Women and The Language Blues

                   Language matters.

It matters how women label themselves, each other, and how they are labeled by a masculinized and patriarchal society. It matters how we talk about ourselves in a culture of weight-loss and plasticization.

We have all heard the old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This is great for a child beginning to develop a sense of individuality, but does not work as well in the realm of gender equality and rejection of expected standards. Because the reality is that although an individual might have enough fortitude to be unaffected by language used to demean and insult, a movement is based on evoking relatable and equalizing words.  We cannot lift others up solely to benefit ourselves, while tearing others down. Do this and the foundation of equality, fairness, and human dignity crumbles.

In other words, progress happens when we act as the example we want to set. While it is important to recognize intent behind misogynistic language, as it is designed to categorize and minimize women’s position in society, it is more important that women set the tone for different standards in the language they use about themselves.

“Fat Bitch”. “Butch”. “Whore”. “Slut”. “Flawless”. “Skinny Minnie”. “Prude”. “Curvy”. “Damaged Goods”. Feminazi”. “Bitch”. “Cougar”. “Heffer”. “Daddy’s Girl”. “Cunt”.

These are just a few words sometimes used to “describe” women. They might be used by internet trolls with the aim of riling up women who speak their mind. They might even be used in men’s rights forums or sadly, by kids cyberbullying other kids.  Sometimes they are used as a compliment. But, used to cast women into particular roles and representations they do not self-describe as, they can be damaging to all.

Language used to measure how women “fit into” the collective whole can pin them in a category not of their choosing. However, on the other side, language feeds into the agonizing quest to belong to an “acceptable category”.

Let the Labeling Begin

If a woman is too “fat”, she must strive towards the socially acceptable “skinny Minnie “category. If she is too much of a “bitch”, she should care enough to be a “people-pleaser” and change her assertive ways. However, if she is too much of a “people-pleaser”, she really should try to move closer to the “assertive” space without being too much of a “bitch”. Of course, if she is a “whore” or “slut”, she needs to better control her insatiable sexual appetite while still maintaining an idealized sexy appearance without being too “prude”. But, if she is “damaged goods”, there is not much she can do to be more socially acceptable, except to live her life in penitence, sacrificing needs and wants in order to earn the trust of patriarchal figures. And, if she is a “fat bitch” or a “fat whore”, she might as well just give up on life and hibernate for the remainder of her days, so that society does not have to be disturbed by her disobedience to diet culture and sexual expectations.

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It is not just men labeling women. Women label other women too. I am guessing most of us have either been in a discussion or have engaged ourselves in a discussion involving intense shaming and blaming other women. This is the gross and devastating consequence of female competition in addition to misogyny. The safest identity sometimes seems to be the Barbie doll on display.

How can women ever find the safe space of their innate selves when they are automatically labeled? This is what is means to have our collective voice diminished!

You see, language has the power to enable a sense of shame through a designated identity. We are taught to define our identity as it relates to beauty and behavioral standards.

It matters not only how women speak about other women, but how women speak about themselves.

It is not words themselves that are harmful to women’s social sanctity, self-esteem, and even their safety. Rather, the intent behind words used to define a woman’s identity is what hurts and damages. For example, “fat” is not a hurtful word in itself, but the intent to use it as a demeaning measure of a woman’s morality insinuates a sense of right and wrong in a woman’s identity. In other words, we are taught that it is wrong to be fat and that is why it is used so often to insult women. If we lived in a culture that deemed fatness, rather than thinness, as the ideal, we would not hear women demeaning themselves with self-harming rants like “I am undesirable because I am fat”.

The key to take away here is that language can impede and disrupt our conscious identity of womanhood.

Consciousness is Key

When women create the illusion that something is inherently wrong with themselves because of fat on their thighs, their hyperactive sexuality or lack thereof, their “irresponsible” mothering skills, etc.,  a set of rules about how to think, talk, and act gets unduly assigned.

Inaccurate, unfair, derogatory, and demeaning language about women’s character highjacks the autonomous space that so many before us have fought for. This means we need to make sure we create a space for all and not those we identity with or who fit the ideal standard…if we really want equality.

So, yes, language indeed matters, especially in the realm of progress towards social justice.

Remember when Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a slut because she lobbied for affordable birth control? This was meant to be an insulting description that would put whorish, over-sexualized women who wanted to be in control of their bodies in their place. Yet, terrible and demeaning as it was, we could brush it off as just the ramblings of a crabby old man who let his words speak to his ignorance about how birth control actually works. Was this language offensive in my personal opinion? Yes. However, I say let fools show how foolish they are when trying to sound smart. What really mattered in Rush Limbaugh’s language was the intent to create an image of women who wanted affordable birth control as inhuman, irresponsible, and worth nothing more than their supposedly hyperactive sex drive.

What Can Women Do?

It seems that what we, who fight against oppressive standards, need to focus on more than the words of a cranky old man who believes women are second-class citizens, and more on the language we use in our everyday conversations about ourselves. When we routinely point out imagined flaws of others and ourselves that are based on arbitrary standards, we give ourselves power to create a precedent that somehow our worth is less because of them. When women say that they want our societal worth to be based on more than our body and looks, but then chat about  how “fat thighs” make us disgusting, we defeat the message we want to permeate into the collective whole of women. The message that women should and are worth more than the body is defeated when we engage in competitive behavior with one another.

Sure, if you do not internalize words used with the intent of demeaning, you need not suffer. You might be in the ideal position of fighting impossible standards by ignoring them.

