Calvin Klein

Why Justin Bieber's Photoshop Controversy Is Actually Important

Laci Green of MTV 'Braless' breaks down Bieber and male body image.

If I've learned one thing over the last couple of days, it's that Justin Bieber's package contains multitudes.

Let me explain.

In the latest installment of MTV "Braless," host Laci Green breaks down the past week's debate over whether or not JB's Calvin Klein ad was Photoshopped and what that debate can tell us about male body image more generally. "In reality, very few people fit into these narrow molds that we're trying to cram them into," she concludes, "not even Justin Bieber."

One line in particular stuck out to me, the one about the "tremendous muscular gains" action figures have made over the past few decades and how these increasingly large musculatures are affecting boys' body image.

Because, believe me -- they are affecting boys' body image. If girls are socialized from a young age to covet Barbie's unattainable physical ideal, then the same must be true for boys and G.I. Joe's bulging phsyique. This is the gender binary we're talking about. There is no Get Out Of Gender Socialization Free card.

Sidenote: Obviously, not all boys want to be muscular and traditionally masculine like G.I. Joe, and not all girls aspire to be thin, delicate and traditionally feminine like Barbie. As a former Gay Teen™, I definitely internalized and identified with the waifish ideals of the latter far more than the hulking demands of the former. There are intersectional nuances that I'm not exploring here, but please just trust that I'm using essentialism for good.

Anyway, I actually did some ethnographic fieldwork on dolls and action figures (translation: I went to a Toys "R" Us and measured toys) for a Gender Studies class back in ye olde college days. After logging into my cobweb-strewn school email for the first time in years and wading through the 19k unread emails, I was able to track down some of my research.

If the G.I. Joe action figure I measured were a living, breathing adult man, he'd have had a 59.1" shoulder circumference, 47.28" chest circumference and a 24.72" waist circumference. Here's a realistic artist rendering of what that would look like, courtesy of emoji.ink.

Meanwhile, the average waist circumference for American men is 39.7", according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's a difference of almost 15".

While I don't have corresponding stats for the average shoulder and chest circumferences, I will bet you my most prized possession -- the Kelly Rowland circa "Bootylicious" Destiny's Child doll my boyfriend got me for Christmas/Hanukkah -- that they are not 59.1" and 47.28", respectively.

Does that mean that action figures, and by extension dolls, are inherently evil? I guess that's up to you to decide. My take is that while they do serve as gendered feedback loops -- both instilling and reflecting the norms of our society's gender binary -- they're also not the root cause of everything that's f--ked up about gender in this country. That would be the mole people. JK, if only it were that simple.