The Lasting Impacts of Objectification

Have you ever felt a lingering insecurity after being catcalled or criticized about your looks?

If so, you’ve got plenty of company. According to this study, the impacts of objectification on women’s self-image can be lasting. Perhaps the researchers’ conclusions won’t surprise many readers here – they found that women often:

…come to internalize the observer’s perspective and begin chronically to monitor their bodies and their appearance, which can lead to a host of long-term negative consequences, such as depression and eating disorders.

So, after being objectified, the damage can continue if we apply to ourselves the beauty standards that others have used to judge us. Particularly after someone uses our looks in an attempt to shame us, women often self-objectify – seeing our bodies as objects that exist for the pleasure of others – for some time afterwards.

Yet, even if we can resist the urge to only see our figures and features through the eyes of people who measure our looks within our ear-shot, how can deal with the constant exposure to other women’s bodies being judged, critiqued, and belittled? And how do we protect our daughters and sons from internalizing the messages implicit in so much of the media that surrounds us – that women’s bodies exist only to be either appreciated or demeaned by those who view them?

These are the thoughts that went through my head after reading my co-blogger’s take-down of Battle of the Bods, a disgustingly misogynistic Fox ‘reality’ show where women try to guess how a panel of men will rate their faces and figures against those of other contestants. Warning, the video is queasiness-inducing, so I don’t recommend viewing it immediately after eating:

Even though I was consciously thinking of the problems with how women are portrayed in the above clip, I was appalled to find that I immediately turned a critical eye on my own figure after watching it.

As Professor, What If… asserts, “Beautifying and appreciating others beauty should be a fun, pleasureful practice – much like sex. It should not be a stick to beat ourselves or others with.” But, in societies where women “are prompted to police themselves and others,” how do we avoid becoming what Womanist Musings refers to as colluders -“women that work on behalf of patriarchy, undermining the success of women”?

So tonight I’m curious about how you’ve protected yourselves from internalizing the ridiculous beauty standards that we’re all encouraged to swallow, and how you’ve shielded your kids or yourself from the destructive messages about how women should be seen. I’m hoping to learn a thing or two from those who are successfully navigating these tricky waters.

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62 comments for “The Lasting Impacts of Objectification

  1. July 10, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    This is probably my biggest concern as a parent. I have two boys and a baby girl. I have my own body image problems which I am working on and I really don’t want to pass on. I play games looking at people in the street – if I find myself criticising the way they look, I try to work out what is wrong with their clothes, reminding myself that the clothes are the bad guys, not the body they are failing to flatter. It’s working, I am changing the way I view myself and others. When my kids get old enough to start having similar opinions, I’ll teach them the same game.

    I tell all my kids they are beautiful daily, and I mean it.

    And I have a little snigger at the irony of seeing a tiny butt in an ad for skinny jeans on the blog that posted this article. And then I remember that skinny butts aren’t evil either. :)

  2. Caro
    July 10, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    Maybe this isn’t exactly what you’re asking about… but the first thing this made me think of is how the way I carry myself as I walk in public has been changed now that I live in a city and am subject to street harassment frequently. I’ve noticed myself sometimes preemptively putting my head down, slumping my posture, and moving my arms to obscure my breasts when walking past men or groups of men on the street. I find myself feeling self-conscious and guilty about my body, thinking “Maybe this shirt is a little tight or low cut.” And then when I think about it, I feel sick about it because it’s like the street harassers have won — they’ve succeeded in making a woman feel less like she belongs in public space and less like she deserves to walk with her head held high.

  3. Mr. J
    July 10, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    What was that?

    The one good thing about this show is that it’s on Fox Reality Channel. Meaning, next to no one will watch it.

    I also liked when the one woman pointed out that she was from Riverside, not East LA. Thanks for clarifying!

  4. Sarah
    July 10, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    Watching a show like the clip you embedded doesn’t seem to really affect me. I think it’s because my own body is so far away from the body that is idealized in our media (as in the idealized body is about half of what I weigh). When I see a show like that, it is very much an experience of watching people that are extremely different than me and I don’t identify with the women at all. I’ve also spent my whole life being the nerdy and tomboyish girl who just hasn’t figured out how to take an interest in fashion or makeup or hair or any of that. I had a brief period of early adolescence when I made an attempt and then I realized that I couldn’t have any of it. There weren’t any clothes that I could fit into or afford that were trendy and my hair is frizzy and being uncomfortable all day just didn’t appeal, so I gave up and went back to what made me happy to start with. I also think I was a bit on the outside of it all as an adolescent because I didn’t like boys, so what boys thought didn’t matter to me (it also made those teen magazines that are full of pictures of male actors very boring to me and therefore shielded me from a lot of negative-body-image-inducing articles and advertisements). And as someone who liked girls and who didn’t have that ideal body, I just appreciated (and still do) lots of different female body types.

  5. prairielily
    July 11, 2008 at 2:43 am

    I really don’t know how I’ve protected myself from the patriarchal beauty standards. I mean, I haven’t completely. I was watching in awe that she was so upset about the thoughts of random irrelevant me, but I definitely found myself critiquing the women, and ranking Jazmin, the “East LA chola” first.

    I really don’t think I would have if they hadn’t been talking about it, though, because I’ve watched shows like Top Model and not done the same thing. I also didn’t start examining myself. I’m thinking about doing it now, because you said that you did, but I really can’t bring myself to care. It’s not that I don’t care about appearance, period. I’m a huge fan of clothes, I wax my legs, and I have highlights. But I rarely wear makeup, and I never weigh or measure myself.

    Now, I’m conventionally attractive, as I’m an “exotic” minority, but my features skew towards the white Western beauty ideal. By Pakistani standards my skin is sort of medium dark, but my Indian friends always comment on how “fair” I am. I also have lighter hair and eyes than anyone in my family, plus large breasts on a very small frame, so basically an hourglass.

    So what’s going on here? Why did I internalize some things, but not others that are equally, if not more, pervasive? Would I care a lot more about my appearance if I didn’t look the way society deems acceptable, and should I therefore be conscious of my privilege?

    Does anyone have any insight or similar experiences?

  6. July 11, 2008 at 2:46 am

    In my case, being a sex worker doesn’t help at all! I am constantly concerned about gaining weight and acquiring wrinkles. Even though as a dominatrix I dont’ provide straigth sex anymore, the reason I can charge money has almost everything to do with the way I look, my relative youth and beauty. And that is NOT lost on me.

    The way I deal with it is to develop and maintain marketable talents and skills (I have a college degree and professional work experience, and am trying my hand at writing these days) that make me valuable for who I am and what I can do, rather than how I look and how far I’m willing to objectify myself.

  7. July 11, 2008 at 2:50 am

    I think that this statement is the key to the whole mess.

    “Even though I was consciously thinking of the problems with how women are portrayed in the above clip, I was appalled to find that I immediately turned a critical eye on my own figure after watching it.”

    Being conscious of what’s going on makes no difference to what viewing rampant objectification does to women’s self esteem. We internalise the message anyway.

    As to how to deal with it…disengage. Avoid shows like the one you linked to, shows that you know are going to be festivals of female objectification and humiliation. Also avoid magazines that are likely to carry the same ideology. This means both Maxim and Cosmo. Don’t hang out with men who drip sexist entitlement. Basically, people and things that give you that sick, uneasy, I’ll-never-be-good-enough-I-just-know-it feeling – withdraw and avoid. That’s how I protect myself.