However, language has in many ways become gendered, especially as it relates to behavior and beauty. We see this in magazines that target women, internet forums and advertisements, and any type of media or literature aimed at identifying specific markers of the ideal woman. The language used in the media and advertisements seems to be aimed at creating a polarized relationship between a woman’s self-esteem and cultured standards, such as the thin ideal. Let’s not feed into this by buying perfection and diminishing womanly value to aesthetics and specified behavior.

When used with the intent to insult either others or oneself, language weakens the base of self and collective autonomy.

An important step towards liberation from unattainable standards is to change the language we use to characterize ourselves. Consciousness of how we describe the qualities of our humanness and being is a cornerstone in the betterment of our self-vision and positioning in a patriarchal society.

The lesson I really want to preach is to be aware of the words you use. Take care to lift others human dignity up, rather than judging imagined flaws. We are all just people trying to get on in this world. Progress is dependent on looking at our own self-descriptors, then examining those we give others, and making a conscious effort to dignify each other’s humanness and right to live in a safe space.

No, words cannot physically hurt us, but they can and do attack the sanctity of equality. Change how you talk about women, including yourself, and let the ripple effect win. Progress happens in numbers; when it is clear that hate or misogyny has no home in the realm of a woman’s autonomy.

 

Now What?: Part Two

People love hopeful transition stories. They love reading about or watching the trials of someone who has one through great hardship and triumphed over it.

I like these stories too. Like many, I feel inspired and also a little timid if I know I have an area in my life I could try a little harder in.

In the context of body image, body acceptance, diet culture, and weight loss, what counts as “triumph” and “hardship”? That is up to each individual to decipher. No one can be the arbiter of another’s pain and happiness.

Yet, I see so many what might be called “body triumph” stories regarding weight loss. I know I have ranted against the dangers of weight loss promotion, specifically as it relates to diet culture. But, who am I to say that someone cannot lose weight if they truly believe it would make them feel better in their body?

After all, I do not like people to tell me what to do with my body. My purpose is to say that our culture is too obsessed with the physicality and appearance of bodies. Diet culture sets a marker of bodily perfection and in turn, it becomes the social standard of good physical being. Somehow, if you get to this standard, the space one takes up is more valuable than if you do not meet this standard.

This is harmful.

The Difference Between Showing Non-Idealized Bodies and Living Against Diet Culture

There are many activists out there posting personal triumph in rejecting diet and beauty culture, which I believe go hand in hand. Great! In my opinion, any woman who can do that is harboring an attitude of progress towards female liberation.

Yet, there is another side of this diet-culture and body-ideal rejection that negates the very purpose of the movement. The tone this rejection and activist stance, whether it is through pictures of cellulite, stomach fat, women without makeup, blog posts, or websites, is “I realize that I am not up to standard, but I am beautiful and OK enough!” Now, I am a fan of women loving themselves regardless of what a meaningless standard says about them. However, at the same time, are they not still promoting a standard by saying they do not meet it? And, are they not still focused on the body?

The problem I see with this tone is that it still preaches that there is such a thing as bodily perfection and an ideal that can be attained with just enough effort. By focusing on what are perceived imperfections, we are still preaching the same message we are against.

To be clear and to reiterate my message from previous posts, I think it is an important step in progress to show comfortability in one’ natural body, especially when it is not the television version of ideal. I believe we can and should create personal versions of beauty if that makes us feel good. However, the language and purpose we do this in matters and we need to pay attention to it.

Activism Against Oppressive Beauty Standards Needs to Show We Are More Than a Body

Again, bucking, in any way, an impossible beauty standard often promoted through mainstream advertising and media is progress. But, we need to go further and dig deeper than the physicality of body. We need to first look at what the meaning behind an idealized body is, which is oppression. Then, we need to look at how we can act above extreme and expected standards by focusing on rudiments of living that have nothing to do with our bodies.

I care about this topic because people are living miserable because of their attraction to diet-culture. I have lived this way before and know many other people who have as well.

So, yes, when I see people post pictures of their cellulite or whatever part of their body deemed unattractive by mainstream beauty culture, I think it is definitely a step closer to liberation from status quo standards for women.

But, this is only the first step in the process.

I feel that the body acceptance activist community can sometimes start and stop with the look of the body. However, like most causes for social change, we need to look at where the problem is truly imbedded.

The next step to uncover why body obsession and the focus on “health” as it is promoted by the diet industry is not only deceiving, but also harmful. We need to go further and see how this is distracting from the larger issue of oppression of women’s voices.

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The Real Issue and Why We Need to Think Beyond the Body

I believe this larger cultural issue stems from a misrepresentation of female morality.

The problem I see is this: Out current culture equates beauty and physicality with morality. Feminist writer, Naomi Wolf clarifies in The Beauty Myth  that women’s bodies are manifested into symbols of either pure, which is thin, or unclean and morally corrupt, which is every shape outside of the realm of idealized thinness. To quote her once again, Wolf claims that women feel “…diminished and excluded by the ‘fat days’ phase of their weight cycle, which serves the same purpose by characterizing women even to themselves as morally weak, tainted, and sexually unworthy”( William Morrow and Co. 97).

I interpret this to mean that we equate dieting with goodness and photogenic people with purity of soul. If you make yourself look good, you are a good person. When a dieter has more to their body than flesh and bones and makes the choice to eat a piece of cake, they are bad.

