“Are you sure you’re not hungry?” he asked with grave concern as chicken grease ran down his fingers and his chin. We’d just finished a rigorous hike and I was starving—famished, ravenous and slightly light-headed. I mean, really, we’d been cavorting, frolicking and climbing the local mountains in the summer heat for over 6 hours and I hadn’t eaten anything except for an apple. Maybe.
“Oh, no, I’m fine,” I replied. He paused mid-bite and questioned me with raised eyebrows. “I’m good–really,” I said sounding far too relaxed and nonchalant about something as serious as a meal after physically exerting myself as excessively as I had. But, nope, I wouldn’t change my mind. I was not going to let him see me eat, especially a greasy, messy meal like that. Mind you, this is the same guy I wouldn’t take a pee around. I’d turn the faucet on when I had to go really bad to make sure he didn’t hear me, otherwise I’d hold it until I got home. I know I wasn’t the only 17-year-old girl to pull a stunt like that.
If there was anything I’d learned up to that point, it was that girls and women don’t have bodily functions or odors (unless they’re created in chemical factories and mask your natural female body smells), and they aren’t supposed to be seen eating (unless it’s yogurt, salad or other “girl” food) or sweating (unless they’re sweating like women should—hello, female antiperspirant industry).
Fast forward to 15 years later:
“Are you going to eat that?” the student I had been mentoring asked with nervous excitement. “Yes,” I said awaiting the sweet taste of carrot cake as my fork hovered close to my lips. “In public?” she continued.
“Um, where else should I eat it? In the bathroom or the broom closet?” I laughed as I sank my teeth into the cream cheese frosting knowing perfectly well that those were considered viable options, ones preferred over this scenario—that of a woman eating cake out in public in broad daylight. I’m talking a slice of cake, not a bite of cake and not an entire cake. A slice of cake. On a Tuesday at 1 in the afternoon. There was no special occasion. I simply wanted some cake and I felt no shame or remorse about it. Shame and guilt had led me to stuff myself in private after starving myself publicly one too many times in the past.
“Wow. I admire you. I wish I could do that,” she said slowly. I asked her what was stopping her and she went on to tell me about her mother, a woman who kept a scale in the dining room so she could look at it while she ate dinner and remind herself not to eat too much. And when it came to cake? Well, her mother always cut much smaller slices for the girls and reserved the big frosted pieces for the boys at the family party.
We continued to have lunch on campus between classes with a few other students for several weeks and each time I’d enjoy something sweet without embarrassment or great fanfare on my end. One day she sat down and said, “I have to tell you something.” She giggled like someone about to dish a shameful secret. “I went to my cousin’s birthday party over the weekend and when my mom handed me a thin slice of cake on a paper plate, I told her that I wanted a big one. She looked at me with surprise as I put the plate she handed me back on the table and grabbed one of the large slices. I felt great.”
My body is a battleground. I have spent most of my life waging a war on it. I have vivid girlhood memories of my worth being measured by my waist size and numbers on a scale. I was taught that I must “suffer to be beautiful.”
This troubled relationship with body and self continued into middle school, as I hid my budding curves; into high school, when I combined starvation, purging, and over exercising; and well into adulthood, including during my pregnancy and postpartum experience.
But I am not alone—and sadly, this body hatred is nothing new. I am part of a lineage of women who declared war on themselves, from my great-great grandmother who donned the organ-crushing corset, to my great-grandmother who internalized the Victorian feminine ideal of daintiness and measured each bite meticulously; to my grandmother who cinched her waist with girdles and ate diet pills for lunch; and down to my mother who embodied the emaciated silhouette of the 1970s and aerobicized her way into the 1980s and early 1990s with her food-and-exercise diary tucked in her purse.
This is not just my legacy. This is an experience shared by countless girls and women, beginning at earlier and earlier ages and affecting them well into their later years. This legacy of low self-esteem and self-objectification–punctuated by disordered eating, continuous exercise and abusive fat talk–keeps us stuck in an unhealthy cycle that holds us back and prevents us from being truly empowered. As bell hooks states, these practices are “self-hatred in action. Female self-love begins with self-acceptance.”
Okay, so how do we get to that self-acceptance? As the number of girls and women engaged in these destructive habits increases exponentially, the good news is that campaigns such as Operation Beautiful, Fat Talk Free Week and the NOW Foundation’s LoveYour Body Day are rising up to combat the onslaught of voices undermining our personal and collective self-esteem.
