What is female beauty?
Lupin Lodge is a surprisingly nice place! I’m typing this au naturel by the pool, after cooling off from the heat of the day. The Lodge has over 100 acres and has been around for 77 years in 2012, so unsurprisingly it also has a strongly family-oriented atmosphere. There are also quite a few permanent residents, which I did not expect, and it’s very laid back, which I like. The only thing I miss, in fact, is bug spray. :)
Earlier, in the third week of last month, I was in Florida visiting my parents, and I took my also-visiting sweetie to go tubing down the Ichetucknee River with me. Not only was it a personal first, but I knew after the intensity of his work that my sweetie would enjoy it too. Admittedly, he was apparently expecting a much rougher ride, but once he realized just how languid the river was, he settled back in his tube and really enjoyed the daydreaming ride.
I wore a sports bra and a loose T-shirt and a pair of shorts, and at some point while drifting downriver I got daring and removed the T-shirt. I had to laugh at myself, because I consider myself to have a pretty good body image. However, there were quite a few women in bikinis there, and as I looked around I realized: these were all women who had bodies like mine! None of them were slim, perfect model types, yet they all felt comfortable enough with themselves, old and young, to wear a bikini — and that is something I have never had the nerve to do.
So I guess my going to a nudist resort is another step on that personal path to rejecting the commercialized and practically alien body types that the media idolizes, and becoming comfortable with my own normal human woman’s body. I think this sort of personal comfort with one’s body is incredibly important and powerful, especially considering the practically misogynistic attitudes displayed by the media about women and their bodies. Some of my friends have been forwarding websites to me that they’ve found (including, for example, the often hilariously snarky Escher Girls), which talk about women who genuinely did not know what normal women looked like, due to exposure only to the media’s twisted definition of beauty — and consequently these lovely and perfectly normal women were engaged in self-damaging cycles of self-hate and loathing as they engaged in fruitless cycles of trying to force their physical forms into something unnatural.
I was horrified but unfortunately not shocked to read this sort of absurdly pointless viciousness is occurring in the media even for female Olympic athletes (if that link is dead, try here) — you’d think they’d be rightfully considered epitomes of female strength, speed, grace, and beauty (if that link is dead, try here). So this is what I’m working on, to rid myself of this vicious media treatment of women: I’m turning off the TV, refusing media which uses women’s bodies as advertisements, refusing models shaped like pubescent young boys as the “standard” of “female beauty,” and making sure I see plenty of examples of normal and healthy human women — like myself.
Yay for beautiful and normally shaped women! :)
Goodness! You’ve clearly given this a great deal of thought, Elaine. Unfortunately (at least for this reply) I find myself in complete agreement with your well-considered posting. Also, thank you so much for the lovely compliment! ;)
Glad to see that others have thoughts on this complex issue. It’s something I’ve pondered long and hard. Bitter personal experience, and time spent working as a Mental Health Social Worker would allow me nothing less.
All I can suggest is that we are the living product of a combination of numerous, and quite often random, factors. We are each born with latent personality and behavioural traits; but it is our life experiences, and the way in which these mould our personalities and behaviours, that have a significant effect.
I doubt that there is any child out there, male or female, born with a negative body image. The child only becomes aware of its body – and, alas, whether that body is considered “attractve” – through its interactions with others. A child explores and experiences the world through these interactions, so they are hugely influential in nature.
Parents, peers, teachers, friends, relatives, lovers… there is a huge list of individuals with whom the growing child is likely to come into physical contact. Each and every one has the power to affect the child’s developing opinion of him- or herself. Added to this is an ever-growing list of “virtual” contacts; human-created entities and organisations with which the child, and later the adult, will come into contact. The media, the fashion scene, the music scene, and many more such entities are all created, and staffed, by human beings. Collectively, the people behind such organisations all have the opportunity to affect, and to influence, the views of the individual.
It seems we live in a dictatorial society! I say that, not in a political sense (although, to be honest, my words could be construed as “political”), but in the sense that we are told every day of our lives; in one way or another; who to be, what to wear, how to look, what to purchase, how to behave… Our lives are dominated by a culture that is both consumerist, and makes value judgements based almost entirely upon the superficial.
Allow me to offer you some examples…
1. The man thought of as a corporate “high flyer” because he drives a company car, wears a suit, and lives in a house with a pool. (In truth, he could be in debt, with an enormous mortgage, and several maxed-out credit cards!).
2. The advertisement promising that if you buy this perfume, it will make you irresistible to all men. (In truth, it could smell most unpleasant to a large number of men – taste is personal!).
3. The disabled applicant hindered in their career progression because the boss thinks that they are not up to it. (In truth, disability is no bar to intellectual ability, job competence, or promotion – the attitude of the boss is the problem!).
4. The girl bullied at school for being a fatty. (In truth, she may be very miserable, may have tried to diet, may be having problems at home, or may, quite simply, not even feel that there is anything wrong with her body!).
Humans go through what is called a “socialization process”, that starts from birth, and continues throughout life. It is through this process that they learn about themselves, and about others. They are presented with new ideas, new beliefs; these they will either accept, or question and reject. Here lies the rub!