This is a way to marginalize some, while keeping others on top. It is a way to keep women in their place.

So, yes, for the love of all women, show and wear your cellulite and other parts of your natural body deemed unattractive freely, but do not stop there. We cannot simply slap a Band-Aid on an infected wound. We need to clean it, so it can heal.

Clearly, eating a piece of cake is not a threat to humanity as a whole, so let’s think further. We are taught that cleanliness is next to Godliness. In other words, physical purity is moral soundness.

This is the myth we are taught: we can either physical purity and be good or rebel against it and live morally unsound.

To rebel against and disprove this myth, we need to understand and say that one’s natural body, cellulite and all, does not make a person less human, nor will it kill someone in and of itself, but eliminating millions of people’s access to affordable healthcare will undoubtedly be devastating to human lives. Racial, religious, and ethnic oppression is damaging to human development and can incite the threat or actual loss of human lives. Women dieters might become so hateful of their bodies that their mental health is threatened.

Ultimately, to show yourself to do the opposite of Weight Watchers’ guidelines is not the tipping point of body acceptance, freedom, and activism. Showing your humanness is.

Isn’t the problem with diet culture that it targets the tangibility of bodies, weight loss, and a culturally acceptable idea of a good body, rather than looking at the collective whole of human health?

It is easier to simply grasp something we can see and hold, rather than wrestle an abstract concept of oppression through body manipulation. If we can focus on food and weight as the key to human goodness, we do not have to ask the tougher questions of why women are still experiencing a pay gap and get shut up in Congressional hearings. Weight and appearance is measurable, whereas human suffering is not.

I believe the overall cultural misunderstanding embedded in unrealistic beauty standards that if women can measure their goodness and success in inches, numbers, and makeup, they need not look further at how they can develop their personhood in a hyper-masculine world.

And so, when women post photos of themselves showing stomach fat and cellulite, the problem is not that these features are an example of imperfection, but rather that we are still delineating a standard of good enough through tangible and visual elements.

What Next?

So, I encourage my readers to think deeper than the body. Isn’t that what we want anyways? Do we not want to be seen as more than the body? But, I think there is too much diffusion between body acceptance and body obsession. There is a fusion between health and thinness. And, there is an unfounded conflation between beauty and happiness.

I do not think that we can get to the other side of body obsessions and truly buck unrealistic beauty standards by simply showing the opposite of dieting and idealized thinness through pictures and talking only about the physicality of the body. We need to act the opposite of diet culture and talk about the fears behind deviation from expected beauty standards. And, that fear is that without an ideal body, women will not have a voice; they will not have a place in society; they will be glanced over. So, buck the system through action and voice in conjunction with the display of your natural physicality.

By all means, live in your natural body proudly, embrace it, and encourage others to do the same. But, they go and speak about the things outside of your body that matter to you, venture towards causes you are passionate about, and engage in your talents fearlessly. In other words, show your pictures of imperfections that are not really imperfections and then say and act the “now what?”

 

 

Now What? : Beyond Bucking the Beauty System

I have not written a post in a while because I was busy having summer fun. However, on another hand, I was also struggling to come up with more of the same rhetoric I have been preaching. Let’ be real: things are getting scary in this country and it is hard to write about rejecting calorie counting, although I still believe the social and political implications of diet culture and impossible beauty standards are immense.

I thought about writing more about how women suppress their natural selves. I thought about conversing more about how diet culture is simply another form of female oppression.  And, I pondered if I could discuss how some body confidence websites actually still promote diet culture.

But, I have a strange feeling that I am getting repetitive and there is only so much one can say about rejecting beauty and thin ideals.

The truth is I am at a point where I find myself wondering “Now what?” What comes after rejection of beauty standards and impossible body ideals? What comes after understanding women need not be submissive? What is the next step in understanding the importance of gender equality?

I will continue to share the message about the dangers of weight loss and the “female should’s” culture. After all, I speak about it because of the political, societal, and personal ramifications of accepting unrelenting beauty standards. However, in this post, I want to discuss how we all have parts of our story we wish we could rid ourselves of or change.

I feel it crucial to capitalize on personal experience to understand that one, we all have parts of our history we are not proud of; and two, we need to take what we know about our struggles with ourselves to have compassion for and bring awareness to true suffering in the world.

We all have stuff in our history we are not proud of and yes, this includes body and appearance struggles.  

We all have a past. We all have our unique personal history comprised of our best and worst moments. We all have those parts of our story that we would rather not share with anyone, except for those closest to us. We all are human and have a darker side of our nature.

It seems that there has been a widening trend on the internet, on social media in particular, in which people share the most vulnerable, intimate, and personal details to their human story. And, I am all for that. I think it can be especially helpful for women who are trying to break free from a limiting social view of what they should be.

More women are sharing stories about the dark side of weight loss, behaviors they regret, mistakes they have made, etc. In other words, there have been a handful of women taking to the internet saying, “fuck it, I am human.”

This is just what comes with modern day technological privileges. We all can showcase our soft spots, our flaws, our fears, and our moments of desperation. Alternately, we can display our triumphs, our determinations, our goals, and our wants.

A lot of these stories about failure and on the other hand, triumph revolve around changing how we look. This is not surprising, considering the heavy and lingering hand of oppressive beauty standards.

And, while I believe women who wish to wash these beauty ideals off their back should counter them all they can, I also strongly believe that what we really need to say is that we have bigger fish to fry!

Yet, there is still an undertone of equating beauty and an ideal body with morality.