Campaigns like these give us great opportunities to take action for change. I have also found that self-affirming rituals such as banishing self-criticism and honoring my body through reverence and celebration to be rewarding and transformative. In fact, I have felt the most beautiful and whole when I have silenced the critic in my own head, limited my level of media exposure and engaged in loving practices such as yoga that allow me to cultivate respect for my body as opposed to deepening my disdain and disappointment.
Your mother gave birth to you–her body was the vehicle for creating, carrying and birthing a miraculous new life, your life. While we may not always see ourselves as miraculous, stop and ask yourself this question: why not? When did your body, a source of wonder and magic in childhood, stop being the source of the miracle that is you? Ask yourself why self-loathing is heaped on generation after generation of women, whose bodies should garner respect and gratitude. Can you switch the conversation in your head? Can you identify two things that you appreciate and respect about your body? Maybe even five? Can you identify one new thing every day?
Respect is the connective strand that binds Carmen Siering’s 20 ways to love your body post. If we can learn to respect our bodies, perhaps we can learn to love our bodies over time, and eventually turn that self-love into personal liberation.
How many times have you looked at a model in a magazine or an actress on TV and thought, “Hey, that doesn’t look like me or anyone I know”? This group of students decided to talk back about the difference between media fantasy and their reality.
It is that act of speech, of “talking back,” that is no mere gesture of empty words, that is the expression of our movement from object to subject – the liberated voice.
Let’s face it, we’re plugged into an awful lot of media. Sometimes we’re aware of what we’re consuming, like when we turn on the television, go to a movie or download a new song off iTunes. But much of the time it isn’t an active choice. Think about all the billboards and ads we’re subjected to without our consent. Add up the images from the voluntary and involuntary sources and you’ve got a tidal wave of images —and most don’t look anything like us or the girls we know. Several of the students in my Women and Pop Culture class decided they’d had enough-they were going to talk back to the media and tell them what “real” women look like.
I wasn’t trying to make a political or intellectual statement when I decided to get rid of my television in college.
I was trying to send a message to my live-in boyfriend, the one who was perpetually tuned in to sports channels and too distracted by video games to do his share of household chores. My message was simple and practical. Like, hey, pick up your wet towel off the bathroom floor. Or, hey, time to make dinner for me.
I’d been a pop culture junkie since girlhood and when I broke up with the TV, I felt like my best friend and I had broken up. But I noticed something extraordinary in a few short months. For the first time since I was 8-years-old, I felt good about myself. I wasn’t as critical, meticulously evaluating and judging every inch of my body. It took me a few weeks to figure out how the usual “fat talk” had diminished.
I didn’t completely cut media out of my life. I still enjoyed movies, read a weekly tabloid or two, and of course I continued to be subjected to the usual onslaught of media messages on virtually every cultural space available; billboards, buses, check-out stands, the free “postcards” (ahem, ads) in restaurants etc. But just that one effort to minimize my level of exposure had produced some important results: an increase in my self-esteem and a broader, more inclusive image of beauty- one that was less defined by unrealistic standards and Photoshop.
I’d always known that I didn’t fit the cultural beauty ideal, but it certainly didn’t keep me from making endless dangerous attempts to squeeze myself into that narrow definition. But it wasn’t until I stopped watching television that I realized the monstrous amount of images I had been exposed to, their negative consequences and the incredible difference between what is expected and what is real.
Years later when I began teaching a college course called Women and Pop Culture, I wanted to create a similar experience for my students, an opportunity for them to come face-to-face with the barrage of unrealistic expectations that profit from our insecurities and the reality of female beauty. The result was a project called the Body Collage. Each student was required to fill a poster board with images of beauty from mainstream magazines. I took each poster and covered 2 walls from floor to ceiling and then photographed my students in front of this “empire of images.” The results were striking.
“The power of the body collage was, not to sound redundant, powerful. Being able to stand in front of the endless images of “real” women and realizing that I myself was the real woman, was beyond inspirational.”- Chandler R.
“My mom and I have probably have about 4 different (fashion) magazine subscriptions so each month as I browse through them I am shown what is the ‘ideal’ and what the media considers ‘beautiful.’ It was so easy to get these images because these magazines are half ads. The first section is just a parade of these women’s “perfect” bodies. Then there are the actual fashion spreads. Standing in front of the wall filled with these images was like standing in front of my months subscriptions. The only thing missing was the occasional article. It pretty ridiculous how these ads force and coerce people into believe that this is the ‘standard’. Seeing the bodies all put together only illuminates the fact that the size 0 frame is anything but normal, average or the ‘standard'” –Devin R.
