“Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits.”
Tina Fey wrote this in her book, Bossypants, and there’s no funnier (or more true) depiction of the ridiculous appearance standards placed on women.
Even in the face of feminists rising up and becoming bolder than ever before in their words and actions, the stigma of being beautiful or not beautiful (at least according to societal bias) is stronger than ever. It’s almost as if the more women speak up and lean in, the more opportunities there are for people to critique them.
Of course, these critiques aren’t on professional accomplishments but are instead focused on the way a woman looks and how professional, not professional, capable, or insert-adjective-here, she appears. And usually, this critique isn’t of the “she looks and fierce and capable” nature, but of the, “she doesn’t look like a leader” or “her cleavage was showing” nature. Because we all know that a woman can’t own a pair of breasts and still slay in the workplace or in her personal life. Eyeroll.
While most of us have experienced this obsession with female appearance in one form or another, knowing about something in theory is not enough to create change. We have to learn how to recognize it in the media and in our personal lives and take definitive steps towards understanding the full power of our bodies and loving them as they are, critics be damned.
Society’s Double Standard on Body Image
Women in the public eye are under constant scrutiny for the way they look. Though many of us are familiar with the culture that surrounds celebrities, such as heavy photoshopping for magazine covers, it doesn’t stop there. Politicians like Hillary Clinton are condemned for dressing in a way that makes them look “frumpy” and then subsequently scorned for wearing clothes deemed too expensive.
On one of Hillary’s expensive looks, Jennifer Rade, a celebrity stylist commented, “Male politicians, however, are often overlooked in this regard, for one simple reason: It’s their uniform.”
Jennifer Klein of Media Style NYC chimed in, saying, “For men’s clothes, especially bespoke, custom-made, which is what a lot of these men are wearing, or tailor-made, at least, these suits often cost well in the excess of $5,000 to $10,000. But because that is so much the uniform for menswear, especially in this political world, the price tag is just simply overlooked.”
Basically, men can wear whatever they want and look however they look and the only thing they are critiqued on is their accomplishments. Women, however, are subject to mass criticism. A woman could start a billion dollar company, win a Nobel Peace Prize, or, in the case of Hillary, run for President of the United States and still, the discussion would quickly shift to whether she wore too much (or not enough) makeup.
But is this bias reserved for celebs and politicians? Hardly. A study conducted by Procter & Gamble found that both men and women deemed a woman wearing ‘heavy’ makeup less trustworthy, while also believing that a woman wearing minimal makeup didn’t care about her appearance (therefore, how could she care about her job or anything else in life?). A New York Times article suggested that women tone up or tone down their cosmetics, depending on what kind of message they want to send. For example, dark lips when you need to appear dominant and in-charge versus a neutral look when you want to be perceived as a team player.
Aging is another key piece to this societal shaming. While women are less likely to be hired as they age, men have no problem getting a job when their hair is falling out or turning gray. It’s a dismal truth that is parodied by Amy Schumer in her video, Last F*ckable Day, depicting how women are sexualized their entire lives until one day, they get older and are no longer viewed as worthy of attention.
It’s not just the media throwing shade at women’s appearances. Most women, if answering honestly, would say that they’ve shamed another woman for her choice of clothing, how much makeup she wore, or her weight. Sad, but true. It’s a trickle effect—we’re taught by the media that women are supposed to look a certain way and given never ending advice on how to be thinner, more attractive, more sexual, etc. That bleeds over into our individual lives and, whether due to personal insecurities or a real lack of belief that women can and should look however they please, it has a large impact on how we see ourselves and others.
The Impact on Women
Body shaming and “appearance shaming” is not “casual.” It’s not “petty.” It’s dangerous and harmful—the impact having far greater repercussions than we might realize.
A survey by Self magazine discovered that 65 percent of women surveyed have abnormal eating habits, meaning that they will skip meals, exercise through injury and exhaustion, purge, or obsessively track calories—all in an effort to lose weight. On top of that, another 10 percent of women have diagnosed eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia.
It’s easy to pin this on the media and the way women are relentlessly told that they need to meet an irrational and impossible standard to be worthy of being called beautiful. Eating disorders, plastic surgery (largely made popular in a younger crowd when Kylie Jenner got her lips done), and an overall obsession with altering appearances are rampant in women.
The bodily love embraced by many influencers and media outlets seems to be swallowed in a sea of women who just want to look and feel pretty. These alterations—be it weight loss, Botox, or a change of wardrobe to make themselves appear less sexual or more sexual—have deep psychological effects on a woman’s self-worth.
How to Reclaim Your Power
Whether you’ve been a victim of our society’s shaming and double standards or have been lucky enough to withstand the pressure, it’s important to know how to fight back. That’s done by learning to love your body, embracing your personal style, and refusing to compromise on your self-worth when someone says “not good enough.”
Women’s bodies are incredible. They were made to withstand so much—from menstruation to childbirth to menopause—and that’s something we need to honor. Knowing that your body is capable of doing so much and understanding the intricate and precise process that it undergoes every month is a key part of learning to love yourself.
You are allowed to dress in a masculine way (without being told you should look more feminine). We are allowed to spend 20 minutes applying makeup and perfecting our winged liner (without being told we care too much about our looks). Each and every one of us should feel free to adorn and decorate our bodies in whatever way makes us feel good. The key is in doing it because it feels good to you and not as a way to fit into the unrealistic box society has handed you.
Reclaiming the power of your body starts with self-love. It’s not always an easy process but spending a few moments in front of the mirror going down a checklist of all the things you like about yourself (inside and out) is a good way to start. The more each of us focus our energy on loving our bodies in a world that tells us we shouldn’t, the less hold society’s obsession with perfection will have on all of us.