Our culture gets caught up in pettiness. That is exactly how it goes in a culture so focused on aesthetics. This is learned behavior and we cannot place blame in one direction.

In the tornado of aesthetic beauty and diet culture, people become distracted. People start looking at the parts of themselves that they view as wrong; as morally corrupt. And, the problem is that their perception is skewed.

Our perception of moral corruptness and failure is skewed because we look through the lens of limiting personal standards. This is harmful because it distracts from attention to true suffering and the moral outliers that threaten lives.

And, while I do believe that diet culture and plastic beauty ideals can threaten people’s well-being, there are other immediate dangers that are lost in translation when focused so intensely on bodily and aesthetic perfection. This is the true problem with diet and female beauty culture.

Thus, I continue to discuss the dangers of female beauty standards, with the understanding that there is a “now what?” on the other side of it.

Humble thyself?

It is humbling to talk about struggles with appearance. It is humbling because on one hand, we realize how petty and futile the heart of the struggle is. However, on the other hand, there is still immense pressure to protect and cater to female beauty and diet culture and to speak out against it, is to put us in a dissenting category that is often quickly dismissed.

So, while women who reject modern beauty ideals might understand there is bigger fish to fry in the realm of equality and human rights, they must also break through the stronghold of these very ideals to even be heard.

What can we do when we need to break through our own personal battles with limiting standards of acceptable appearance, yet we also understand that they are petty by nature? The only answer is to say, “yes, I was distracted by beauty and thin standards and now I know there are more grand scale battles to be won.”

I had to and as humbling and petty as I sometimes feel talking about it, it is the first step in the empowerment process.

By nature, we do not like to appear weak.

People do not want to have their moral fallings, their less-than-ideal behavior, held up in the light. I think that in general, human beings want to be on an even moral compass as their fellows.

We don’t want to face our darker natures because they are the extreme opposite to how we best fit into the world around us. They are the parts of us that pit us against everyone else. They are what makes us face the instincts and thought patterns that threaten our symbiotic relationship with our inner natures and other people. In other words, they are what make humans complex and real.

Sure, we all want to be acceptable human beings: shining brightly in our high moralistic castle, brimming with confidence in our personal values. Yet, we all fall below the standard.

It seems that there are two sides of the pendulum: one is we hide the most human and animalistic sides of us and only showcase the doll-ness of our being; two is we show every nitty-gritties of human frivolity, selfishness, vanity, etc.

There are many women I know that fear this part of themselves. They fear showcasing their humanness.

Stigmatization happens when we look to a behavioral or characteristic pattern in a person and make it a negative trait; one that seems to disrupt the harmonization between the shoulds and compliance to them.

The problem is that by the nature of our self-deprecating, we worry more about personal stigmatization than how stigmatization threatens a collective whole of disenfranchised and marginalized groups.

Pettiness makes the news.

We can’t seem to go a day without hearing about the latest celebrity scandal; without hearing about how so and so failed in a certain part of their life, usually something that has nothing to do with what actually threatens human rights and well-being.

At the same time as we hear the latest celebrity news or read the latest confessional article, we have non-stop reports about the Trump campaign exhibiting possible collusion with the Russians during the 2016 election. At the same time, we hear about how our earth is disintegrating day by day because of global warming. At the same time, we hear about how billions of people live below the poverty line, how women are stoned to death in some countries for adultery, millions of children have no access to education, girls as young as five years old are forced into the sex trade, terrorism strikes again in Syria. We hear about how millions of Americans might lose access to affordable healthcare. We hear about the testing of nuclear missiles and a mass incarceration problem.

And, at the same time, we hear more about how this celebrity left their partner or this one drank too much at a party and got a DUI. Or, we read tabloids about how so and so is at it again with the weight gain or how so and so was caught stressed out with a crazed look in their eye and someone took an unflattering picture of them.

It seems to me that the problem is not the moral failing of individuals, but that our priorities are skewed about which values matter. We all have a dark side, we all have a past, and no, we do not need to turn it into The Great Repenting or the top story of the week.

Given the true stress in the world and the suffering in it, why do people worry about the less than attractive side of their human nature? Why is it still somewhat risqué and taboo to share the shadier parts of our past? We all want to fit in perfect harmony and be accepted with what is around us. Yet, we cannot ignore that we have human instincts and reactions that might lead us to a bad decision on occasion, including going down the rabbit hole of diet culture.

The dark parts of us stretch the limits of humanity. Yet, so wonderfully, they also show us how easily we can walk in another person’s shoes; a person we would rather not be because their story is more painful than our human ego can bare.

Our humanness sheds light on the importance of compassion…if we choose to see it this way. And, it is in this way that we can best put into perspective the not-so-perfect tales in our life story.

This is the “now what?”

 

Buying Perfection

I am going to talk about the word perfect because I believe it is one worth pondering. How many people do you know are self-described “perfectionists”? How many people strive towards an ideal of perfection without really having an idea of what it looks like? Sure, they might how their own prescription of what perfect looks like in their life, but can a person ever actually quantify and qualify the concept of perfection?

Of course not! It is impossible to qualify what perfection is and simultaneously what imperfection is. For, imperfection cannot exist without perfection and vice versa. The good news is that if there is no way to even qualify either of these concepts, there is no need to fret about them.

And, then everyone lived happily ever after without stressing over and developing ulcers because of their perceived imperfections, right???

