Girl Crush: you.
This is it. The last day of Women's Future Month.
Women, we need a new future. It’s going to take all the resources of Xena, She-Ra, Buffy, Nancy Drew and the Babysitters’ Club to defeat our enemies and make the world a safe, happy, shiny place for female-kind.
Janeane Garofalo as Bowler in Mystery Men
The single most insidious enemy that women* today reckon with is the propaganda of our “problematic" bodies.
For centuries in European tradition (and others) the female body has been associated with sin, uncleanliness, witchcraft—bad, bad, bad. From “A Model Religion”, an article by Amanda Bloom:
…early church fathers often blamed Eve for bringing sin into the world, for leading men into temptation and causing the downfall of humankind. Lelwica found a powerful symbolism in the story of Eve:
"She eats," Lelwica said, "and it is her eating that brings evil into the world[…]There's a suggestion that if women fail to control their bodies – Eve failed to control her appetite – that is not the author's intention, but the symbolism is still very relevant for women today."
Over time the message became less explicit, and more subtle—particularly with the merging of commercial advertising with psychology and anthropology in the 20th century (hello, Mad Men).
The confusing, hypocritical messages of 1) Victorian morality (sex, and therefore the human body, is dirty and bad), and 2) “sex sells”, have created widespread mental illness, eating disorders, and a degree of self-loathing that starts at younger and younger ages with each generation.
We are culturally conditioned to want a 'better' (read: thinner) body and to assume that the bodies we are born with are not okay," she said. "The media is not the only factor persuading us that our bodies need to be fixed, but it is certainly one of the most widespread and thus powerful influences on our thinking and our relationships to our bodies.–Michelle Lelwica, Th. D., quoted by Amanda Bloom
Advertising and celeb-fueled media have constructed layers of rules for pleasing men and playing along with other women. These rules create a more and more narrow subset of who wins at the “sexy & socially acceptable” game.
The youth-centric rules emerged in the 1940s.
The blonde, tan, and busty rules came about in the ‘40s and ‘50s.
The thin rules were set up in the ‘60s.
The sexually forward rules (put out, or get shut out) came about in the ‘60s and ‘70s .
The designer clothing brand/logo rules emerged in the ‘80s…
The former rules never went away, the new rules just reinforced them, even if it made no sense (how can young people afford designer logo clothing? how can you be thin and busty at the same time?)
We cannot escape our bodies, they are always with us.
It basically comes down to this:
You want to shield your girlfriends, little sisters, daughters from this kind of image-centric self-loathing, yet you permit it and participate in it yourself. It’s OK for you to feel disappointed about your looks, and disparage the body and face that have stood by you your whole life, traveling, working, playing, loving. But you cringe, and rant, and censor the images and messages that could harm your loved ones.
We have to re-think of our bodies as a loved-one too.
I defy you to find a single woman in Western society that has never had a negative thought about her body.
And once you realize how many women that is, multiplied by the inherent limiting, diminishing, damaging effects of those thoughts, you realize it’s a pandemic.
And when you realize it’s a pandemic “disease” if you will (or dis-ease) that only effects the females of the species in particular geographic and cultural areas, you realize that it’s an illusion. A trick.
(Not to say that “it’s all in your head”, because it most certainly isn’t– and that wouldn’t make it un-real anyway.)
Since it’s an illusion, you can blow away the enchanted fog, change the angle of the magical mirror to reveal the little “man” behind the curtain.
How to combat the body-hate messages:
1. Develop your bullshit detection skills.
Learn all you can about:
- advertising and propaganda
- image-editing technology
Discuss it with others – male and female. Dudes are brothers, husbands, boyfriends, fathers, friends to lots of girls.
You can learn to view ads and marketing with a critical eye, and make educated purchases. It doesn’t take a lot of research—if your gut feeling says “this is too girly, too sexy, patronizing, etc.” then you should believe it. Your gut is your best B.S. Detector.
(Check out Dove’s (the soap co.) Campaign for Real Beauty and Self-Esteem Movement, for a start.)
2. Your paycheck is powerful.
You must be wise with your purchases when it comes to the visual, the verbal and the overall outlook of the corporation (just Google “American Apparel”). Show your monetary support to companies that support women’s whole health. Don’t spend money on products & services that perpetuate and exacerbate unhealthy body image, low self-esteem, eating disorders, inappropriate sexualization, etc.
Let us know how you take action and spread the body love in the comments! We’re all friends here.
*(In this article I refer to “Western society”, meaning Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. I also haphazardly include in there cultures and particular social classes in other cultures that have been heavily influenced by Western media, especially via the U.S. So when I use the term “women”, for the purposes of this article, I’m referring to women from Western or Western-influenced societies. The “Western” thing is a convention of academia, particularly the social sciences, take it or leave it…)