web page background (garish Pepto Bismol pink and candy apple green) clashed with the “art” he was displaying and that passing off poorly focused photos as “art” was deceptive marketing. He threw an epic tantrum because I did not validate his product. If you put a product on the market for consumer consumption (and that includes your face/body), you cannot expect only sweet validations of your perhaps overly inflated opinion of your product.
For those who thought the girls were speaking so loudly to be overheard in a restaurant or that they knew Gale was there, read Gale’s own account here. Gale was less than a “meter” from them and when confronted, by Gale’s own testimony, they reacted in shock and surprise, obviously not realizing she was sitting right behind them. Given that Gale has been a model and in the public eye for over a decade, she is quite used to negative critiques of her looks so why should she now care what two teenagers have to say about a magazine photo. Regardless of the reason, Gale’s recent action contradicts her statements to Andrew Denton that one really can’t take outward appearance that seriously and her desire to be judged on her professionalism and “herself” was wounded by her own overreaction to hearing two teens say she’s unattractive.
As one reader noted so well, the classy and professional way of handling overhearing criticism was to have left quietly and then arranged to have their bills paid for “courtesy of Megan Gale”. And then not twittered to the world about it.