  8. July 11, 2008 at 4:04 am

    I always try to identify beautiful aspects of the women I see on the street. I find that most people are very pretty, and it’s easy for me to see people who aren’t conventionally beautiful as gorgeous. But when I see people who are conventionally beautiful, I find myself immediately cataloging all their flaws and trying to tell myself they are not as pretty as I am. It is a rather repulsive instinct, and one that I am trying to get rid of.

  9. UnFit
    July 11, 2008 at 6:37 am

    The sad thing is, I don’t think anybody is truly “successfully navigating these tricky waters”.

    I consider myself quite… stable? in these issues – I don’t fit many conventional beauty standards (enough of them though to “pass” – few people find me ugly either) but most of the time I don’t give a damn.
    I think my mom did a very good job in letting me be me and promoting my brainy sides. And she wouldn’t stop me from playing princess, but we also did things that focussed on physical strength and skills rather than looks.
    And don’t ask me what then moved me to study fashion design, but in those four years I got a first hand insight ino just how screwed up images of women’s bodies are in this society, including women’s self image and the way they compete about looks. And I didn’t like it one bit.
    I think spite played a great role, but coming out of fashion school, even more than before I started wearing whatever the hell I please, no mater how much my belly sticks out or if some might think my ass is fat.

    All that said: I still find myself secretly comparing. In Germany, everybody goes naked at the sauna for example, and every now and then I find myself thinking “Ha, she has stretch marks,” or “glad it’s not my boobs sagging like that” – or “I wish I had her waistline”.
    I hate to think like that, but I also fear there is no real escape – yet?

  10. UnFit
    July 11, 2008 at 6:40 am

    And funnily, being bisexual and all: with women who I personally find beautiful or sexy, there is no envy, I just find them attractive and that’s that, and I don’t feel the need to measure myself against them.

    It’s women who are *conventionally* beautiful, whom I might not even be atracted to, who give me those “wish I was like her” moments. Which makes it even more nonsensical, because logically wouldn’t I prefer to look like someone *I* find attractive, not Vogue and Cosmo?

  11. Kaija
    July 11, 2008 at 6:50 am

    Wow…sadly, a lot more people will watch that sick show than will read about the study. I just don’t understand how watching other people humiliate themselves is entertaining…it makes me feel agitated, knotted in the pit of my stomach, and embarrassed for the people in action.

    Body image is a tough one for women in this culture. When I was younger, i.e., middle school/high school/early 20s, I struggled mightily with it. Playing sports definitely helped b/c being strong and skilled showed me that FUNCTION was more important (and more FUN!) than form. Reading feminist critiques of the culture (THe Beauty Myth, etc.) helped me see this as not MY problem, but a cultural problem. And little by little, I started to look at media images and ideals of women’s beauty as constructed and 1-dimensional. Being able to deconstruct those images was powerful. Even now, my boyfriend asks me, “Do you have to comment on EVERY commercial?” when we’re watching sports on TV.

    I also grew up in a very pragmatic Midwestern home where “make yourself useful” was the norm and no one paid much attention to looks, clothes, etc. as long as you were neat and clean and remembered good manners. Again, what you DID and how you pitched in was more important than window dressing.

    I try to notice the beautiful things about women on the street instead of picking them apart. I compliment my friends on things other than their looks. When I teach and coach, I try to build up girls’ awareness of their capabilities and potential. I don’t comment on my own looks or body issues, and I let them hear me making my “commentary” on silly images or expectations of women.

    Some days I am hopeful, other days I just feel like I’m shovelling sand against the tide…

  12. July 11, 2008 at 8:23 am

    Kaija, I grew up in schools whose main focus was sport, which resulted in us short, uncoordinated types having another kick in the guts. I’m not saying you don’t take the good stuff where it comes for you, just that more of my bad body image came from sport than from magazines.

    Like most stuff, there is no problem with encouraging sport for the people that way inclined, but like beauty ideals, not everyone can be competitive. Australia is pretty bad in the sport as religion department, so my experience is probably a little skewed.

  13. July 11, 2008 at 9:04 am

    Though I know women do it to each other too (and boy do they!) as a lesbian woman I find it particularly disturbing that I think of myself in terms of how men see me sometimes, and worry about things either directly in terms of how men would react, or indirectly because women have told me than men don’t like something. What do I care? But apparently, I do.

    That said, I think we all internalise the objectification and deal with it in different ways… what was refreshingly surprising for me was when a woman I was dating kept going on and on about how she loves that I don’t shave my legs because she can rub her own unshaven legs against them and not feel self-conscious. I also noticed that even though this woman has a little less belly than me (though we’re both on the middle to low end of the healthy range), I didn’t feel embarrassed or self-conscious about my own belly because she’s generally so affirming. I’m a happily single person, and I very rarely even think about love/sex/relationships, but I think we’re still trained to view the world in that way, and single women are trained to always be “ready” for sexual possibilities. It may be a subconscious thing, but I think that having a sexual relationship with someone who’s not just saying “oh, it’s okay” or “you’re not fat” but actually I LIKE these elements of your appearance that society finds negative can be a huge ego boost. And I’d imagine there are men out there like that too, I just find that with women it’s especially nice when you find someone with the same “flaws” and can embrace them.

  14. July 11, 2008 at 9:40 am

    I am not going to lie. I am a hardcore feminist and proud of my looks but sometimes I feel so goddamned insecure and worry that my boyfriend will eventually get bored with my brown skin, dyed mohawk, piercings, and decide that he wants to sleep and f–k blonde bimbos that we’er constantly bombarded with on TV and in movies. Cos I dont have a perfect, lean body, blonde hair, and big boobs.

    It’s sad, but I have very low self-esteem sometimes.

  15. Beverly K.
    July 11, 2008 at 10:02 am

    Ooh! I like your question! I think the issue of internalizing beauty standards affects all women. In grade school, I was the ugly kid with no friends, and no fashion sense. My lack of popularity gave me emotional issues for years until I decided to stop caring. Part of my personal prevention plan from beauty standards was to train my will to not care. I trained my mind to catch myself every single time I started to think a negative thought about my body and will it away from my mind. This method wasn’t perfect though, and when I was about 17 or 18 I decided I needed to do something drastic. I decided to put myself so far outside of the box, that any person who might judge me would no longer even be able to approach me. So I stopped shaving my arms and legs and shaved my head bald. It was extremely difficult at first and I was very self conscious. However, I had no choice but to live with my appearance and eventually I grew “tougher skin”. Now I shave again, I have long, nicely cut hair and I enjoy fashion. But on days where I don’t feel like showering, and I just want to wear sweat pants, I don’t think twice about it and I no longer care if people think I look nice. I think making the choice to embody what greater society sees as unfeminine and ugly helped me see the aspects of myself that are beautiful no matter what. This has largely immunized me from beauty standards.

  16. feminist jen
    July 11, 2008 at 10:20 am

    I’m a self-defense teacher, and I deal with beauty standards the same way that I teach people to think about their bodies for self-defense purposes.

    Your body is your house. It’s the only place you live in completely on your own; the only thing that is just yours. You’ve got to love your house.

    As women we would often be willing to fight for someone else, a child, a lover, family, friends. We have to love our house that much, that we’d be willing to fight for it.

    Whenever I start thinking that I weigh too much; I’m too chunky or my face isn’t beautiful; I tell myself “This is my house; this is where I live. I love my house, the only place that is mine.”

