[A note: While this post might come across as a calling-out of specific commenters here, it's intended as commentary on the phenomenon as a whole. No getting defensive in comments. --C]
“I like small boobs.” “I actually prefer untrimmed pubic hair.” “Ew, skinny girls! Eat a sandwich, amirite?” They’re inevitable contributions to any thread discussing women’s bodies, always offered by men as a word of comfort to insecure women or as valuable male insight into the male gaze.
Thanks for thinking of us, guys, but trust me: We get insight into the male gaze every day. We’re soaking in it, and in a way most men don’t actually recognize. We’re given insight into the male gaze by random men hooting at us on the sidewalk. “Don’t worry, insecure girl, there are people out there who think you’re hot” isn’t a revolutionary perspective, and thinking it’s a necessary contribution to a thread about female objectification and body image demonstrates a lack of understanding of the subject. The real impact of the male gaze, and objectification, and judgment, is about way more than beer commercials, Playboy pictorials, and who does and doesn’t have to pay her own bar tab.
It’s about casting directors who automatically cast large-breasted actresses to play The Slut or The Airhead, and who automatically cast fat actresses as The Desperate Single Friend Who Eats All the Time. It’s about women who get kicked off of planes for outfits that would be deemed perfectly inoffensive on a less-blonde, less-busty woman. It’s about women who aren’t traditionally attractive getting not getting hired, and women who are traditionally attractive not getting taken seriously in the workplace. It’s about elementary school teachers who favor pretty girls over the less-pretty ones. It’s about dismissing rape accusations because you’re either not sexy enough to get raped or so sexy you must have been asking for it. It’s about men at work and out in the world who automatically assume you’re flirting just because you have breasts in their presence. It’s about the women you fuck vs. the women you marry. It’s about having your eating habits criticized regardless, whether it’s Ew, push away from the buffet or Ew, eat a sandwich. It’s about character actors who can cover the full spectrum of physical appearance and character actresses who get cut off at “quirky-looking.” It’s about teen movies where first you get the makeover, then you get the guy. It’s about never seeing yourself represented on TV or in movies because 90 percent of the world doesn’t look like 90 percent of Hollywood.
The message isn’t just you’re unfuckable, although that’s generally part of it. The message is there’s something wrong with you, and it’s one that affects women every day, everywhere, in every context. And the opinion of one complete stranger on the Internet isn’t going to fix that.
“I actually prefer small breasts” only reinforces the grand tradition of women’s bodies as objects to be presented for judgment and rated on a scale from Hot to Fugly. It removes the breasts or ass or pubic hair from the context of the woman as a whole, as if our value can be appraised one piece at a time. And it ignores the reality that while it does matter to many of us, in the grand scheme, finding someone willing to screw us is the least of our problems.
Any teen-movie makeover worth its salt begins with the Ditching of the Glasses, because of course glasses are repellant to high school quarterbacks. The knowledge that at any moment, somewhere in the world a stripper is slooowly removing a Naughty Librarian costume is not the solution to that message. My specific brand of butt is celebrated by several magazines wrapped in opaque plastic in the way-back of the top rack at Barnes & Noble, yet knowing this has somehow not had an effect on my negative body image.
You know what would help? Seeing someone on TV who has a butt like mine and is the smart, classy, desirable character and not the goofy friend. Reading a profile of a female C-level executive that doesn’t mention her hair. Reading blog posts by women at tech or sci-fi conventions that don’t make a single mention of sexual harassment. Seeing a female comic book character who actually gets to wear armor on the parts of her that need armoring. Never again hearing the word “anorexic” if it’s not referring to an actual medical condition. Never again seeing thong underwear sold in the children’s department. Putting on a short skirt on a hot day and walking outside confident that I won’t have to suffer any abusive commentary. And then going to a feminist blog to read about body image without worrying that some random guy is going to backhandedly criticize my body because in his unsolicited opinion, my breasts are just too big to be attractive.