Wrong. The truth is that the aesthetics and temperaments of the culture we live in stress perfection daily. Thus, arbitrary or not, a standard of perfection is impressed in our cultural consciousness and it exists in correlation with an attitude of deterministic individualism in which people are the makers of their own success, happiness, and everything in between. Unfortunately, a standard of perfection functions in relation to appearance; not simply in the realm of physicality, but also materially and professionally.

I know, I know. I might seem like Miss Doom and Gloom, but believe me, I am trying to convey some hope! If we can realize that perfection is nothing more than a mythological theme, then we can recognize the arbitrary nature of its language. When we recognize how the language is more of a deceptive marketing tactic, then people can maybe take it a little less seriously; with the understanding that it is not real!

The notion of perfection is a simultaneous ego-boosting and inferiority-producing proposition.

Let us look at the way perfectionism is entangled in the language of a competitive society. Toothpaste ads make a person look weak and ugly if their teeth are a little too yellow; they certainly will not find love. Car commercials brag about how much one can break the speed-limit in a shiny new automobile, somehow not get pulled over and given a ticket all while becoming a better socialite. Need I even mention how Victoria Secret advertisements on television, in magazines, on billboards, etc. compound and capitalize on women’s learned insecurities?

There might not even be a market for these products if advertisements did not strive to convince people there is something wrong with them that can only be fixed by a certain body type, clothing, acne cream, booty bops, cars, and even houses.

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Without a feeling of lacking, we would not be incited to buy products that we are convinced give us a little more superiority. As long as people believe they are imperfect, they will continue to purchase products and engage in behaviors that keep them striving towards an impossible ideal of perfection.

It is hard to gain something that does not exist!

Buying into a myth of perfection is an economic venture.

A desire for perfection is capitalized in the realm of female beauty.

In The Beauty Myth, feminist Naomi Wolf writes:

“The rise in women’s magazines was brought about by large investments of capital combined with increased literacy and purchasing power of lower-middle and working-class women: The democratization of beauty had begun”(William Morrow and Co. 62).

Here, Wolf refers to the period in the 1860’s and 1870’s when our country started to see more advancements for women. Wolf mentions that it was during this time that a wave of women’s magazines immerged, promoting domesticity and Betty Crocker homemaking skills. Thus, the image of the ideal woman in the kitchen was simultaneous to advancements in careers, governmental influence, etc.

A similar situation happened in the 1950’s after World War II when women gained advancements in the job force when men went off to war (Wolf 64). Women in the workforce boosted the economy and when men started to take jobs back from them, industries feared the economic losses they would endure without the purchasing power of women.

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According to Wolf, women’s magazines pushed harder to gain the purchasing power of women in home and beauty markets by creating and manufacturing images of ideal domesticized and beautiful women (64-65). Wolf’s main point is that along with advancement, came a marketed, arbitrary, and pressurized beauty myth that pinned women in a strict set of expectations in regards to their both their physical and material appearance. In the 1960’s, the second wave of the women’s movement began, during which women began to speak out against these expectations.

Wolf writes:

“As soon as women of the 1960’s spoke up, the media took on the dreamwork demanded by the vital lie of the time, and trained the beauty myth against women’s appearance” (68).

In other words, you can be brave, courageous, independent, and intelligent, but damnit if you are not perfectly beautiful, you will fail against all odds. When you speak too much truth, you will be subjected to criticism about your appearance in an attempt to deflect from your threatening intellectualism.  Magazines and other forms of marketing will continue to convince you of all possible imperfections.

Again, this is only an attempt to keep women in the kitchen and keep buying the products and striving for an ideal look that make us baby dolls.

The good news is that we know perfection is not real.

We know the idea of perfection only exists in an imaginary realm. There is no proof in the pudding when it comes to perfection in appearance, material gain, in how upscale our living environment is, etc.

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Women tend to be handed down an idea of perfection in the context of Naomi Wolf’s explanation of a beauty myth.  They are at least taught to strive for it.

This is a paradox that cannot be undone as long as women continue to buy into the media-infused notion that there are imperfections that can be fixed with just the right products and appearance.  

And, this is the point that I have been stressing throughout my blog: if women continue to seek solace and protection in physicality and appearance-based obsessions, the cycle of chasing unachievable perfection will only continue to haunt them. If women as a group were to keep buying into the idea that there is something about ourselves in need of repair, the falsification of womanly perfection will continue to make us miserable and always searching for an endless bottom.

So, if we can just know that perfection in the material, physical, and superficial realm is nothing more than marketing tactic meant to keep women emotionally and spiritually repressed, we can more easily see it for what it is and laugh in its face.

Hey…So, What Are We So Afraid Of?

These have been an interesting couple of weeks in the news. Between the implosion of the White House and shootings at the GOP baseball game and one at a UPS facility, there is undoubtedly a lot of tension, fighting, insecurities, and survival mode in the most self-seeking, self-incriminating, destruction-of-humanity kind of way.

We have seen people fight tooth and nail for their right to be right and have seen our good ole’ President sneak his way out of accountability for himself and his cabinet. We have seen his cabinet members creep their way out of accountability while defending him.

We have seen anger, fighting, toiling, and a woman shut up in the Congressional hearing about the Comey firing.

We have seen a backlash against human dishonesty, with politicians and other White House officials backed in a corner with no way out. The inevitable consequences of fighting for a win instead of what is right and humane have come out from hiding.