    So, f*ck off patriarchy, and get out of my head!

    feminist love,

  17. Ali
    July 11, 2008 at 11:06 am

    As a blonde with big boobs and an athletic (though not necessarily lean) body, can you lay off the “blonde bimbos” comments? Actually, as any body type, can you lay off attributing character traits to any other body type?

  18. July 11, 2008 at 11:14 am

    A couple of my posts recently have been about something similar (mainly the effects of retouched photos), so this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

    To stop myself from internalizing beauty standards, I literally STOP myself from doing it. It’s going to happen without us realizing if we just ignore it. So every time I see a picture or video or hear a comment, I just remind myself that I’m not living my life to please anybody else. I like the way I look. The beauty decisions I make, while obviously within a patriarchy & influenced by society, I try to make when I’ve come to terms with why I’m doing it.

    Also, Caro’s comment made me really sad and reminded me of something that happened just last night: I got off the train, & actually said to myself “hmm, maybe I should go the long way, there are less men there, so nobody will bother me.”

    I stopped and thought how f’n sad.

    But either way it’s a messed up decision. Either you totally don’t live your life and stay home as much as you can, dress as covered up as you can, etc. or you choose to live your life and have to deal with the bullsh*t.

  19. July 11, 2008 at 11:32 am

    It is hard not to label your own traits through someone else’s eyes – I’ve been told that my figure is good (except I’ve also been told that my ass is too round for someone so white – apparently it would be fine if I looked more stereotypically Latina), but my nose it bad. Most days, though, I do pretty well, and generally feel pretty comfortable with my body (that was a journey, though). Like other people have mentioned here, I do avoid -as much as possible – media representations of ‘beauty,’ and my friends are pretty positive, affirming people who view me the same way whether or not I’m wearing make-up or have bed-head.

    I worry more about the young women – and men – I know. I’ve gotten to the age where many of my friends have children, and I’m a teacher – so I see young women self-critique all the time. Sometimes I’m even made uncomfortable by my students’ compliments of myself and one another- they show that they are labeling slim as ‘good’ for example. I’d like it if they could learn to see women as whole people, rather than as a bunch of good and bad features brought together and animated.

  20. Katy
    July 11, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    I have a 5 year old daughter and a 2 year old son, so I’ve spent the last 5 years adapting my life to be safer for them and for other children and adults. It is like being a soldier in a war, where your enemy is your culture, consistently and exponentially building a public space that is a danger to EVERYONE’S mind, body and soul. It is propaganda that uses many forms and mediums, but it is all linked psychically to undermine our efforts to live peacefully.

    At present, I spend most of my time at home, so I’m fortunate that I can control much of my environment. My kids watch educational, wholesome tv and movies, and I don’t watch tv during the day, so they don’t see any objectifying commercials. I don’t read magazines that are chock full of hateful propaganda
    (ads), and the ones that end up in my house are not left out to be seen by them. Same with the computer, which is completely unpredictable when it comes to decency. Some of the most disgusting ads are on all the sites everyone looks at all day long. So if I’m online with them around, I keep an eye out for the ads that I might not even look at, but they notice and it’s stored in their brain. Even feminist websites aren’t safe (like the American Apparel ads that frequent this site). They might seem benign to us as adults, but a child seeing women spread all over the place and dehumanized is a very powerful message to their developing minds. Of course it’s powerful for us as adults, but we have the ability to recognize whats going on, where they will just accept it as their world.

    As for when we leave the house and venture out into the battlegrounds, I have to be on guard all the time. We don’t go to many stores, but the grocery store, a place that is certainly an essential place for mothers and children, forces me to turn magazines around that are at the front checkout. So, it’s not enough that I just avoid the magazine aisle, they make it so I can’t leave the store without being insulted and degraded in public, due to the offensive covers of magazines that are in a place I can’t avoid. I’ve talked to the workers at the stores and they say they turn them around too (like the cosmos and the tabloids with zoomed in pictures of celebrity cellulite), but since the magazines are displayed by a separate company, all they can do is mention it to the manager.

    But one thing that is the hardest to avoid is bill boards! I can’t believe what they get away with on such a large space that everyone can see! Luckily I don’t drive that much, but there’s one stretch of road that’s a main artery that has a series of billboards that tower over this pseudo red light district, so I just hope that they’re gazing at the trees as we pass and not seeing the giant silhouettes of strippers bent over and hanging off poles. It’s sad that a lot of families don’t feel safe in their communities.

    And it’s not just kids that we should be worried about. Most adult women don’t feel safe in our communities, and it’s very significant that we are constantly undressed, layed out like a product to consume, degraded and demeaned everywhere we go, by the proliferation of this objectifying advertising. It has become our wallpaper, and it contributes to the climate of violence towards women and children. We are swimming in propaganda, some of us drowning, and it’s getting worse every day. We have a right to be respected and represented in a respectful way in our public sphere. All of this is violating our rights, and it’s teaching our children to hate each other and themselves.

    Now as for night time, when my kids are safe in their beds and dreaming about butterflies and tiger cubs, I have a whole new fight with the tv. My husband and I try to find something to watch, amongst all the devastation, sorting through different versions of the modern day colliseum (as Ani Difranco duly noted) to find something that doesn’t make us sick or want to die. We mostly watch movies, if we can find something that isn’t just another excuse to spread propaganda that breeds tolerance for violence and abuse, and salve the need for a thrill at the expense of anyone. Or we watch the discovery channel, or the history channel or PBS or any other educational programming. I watch planet green, which is a new channel devoted to environmental issues.

    So I try to avoid the places I know I will find ideas that are harmful and try to find things that inform me, and support me rather than cut me down. Even though I’m still affected by the messages being sent (that I’m not good enough, no matter what I do), I try to remind my self of the truth. I try to surround my self with people and ideas that reflect my reality and the reality that all of us should be able to live in: That we’re all perfectly imperfect and that diversity is our strength, not a weakness to exploit. That we are all beautiful creatures on this earth and we all have something to give and take. And we have the power to accept or deny the products put out, and the environment we inhabit.
    We have the power to say NO to the marketing mission to destroy our minds and make us compliant consumers, and reclaim our own self worth. We need to define what beauty looks like for ourselves, with ourselves and each other.

    I just hope I can successfully pass this down to my children and the people in my life, despite the incessant attempt to belittle them in the name of profit. My daughter is only five, yet she’s already concerned with how she looks! She’s worried about whether she’s pretty enough and it makes me so sad to know what she may miss out on. I know I didn’t worry about my appearance until I was about 9 or 10, and I thought that was young! She has the weight of the world on her little shoulders and she doesn’t even know what it means yet. But she is a very strong minded person and she bends all the rules of gender roles, so I know she’ll be strong enough to make it through. I worry about my son, though, as he is really sensitive and quiet, so I know he’ll face oppression, and he’ll be affected by the propaganda machine telling him he’s not good enough.

    So it is my aim to create a more diverse array of possibilities for them that are acceptable and valuable. My kids share all the toys, so there aren’t boy toys and girl toys. My son plays with babydolls and my daughter plays with dinosaurs and they both play with all the fun things they want to. They see shows and movies where the female character is just as important and strong as the male and both possess qualities that are universal. My husband takes time and cares for them in ways that my grandfather’s generation didn’t participate in, and they know that we are equal partners in this marriage.