“It made me upset when I looked at my finished collage and I didn’t even see one person who looked like me. I’ve always felt like I am the one who looks different and that there is something wrong with me, but I was wrong because I didn’t realize that these images in the media are fake and altered and in no way reflect what real women look like.- Charlene G. “Looking at all the collages together, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed by all the images that are plastered around you and it’s amazing how we think we can ignore it but we can’t.”- Diana S.
“When viewing the wall of images that the class created with everyone, I realized that not a single person in the room looked the way that all of the models did. It really emphasized just how unrealistic and altered the images really are. Everything from the models’ waist sizes, breast sizes, and perfect skin are in some way altered through Photoshop, the makeup they have on, or the extreme measures most models take to become so skinny. There was really no diversity, which is ironic because the United States is probably the most diverse country in the world. The high, high majority of real women were not represented in any of the collages, which shows how cultivated our media really is.” -Kaila M
“The wall of all these fake women that have been altered to look ‘perfect’ was an eye opener for me. None of the women in the class that stood in front of the wall looked like none of the women on the wall yet those are the images that are bombarding us to say how we need to look. When I was doing my poster I started to get mad of how I was cutting out all these women from all these different magazines and I couldn’t relate to none of them. I had a Spanish magazine were Latina women were being shown in it and it got me even more pissed because Latinas are known for having curves and not being stick thin yet every single woman I cut out was changed to look skinny and flawless.” -Maribel M
The image above was created with a sample of recent post titles, and the comments I found on those posts.
Gawker has 8 different blogs, each with a different focused topic. Kotaku is Gawker’s gaming blog, and it’s little surprise that they also have a bit of a problem when it comes to women. While in recent months the site has semi-frequently posted about the issues that women in gaming face, and the misogyny that’s usually allowed to run freely, their comment moderation shows a serious case of hypocrisy on the part of the editors.
While men are the majority of Kotaku’s writers (they compromise the entire daily editorial team), there are two female contributors who write occasionally for the site. A majority of the comments on the bios of Leigh Alexander and Lisa Foiles comment on their looks, or belittle them for constantly drawing attention to the fact that they’re female. (Interesting side note – neither woman writes the posts that deal with gender issues in gaming – these pieces are almost exclusively written by the all-male editorial team mentioned above.) A comment on one of the women’s bios included a death threat which was visible for months before it was finally removed, and the user banned.
No matter what is written, no matter the topic, the focus always becomes their appearance. On every one of Lisa Foiles’ recent posts, the majority of comments are sexually harassing, threatening, belittling, and just plain cruel.
Kotaku wants to draw attention to women’s issues in gaming and hear our thoughts but provide nothing even slightly resembling a safe space for us to do so. If they are promoting comments that reduce their female staff to their cup size, why the hell would I want to register for an account to contribute to the discussion of “I’m An Anonymous Woman Gamer“?
My guess for the reason behind this completely contradictory attitude is that if they remove comments and ban users who contribute misogynistic comments on a daily basis, their readership will suffer. (Something that I don’t think any Gakwer blog is willing to risk after the redesign.)
Kotaku’s own commenting guidelines claim, “…break the rules, get off topic, start calling names, and you’re going to get banned.” However, with a complete lack of enforcement, the “guidelines” are joke, and utterly worthless.
I was excited for the panel, considering I am frequently frustrated by the media’s exploitative use of women (whether it be the host of a show, such as Olivia Munn, or booth babes at E3) to appeal to a market that they treat as exclusively male. However, my expectations were quickly dashed when discussion of media literacy was tossed aside in favor of accusations of jealousy. Bonnie Burton and Adrianne Curry mused that women who were critical of sexy geek culture in any way were just jealous, had no confidence, and were projecting their issues with self-esteem onto the women who felt empowered by walking the Comic-Con floor in a Slave Leia costume.
When Jennifer Stuller (one of the creators of the upcoming Geek Girl Con) suggested that women who criticized “sexiness” were more than likely deconstructing the media, and by extension a society that tells women their worth lies in their ability to appeal aesthetically to men, she was rebuffed by the other members of the panel. Later, Stuller attempted to turn the discussion towards media literacy, to which Clare Grant responded that she doesn’t read magazines, therefore the media has no influence on her whatsoever. Adrianne Curry added that women criticize one another “because we’re all a bunch of bitches.”
