Nita Strauss And Hard Questions About Sexism

Blabbermouth.net is an online tabloid that covers heavy metal and hard rock music, musicians, and their attendant muckraking. It is essentially a clickbait platform that uses out-of-context quotations and sensational headlines to drive ad revenue though clicks and other such dirty tricks. It has a negative reputation, but despite that fact can be entertaining thanks to the heavy metal community itself, which is comprised of many people who like to joke around.

The typical Blabbermouth news cycle goes something like this: First, some legitimate news outlet reports on something happening in the music world. Second, Blabbermouth re-blogs it on its own spammy website. Third, music fans on social media exchange funny and/or belligerent comments with each other under Blabbermouth's comments threads.

Recently, Blabbermouth reported on guitarist Nita Strauss' latest project, which is called "Body Shred." Although the promotional video (see below) doesn't explain how to "win" the challenge, based on what I can infer from the website, it appears to be somewhat of a cross between DietBet, PledgeMusic, and a private Nita Strauss social media fanclub.

I have nothing against Nita Strauss or this projects, and I wish her all the success she deserves.

Predictably, the Blabbermouth commentariat focused in on Nita Strauss' physical appearance, and not necessarily in a way that emphasized physical fitness, if you know what I mean. Many of the ensuing comments were vague or not-vague sexual references, approving comments on Strauss' worth as eye candy, suggestions that the promotional video looked like the opening scene of a pornographic sequence, and so on.

One can easily imagine that Nita Strauss, being an attractive woman in the music industry, has dealt with her fair share of objectification and harassment, but if these comments are any indication, she has had to deal with even more than I would have expected. Every time I start to gain the impression that society has for the  most part moved on from overt sexism, something like this proves me wrong.

Thus, my first impression of Nita Strauss' Body Shred was sympathy. I felt bad that she would go through the work of putting together what looks like an interesting and worthy project with her partners and sponsors, only to have to try to overcome a dark cloud of sexist mockery. She'll need to overcome that mockery in order for her project to be successful, because no heavy metal fan is going to sign up for "Nita Strauss' Body Shred" if all their friends are winking and nudging each other and making sexist jibes about the whole thing.

That was my first impression, but then I started thinking about it a little more carefully.

As you can see from the photo gallery on Nita Strauss' website, Ms. Strauss dresses pretty modestly compared to some women in the world of rock. She's also an excellent guitar player and performer. The point is, it would be incredibly wrong to suggest that Ms. Strauss has relied on her looks to establish herself and her career.

On the other hand, it would be downright foolish to assert that her looks have played no role in making her famous; after all, she is a beautiful woman in addition to being a good guitar player. Like it or not, "great guitar player who is also beautiful" is a much more marketable entertainment product than "just a great guitar player" is. Furthermore, a simple web search reveals that there are plenty of promotional photos of Nita Strauss that emphasize her physical appearance more than her guitar-playing. I don't fault her for this, and I would certainly do the same if I were in her position. Who knows, maybe I'd even go further. And maybe the fact that she hasn't gone further is one of the reasons she's had as successful a career as she's had. I don't know; I'm no expert here.

The fact remains, however, that Strauss' looks have played an important role in her music career. There's just no use denying it. The release of an exercise program, or fitness challenge, or whatever Body Shred actually is, certainly plays into that aspect of the Nita Strauss business entity. "Ugly Chick Fitness Challenge" would not be a particularly successful business venture; but I think "Nita Strauss' Body Shred" will be. That's an important attribute of the whole endeavor.

So, in light of all that, how do we grapple with this? What is the right way to conceive of a project that ought not become an excuse to objectify someone, and yet which relies on a certain level of objectification in order to be interesting in the first place?

By the way, this question is not unique to this particular fitness challenge. We can go all the way back to the Jane Fonda Workout program, if we want to. Heck, I'm told that my great-grandmother on my mother's side had a big crush on Jack LaLanne. Fitness programs offer us a chance to make ourselves look, not just healthy, but sexy. Fitness videos very often cast professional fitness models, people whose sole livelihood is working out and looking as sexy as possible. Part of the audience they're selling to is the kind of people who watch the jumping jacks in slow motion. If there weren't so many of those kinds of people, the fitness industry would be a lot smaller and less profitable than it is today.

To some extent, fitness is always about looks. But is that good, bad, or neutral? Is it shallow to be motivated by the prospect of looking sexy? Is it wrong to be motivated to get fit just so that you can gain access to videos of Nita Strauss doing jumping jacks in a sports bra? If that's your motivation, but you end up getting fit, winning the contest, meeting Nita Strauss, and being perfectly nice and polite to her, is what you've done still "problematic?" Is it wrong to want to work out at the gym just because a lot of the other gym patrons are good-looking?

All these questions should be relatively easy to answer. The reason they're not is because whenever people like Nita Strauss release fitness videos, people like the Blabbermouth readership post insane and hurtfully sexist comments. I don’t think it's morally wrong to have private, racy thoughts about famous people, and I'm not even sure that it's morally wrong to be motivated by such thoughts (even if it is odd). But there is a line we shouldn't cross. It's obvious when people cross it, but it's virtually impossible to explain in advance of crossing it. And if we only ever approach the line in our imagination, what does morality say then?

Or is everything fair game in the imagination?

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