    And back to the topic at hand, I try to nurture an environment that does not dehumanize and oppress anyone for any reason. I know that soon I will have to confront these issues directly with my kids, as they will get older and I won’t be able to protect them. But in the mean time, I’m building their strength and love for themselves and others so that at least they will have a fighting chance. Kindergarden is coming up in the fall, so I’m about to embark on the journey through public schools and the world will open up a bit more. I don’t know if I’m going to have to fight them too, but I’m ready.

    As for my self, it’s a constant process of healing and learning, like most of us trying to undo the damage and repair our self love. If we all become advocates for ourselves and each other, we can combat this force and rise above it as the beautiful beings that we are. It’s really hard to not get discouraged, but if we all help each other and remind each other of all the qualities that make us who we are and take the focus off of our looks, then we can change it.

    If we support and seek out and create media that does us justice, and reject the media that hurts us, and challenge the people that want to continue this disgrace, we will see ourselves and each other in a new light, and our world will change. We have the power to do this. Keep joining forces, building a better community, and keep fighting soldiers! There’s no room for all this nonsense in our future, it’s time we clear it out and make room for all the possibilities for a better world for all people.

    Remember and remind your self that you are a unique and beautiful human being, no matter what you look like, and you are valuable and just as important as anyone else. Make an effort to encourage and empower others and don’t perpetuate these lies that they’re telling. And remember no matter what they throw at you, even if you fear it might be true, that it doesn’t matter what the hell they think and they have no right to judge you. Just think about what they’re insecure and unhappy about and it takes the weight out of it. Just try to feel sorry for them, and be kind. Take the high road, it’s more beautiful anyway.

  21. Panopticon
    July 11, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    One of the things that’s really helped me (and I know this won’t work for everyone) is that I stopped shaving any of my body hair – legs, pits, etc. I don’t shave at all. I stopped as an experiment, because it bothered me that I was altering my body to fit standards of “femininity” that have a whole lot more to do with marketing than actually being a woman. I didn’t think I would be comfortable with it – I thought I would start shaving again in a couple weeks. But it’s really helped me internalize (because I hadn’t before) that my body is MINE and my appearance should only be dictated by ME and what makes ME comfortable.

    It’s not like I never judge my body by other people’s expectations, but that’s helped a LOT. I like my hairy body.

    Other things I’ve done – I’m fat and I looked up a bunch of art with beautiful fat women as the subject, and made that into a slideshow screensaver for a while. Obviously, this is still a focus on beauty and is not perfect, but it really did help me to find things I like about other fat bodies.

    I tell my friends I think they are beautiful and they tell me the same. That helps.

    I *try* to avoid media that is overly critical of womens’ appearance, or media that only shows one acceptable body type for women – but that is pretty hard, as I do watch TV once in a while, and my roommates have the TV on all the time. But I will leave the room when I see women being stereotyped based on their appearance.

  22. July 11, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    I feel like it’s getting worse. We’re in the 2000s and objectification of women has gotten WAY worse. But racial factors also play into this.

    Blonde, white-skinned, Blue eyed women are portrayed as desirable, sexy and beautiful, whereas darker-skinned women are not. Yesterday the Independent UK posted a disturbing article about the “White Beauty” product in India which is disgusting, racist, and shameful.

    as a South Asian female, I’ve struggled with my race, skin colour and looks, and I’ve always been jealous of white females, because we non-white females were always made to feel inferior and ugly. During my childhood I was always desperate to lighten my skin, lighten my hair, and get light eye contacts. All because of the media bombarding us darker skinned females to feel inferior and we are being told that blondes and white women are sexy and beautiful, whereas we are not.

    Also, there has been a HUGE lack of non-white models in the fashion/beauty world.

    So, it’s not just objectifation and sexism, it is also RACISM.

  23. UnFit
    July 11, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Reading through these comments, I once again realized one thing that has helped me: The internet in and of itself.

    Reading all these comments, of course I form an opinion about them; if I read more comments by one person, I slowly start getting an idea who they might be, if Ilike them or now, agree a lot or not, what they might sound like in real life.
    What I do not know, and have to some extent quit caring about, is what they look like. Of course, exspecially on this thread, a lot of people have described themselves.
    On the community site I visit there are pictures. But still, it’s completely secondary to what someone actually as to say.

    And I realize this may be a bdsm speciality (and I still ogle people in person who I find physicaly attractive, sometimes without knowing the first thing about their personality) but with the last few people I’ve hooked up with, looks have indeed mattered far less than their views, ineterests and what they like to do in bed.
    Which I take as a good sign, because normally sexual desire is viewed as the ultimate test for conventional attractiveness.

  24. UnFit
    July 11, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Blonde, white-skinned, Blue eyed women are portrayed as desirable, sexy and beautiful, whereas darker-skinned women are not.

    Urm, yea. Though I often feel as if blonde, blue eyed women are viewed as beautiful while women of color (especially East Asian ones) are simply fuckable.
    Blue Eyed Blondes are portrayed on the cover of Vogue and Cosmo, Asian ones on DVD covers like “Young Asian whores swallow it all”.

    There’s a saint-whore divide there that’s swinging all over the place, because on the other hand Jpanese and Chinese women are viewed as more “pure” and “mysterious”.

    I’ve struggled with this all my adult life, and I still don’t fully get how it functions. All I know is it drives me up the walls to wak through Germany and see billboards full of white models with dyed black hair and bad eyeliner to make them look “Asian”. Not *too* Asian though, apparently, or else they’d cast Asian models…

  25. amandaw
    July 11, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Two things.

    When I was in the OC, the sliding doors to my closet were just two huge full-length (& full-width) mirrors. I also spent a lot of time totally naked in my room with the door closed — bc I like to prevent as much pain as possible, and clothes (even the most comfortable) do cause pain.
    What happened was I was forced to see my own body, my WHOLE body, very frequently. And in all sorts of positions, because I could see myself in the mirror whether I was at my computer desk or on my bed (not really any room for anything else :)).

    That forced me to grow accustomed to my own body.

    Around the same time I also started an experiment. Instead of looking for negative physical traits, I would make a concerted effort to find POSITIVE traits — things I liked. I did this to my own body, but also to other women I saw out and about.

    At first I could only find one or two things about my own body that I liked. I love my eyes, and my lips, and tentatively liked my (tiny) breasts. (I just wished they’d be a cup size bigger.) But over time, I started noticing things on other women that I really liked… that were also traits *I* had. Wide hips, full thighs, square/diamond/whatever jawlines. It was a real “Aha” moment — all those things I liked on everyone else were things that *I* had myself, so why didn’t I like them on me?

    Those two things, I think, were the single biggest things that started to allow me to grow to LIKE myself.

    Not that it cures the insecurity. Honestly, I’ve given up on “curing” my bad habits, because that’s just one more thing to tear myself down for when I fail to be perfect. But it goes a long way in helping the matter, and I’ll take that over nothing.

  26. amandaw
    July 11, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Expanding on that first thing —

    I think a lot of times, as women, we see ourselves as a bunch of disconnected parts. My tummy, my ass, my thighs, my tits. Etc.

    So maybe you really like your ass but you’re not so happy with your tummy.

    Being forced to look at yourself AS A WHOLE, and frequently, forces you to understand how your body works all together, again, as a whole — and to stop chopping yourself up into little bits that all need to be improved independently of one another.

    ‘cuz when I gained weight enough to make me really love my tits, some of that weight also went to my tum and my hips. And thus I was back at square one — liking this part, but hating that one.