Attitudes such as “Slave Leia kicked Jabba the Hutt’s ass while wearing that bikini – that is EMPOWERING!” and “I can’t help it that some of the characters I like to cosplay as are scantily clad” were met with rounds of applause from almost everyone in the audience. When the moderator mentioned that one of her friends posted a picture of her seven year old daughter wearing Slave Leia costume on Facebook, Adrianne Curry responded that there was nothing wrong with the human body, and that the U.S. is way too purtinical and prudish.
There were many disappointing moments that had me almost leaving the panel entirely, but nothing was quite so horrifying as the one contribution Chris Gore made when he finally showed up five minutes before the panel ended. He took the stage, apologized for being late, and said “Hey, I’m here to represent all the guys in this room who want to stick their penis in every woman up here on this panel.” There was nervous laughter and a bit of applause. I don’t even need to explain how disgusting and problematic that is.
The only good moment during the entire hour, was when the moderator called out Seth Green, who was looking disappointed with the discussion, sitting in the front row of the audience. Katrina Hill asked if he wanted to contribute or share his thoughts, and he unexpectedly took the mic for about fifteen minutes. As Hill explained to the audience what the audience would know him from (Robot Chicken), Jennifer Stuller mentioned that she had seen him promoting media literacy for the Girl Scouts. Seth responded that he felt media literacy is incredibly important in the ever-increasing, constantly-unavoidable, media saturated world we live in. He described how celebrities hold tons of influence over decisions people make, whether it’s over what product to buy or what sources can and should be trusted, and that certainly shouldn’t be the case. Green said that the media promotes a lot of “poison” and that girls, kids, and even adults need to know how to keep that poison from infiltrating the way you think, make decisions, and live.
When I returned from Comic-Con, one of the first things I did was go in search of that video. It is amazing and here it is:
“Look! I married you a certain way! I like women who look a certain way! It’s my right to like women who look a certain way and I shouldn’t have to spend the rest of my life not being happy,” Brad exclaimed.
The retort from my friend Jasmine’s husband was a reaction to her staunch refusal to get ‘another set’ less than two months after removing the implants that nearly cost her her life. For nearly a decade Jasmine endured numerous health complications that Western doctors claimed had nothing to do with her silicone breast implants.
Brad seemed different from her last fiance, which is why Jasmine married him. He seemed open-minded, kind, forgiving, gentle, nurturing, and accepting. When she sprouted a few stray gray hairs in her late twenties he urged her not to pluck them saying he loved her “wisdom hairs.”
Tim, her boyfriend a decade earlier, told her she was perfect and the “girl of his dreams.” Well, almost. She was the girl of his dreams except her breasts were too small and she’d be perfect if they were bigger. In fact he’d marry her if she’d consider breast enlargement surgery. Within a week Jasmine, then 18 years old in 1990, found herself under the knife. When she woke up the static and lifeless silicone orbs on her chest were much larger than what she had agreed to during the initial consultation. The consultation that came within days of her halfheartedly agreeing to consider them.
Jasmine was genetically tiny and naturally beautiful by today’s standard. Now she embodied the girl on the back of a trucker’s mudflap. Tim’s version of the perfect wife. As promised, they were quickly engaged and twenty-five-year-old Tim, the ‘hot guy’ in town, paraded her around like a trophy–until she had the courage to leave him for being emotionally abusive and controlling.
On Monday, The Supreme Court announced their ruling in the case of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (representing the video game industry). I was ecstatic. Despite how often I write about the horrid depictions and unnecessary violence against women in video games, I’ve never called for their censorship.
To give a little backstory and context of the Supreme Court case, the law in California was an unprecedented restriction on media. Films are self-governed by the MPAA, not the law, and it works. An employee at your local theater who sells a ticket to an R-rated film to an underaged kid, is not criminally liable. While, the video game industry has an equivalent with the ESRB, the law that Leland Yee proposed would hold cashiers and retailers criminally liable for selling an M-Rated game to a minor. Especially absurd, considering the FTC report released earlier this year, that rated the ESRB as the most successful self-governing body in the entertainment industry. X-Play’s Adam Sessler does a great job of explaining the ramifications of this law being upheld in his most recent episodes of Sessler’s Soapbox, available here and here.
