Hello my lovely ladies (and the men who love them).
During the summer of 2006, I went to a UNIFEM event that focused on the issue of violence against women worldwide. The panel of experts discussed numerous forms of violence against women, including all of the ones you would expect—female genital mutilation, trafficking, honor killings, etc.
One, however, really caught my attention: international activists now categorize the western ideal of beauty a form of violence against women.
This phenomenon of a skinny ideal has created so many health concerns, and so many women have died from eating disorders and cosmetic procedures, that this ideal is indeed a form of violence against women.
The best part though, is that this ideal will persist only so long as those of us living in this culture consider it valid. As Westerners, let’s reject these notions. Let’s talk to our friends and family and encourage them to reject them, too. Let’s tell all of the women in our lives just how irrelevant their beauty is to the human being they are. Let’s take this collective energy of self-doubt and turn it into a positive. Let’s exercise for fun. Let’s stop categorizing some foods as “bad” because they’re fatty. Let’s love ourselves better, ladies.
Think about it on a very personal level: How much time out of every day do we spend thinking about our bodies? Our bellies, thighs, jiggly upper arms? What if we spent that time instead thinking about politics, about our friends, our careers, about issues bigger than ourselves?
What if we just decide to stop caring about the shape of our bodies and focus instead on how healthy we are? The fantastic Susie Orbach makes an excellent point in her book, On Eating: if we eat whatever we want whenever we want, taste every mouthful, and stop when we’re full, our bodies will be shaped exactly the way nature intended – a shape that will be different for everyone.
Join me in this – start noticing how much time you spend focusing on your body and then start morphing that time spent into something positive like volunteering, writing, going kayaking with fun girlfriends, engaging in politics. Let’s do it, ladies. Let’s not waste our impressive brainpower on such an insignificant aspect of ourselves. Starting right now.
With love from a woman who finds you beautiful just as you are – but more importantly finds that beauty irrelevant because you’re fantastic no matter what your package happens to look like.
- 42% of American 1st, 2nd & 3rd grade girls want to be thinner. (Collins)
- 81% of American 10 year olds are afraid of being fat. (Mellin et al.)
- 80% of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance. (Collins)
- 46% of 9-11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets. (Gustafson-Larson & Terry)
- 25% of American men and 45% of American women are on a diet on any given day. (Smolak)
- Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives. (Neumark-Sztainer, 2005)
- One out of every three women in
has been on a diet, depriving themselves of food while their bodies are signaling through hunger that they require more energy to function healthily. (Smolak) America
- For females between fifteen and twenty-four years old who suffer from anorexia nervosa, the mortality rate associated with the illness is twelve times higher than that of ALL other causes of death. (Sullivan)
- There is now concern among experts that the current media obsession with ultra-skinny celebrities could be pushing our natural tendency to be self-critical towards a diagnosable neurotic disorder. Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a disabling psychiatric condition that causes [people] to obsess about an imagined or minor defect in their appearance. (The Independent, 2006)
- There has been a 446% increase in cosmetic procedures since 1997. (Medical News Today)
- Women who have breast implants are more likely to die from brain tumors, lung cancer, other respiratory diseases, and suicide compared to other plastic surgery patients. Women with implants are also more likely to develop cancer compared to other women their age. (National Cancer Institute and the FDA)
- For every 100,000 people who undergo liposuction between 20 and 100 die (studies differ on the estimate), compared to 16 deaths per 100,000 car accident victims. (FDA)
- Because mandatory reporting of cosmetic procedures does not exist, the actual number of deaths and unsatisfactory results is unknown. With the increasing number of untrained doctors performing cosmetic surgery, data reporting may also be inconsistent. 172,000 liposuction surgeries are performed each year by Board-certified plastic surgeons. Yet since unlicensed doctors can perform the operation, the total number could be more than double that. (
THE ARGUMENTS for why the western characterization of beauty is a form of violence against women:
1. The western standard of beauty consists of a very thin body, with no extra fat and muscles defined (but not too much). Women who are not naturally shaped this way physically harm their bodies (by not consuming enough food, over-exercising, and undergoing plastic surgery) and suffer emotionally (by feeling inadequate, unattractive, unlovable, and spending hours each day thinking about their bodies). The pursuit of this largely unattainable beauty ideal plainly injures women and often directs attention to one’s outward appearance as the measure of a person, rather than one’s intellect or talents.
2. This is the current cultural ideal and as such certain characteristics are culturally associated with different kinds of body types.
Skinny = healthy; attractive; happy; totally in control of your life; powerful but also willing to play the game, so not a threat to men.
Not skinny = unattractive; unhealthy; unhappy; lazy; lonely.
These stereotypes are a form of discrimination and may affect everything from one’s relationships to employment options.
SUGGESTIONS FOR ACTION:
1. This unattainable standard of beauty is perpetuated by the media and entertainment industries, in the "ideal" bodies we are constantly shown. This is an easy issue to take action on: you can write to casting agents and tell them that you would like to see real-looking women in movies and on TV. You can also urge magazine editors to employ real women in their features and demand the same of their advertisers.
2. Spanish and Italian members of the fashion industry have already begun to address this issue: in
3. Medical professionals now offer procedures removing “knee fat” and “ankle fat”, which may or may not actually exist. Additionally, funding for eating disorders research is abysmally low (approximately 75% less than that for Alzheimer’s disease, even though eating disorders affect many more Americans than Alzheimer’s). We can urge the American Medical Association and the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee to take eating disorders seriously and to regulate the cosmetic surgery industry, at the very least to create strict regulations on who may perform these types of surgery.
4. You can also support organizations and companies that are fighting against this ideal. Dove is a good company, in terms of supporting different ideals of beauty, as is Glamour magazine. We also still have excellent media outlets like Ms. magazine and Democracy Now! news; they would probably be delighted and encouraged to hear that you appreciate their equality-driven media establishments.