We have seen a lot of silencing. Specific recent examples are the silencing of Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Kamala Harris during Congressional hearings; all done by white males. This leaves me to ask but one question: what is the fear in hearing, actually listening, to these knowledgeable, intelligent, and powerful women speak?

Supposedly Senator Warren was shut up because of rarely used Rule 19, which essentially states that a Senator may be silenced if they impute another senator in an unfair way. Supposedly Senator Harris was being too mean to Jeff Sessions. I know there is a specific code of conduct in politics and political hearings and that is fine. However, I do not buy that was the real reason these two women were shut up.

I have a guess why they were and white male power-grippers might not like it. Oh well!

Let’s take a look at what might possibly be a reason: Harris is a woman of color sitting on the Congressional bench! She is intelligent, powerful, speaks her mind and is it surprising that old, white, backwards-minded men don’t want to hear from her? Warren is a female Senator from a middle-class background and is too de-sensitized to political bullshitting to stay silent in the face of political damage.

Are we really going to act surprised that Harris was shut up right as the investigation is hitting too close to the cabinet’s human wrong-doing and simultaneous political undoing? Let’s look at the facts: Harris hit home too close and like a good ‘ole boy, Sessions decided to not answer her frivolous questions.

It seems to me that perhaps the men who shut these women up got scared they might lose power and look weak by these male-hating estrogen machines. I believe we are all a little scared, on a human-level, of losing our personal power. But, when it comes to the point when equal rights and respect are involved, we need to be able to push our selfish insecurities to the side and see what is right in the name of human respect.

Sessions was indeed left nervous. He was left nervous just like many men were after the first and second feminist waves, not necessarily because they hated women, but rather because their superiority was threatened. The patriarchal structures had been established and fierce women did their utmost to uproot them.

And, we saw the same thing when McCain thought it appropriate to shut-up Harris. It is the same threadbare idea that men are in charge.

And the real question to ask is: When can we stop being scared? When can we let go of the fear that women are planning on taking over the world in the fashion of Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death?

We do not need to run from women who want a voice. They want the same freedoms all people do in our nation. We want to exude our right to free speech, freedom to be who and what they are, freedom of religion, equal work opportunities, and the ability to improve our lives.

What happened to Senator Warren and Senator Harris are two of many examples of the silencing of powerful women. The silencing on the Congressional floor was an act of depreciation of women exerting their intelligence, their voice, and their wisdom in the same space as men.

Hate crumbles underneath us when we are busy pursuing it; and hate has the power to eat us alive. We have seen this since January in the Oval office.

Diet culture, unrealistic beauty standards, and the continuing expectation that women remain quiet indicate larger complications than just inequality and demeaning scrutiny in appearance-related judgements. Women receive the message that although work has been paved to give them equal footing with men, there is still a subversive yet powerful form of patriarchy lurking and waiting to overthrow all progress made towards women’s opportunities. There is still the backwards belief that equality for all is really just a dream for the impractical that permeates at the highest levels.

Can you really tell me this is just how it is? That we cannot say what we want? Dress how we want without fear of scrutiny?

Can you really tell me that it is NOT because men are fearful of what a society in which women act autonomously and without heed to marketers, politicians, and business tycoons who tell us what to do with our body?

Scrutiny women receive at both the collective and individual level show that as we heed our  natural rights for access to good education, jobs formerly assumed to be for men, and political voices, stems from a fear that the fabric of society will crumble if women do more than stay in the kitchen. The scrutiny tells us that we can expect to be under a watchful eye as we cater to our desires, passions, and talents and bring them into the world. Women will be scrutinized for their appearance, while simultaneously questioned about the quality of their intelligence.

As in all my blog entries, I do not believe this attitude exists in all men. In fact, I know more men that do not exude these beliefs than ones that do. That probably is because I choose not to be around men that do believe in silencing women, but that is beside the point.

Why are we so afraid? Can we let go of the fear of the word “feminist”?

Can we let go of the fear of what our country and world will look like if we allow differences to just be instead of trying to manipulate them? Can we let go of the fear of losing a status quo power structure? Can we accept that maybe equality for all will really benefit us all?

By all, I mean all marginalized groups. It does not stop at just women, although they are included in that category. A permeating fear of difference has been threaded through American history. You cannot call it anything else. And, it clouds our vision of humanity.

I do not believe the silencing of women on the Congressional floor means  doom for women’s progress, but I think they do indicate a continuum of backwards beliefs that old-schoolers still fight for. And, they are dangerous.

Humanity operates when humans help each other.

 

Behind the Screens: The Online Competition

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A real challenge is to try to compete with others in the internet world. I have touched on the impact of the internet, technology, and the media before, as it relates to women’s relationships with their bodies. The truth is that it will remain an important topic as the technology, computers, and online databases are ever-evolving.

I have learned firsthand just how challenging it is to compete and get noticed on the internet since starting this blog. In our high-speed internet culture, people want to get noticed, but the sheer concentration of millions of people wanting the same makes it a sort of game.

I believe the internet and technology are both powerful and frustrating. On one hand, we have access to instant information at the touch of a button. Yet, in internet culture, there is a lack of human connection. In place of face to face communication, is typing behind screens and capturing details of our lives in screenshots on social media.

If we rely on the internet and technology as our primary form of communication, what does this do to our psyche? In the spirit of talking about feminist and women’s issues, how does communicating and portraying our lives through a computer screen influence our self-esteem, respect, and self-value?

Are we living in a sort of incommunicado dystopian society? Do people take comfort in it because it is familiar or do they take solace in knowing they are fitting into societal advancements?