There seems to be frequent confusion in the interpretation of my posts – that by expressing frustration with misogyny in the video game industry, that I have a problem with violence in video games, or I think they should be subjected to censorship. It’s certainly not the case. I find people like Jack Thompson, and Carol Lieberman abhorrent. Using video games as a scapegoat, and making up information as you go along has potential to be incredibly harmful. Leland Yee, is similar to Thompson and Lieberman in his views on video games (he certainly has a history of falsifying statistics), and almost succeeded in setting a federal precedent for restricting the freedom of speech.
I view video games in the same way I view every other form of media – with a critical eye. Writing about Victorias Secret’s stupid ad campaign doesn’t mean I think they shouldn’t be allowed to market their products, and writing about the incredibly sexist attitudes held by the video game industry doesn’t mean I think their games should be banned from sale.
In my first post on Feminist Fatale, I wrote that despite my disgust with imagery and depictions of women in media, I “believe in…having the right to publish.” It’s an opinion that extends to video games. I hope that by writing about video games, consumers will learn to demand better from the creators. The writers, designers, and developers shouldn’t be forced to limit their creations by the government.
“Kid, you’ll move mountains!
So…be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ale Van Allen O’Shea,
You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!” – Dr. Seuss
Graduation gifts used to include things like jewelry, a hi-tech gadget, a trip abroad, or maybe even a new car if that’s in the budget. These days, the question is, new breasts or a nose job, and which one is more appropriate as a graduation gift. When I was growing up, I was relentlessly teased, called every anti-Semitic name imaginable and even dreamed of having my nose reshaped into something less Jewish and more American. At the time, “Ethnic Rhinoplasty” wasn’t in vogue, and my delusional dream quickly lost its luster. A lot has changed over the years—these days it’s common to surgically refine or remove one’s ethnicity with plastic surgery. In some cultures, it’s even considered a rite of passage. The desire for teens to alter their looks isn’t new, though: In 2005, the NY Times wrote about the surge in Botox treatments among young adults. At that time, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS),
People from ages 19 to 34 had 427,368 botox procedures; 100,793 laser resurfacing treatments; 128,779 injections of hyaluronic acid (Restylane or Hylaform); 29,160 eyelid surgeries; and 1,094 face-lifts.
Though recent studies show a drop in procedures, there is a still a desire to be wrinkle-free in an effort to defy the inevitability of aging. In fact, a new survey by ASAPS shows “more than half of all Americans regardless of income approve of plastic surgery.” As disturbing as it is, this trend of parents giving their grads the gift of surgical “enhancement,” is really part and parcel to this growing shift toward homogenization.
Certainly, for some teens, plastic surgery can be positively life-changing. For example: a child who’s subject to excessive teasing because of an severely misshapen ears may positively benefit from otoplasty; a burn victim can return to relative normalcy with appropriate plastic surgery; a breast reduction can allow a young girl to exercise without neck and back pain. On the other hand, what lies beyond what’s necessary for some is the skewed perceptions of beauty and perceived normalcy inadvertently thrust upon teens through social and mainstream media. The innate dissatisfaction with how we look contributes to how we meet the world. To really illustrate this, we can look at the recent uproar that came about when a mother defended her decision to give her 8-year-old daughter Botox injections. Makes you wonder: What 8-year-old has wrinkles? Better yet, what 8-year-old is even aware of wrinkles?
Now, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS):
Statistics gathered over the last several years indicate a decrease in the overall number of cosmetic (aesthetic) surgeries of teenagers (those 18 and younger) having cosmetic surgery, with nonsurgical procedures including laser hair removal and chemical peels being the most popular in 2010.
These statistics are both good and bad. I mean, the fact that less invasive surgeries are on the decline is certainly positive, but I am concerned about the remaining high numbers of girls seeking these procedures. We know teens are up against extraordinary pressure to look and be a certain way–some of it is normal adolescence–but when parents start giving their kids gift certificates for a new nose or new breasts, the lesson becomes less about self-esteem and more about trying to attain the pop-culture paradigm of perfection.
If we start by parenting our children with this idea that they aren’t enough, we end up sowing the seeds of self-hatred and dissatisfaction. Instead of laying a foundation of confidence and positive self-esteem, we end up paving a rocky road to negative behaviors, which inevitably contribute to disordered eating and eating disorders alike. This is a wonderful opportunity to look at what messages we are trying to give our kids. Growing up is tough; let’s not contribute to the social tyranny by fanning the fires of social awkwardness.
Bottom line? There are far more appropriate gifts for your teen than going under anesthesia and accumulating scars, no matter how small they are.
Originally posted at Visions Teen and revised for Feminist Fatale.