Part One of I-Don’t-Know-How-Many in a series of posts inspired by “Miss Representation.” If you haven’t seen the trailer for this movie, and you have 8 minutes, please watch it here now.
Once upon a time, women were valued for their intellectual and creative contributions to society. They were sought after candidates for positions of power, and whether they were pretty or shapely had absolutely no bearing on their success, or the warmth and respect with which they were received by others. The End.
HAHAhahahahaha!!!!!! Just kidding! Snort.
The “Miss Representation” trailer promises the movie will explore the many ways women are marginalized in America. I will try to break them down in my own way. This post, I’m sure you’ve guessed, will focus on physical beauty. For the purposes of this essay, let’s please assume we all understand that while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, comes from the inside, comes in many forms and sizes, there is a certain standard to which women are held in terms of what is considered attractive, and that we all know what that looks like. That was a horrible abuse of commas, but can y’all just come with me on this? Thank’ee kindly.
So, down to business. The trailer correctly posits that girls from the time they are very young get the message that their worth is dependent upon how they look. I am living proof of this. While I had parents who made sure I heard and saw that I was beautiful, they also focused on how many other ways in which they thought I was amazing. I believed them about the other stuff, but I hate to say they weren’t that successful in calming my physical insecurity. No need to go into the particulars of what I found objectionable about my shape. No real good reason for these objections, other than everyone has their crosses to bear, the grass is always greener, whatever. Regardless, despite my parents’ best efforts, I never liked my body.
Where does this Beast come from? The gnawing, debilitating message sent to girls AND boys that a girl’s worth is so heavily dependent upon how she looks? I would like to blame my insecurities on the mean kids who were happy to point out my physical shortcomings. On my college boyfriend’s roommate who said I looked like Elle McPherson, but hastened to strongly emphasize “only from the neck up.” On the skinny-yet-curvy aesthetic ideal foisted upon me by the media from even my youngest memory.
It was rare, however, that the mean kids from my youth had awesome bodies themselves, my boyfriend’s roommate was not exactly George Clooney, and I never played with Barbies. So what power did these things have over me? Why did they make me feel diminished? Was it because I agreed with them? Who knows.
I do know though, that women have been judged on their looks for millenia. This is not new, people. The way in which this manifests itself changes over time, evolves differently from one geography/era/population to another. It improves in some ways and becomes more insidious in others.
Is there anything we can do besides accept this with exhausted resignation? Yea, verily. We can choose our company wisely – especially our spouses. Company that is courageous enough to defiantly challenge stereotypes, and company that nurtures our souls – much like the magnificent teenagers in this movie trailer. We can see magazines as fairy tales, and know that even the size 2 on the red carpet is wearing Spanx. We can call “Toddlers and Tiaras” what it is – child abuse. If you are lucky enough to embody the feminine alleged “ideal,” you can use that power for good and refuse to let yourself be exploited.
Here’s an example of something else you can do. Someone I know, who’s name is (Rhymes with) “Asniza” is fortunate enough to belong to a pool in the summertime. She plays a little mindgame with herself when she’s there. She can’t help it, so please forgive her, and you know you do the same thing or something similar anyhow.
So, in this game, “Asniza” looks around at the other ladies at the pool. Many of them are extremely attractive, by the standards I set forth in Paragraph 3 above. “Asniza” wonders if she would trade bodies with any of these ladies. Here’s the thing, though. “Asniza”’s mind doesn’t pick and choose only parts of other ladies’ bodies she likes. “Asniza”’s mind, for some inexplicable reason, does not – can not go there. It is not allowed. No. It’s the whole package or nothing. She asks herself, “Would I trade, from head to toe, my body for hers?”
Weirdly, her answer is almost always “no.” Why, you ask? Because deep down below the insecurity she knows no one is perfect. She knows in the grand scheme of things she has a lot to be grateful for and happy about – and this includes (aspects of) her looks. And she knows having the shape she covets will not make her a better mother, wife, daughter, sister or friend. She knows it won’t make her more talented or more worth being around. Hmmmm. Maybe her parents did a better job than she thought…
Finally, I’d like to leave you with the story of another parent who is also doing a great job of helping her daughter deal with these issues and determine what really matters. You GO, Ciaran – you GO.