My feeling and fear is that under the smokescreens of texting, smartphones, computers, Skype, and Apple watches, Twitter, and Facebook, it has become all too easy to hide ourselves, yet the pressure to appear bold and unique seems more pressing than ever. In the hyper-saturated world of internet culture, there is a rush to be noticed; and a competition to stand out and give pause to web surfers looking at our information on a page.

We can force an image of ourselves within the context of high-powered, fast-speed technology, but it is not necessarily enough to satisfy our human needs. Especially in the context of social media, it seems that people can spend so much time crafting an image of themselves instead of just being and living.

And, when we become used to looking at what we see on the internet as tried and true (although the accuracy of any given information we find on the internet is questionable), we begin to learn about the latest fads, trends, diets. In other words, it is too easy to pick up a new list of “should’s” on the internet.

The internet and diet culture go hand in hand.

Women see images related to diet culture that have been liked, shared, and commented on so many times that it is too easy to start believing they need to achieve whatever the image tells them. It becomes hard to separate a popular image from our own reality.

There has been a shift in gender expectations of women. Yet, the human disconnection experienced through technology seems to have created an entirely new subset of inferiority labels. We have gone from a place of invisibility into a place of anonymity and conformity via the internet. That is, unless you create the right image, find the right amount of shock value, or manipulate the details of your life just so on social media that you are able to get noticed.

 In other words, the internet provides the perfect breeding ground for competition.

The pressure to perform and conform behind a mask is the new standard. But, when we look in the mirror and realize the disconnection between the manufacture of experiences on-screen and our lives in the raw, isn’t it all too easy to get wrapped up in thinking about what we lack in comparison to what we see on the internet?

On Facebook, for example, we can create a story of ourselves that we desire. We can leave out or put in as many details as we want to. We can post the pictures that make us look the happiest. We can post statuses that show how “busy” we are. We can also swing to the other side and let people know how “dark” our lives have gotten. There is no right or wrong with either sides of this stratagem. However, the power of human connection and mystery gets lost when we display our lives and learn about others through a Facebook feed that simply refreshes itself every few minutes.

In other words, in the realm of social media, the image we create of ourselves gets wrapped up in a matter of minutes; in a matter of how many people are logged in and noticing our information; in a matter of how we can stand out amongst the crowd.

It seems to me that this condones a spirit of competition. In terms of how women interact with others and themselves, they might swing from one pendulum to another, competing between self-love and a spirit of “I must fix myself” if I want to be noticed. The internet and other media forums become less of a ground for communication and more of a ground for potential damning self-thoughts.

We are competing for like buttons and comments.

We are competing for the “you are so pretty” or “Wow, congrats!”. I have done it. It is just how it is. Social media is both a helpful form of far-reaching communication and the bane of our self-esteem meter.

It is difficult to get noticed behind screens. And, women, who are already targeted for mass advertising about the latest diet craze, weight loss miracle cure, or the workout that will change their life can be made especially vulnerable to the cons of the internet, social media, and other mass technology.

In terms of body image and self-value, there is an underlying standard that seems to change and get more detailed, as photo-shop and other picture-transforming tools become more prevalent. Trying to connect with others about our lives sometimes turns into a feat for who can look the best in a photo. Who can lose the most weight? Who can win the most likes and comments? There will always be someone with something more interesting and who got the angle on a picture just right to compliment themselves to the max.

We forget that still-life photos are not real life at the present moment. We forget diet rules written on an internet how-to page are merely suggestions and do not need to pertain to our life. We forget that real life cannot be lived through a screen; through the wires, modems, and SEO tools. It is information on a page and not the fibers of everyday living.

I believe that social media can be particularly damaging for women that have suffered from eating disorders or other forms of troubled relationships with their bodies. This is especially true if they stumble on advertisements or posts that discuss diet crazes, the perfect summer body, etc.

I am in no way trying to bash the advancements of technology, the internet, and media. I have said before that I am very grateful for the advancements that we have and someone like me, who loves to write, can share my views on a blog. And, I can do it from the comfort of my own home.

However, I believe in the context of the relationship between human connection and communication forums, these advancements can cause a disconnection between our physical presence and the quality of our lives. When we are living behind screens and continually focused on capturing an image instead of the moment, it is difficult to connect the dots between being and constructing an image of doing.

It is important to be aware of how we relate to the internet.

I use the internet daily, so trust me when I say that I am not encouraging people to ban themselves from the online world. However, I am encouraging my readers to be conscious and wary of how you relate to self-value with the images and posts on the internet, especially social media.

Go be and do. Use the internet to share what you value, but also spend time in the present moment. The here and now is too precious to spend it concerned about screenshotting it in the future! It is too precious than spending our waking hours agonizing over conforming to a still photo on a database.

           

Beauty and the Feminist

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?

Sure thing. I actually agree with this statement, but I think the more important question to ask, especially in the context of female liberation, is whether or not cultural fixation on beauty is disempowering? Should women care about beauty? CAN women care about beauty and still call themselves feminists? Or should the feminist movement promote anti-beauty ideals?

I believe that there are some standards of beauty that are not only disempowering to women as a group, but also to marginalized people. The standard of beauty most commonly seen in American media is exemplary of a thin, white ideal, which largely ignores minorities, transgender folks, the disabled, and other groups that are minimally represented in mainstream media.

And, this is the problem: There is a standardized idea of beauty that pervades cultural messages and images. It very rarely shifts from the norm, even if the shift from the norm is representative of most non-celebrity women.

