Why do women have such huge insecurities about their bodies and why do compliments about physical appearance validate women so much?
You’re Beautiful, Stop it!
The answer to this is simple. We are all victims of a tactical, subliminal brainwashing experiment that banks on the fact that people who do not feel good about themselves make better consumers. Sound hyperbolic? It’s not.
To begin, a personal anecdote. Until I was in fifth grade I thought I was pretty cool. I was homeschooled, my mom didn’t let us watch TV, and we hung out with likeminded families. Though there was a healthy dose of dysfunction in my home life, feeling worthy was not an issue for me. Then I started fifth grade. On the first day, I sat with a bunch of girls during lunch who reverently passed around a Cosmopolitan
magazine. I was informed by a girl named Amy, who reeked of authority, that I should keep my hair long (because boys like long hair) but that I should start shaving my legs and wearing a bra. Then we all pinky sweared to stop eating pizza on pizza day so we wouldn't get fat. We were ten.
There aren’t a ton of experimental studies done on babies and I get it. If, when my daughter was born, some creepy scientist had asked me if they could keep her in a cage for a couple years for the good of society I would have ripped the IV out of my arm and tried to escape through the nearest window with my baby clutched to my chest. But I do wonder what the results would be of a particular study that I just happened to make up.
Take two infant girls and bombard each with various forms of advertising for the first fifteen years of their lives. The first would be shown women as we naturally are: no airbrushing, trick lighting, hair extensions, or make-up. All different races, ages and body types are accounted for. This media would normalize women with deformed or missing limbs, cleft lips, Vitiligo, Down syndrome, hair loss, and other common attributes and conditions, instead of focusing on these as maladies the individual had to overcome
. And instead of trying to sell you something, by making you feel less than, this media would promote feelings of value and self-worth. You know where I’m going with this. The other child would be shown, essentially, what we are shown now: thin, white women, heavily photoshopped and altered beyond recognition, telling us we need to look a certain way to be desirable. Beyond that, this media’s primary message is that being desired is the ultimate achievement. Luckily that experiment has never been done. Oh wait, it has. At least, the latter part of this experiment has been executed without anyone’s consent and we are all the product of it.
Yes, this is oversimplifying things but it’s my opinion that the spin doctors who control the media are the main reasons why we women feel bad about our physical appearances. On top of that, there are many people who were the victims of other atrocious factors, such as abusive partners or belittling and hurtful parents, friends or siblings. This may come as a shock to you but American society is not kind to women. Hollywood is one big glossy advertisement meant to nullify and control us and it’s very effective. We’re living in a Truman Show/Hunger Games
hybrid reality and most of us don’t even realize it.
You may be thinking that men are also inundated with unrealistic and biased advertising but don’t seem to be harmed to the same extent. And, though you’re right, it’s nowhere near the same. While advertising aimed at men is overly abilist and overly white, men are celebrated more for being who they are. Not that you guys aren’t being brainwashed, you’re just getting conditioned in a different way. You are being told how to behave in order to be deemed a “real man” with a huge emphasis on success, wealth, and power and the accessories that go with that lifestyle. You are also being told what to be attracted to. There’s an underlying current of misogynistic, homophobic, alpha-male machismo in everything aimed at men. Now imagine Robin Williams’ character in Good Will Hunting
holding you tightly and whispering, “It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault. It’s not your fault!
” fiercely into your ear. It’s okay to cry, despite what you’ve been taught. It’s healthy for all human beings to cry, even men.
Now, what’s the solution to all of this? Well, do you happen to work in advertising? I think the first step is having many, many
more healthy, real looking women in advertisements. Beyond that, maybe also refrain from patting yourself on the back when you feature a plus-size model or African American on your covers. If you want to help normalize something then you have to view it as normal
and stop congratulating yourselves for things that you should just be doing anyway. While we’re at it, can we just get rid of terms like plus-size
model, African, Latin
American actress, female
comic? How about just … model, actress, comic? Doesn’t that feel better? And stop calling women brave
when they don’t look like supermodels and wear bikinis to the beach or get photographed without makeup on. That’s the least brave thing about these women and you sound like idiots.
Here’s a seemingly small but important action we can all start today: stop complimenting women when you notice they’ve lost weight.
For some reason, commenting and discussing a woman's weight is very common and it’s harmful. Weirdly, amidst the social norms of our creepy, polite society, it’s socially acceptable to openly talk about a woman’s weight. Women are often complimented when they lose pounds and chided when they put on a few. This gives the impression that we look better thinner and validates that suspicion in us even when we are losing weight because of unhealthy reasons. So stop doing that. Ding! The world’s a little bit better.
For those of you who have small in children in your lives, talk to your children of all genders about the dangers of advertising. Don’t let them watch commercials, and if you do, teach them to be critical consumers. Show them movies and books with strong female characters whose smarts, wit, and strengths are emphasized instead of their looks. Seek out narratives about male characters that aren’t entrenched in macho, emotionless stereotypes. Expose children to role models with healthy, normal bodies, as well as to people of color and LQBTQ individuals. You can’t control what they see when they leave the house but you can do your best to educate them and provide diverse resources.
Finally: Why do compliments about our physical appearance, as women, validate us so much? In short, compliments validate literally anyone! But, in particular, compliments to women validate because we are taught to be insecure about our bodies from day one, and we are insecure about our bodies largely because of the media and the bullshit stories they tell us. I, personally, have many insecurities that I know are crazy but which bother me more than I care to admit. Things like my hair, my slightly lopsided breasts, my waist to hip ratio. It embarrasses me, as an intelligent woman who is aware of why
I feel this way, to feel this way. So, when someone compliments me, I take that compliment and put it in my back pocket. Every time that ugly beast of insecurity threatens to ruin my day, I retrieve that compliment and choose to believe it instead of my wildly irrational mind. Now, why can’t I just believe myself? Fuck if I know! It’s very confusing and depressing, but I’m working on it.
So there you have it. We are all being controlled, and there is no such thing free will. But maybe we can help the next generation. Maybe we can tell better stories. And maybe we can all be a bit more empathetic and gentle with ourselves and others. Hope that cleared things up. And may the odds be ever in your favor!