    Seeing that my soft, full tummy is CONNECTED TO my full, wide hips and ass and the front of my torso is one big part, not just “those boobs up there” and “the tummy down there” — that really helped me understand my *entire* body, holistically I guess you would call it (I hate that word)…

    you begin to understand the reality of your body rather than the illusion you’ve built up in your head, and it’s harder to wield the weapon of societal standards against yourself when you look at yourself in front of the mirror and see that you like yourself when all those pieces are put together.

  27. Sarah
    July 11, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    “And I realize this may be a bdsm speciality (and I still ogle people in person who I find physicaly attractive, sometimes without knowing the first thing about their personality) but with the last few people I’ve hooked up with, looks have indeed mattered far less than their views, ineterests and what they like to do in bed.” – UnFit

    I’ve experienced this as well. I’ve spent a good part of my adult life in the swinger and BDSM communities, and “typical beauty standards” just don’t apply in the communities I’ve been involved with. I’ve noticed over and over that a new woman will venture in and be all nervous about the nudity that is common with the parties in both worlds, but after she’s been around for a few hours or a few parties, she finds out that pretty much all body types are accepted and no one makes fun of people for how they look. I’ve also noticed a greater acceptance for people with various levels of physical ability and in both communities, people are very respectful of people’s needs for accomodation or help because of physical limitations. It’s a very fun little microcosm to be in.

  28. amandaw
    July 11, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    It’s really easy to knock down an ass that’s just floating there all by itself. But when it’s a whole, connected, well-understood, articulating BODY… there’s a real power to that, and it makes it harder to tear down.

  29. UnFit
    July 11, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I’m totally with AmandaW on seeing your body as a whole – that also makes it easier to focus on health rather than looks.
    I sem to be the only one in my family who got away (so far, knock on wood!) without any serious chronical diseases, so some days I’m just really grateful for how my body works, regardless of how it looks.

    And Sarah: I’ve defnitely heard people make fun of others at those parties. But all in all, it seems less spiteful, and people don’t say it out loud, because even the worst types tend to be aware that in those surroundings it’s inappropriate.

    The other day I took a friend along for the first time. I first met her through the radical left scene, and she used to identify as a lesbian and hold strong views against bdsm as oppressive and whatnot.
    That changed over the last few years, and when we were finally at that venue together she merveled at all the more or less naked people of various body types all proudly, or atleast confidently displaying themselves.
    We’re going again, as soon as we find time :D

  30. July 11, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    So tonight I’m curious about how you’ve protected yourselves from internalizing the ridiculous beauty standards that we’re all encouraged to swallow, and how you’ve shielded your kids or yourself from the destructive messages about how women should be seen.

    I work on myself in ways that I like. I establish my own aesthetic – in some ways it’s different, in other ways, it’s standard, but it’s my own. I like to run and work on my abs for example, I experiment with different hair colours (have recently gone back to the original – blonde, and couldn’t feel more “at home”), different styles of make-up (akin to wearing a mask, I thhink). I have different perfumes for different moods. It’s important to me to be able to pick and to choose when it comes to how I present myself. In crafting my own visual identity, I spend less time worrying about other people’s standards.

    I notice that the minute I stop “fiddling” with myself as it may, I begin to slip into the whole, “but OMG, not a fashion model” thing. But when I’m doing my own thing, the insecurities recede.

    I’m also just fascinated with the idea of having a body – how it’s born, how it ages, how it dies. I think it’s very interesting, to be a mortal human being. Why not enjoy it, if you can? It certainly puts fashion rules and trends into perspective.

    Like Lauren O, I think there is something very beautiful about most, if not all, human beings. I think all human bodies are special and important, because I see them as houses for souls. A single wrinkle takes on a whole new significance to me, then.

    People who only judge a body by whether or not it sells a damn magazine are missing out, imho.

  31. July 11, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    I’m pretty obsessive about my looks, partly due to the fact that I’m a sex worker, and partly due to that’s just the way I am…yet the “look” that I like and work for is pretty far from the the blonde, ultra thin covergirl. Yet, when I look around at other women, I find a lot to admire about most of them, be they conventionally attractive or not: a nice smile, the way they carry themselves, lovely hair, nice skin, a cool outfit, things that are definately apperance related and possibly influenced by society or worked on, but attractive or pretty.

    I’ve met very few people who do not have something worthy of a look, a compliment, or even a bit of jealousy…something very eye catching or beautiful or striking.

    It think the trick is finding those things and being okay with feeling good about them. One of the greatest things I think can happen to a woman is when she’s not only okay with her body, but happy with and proud of it…no matter how it’s shaped.

  32. July 11, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Great post and discussion. (And thanks for linking to my blog!)

    I really like feminist Jen’s idea about the body as a house. However, just as we try to redecorate/refurbish our houses, so too are we encouraged to revamp our bodies. But, with houses, the bigger the better, with bodies, the thinner the better…

    I think if we could try and live IN our bodies rather than objectify them it would help — of course the whole mind/body split started by Descartes and continued ever since makes this difficult. One thing that made a big difference for me was living in England where mirrors are far less common in homes, especially full length mirrors. The absence of full length mirrors can be a body loving blessing!

    I also really appreciated Velma’s point about how the beauty imperative is not only sexist and classist, but also racist. I would add that it is also ableist and heteronormative. Starting later next week I will be doing a series of posts on how reality tv (and the now defunct show The Swan in particular) reveal our messed up approach to beauty. Hope some of you who are interested in this topic well check it out!

  33. July 11, 2008 at 9:40 pm

    I haven’t.
    I mean, I progressed from when I used to be ashamed to eat in public b/c I felt it was wrong to make people watch me eat.

    I can eat in public now w/o problems

    But I cannot help comparing. And how those people seem to occupy an entirely different world and how I can see when they’re not too pleased to have to deal with me.

    I want to be the ideal very much, I can’t lie–but not the point of hurting myself. I’ve been heavier all my life and right now the most important thing to me is getting healthier, cause I haven’t been treating myself very well–And THAT is what really is most important to me, no matter what the “little hater” inside says.

  34. July 11, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    Following up on Ren’s comment – I protect myself partly by going out of my way not only to notice beauty in other women (not just the idealised type, all kinds of beauty) and actually telling them about it. “Wow, that color looks great on you”, “I love your new haircut”, etc. I really think women don’t do that enough, reinforce each other’s self-esteem. We’re all so trained to be competative that it’s easy to forget that we can hold each other up just as easily as tear each other down. And approaching life that way is good for the compliment-giver too – jealousy and competetiveness suck, it’s not an enjoyable way to live, constantly assessing other women for how you stack up against them. Being appreciative about other women’s beauty and expressing it is a much happier way to live.

    Plus, for me compliments from other women feel more genuine. From men I tend to assume that a compliment is an attempt to get into my pants, whereas from other women (even if they’re lesbians or bi) it tends to feel more sincere. The rare moments that it’s other women who go out of their way to say something nice stick with me far more than compliments from men ever do.

  35. shah8
    July 12, 2008 at 1:28 am

    Just wanted to drop a little note here, as a guy…

    A little reminder that this objectification is ten times worse for who are obviously disabled, but visually okay. A woman suffering mental deficits who is also good-looking is in serious trouble in our world. People with obvious mental disabilities or certain physical disabilities that aren’t disfiguring, like my hard of hearing issues have real trouble with the whole getting-people-to-be-interested-in-us-for-ourselves.

