Some of the feedback that my last post garnered on reddit has gotten me thinking a lot – but, since reddit doesn’t seem to like me and keeps eating my comments, I’ve decided to make the points I want to make here. What follows are responses to two of the comments made on my last blog post.
“I hate to jump in with “What about the menz?!” but that paragraph diminishing men’s body issues was unnecessary.”
I wish my response to this hadn’t disappeared! Oh well, let’s start with the “diminishing” paragraph in question…
Don’t get me wrong: plenty of men have body image issues… but, it’s different. These men are the minority, it’s seen as weird when it happens to them, as a problem that needs fixing rather than simply the way things are. Men are encouraged to own their bodies and care for them, strengthen them, use them to fix and protect and live. They’re not expected to shave and pluck and diet and primp and paint, to cover and reveal just enough to please the endless sea of ever watching eyes. They just have to be and do. They are granted ownership of their bodies and when they lose that ownership it is a problem that no one quite knows how to fix just yet.
Women, on the other hand, have their ownership stripped away earlier and earlier in this modern society and if they try to take it back? That’s when we have a “problem.” [Emphasis from original post.]
I am very sorry if this post comes off as belittling men’s body image issues in any way. The point I was trying to make was not that men never have body image issues, nor was it that men’s body image issues are less serious/important than women’s. (As supported by the fact that, I never said any of that nor did I say anything diminishing, for that matter.)
The point I was trying to make was that, in American society at least, women are heavily socialized to feel insecure about our bodies to the point where it seems natural and normal for a woman to feel bad about her body and be constantly trying to change it. Men, on the other hand, are not subject to the same socialization as women – for instance, men of all different sizes and levels of attractiveness are seen on television, in movies, in magazines and so on; men are not publicly criticized for their bodies nearly as often as women; and men are not passed over for opportunities as a result of their bodies as often.
Some empirical evidence to support my claim that more women feel the need to alter their bodies than men: Here’s a study on dieting and some statistics about the sex divide with eating disorders to get you started.
This does not mean that men don’t have body image issues, but since they are not socialized to have them society does not view men’s body image issues as the norm. This can be good for men, because it means that their insecurity is less likely to be encouraged, and people are more likely to notice any self-destructive behaviors (like an eating disorder.) It can also be bad for men, because less visibility can mean that men with body image issues feel too embarrassed to seek help, and people may have less of an idea how to help them even if they do.
In making the point that men, in general, are allowed more ownership over their bodies by Western society I was not seeking to minimize men’s body image issues; I was only seeking to explain how differing gender expectations tend to lead to a culture where almost all women (and plenty of men) feel insecure about their bodies. A culture that, in part, exists because women’s bodies are so often treated as public property, thus, stripping women’s sense of “ownership” of their bodies away.
The other comment I wanted to respond to is this one:
The mainstream cult of beauty is just another religion. Like religion, they’ll tell you you’re either with them or against them. The truth is you don’t need to pick sides. You don’t even need to play the game. All of the monsters that you think are out to get are perceived, not real. The sooner you realize you’ve been tilting windmills the better off you will be.
Nothing irks me more than being told that the issue of body image is made up, something that I should just be able to “get over” in an instant. I mean, what do you expect me to say? Oh, well now that you’ve pointed out that I shouldn’t feel bad about my body, I don’t anymore. Hooray, I’m cured!
When you grow up being told that your appearance is a key part of what makes you worthwhile as a person, it’s not easy to just refuse to “play the game.” I mean, it’s not like women just make this shit up because we like to feel insecure; entire industries are built off of creating insecurities that will compel people (mostly women) to buy products to combat those insecurities. This method doesn’t work because women like to waste money on products we don’t really need… it works because these companies have the power to shape a culture where people are judged by themselves and by others, based on how they look.
This summary of Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly 3 should help to elucidate that point further:
Those monsters? They’re not just a silly woman’s perception, they’re fucking real. When we live in a society where wearing the “wrong thing” is enough to convince people that a woman deserved to be raped, it’s socially acceptable to discriminate against fat people, and pretty people tend to be more successful and are treated better… how can you say that the “monsters” (aka the consequences of looking a certain way) are not real? Do you also believe that people with eating disorders just need to get over it?
I’m just going to leave these numbers here, because I think they’re telling:
- Nine percent of 9-year-olds admit to having vomited in an attempt to lose weight.
- Forty-two percent of first-, second-, and third-grade girls say they want to be thinner.
- Fifty-three percent of 13-year-old girls say they are unhappy with their bodies.
- Seventy-eight percent of 18-year-old girls say they are unhappy with their bodies.
At the end of the day, when we live in a society where 78% of eighteen year old women are unhappy with their bodies; what this says to me is that this problem is real and widespread. It’s a problem that needs to be addressed by encouraging more body-positive messages in the media, more focus on characteristics other than appearance in society, as well as programs to build up the self esteem of girls & boys so that they feel more empowered to ignore negative media messages. What it is not, however, is a problem that over three fourths of women can just “get over.”
I hope this better explains what I was trying to say in my last post! I want to end things with this awesome reddit comment, that explains some of the concepts I was trying to cover much more clearly than I did:
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, however, the idea that we can judge others based solely on what we decide is appealing or attractive for them is disgusting and conveys the message that they are not capable of taking care of themselves, deciding what they feel like wearing, and obviously need intervention to live their lives in what is considered a “normal” fashion.
These attitudes were the same attitudes feminism has been fighting for ages, except that now women are the ones who perpetrate the behavior rather than limiting it to men alone.
Look at it this way, if a man selected the clothes he wanted to see his wife in, critiqued the way she looks in them, ordered her food for her and told her when to stop eating – we would think him a monster. But no one thinks twice if a woman on the street mutters under their breath and giggles at a woman she finds unattractive.
The fact that people on the whole feel like they have the ability and the right to publicly critique women’s bodies does in fact make my body essentially public property and less my own person. Do they physically own my body? No, but the argument isn’t a physical restraint or monetary ownership but one of public vs. person.”