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.



Lipstick, cherry red

A face, a body you can’t get out of your head

Hair done, nails too

A look that suggests they want to screw you

High heels, make up on

You’re the bishop, they’re the pawns;

Another pony in a fucking parade,

A pigeon willing to play the game

Where the rule is and always has been

To win not the hearts, but the desire of men.

But guess again

Because beauty quickly fades

In this perilous brigade

When seen with the eyes, not felt by the heart.

But how can you be expected to get that

In the end

When you’ve been this shallow from the start?

Return of the Moronic

“Youth and beauty are not accomplishments.  They’re the temporary happy byproducts of time and/or DNA.  Don’t hold your breath for either.”

Carrie Fisher, otherwise known as Princess Leia, once inspired countless fantasies for Star Wars fans and non-fans alike.  At the time, she was in her mid-twenties and from what I’ve gathered in my 34 years of socialization, women in their twenties are just more… appealing to the masses.  To say that a woman looks good for her age implies that she has maintained some of that youthfulness she once possessed.  Because getting older isn’t pretty.  At least, not in the eyes of a camera.

Cameras have been used to capture important events and splendid sights.  We hope that by taking a photo we can somehow make that moment last forever and remember the exquisiteness found there.  But time is fleeting, just as youth and beauty are transient worldly notions… nothing lasts forever.

Change is the only constant and yet we resist it with such brute force.  We use words like: fat, ugly, old and gray, wrinkly, decrepit to express our disapproval of the aging process.  In fact, it is words such as these that Ms. Fisher was responding to in the quote above.  The general assumption seems to be that what you have contributed to the world, as a woman, doesn’t matter unless you looked good doing it.  And if you are no longer found to be sexually appealing, according to the masses, you have nothing more to offer.  News flash: Leia is a fucking Jedi.  Back the fuck off.

Oh, and I’m sorry… did Carrie Fisher critics miss seeing the comeback of 73-year old Harrison Ford on the screen?!  He’s 14 years her senior and yet somehow he has managed to be found exempt from accusations of being OLD (gasp!) or from receiving any negative slurs that tend to surround the inevitable.

Other accomplished starlets have remarked on the pandemic of ageism/sexism permeating Hollywood, like Maggie Gyllenhaal who, at 37, was told last spring that she was too old to play a 55-year old woman.  Movies where the leading actor is twice the age of the actress playing his love interest is not uncommon; the same cannot be said of leading actresses.  “[Men are] fuckable forever. They could be 100 with nothing but white spiders coming out [of their dick], but they’re fuckable.” —Last F–kable Day sketch from “Inside Amy Schumer”

If we continue to look to the camera to tell us what is alluring, enticing, captivating, we are certainly missing out on the bigger picture.  No wonder men, as they age, continue to be sexually attracted to women old enough to be their daughters.  They’ve not learned to notice the beauty and grace worn by the faces and bodies of aged women (read: women their own age!)  They’ve been taught that they can grow old and still remain “fuckable”.  But women, we must forever maintain that youthful glow, with soft taut skin and tight bodies, round lips and supple breasts if we are to be considered desirable .

The attention that women continually seek from the camera seems to have given men the impression that it is within their right to  act like morons.  Most of Carrie Fisher’s recent critics were guys of all ages.  With so many young and beautiful women vying for public approval, men carry on as though they have the authority to criticize models and actresses for any little blemish that might tarnish their “perfection”.  We have become obsessed, as a society, with this notion of perfection just as we are preoccupied with juvenescence.  Alas, we are in an age that is afraid to age.

Women: What will you cling to when your youth and beauty fade?  What contributions will you have made?  Fear not the loss of admiration for things beyond your control for “fear is the path to the dark side.”