    I deal with this alot, since I’m apparently considered handsome (I’ve never really gotten into the habit of thinking so because I’ve always been 30-50lbs overweight), and I work at a majority female workplace. So there have been times when I’ve had women more or less outright stare at me while just about drooling. I’ve never paid them any mind as simply accepted it as a compliment, and I probably have it easier than many women in this situation. However, I’m intensly aware of this situation, and I’m caught in the Charybodis of not wanting to hurt women I’ve not interested in and the Scylla with the obvious hesitancy of many women to interact with me because of my deafness. So I wind up lusted after, but no dates–an obviously broken pretty thing.

    I have easier than the girls like that. I’m 6′ and 250lbs. I’m all of intimidating and friendly and other things. So people don’t mess with me, and the worst I’ve ever gotten was lunchladies groping my butt. So the usual thing is isolation. For a woman in my situation, I cannot imagine how bad it could be except that I’ve already seen a bit of what happens to pretty girls who aren’t all there in the heads, who are nice peeps anyways…

  36. July 12, 2008 at 3:31 am

    I admit that I have a very strong dislike of colluders. As I have said on many occasions these women have internalized patriarchal values and regularly work on behalf of patriarchy. The only way to escape this is to learn to truly love and value women. We must begin to believe that we matter and have the right to take up space in this world. Collusion ends when we reconceptualize worth and value. I am committed at every turn to point out to these colluders that they are not acting in their own best interests.
    Some claim because of the negative way that feminism is viewed that they cannot own the label of feminism. I am always quick to point out that without feminism their lives would be so much worse. I encourage women to formulate a feminism that suites them, that makes them comfortable. I point them to different feminists that are not mainstream, and that focus on a myriad of interests. I think it is important to understand that there are many ways of supporting and believing in women. Rejecting a label because some man is against it is no reason to commit gender betrayal.

  37. V
    July 12, 2008 at 8:33 am

    I have worked very hard to deal woth my body issues. I don’t watch trashy shows, read ladies mags or enter into ‘oh my bum’s too big’ or ‘I wish I could lose weight’ conversations/threads/websites.

    But it’s still there, a little. Every now and again, especially when I’m feeling down, I see women with small perky boobs who are able to wear cute t shirts and jeans and have short hair and still look feminine and punky and I hate them. And I know it’s awful and they’re part of my beleagured gender but I can’t help it. If I meet women who are slim, ‘attractive’ and have men slobbering all over them I find it very very hard to like them.

    I really try not to hate these people but these feelings come from a dark jealous place deep inside of me that I can’t change, or at least haven’t been able to yet. Has anyone overcome this?

    And colluders can kiss my shiny metal ass – I don’t need misogyny spouting from the mouths of those oppressed by it.

  38. Lauren
    July 12, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    Aside from my height (I’m 5’0”), I fit the body standards very closely. I’m dark-haired, but very fair-skinned, and with an hourglass figure. In my entire life, I’ve only had about one week of not liking my looks. Because of this, I just never separated my “body” from my “self”, and have always conflated my body and who I am. For me, loving my body is part of loving myself. But at a certain point, being small, unathletic and large-breasted makes me feel less secure, less safe, more open to objectification and harassment. I’ve started to examine what it means to be attractive and how, for me, that’s not really a positive thing. More than anything, it feels like just another way for my society to control me, to restrict my actions, and to objectify me against my will.

    I stopped shaving my legs first, out of apathy, then my armpits. I wasn’t sure about it for a while, but now whenever I catch a glimpse of hair poking out of my armpit, it feels sexy more than anything else. After trying to understand why I thought heels “worked” on women but not on men, I realized I didn’t like them on anyone, and have stopped wearing them.

    Bottom line, for me at least, is that I never got in the body-hating habit. That doesn’t mean I don’t notice bodies or comment on them. I do, and I frequently comment on clothing/styling choices… but the concept of feeling physically repulsed by the human body is almost totally foreign to me.

  39. bleh
    July 12, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    no television in the house helps and i avoid fashion mags like the plague. i have a friend who changes the words in the children’s books, when she reads them to her daughter. you know – the he, he, he brigade

  40. UnFit
    July 13, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    That’s thongs and miniskirts, not things, lol

  41. Cymbal
    July 13, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    On one hand I know the little narrow ideal of ‘beauty’ is something that’s created by the media to cudgel-smash money and energy out of women. I know this objectively. I also try to draw a wide variety of shapes and sizes of people, instead of just barbie and ken dolls all the time.

    On the other hand, I live in a image-focused city (Vancouver, parts of which sort of style themselves as ‘Hollywood North’, with ultra-ridiculous beauty standards to match)… so I’m aware of the heavy judgment my body is under.

    I’m quite average- 5’7, 130 lbs, mesomorph. I do catch flack from various shallow and heavily indoctrinated people for not being an ectomorph (as almost all the magazine girls are) and not having a tall willowy starved hourglass body shape rather than my athletic and solid softened straight shape.

    I’m a gym rat so every day I can remind myself of function over form. Or rather- form followed function. I don’t go at the same time as the gym bunnies in full hair and makeup, since I can sometimes catch snotty crap from them for being in sweaty bigass shirts and shorts and no-makeup, all blotchy from exertion… ie: for going to the gym to actually freaking WORK rather than look pretty and toss my hair. Which reminds me- wanna drive your average indoctrinated beauty ideal worshipper nuts? Be a girl who lifts weights. And not just the little teeny free weights. Who lifts heavy.

    But not everyone has had their brain eaten by this stupid marketing beauty crapola. It’s more that it’s out there. And it might call me a fat cow while I’m walking to the elliptical line. It might be some deeply average dude I’ve just met who informs me that he ‘only dates models, and you’re just too fat and not pretty enough, sorry.’

    So it’s here and it sucks. But at least I’m trying to keep it out of my head.

  42. UnFit
    July 13, 2008 at 11:55 am

    I got that feeling from modeling for art classes. Exposing yourself naked to a room full of clothed people and not being judged (because they’re much more interested in anatomical proportions, and of course their grades) feels awesome.
    And I’m thinking more and more that once my boyfriend decides to put up with it or leaves me over other stuff (whatever comes first, and right now I’m not too sure) I’ll try more different kinds of sex work. Mhm.

    I have a question to some of the commenters on here:
    How do you define a colluder?
    It makes me cringe when I hear women engage in the whole “my ass is too fat” locker room talk, and even more to hear them hack each other down over looks.
    On the other hand though, I got crap from a lot of (old school) feminists in the past for even owning things and mini skirts. If I was still in touch with these women and told them I’d done porn, I’m not too sure if they wouldn’t smite me.
    And neither of that is okay for me as a feminist either, you know.
    No matter if a woman decides to wear a burkah or a miniskirt, shaming her for her looks and choice of clothing is never a feminist thing to do.
    Telling a woman how she can or can’t express her consensual sexuality is censorship, not liberation.

    So, where do y’all draw the line?

  43. shah8
    July 13, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    Cymbal, can you be my workout date?

    I wish more women realize how much good a bit a weightlifting can be for them. I constantly try to get my mother to take up some light weightlifting (we’re all born muscular types).

  44. July 13, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    I didn’t realize for a long time that I was uncomfortable with my body, but looking back, I was – in high school I wore baggy clothing that totally hid my short hourglass figure, and hardly ever wore dresses or skirts. I knew that I was ‘attractive’ because the few times I did wear something form-fitting, I got compliments and looks, but they made me feel uncomfortable more than flattered. I’m not sure why I was so uncomfortable back then, but now I’m trying to actively be more comfortable in my own body, and not judge other women. A few things that I didn’t think about at the time, but that I think have helped:

    1. I stopped buying women’s magazines and celebrity-focused magazines. When I see them now, I can’t believe how obvious the body-hating message is in them – make your butt smaller! dress so you look skinny! look perfect all the time! but when I read them, I was unconsciously accepting that message. Even when they had an article about dressing for your body type, the models were such a slight variation from their standard that it made me feel more abnormal than anything.

