In Opposition of Objectification

This post has been in my head, and in the works for about a week now… it is partially responsible for the delay in new posts, but after arguing about this with several people I simply could not let it go until I fully understood my own beliefs. My hope is that this is not too much of a personal rant, and can serve to help other people who may be struggling with an unnameable discomfort with objectification in the mainstream of society.

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body-lymphTo preface this pseudo-rant I want to make something clear from the start: I do believe that women (and men, for that matter) have every right to utilize their bodies in whatever manner they choose; wear what they want, engage in sexual activity with whoever they choose to, under whatever circumstances they desire, and so on.

At the same time, I have a deep-seated discomfort with societal practices that objectify the human body; like bikini competitions, for instance.

At first glance these two beliefs seem to contradict each other a great deal, however, with some thought I believe the two make sense together…

My belief systems lie around people taking ownership of their own bodies and, unfortunately there is sometimes a fine line between ownership and objectification.

Ownership, I believe, comes from someone truly embracing and feeling comfortable with their body to the point where what they do with their body is done simply because they want to – not to be more socially acceptable, to win the admiration of others, or for any other motives.

Objectification, on the other hand, is something that is done to a body; when someone is taken from a living human being with thoughts, aspirations and desires and turned simply into a shell, a body to be admired, and lusted after. The desire of the person who posses the body is key.

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Certainly people can enter these competitions for their own desires, in complete ownership of their bodies; I don’t have as much of a problem with full on beauty pageants like Miss America for this very reason because, while they are judging women based on their appearance, they are also judging them based on their talents and intelligence  (or at least, we would hope.) Even women who work as exotic dancers utilize  talent beyond their looks; the dances that they do are rarely easily imitated and require a great deal of athleticism.These women are owning their bodies, and using them to portray themselves, their abilities, and their desires.

Obviously I am aware that the people who participate in activities like these are often objectified, regardless of how much ownership they are taking for their bodies and their sexuality; and I don’t believe these people should be denied the right to take part in these activities, just because they might be objectified. It is for this reason that I am against objectification rather than the acts that lead to objectification.

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Competitions like this reinforce the idea that women exist, on some level, for other’s viewing pleasure; an antiquted idea that needs to be done away with.

This, of course, comes with one caveat. Activities like Wet Tee Shirt Competitions, and Bikini Pageants, which focus solely on the body, make it almost unavoidable remove the person beneath and begin the objectification. In these competitions, people place their bodies on display and allow them to be judged separate from any talent or abilities that person may posses. These people are not owning their bodies, their selves… they are placing themselves in front of others, in search of a very superficial kind of approval.

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Objectifying activities like the aforementioned competitions, based solely upon judging women and men on their bodies and nothing else, are not only fairly ridiculous… they are actually harmful to society.

First off, judging someone based upon an asset that comes mostly from genetics, rather than hard work, seems ridiculous to me – especially when the body type that wins beauty pageants is far from the typical body-type for American women who, on average, ” are 5-foot-4 and weighs over 140 pounds and a size 14.” (Something similar is true of male competitions, although they happen less frequently – one body type, muscular and large, is held up as  the standard of attractiveness.)

By making one type of body, possessed by a very small minority of society, the beauty ideal we are causing a huge number of people to feel inadequate about their bodies – to go on unhealthy diets, sometimes even develop eating disorders… all to fit the definition of beauty that objectification trains us to embrace.

Secondly, objectification has been proven as harmful to the way people view women, through psychological studies; according to a study reported in The Guardian, “men are more likely to think of women as objects if they have looked at sexy pictures of females beforehand.” Now, obviously I am not looking to ban sexy pictures; but do we have to make it easier for women to be objectified by parading them in front of audiences to be judged based on their bodies alone or, even worse, by depicting them as objects purposefully

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This is a picture of Victoria Bekham… her legs, at least; an extreme example of a woman, a celebrity who’s personalityand talents we have an idea of, reduced to a pile of body parts that are literally being protrayed as “for sale.”

The saddest thing is, this culture that is created (in part) by competitions like this can lead women and men to not only objectify other people, but self-objectify as well. According to a study within Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, “Some women […] come to internalize the observer’s perspective and begin chronically to monitor their bodies and their appearance, which can lead to a host of long-term negative consequences, such as depression and eating disorders.”

Not only is it having an effect on women and men on a personal level, its effecting us on a national level too; as illustrated by the enormous amount of attention given to Hilary Clinton’s appearance, and Sarah Palin’s appearance… often coming before discussions about their beliefs and abilities.

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notorious_bettie_pageI don’t judge the people who participate in, or enjoy watching, these pageants. I simply wish that we lived in a society where all people, even those who are considered beautiful by the media, are encouraged to be more than just a pretty face… and the people who enjoy these competitions, were encouraged to look beyond these people’s exteriors and show an interest in the person inside as well. I feel like Bettie Page is a great example of this idea; people appreciated her body, yes, but they also looked beyond and were interested in reading interviews with her as well… there have even been movies made about Bettie!

I’m not saying its wrong to admire people we find attractive; what I am saying is that it is wrong to hold people to one rigid standard of beauty, and furthermore value that beauty so much that we separate it from a person’s personalty, dreams, and goals. I’m done accepting objectification as a reality; I want to live in a society where inner beauty and outer beauty are not playing a tug-of war for our attention, where they instead go hand in hand, and everyone is appreciated for their own unique beauty.

As quoted by Professor, What If… (found via Feministe), “It is the current ways that beauty is defined, institutionalized, and capitalized that is problematic. We need to queer beauty, to politicize it, to redefine it, not merely expand the existing limiting definitions of beauty that are capitalist, white supremacist, and heteronormative (among other things) […] beautifying and appreciating others’ beauty should be a fun, pleasureful practice – much like sex. It should not be a stick to beat ourselves or others with.”

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My challenge for this week: Avoid thinking of people in terms of attractive, or not attractive… look for one beautiful thing (inside, or out) in everyone I meet and compliment them on it! Lets make everyone feel fabulous just being themselves… thats the world I want.

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