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.

 

naked eye

I was a sex object when I didn’t want to be and she—
She was powerless to protect me.

I learned the way a woman is supposed to be
By sneaking into the living room
Only to catch my dad watching porn.
I didn’t know there was a name for what he watched
at night
in the dark.
I just remember the feeling in my stomach
Seeing topless women roaming around,
bouncing up and down,
making funny sounds.
I remember the panic in my chest,
the shame forged in the pit of my throat.

I learned the way to live in denial
Of what I would later learn to recognize as betrayal
When, at a young age,
I happened upon photos of women all addressed “To Tommy”.
Who the hell is Tommy?
I thought my dad’s name was Tom.

Without permission I was touched,
I was watched,
I was invaded.
Nobody tried to stop him.
Nobody cared to listen to my silent cries.
I was a play thing,
A show piece.
Just as they were.

And every time I die inside.

Rx

We put insecurity in a box and call it beauty.
We put harassment in a box and say it is a compliment.
We put humiliation, degradation, and objectification in a box and label it opportunity.

We put little girls on stage in bikinis, high heels, big hair and make up, sexualizing them; normalizing competition among females; claiming it’s all just harmless fun.
Who doesn’t want to feel pretty?

We groom them, undress them, terrorize and invade them; we take away all but their sense of opportunity to feel beautiful, which they’ve equated with an opportunity to feel loved. Instead what we leave them with is the deepest sense of shame.

We dismember them; put them on a pedestal and berate them when they fall. 
We use them for our advantage, by force if we so desire because 

they are just a necessary means after all.

We are the reason they will do anything to numb the pain;
the reason they will turn tricks because it’s all they’ve ever known.
We are the reason their tragic reality exists.

We are the reason young girls will have sex in front of a camera with strange men referred to simply as “Dick”. Because their names don’t matter; she’s learned to use them just as others have used her. Sex becomes a drug.

And we hand her the prescription.