    2. Stop watching most TV. I stopped getting cable for my budget, but now I can’t stand watching most TV shows, they have so many obvious and subtle slights against the female body or against anything out of the ‘norm’ – a totally fake construct that’s not real for 95% of society. Not just reality shows, but sitcoms and even ‘drama’ shows, where women are pigeonholed into stereotypes and rarely stray from them.

    3. My condo has full-length mirrors that I walk past in the morning and when getting dressed. At first it made me uncomfortable to see myself ‘not at my best’ (i.e. without clothes to ‘hide’ parts of me) but now I sometimes will stand naked in front of them and look at my body as a whole, and thta has helped my appreciate it and love it without breaking it into parts (‘well, my waist is ok but my thighs are fat’).

    Now I’m trying to enjoy and love my body as it is. It’s easier when I’m active, but it’s not because it changes my shape (it doesn’t), it’s because I’m moving in different ways and because it makes me feel healthy and strong. In the fall I’m going on a trip to Cuba and have just bought my first bikini in 15 years. I didn’t try to find one that ‘hid the imperfections’ or made my body look ‘better’, just one that shows what it is – because I love my body and I’m dressing for myself, not for anyone else to enjoy what it looks like.

  45. yolio
    July 13, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    I find clips like these sort of helpful, because they are so completely insane. These women all have amazing bodies, etc., and it is completely ridiculous to try to rank them! What possible meaning could these rankings have? By taking the critical/competitive body game to its logical extreme, Fox “reality” drives home the total wrongness of ranking yourself against other women.

    Of course, my perspective follows from my personal history. My mother and grandmother were both very beautiful women who used their looks to make their way in life. They were also both completely and tragically screwed over in their lives. I learned, that any “power” that beauty can bring is unreliable and transient. This lesson is in my bones. I have my beauty issues, but my perspective is kept checked by a sharp awareness of the limited utility of being the prettiest girl in the room.

  46. July 13, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Katy – I agree whole-heartedly with your concerns about and efforts to increase your children’s respect for themselves and their bodies. And the cultural onslaught doesn’t really take full effect until adolescence – Young girls in particular experience intense amounts of stress; according to The N Network’s news research study, which assesses the state of the millennial girl, today’s millennial girls (ages 13-24) say they have more opportunities than prior generations of women ever had, but feel stressed about having to “do it all.” 43% of girls describe themselves as stressed out, as opposed to only 19% of guys; and 75% often feel overwhelmed by everything they do. Girls say they stress about everything, including: school (72%); the future (72%); money (71%); homework (70%); and their appearance (61%). The pressure surrounding the “prettiness ranking” will only grow more intense, and I firmly believe that children need a diverse toolbox for dealing with offenses to their self esteem.

    An effective way to teach children that you have obviously encountered is, rather than to tell them what NOT to do, you offer a positive alternative that is the polar opposite of the behavior/attitude you want you child to avoid. A positive alternative that you might want to consider is enrolling your children in yoga classes. I am a certified Radiant Child Yoga Program (RCYP) teacher and can point you toward a website where you can find certified teachers in your area: The techniques of focus, respect for the body, and relief of anxiety promoted by yoga are very accessible to children, especially using the RCYP method that incorporates music, games, story-telling, and dance to help children build healthy, happy relationships with their bodies. Best wishes!

  47. July 13, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    my response is similar to lijakaca’s… i haven’t been completely able to resist patriarchal beauty standards, but a lot depends on where i am and what sort of cultural cues i’m being exposed to.

    for example: my first breath of fresh air came a few years ago when i spent five weeks doing a french immersion program in quebec (something our loverly canadian govt does to promote bilingualism: send the french kids to anglo-lands and the anglo kids to la belle provence – room, board, daily french lessons, all with some kick-ass folks from across the country, all for free = score). i didn’t even realize a change was happening until a couple of weeks in. i began caring less about what clothes i put on in the morning, i wore less and less make-up until eventually i was wearing none, and i became considerably less stressed about my hair (large, curly, untamed, and the bane of my existence until just a few years ago).

    my environment had changed to so drastically in a short period of time: i went from a dense urban area where i was constantly inundated with hate-your-body-fix-your-body messages to a small rural setting with almost no access to magazines, television, or other forms mass media, not even the net (and what media i did have access to was in a language i was struggling to understand at the time). there’s also something very particular about being in quebec: i don’t know how they do it, but they seem to love sex/iness w/o all the objectification that can come w/ it, which is pretty rad. and in general, they are more into being active and outdoors and enjoying nature and beauty (that is, natural beauty, not the plastic stuff) than english canada (or at least ontario, where i live). all of this changed me a lot, and i still feel the totally soul-refreshing effects.

    looking back, i think it wasn’t so much being on some kind of “patriarchy-free vacay,” but rather being somewhere patriarchy and the mass media weren’t so cozy and so in my face 24-7… um, i realize that in the end, this comment seems to promote a sort of “shut the windows, lock your doors, and hide in a corner with mufflers on” solution, but mine was an extreme case. lijakaca’s suggestion to just reject the channels by which these messages get to you is prob the best way to avoid a total self-esteem melt-down (or a sister-hating frenzy). and if you’re like me, you’ll let just enough ooze in to get pissed off and write a strongly-worded letter to offending douchebags (say, to the producers of that effing HORRIBLE fox reality show… and maybe all our boyfriends at fox…)

    ps/ i now think my hair is funky and fabulous, and i wear it BIG. not coincidentally: i’m moving to quebec in two months.

  48. July 13, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    pps/ i’d like to add quickly that by “natural” beauty i just mean the beauty that *all* women have, exactly as they are.

  49. Sarah
    July 14, 2008 at 12:01 am

    I think the point here is “seeing our bodies as objects that exist for the pleasure of others.” In other words, it is one thing to be hollered at, it is another when someone says “thank you, you just made my day” as though, somehow, in the act of buy groceries you were actually there to service a fantasy role of a person you had previously never met–and that that person felt completely comfortable telling you as much.

  50. Andi
    July 14, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    I love that the ad running alongside this well written article when I read it was for “The Slim Slack” by American Apparel, with the image of this extremely thin girl in high heels demonstrating what the Slim Slack is supposed to look like on you.

  51. TenaciousLeeeeee
    July 15, 2008 at 1:44 am

    omg Unfit! I know exactly whta you mean, I have the exact same thing sometimes, it’s weird…

  52. Katie
    July 15, 2008 at 11:37 am

    A few people have touched on this, but I want to make the point that, as a woman who in many ways fits the “conventional” model of attractiveness (long blonde hair, blue eyes, big breasts, petite), I find it disturbing to see these traits being mentioned with a tone of bitterness and derision. As Ali mentioned earlier “attributing character traits” to any body type is totally counterproductive to the conversation we are having here. I understand why people might begin to internalize a certain bitterness toward certain physical ideals, but I think it’s incredibly important to remember that even if one is not “far from the blonde, ultra-thin cover girl” (RenegadeEvolution), one can still have the same experience of insecurity through objectification. I think Lauren touched on this when she said that,

    “I’ve started to examine what it means to be attractive and how, for me, that’s not really a positive thing. More than anything, it feels like just another way for my society to control me, to restrict my actions, and to objectify me against my will.”

