Celebrate What Matters: An examination of the sexualization of women in the media

I wonder how it is that as a society we’ve shifted from doing all we can to make women invisible, from denying their sexuality to now seeing an over-representation of sexualized (though not actualized) women everywhere we turn.  Billboards, posters, magazines, online ads, half-time shows, television commercials, television shows, book covers, CD and DVD covers, video games, movies, comic books, music videos… women are everywhere.  We are obsessed with the female form.  But only so much as it takes on one form.  We are infatuated with their soft, delicate features but only when they resemble a prototype.  And this is where the argument that women in the media are merely being celebrated can be refuted.   Because it isn’t women we’re celebrating, but rather narcissism and self-loathing (the two often ironically going hand in hand).

After all, if you can teach someone that appearance is all that matters by glorifying the concepts of ‘youth’, ‘beauty’, and ‘sex appeal’, then train them to hate themselves for not meeting the ideal set before them, you can convince them to spend (read: waste) an unjustifiable amount of money on: “beauty” products (as if beauty can be bought), make-up, apparel, diet regimes, gym memberships (which do come with legit health benefits), plastic surgery… whatever it takes to make a person look as they “should”.  And you can tame them so as not to bat an eye when the images they see are clearly degrading to women.  You can subdue their urge to question the implications of the messages promoted through the media or to reflect on how they are being told to feel about themselves.  You can persuade them to idolize women who seem to have it all.

Women are encouraged to want the body, the skin, the hair, the face, the boobs, the clothes, the everything they are not, equating what people see on the outside with who they are on the inside.  Men are not immune to this either (minus the boobs), but mainstream media doesn’t target them as directly or ruthlessly; their inherent value isn’t tied quite so tight to what they look like and their social role is communicated very differently.  It’s only gotten worse in recent times once companies figured  out they could exploit men too, thereby turning a bigger profit.

Corporations don’t care who they’re hurting or who is privy to their propaganda.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the blatant messages being perpetuated by the media which we regard as a herald of truth apropos of what our lives should be about.  Our children are receiving this message, too.  And this is what concerns me most.  Because children are the future and certainly I want my children to own their bodies with respect given to what their bodies can do for them as they move about this world, making a difference, being creative, finding their voice, and following their passions.

Life is not about hating ourselves for not looking as though we starved ourselves for weeks and spent every waking moment at the gym.  It’s not about loathing what we see in the mirror and spending hours doing all we can to look younger, more radiant, less tired and frazzled because, just, life.  It’s about finding the true beauty in those every day moments with total strangers, friends, loved ones.  It’s about turning to your children or those dearest to you and being awe struck by the love you feel for them, as well as all of the love they continuously show you.  Life is about sharing yourself with someone else and feeling seen... heard.  It’s about allowing ourselves to be that vulnerable.

Instead, what the media does is prompt us all to wear a mask to hide behind while planting a seed of self-doubt which quickly grows into a weed of self-hate.  We look at ourselves and ask, “Am I worthy?”  Worthy of what?  …Worthy of existing …Worthy of being loved …Worthy of being the most desired by someone else–“This Year’s and Every Year’s Sexiest Person Alive”…Of feeling cherished for who we are most supremely.  I think these are things we all long to be assured of.  But unfortunately, for the answer to our question, too many of us refer to the images we see constantly all around us.  And the answer we’re given when looking outside of ourselves will always undoubtedly and unflinchingly be… NO.

What I believe women secretly want is to wake up one day to a non-airbrushed, non-photoshopped picture of themselves without make-up or spandex panties, no push-up bra or any of the other tricks we keep up our sleeves–just their face and body as it is without the lies we wear–next to a headline that reads: “SHE IS WORTHY”.  But let me tell you something: even though that day will likely never come, YOU… ARE… SO WORTHY.  And that is worth celebrating.

 

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Enough

Is beauty something that is perceived only through our sense of vision? How does a collective idea of what makes someone beautiful shape every social construct and social system–everything about us really, including the things we desire, and the way we learn to feel about ourselves and others?