We are inundated with images of skinny white women in advertisements, commercials, etc. Women’s magazines routinely contain messages about make-up, high heels, waxing products, pimple eliminators, boob enhancing bras, butt-flattering jeans, wrinkle cream, fake tanning products, etc. The list can go on and on…and on.

Some feminists believe that the mere idea of beauty should be debated, negated, and tossed out the window. Naomi Wolf famously wrote a scathing rhetoric against the beauty industry in her book The Beauty Myth. She writes:

“‘Beauty’ is a currency system like the gold standard. Like any economy, it is determined by politics, and in the modern age of the West it is the last, best belief system that keeps male dominance intact.” (Wolf 12)

I believe that a chief point to remember is that what has become culturally considered beautiful is focused more on appeasing the male gaze, a term associated with feminist film critic Laura Mulvey, than encouraging women to create a look they feel best expresses themselves.  The term male gaze essentially supposes that women’s function in the spotlight is to appeal to the desires, pleasures, and fantasies of men.

Yes, I believe that any standard and perpetuated idea of beauty that focuses on male attention more than it does female autonomy and self-expression is harmful and disempowering. For, it not only ignores non-straight and non-gender conforming women, but also suggests that standard of beauty is male-centered, instead of rooted in personal power.

How does beauty tie into the male gaze and patriarchal culture?

When we are talking about patriarchal culture, we are talking about one that pigeon-holes women into categories of good and bad. We are talking about a culture that suppresses the rights of women to be what and who they want. It subjects them to take actions that are in conjunction with male desire, rather than self-desire. In other words, patriarchy supposes that everything boils down to what men need and want and women should cater to that.

I do believe that for the sake of empowerment, women need to be aware of how we contribute to a standardized idea of beauty that caters to and perpetuates the male gaze. It is not so much the word beauty that is the problem as much as how it is defined in the context of male desire.

So, yes, perfume commercials that have five men surrounding one half-naked woman with nothing more than a half-buttoned boyfriend shirt on bug me.

However, there can be a happy medium between individualized ideas of beauty and women’s liberation.

If a woman who is not traditionally beautiful according to a very limited media standard wants to call herself beautiful, is she disempowered? Does she care about the wrong things?

It seems to me that calling out and negating women who choose to find their own sense of beauty and want to encourage others to do so, disenfranchises them from the very principles of female liberation. I think this especially applies to my passionate crusade against diet culture and fixed ideals of beauty.

We have the right to express ourselves through our looks and style however we damn-well choose. And, if it makes a woman feel more in tune with her inner self and appreciate her body and looks for what they are, after years of strife against them, then more power to her!

Cheesy as it may be, I believe that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder and that it can hold a special meaning in the context of individual desires, preferences, and self-image.

I think it is absolutely empowering to post pictures of larger women in bikinis or on the cover of magazines that traditionally display a standardized ideal of beauty. It is absolutely empowering for women to say, “Hey, I do not fit into a limited standard of beauty, but I love the way I look.” In other words, I do not believe that taking pride in one’s looks, however that fits into their own conception of autonomous personhood, undoes all the work of feminism.

Women do not need to hide themselves, their sexuality, or their bodies in protest of patriarchy.

I think to run from the spotlight in fear of subjection negates the purpose of empowerment. Of course, everyone has the right to look however they choose to. I think the most empowering act women can take is to put themselves in the spotlight and say “I am doing this to show ME as a woman, regardless of what men think!” If the motive is to inspire other women, it is empowering.

If we are showing our bodies in a way that says no woman should ever be ashamed of her figure or looks, then we are engaging in an act of female liberation and empowerment.

However, if women are submitting to beauty standards simply because they succumb to the belief they need to attract the male gaze or else be an ousted member of society, then it is disempowering. And, I am in no way blaming women who do that. I think it actually has become a relatively normalized behavior on account of how we are trained to entice the fancies of men.

You see, it all comes down to the language we use in regards to beauty. The real question of disempowerment in relation to the beauty standard boils down to how we use it versus how we internalize a personal sense of it in a way that embraces self-worth.

And, this is where cultural ideation of beauty is lacking.

What is true empowerment in the beauty conversation?

True empowerment happens when ALL women have the freedom to display themselves and their bodies in whatever look or manner THEY prefer, especially if it is in the context of celebrating the female outside of the realm of male objectification.

I think that we all have the right to portray and display ourselves as we see fit, if it remains in line with our sense of personal respect. It is ok to portray ourselves in the spirit of a “female gaze” of sorts to show other women it is ok to LIVE in our bodies without concern of male subjection.

To run away from the problem is not a solution. Instead, we need to change the cultural, sexual, and gendered dialogue centered around images of standardized beauty. We need to shift the way that we view these images from a standpoint of “hotness” and “idealized female beauty” to more emphasis on a celebration of women; more of an “I am woman, hear me roar” kind of thing.

As much as I talk about diet culture, I want it to be clear that my focus is not as much about food/body/weight talk, as much as it is looking at WHY do we care so much about this stuff? Again, it goes back to the “should’s” and taking a hard look at why we give into them. We need to ask ourselves why the “should’s” are even in place.

I think that it is the same case for beauty. Do women wear lipstick because a magazine told them to or might they just really like the way it makes their lips look?

There is a difference between submitting to a standard out of a fear of not meeting expectations and enhancing self-expression because WE like the way we look and feel.