    Sometimes I get the feeling that women look at me and assume we’re playing for opposite teams. As a lifelong feminist and a strong, intelligent, and motivated woman, I find that the imbedded assumptions I see written across other womens’ faces, while very different from the kinds of objecification I experience from men, are also a form of objectification, and something that I have also internalized. I remember my shame and frustration during a particular discussion in a college women’s studies class as my classmates derisively referred to “blonde, blue eyed, big breasted bimbos” while I, the only person in the class who fit the physical part of that description, put my head down and sank into my chair. I can also remember a similar instance during a meeting of my campus’ Eating Disorder Reachout group (which I, a survivor of an eating disorder, was very active in) in which someone was trying to think of a way to convey on a poster the fact that “skinny, blonde women aren’t the real role models–ordinary women are.”

    My basic point I think is that it’s important to remember that trying to empower ourselves by distinguishing ourselves from those with “idealized” body types only perpetuates the kind of framework we’re trying to escape. As Audre Lord said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” If we continue to frame a debate around a discussion of what we look like and what we don’t, we’re perpetuating the objectification we’re trying to move away from.

    As a second point, I want to say that from the standpoint of personal experience, speaking as someone who developed early and began to get sexual attention from men at 12 or 13, after more than a decade of this, I find myself very closed off to men in a lot of ways. I find that I almost always am suspicious of any man that approaches me, be it on the street, at a party, in the workplace, or anywhere else. I think in large part because of the walls I’ve put up to protect myself from the constant barrage of objectification, I don’t date much and when I do it’s usually only longstanding male friends. I wonder if anyone shares this type of experience or could offer advice about how you’re able to let your guard down enough to meet men worth meeting. I feel the need to be suspicious and self-protective because when I make eye contact with a man on the street and he smiles and I smile back and then he turns around and yells “nice ass” after me, I feel so deceived and angry that it makes me not smile at the next man who comes along. How does one navigate this fine line of self-protectiveness without becoming totally closed off to people to the point of isolation? Any thoughts?

  53. UnFit
    July 15, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    Oh Katie, reading your comment made me sigh with a certain relief.

    You’re so right, it can’t be about how any one individual woman looks. And being conventionally attractive has its downsides too.

    I think the key is to dismantle standardized beauty ideals while still allowing for physical appearance to matter.

    If we all dared to deviate more from conventional beauty standards and just go for what pleases us as individuals, fewer people would try to fit the standards for the wrong (as in other-imposed) reasons, and more people would feel freer to see beauty through their own eyes, not those of the media or a social consensus.

    As in, some guys like women with curves, some like them skinny. Some people like blue eyes, others brown. I like guys other people describe as “malnourished” or “half starved”. Not everybody even goes for blond, skinny and big breasted if they’re honest with themselves.

    If someone wants a boob job, and it’s her decision alone because she thinks it will make her so much happier that it’s worth going through the surgery for, then more power to her, and congratulations for the people who then happen to like that look.

    If a woman gets a boob job because she’s worried she might not be attractive to her partner or the general public after breast feeding, or past a certain age, I think that’s kind of tragic.

    I’m very involved with body modification culture (picture me sitting here with 25 piercings, tattoos round my wrists and some decorative scars) and there people sometimes get a lot of flack for fitting the “wrong” beauty standard or looking too “mainstream”. While I think that with something as ultimately private as which exact way who feels comfortable and yes, beautiful, inside their own body should not be subject to any standardized rule be they subcultural or mainstream.

  54. Brittany
    July 15, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    I just clicked on a second clip, one where the guys rate the girls boobs from 1-5.

    This is seriously the grossest show I have ever seen and I can’t believe this shit even got on tv.

  55. July 15, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    Katie and Unfit, thank you. I’ve been sitting here watching the way this thread panned out, with the little digs at the model in the ad on the side panel and the requests to please stop throwing out the stereotypes about “blonde bimbos” (requests which were not even acknowledged, never mind accomodated) and it’s been depressing the hell out of me. We can’t fight one set of assumptions based on appearences by imposing another set in which all women who do fit the current standards are stupid, evil and possibly collaborators. Some women just happen to look that way. They’re not doing it to spite the women who don’t look that way. There’s some latent sexism here that really bothers me to see from people who identify as feminists.

  56. em
    July 16, 2008 at 2:13 am

    How’s this for messed up?
    Whenever I go out to bars, restaurants, or other public places to hang out and enjoy myself, I always feel undue pressure to look super magazine-chic because I am worried that other women will judge me negatively if I don’t. I am in a happy relationship so it’s not that I’m not worried about landing a date . . it’s just that there ARE many policing colluders out there, and they ruin a good time by making me paranoid about my appearance. My hair in particular is stubborn and frizzy and I always feel inferiror around those of the airbrush-perfect locks. However I’m not willing to buy into the expense, time, and trouble to go through what they probably went through in order to acheive their nice hair. Same with heels. The dumb magazine culture has somehow gotten my brain to think that high heels are attractive. But, my sensitive feet are not having that. So I wear comfy wedges or flats and feel inferior to the stiletto-wearers. What’s frustrating is, I know intellectually that shiny hair and foot nerves of steel are an artificial standard that I don’t need to feel jealous of. In fact, in the case of stilettos, it is something that can actually cause me long- and short-term physical harm. But, I just can’t stop. It makes me really bitter and frustrated with myself. I am trying to teach myself that 1) I need to try hard to readjust my aesthetic judgements that the magazine culture has foisted on me, and 2) That all women with nice hair and heels are not out to judge me and probably think I look nice, too. Does anyone else have advice/have this problem, too? It’s frustrating!

  57. UnFit
    July 16, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    I’d still like to hear that definition of “colluder”.

  58. Sarah
    July 17, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    I haven’t and I spend a lot of time wishing I weren’t pretty. I get catcalled every time I walk down a populated street, and after hearing for years, it’s getting to me. No one should feel assaulted like that when simply walking to errands and I am still unclear as to why men (and it is alway men) do it.

  59. (a different) Sarah
    July 29, 2008 at 12:35 am

    I want to share a happy mini-story about improving body image for myself and others. :)

    The summer after 5th-6th? grade, I went to camp for a week. The counselor for the girls’ cabin had the half-dozen of us go around the circle and tell everyone a part of our bodies we really liked. The first girl picked the most harmless and uncontroversial thing she could think of: “um…my eyes? I guess?” and the rest of the girls promptly followed suit with the now-instantly-obligatory “my eyes” “uh, my eyes…” When it got to me, I said

    “My FEET!”

    After a few seconds of silence, one of the girls who’d gone before me said “…I want to say my feet, too, now. I like them.” Within a minute everyone had decided they liked their feet, and we had moved on to all hands, most knees, someone’s fingernails, at least one set of elbows…

    I’ve since worked my way up my body a fair amount, from just liking my feet. (My internal organs, for example, I am nearly always pleased with!) I hope some of the girls from camp, if/when they start thinking crap about their bodies, remember that they at least like their feet!

    (On a more analytical note, it seems that feet don’t get a huge amount of media attention. At least, not that I’ve noticed. Shoes, sure, but feet seem to be about as judgment-neutral a body part as a woman can have nowadays. Maybe finding something relatively easy to love –or at least something slightly less rigidly idealized– and then working your way out to the rest of your body could be a helpful strategy for adults and/or kids.)

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