If you’re anything like me, whenever you walk past a magazine rack you can’t help but eye and scrutinize each pretty face and sculpted body.  They’re always tied to headlines like, “Flatter Abs In 10 Minutes!”; “Flawless Skin You’ve Dreamed About”; “Get Him To Notice You”.   I’ll stand there with a feeling of contempt over the absurdity of our culture’s obsession with women’s aesthetics.

And yet, there are times when part of me wonders how my life might be better if I resembled them more in some way, even though I know most women don’t look like the celebrities and models in magazines; even the celebrities and models themselves don’t look like they do in magazines. With enough make-up and air brushing, (not to mention money and silicon), a hair stylist and fashion and lighting expert, we would probably all qualify to make the cover of some insipid magazine.

Nevertheless, I peer into the faces all staring at me, telling me what I should see when I look at me. Then later, standing in front of the mirror, gazing at my own reflection, that’s not what I see.  And what I’m left with is the feeling that I’m not enough.

I glare down at my deflated, once D cup, now B-C cup breasts. I analyze the stretch marks that span the width of my stomach and the skin there that puckers because it’s been stretched by two pregnancies. And in my heart of hearts I like to believe, and I encourage other mothers to believe, that these things make me more beautiful, not less so. Because they symbolize the amazing feat of growing, carrying, delivering, and sustaining the lives of two human beings!!

But unfortunately, this is not how stretch marks, floppy breasts, and flabby skin are perceived by the rest of society. No, instead they’re interpreted as marks of shame; something to be removed, pushed up and covered up, never to see the light of day. You can forget about wearing a bikini again, ladies. Nobody wants to see what you now have to offer after having done the most incredible thing any person can do–bring new life into the world. And how does that world repay us? By telling us we’re no longer sexually desirable; as if the outward appearance of our body alone delimits our sensuality; as if we should be content with the archetype set for us.

Yet that’s exactly what we’ve been brainwashed to believe.  The sexual desire of straight machismo men has been kicked into overdrive as images of sultry sirens continue to show up everywhere in our conscious awareness–surfing the web, listening to Pandora, watching TV, opening the mail, standing in line at the grocery store, walking through the mall–men are constantly taunted with images intended to stir their blood (and empty their wallets).

Knowing that the widely accepted standards of attraction are what entice men, and alluring men is how a woman is told she will gain attention and find love, women go to great measures to gratify the needs of men.  Even ads targeted towards women are usually intended to sell them something that will make them more desirable to their spectators: a new shade of lipstick, a different color for their hair, an age defying face cream, a fantastic way to lose weight… And we buy into it. We buy into it because we fear the threat of rejection if we don’t. Indeed, women have been used as pawns to make men happier and companies richer.

Afterall, left to their own devices, do people really think women would go to such excruciating lengths if superficial beauty wasn’t so highly regarded? Corsets, pantyhose, high heels, girdles… none of these things are comfortable or easy to wear and yet women have convinced themselves that squeezing themselves into these apparatuses make them look and feel sexier.

But you see, as women who buy into what they’re selling, we become a part of the conspiracy against ourselves. While I can intuit that true beauty is something to be revealed from the depths of one’s soul, I also know that it’s the skinny bitches with perfect hair and perfect skin, perky round tits and a “tight bod” that turn heads.  Ashamedly, I feel inferior to them, inadequate, even homely in their irrefutable presence.

Yet at the exact same time I try desperately to resist! Fuck a fashion trend and fuck a beauty myth! We must define beauty on our own terms and expect men to follow suit!  Because beauty, I do contend, is more than what we see with our eyes. We also feel it coursing through our veins, in our heart and in our soul; we perceive it with our mind at each beautiful thing our lover says and does. It’s in their touch, in their voice; we can smell and taste their beauty, that’s how enchanted we become. We come to know real beauty through their love and through our love for them.

But Cosmo doesn’t want you to know that. Because that’s not what sells magazines. Convincing women they’re not enough to attract or satisfy a man… now that’s where the money’s at.  And of those lies, I have had enough.