The child is reliant upon its parents for all its basic daily needs. Thus, if the parents are easygoing, tolerant and accepting, the child is much freer to explore the world as it likes, and to accept or reject ideas, beliefs and concepts as it chooses. Where there is pressure to conform, this is a different matter.
It is not just our relationships with our parents that can have a damaging effect. Wherever the individual is not free to be just that – an individual – THERE lies danger. You see, the downside of the “socializatin process” is that it does not exclusively teach us good, useful or positive ideologies. It can also hand us out some really quite poisonous ones.
We ALL know these beliefs, although they come in a number of different guises. Still, they could loosely be termed “the isms”… AGEISM, SEXISM, RACISM, DISABLISM… There are others, perhaps more specific in nature, that can be added, such as MISOGYNISM, HATRED OF GAYS/LESBIANS, and good old BODY FASCISM. These are the ideologies that have started wars, lead to torture and killings. These are the ideologies that necessitate Anti-Discrimination Legislation.
“Great!”, you might think, “they can be punished by law, they can be stamped out.” Oh, if it were only so simple! These beliefs are insidious. Only the most blatant get caught out. In the guise of something less sinister, something less unpleasant, they often go unnoticed.
Hundreds of thousands of years of “society” have lead to our current position. Hundreds of thousands of years of beliefs, ideologies, thoughts, concepts. We carry with us the legacy of this past. Kid yourselves not.
Historically, women have for many years been the “underdogs”. Sadly, this appears to have come about as a result of what might be construed as positive developments – the move to a more ordered, paternalistic society, such as that seen in ancient Rome, and the switch from “pagan” to Christianised religious belief in the West. Alas, the benefits were predominantly reaped by men. Women lost power, status, and often the physical right to hold land or property, run businesses, and inherit titles. Lineages passed often from male to male heir – hence the law of “Primogenitus”.
In our 21st Century society, we are often persuaded that things have changed for the better for women. Think “girl power”; the irritatingly all-pervasive “Spice Girls” slogan of the late ’90s. Think universal suffrage, and women winning the right to vote. Think ’20s “flappers”, and freedom from bustles, corsets and crinolines. We are told that women are respected, women are equal, women can “have it all”.
Look a little more closely, if you will… Women are still “second class citizens” in much of the modern world. Studies have shown that they predominantly occupy lower-paid jobs (the “glass ceiling” effect), and that they are far more likely than men to be employed only part-time. Women still occupy the traditional role of child-rearer; demonstrated not only by their over-representation in part-time work (fitting their working hours in around childcare committments); but also by the fact that men are entitled to very little “paternity leave”, and by a pervasive belief in society that “career women” who do not have children are “selfish” or “downright weird”. Women are only very reluctantly being accepted as ordained Preists. There have been very few female Prime Ministers, or Presidents. There are very few female entrepreneurs, or CEOs of large businesses…
To add insult to injury, women are bombarded daily with a host of media images and soundbytes intended to confer upon us the message that we should look, behave and dress in a (very) particular way. Fashion magazines show stick thin, anorexic “models” like Kate Moss strutting up and down catwalks in the latest designer clothes. They tell us that we should idolize these women, that they are “beautiful”. Celebrity magazines such as “OK” and “Hello” depict filmstars, popstars, reality TV stars like Cheryl Cole or Keira Knightley- all pouting, preening, huge-haired “glamour-pusses” – lounging by pools, or tying the knot at famous country houses. They tell us to emulate them, that these women are “beautiful”. Fashion magazines show “models” and “celebrities” alike, primped and preened from head to toe, with the same message again; emulate them, be like them, buy these clothes, dress like them. THEY are “beautiful”. Then there are the “lads’ mags”… WHAT can I say? I pity the man whose ideal woman is simpering, pneumatic-chested, silicone and botox enhanced, and an alarming shade of tangerine – ALL over! Still, we are told they are “beautiful”. “Not true”, I cry, “why this narrow definition of beauty?” Surely, as the old adage goes, it is in the eye of the beholder?
The adult is as reliant upon society to have daily needs met, as the child is upon its parents. It is through our place in society that we are “accepted”, integrated and permitted to have contact with others. Yet this comes with a cost. Just as domineering parents can be damaging, so an intolerant and judgemental society can be damaging. Where society puts undue pressure on the individual to conform to specific rules, beliefs, conventions; and where these have a direct, or even an indirect, impact upon self-expression; harm is a risk.
Until we, as both individuals, and as a society, learn to be more discerning and to challenge the rules, beliefs and conventions that are thrust upon us, little will change. Collie has created this whole website to demonstrate to you the joys of exercising a little of our, likely unfathomed, mental ability. We were born with brains. We should acknowledge our freedom to use them!
While I agree with you, that is unfortunately clearly not what children are being taught. I really think smart parents would do best to simply turn off the TV, even if they do nothing else — because the Media seems to regurgitate an astonishingly misogynistic message, all the time.
Women are all beautiful. The most beautiful thing is confidence, intelligence, and a smile. Nothing else is needed, and any difference can be beautiful on its own.