The Body Project is probably the longest project I’ve ever worked on, I’ve probably never taken a break from it since the first day I became self-conscious about my body and how others viewed it. The female body project has become the primary focal point women and girls in today’s society; because if you take care of your body = you respect yourself. Women and girls from a constantly younger age are encouraged to spend more time, energy and money than ever before on their appearance, because in today’s society, a woman is only worth her looks.
Compared to earlier times, like during the Victorian era, women still cared about their looks, but not to the same extent as today. Back then, if a woman cared too much about her looks or appearances, she would be considered self-absorbed, while today, that same consideration would be thought of as self-respect or self-worth instead. It takes much more time, energy and money today to obtain such beauty standard than it did before as well, because while the standard during the Victorian era was to be thin and weak (by wearing a corset), the standard for today is to be toned and fit, which takes much more effort to obtain for a woman. The beauty norms reflect the sociopolitical environment because there is nothing natural about beauty, what is considered beautiful or desirable characteristics both physically and mentally varies between cultures and time periods. After WWII for example, in order to get women out of the factories and give their jobs back to the returning men, the new beauty standard for women became hyper-feminine; women were encouraged to be more feminine and go back to the kitchen, working women were considered manly and not desirable at all.
The beauty myth reenforces other forms of oppressions as well, with its Eurocentrism. What most women strive for, and what is considered most desirable in our society is to be white, skinny, young, tall and rich – to be able to afford all of those beauty products, services, clothes and accessories. Women who don’t fit into the norms of what is considered most beautiful must spend even more time, effort and money to look like the norm; these increasing demands of women serves as a backlash as well, in that it makes it even harder for women to succeed in other areas. When women climb the social hierarchy in the political or business areas, becoming powerful and getting status and respect, they are still required, and to an even larger extent than less powerful women, to show that they are still beautiful and measure up the social beauty standards. So in today’s society when women have more power and have gotten further than ever in being equal, the backlash for women getting this far is the ever gaining pressure of living up to the beauty standards, that are also getting more and more demanding.
I have felt the pressure on me from our society and culture to work on my body project, to focus more on my appearances and looks, and it has had an enormous impact on me and my life, because when I was younger, as an insecure teenager, I spend all my time and effort on it. I had extremely low self-esteem and thought I wasn’t worth much (even though I was very successful in school and in sports for example) because I didn’t feel like I was pretty or skinny enough. I was very self conscious about my looks and my body to the point where I developed and eating disorder that ruled over my life for many years and stole a part of my childhood. The scary thing was that even when I was at my worst, I would still get compliments from friends who envied me for being so strong and so dedicated, for looking good/pretty/skinny etc, all while I was slowly breaking myself down both physically and mentally. I don’t have an answer to how this problem is going to be solved, girls even younger than me at the time I started to feel that huge pressure on me are facing the same problem and going through the same things, but whatever the answer is, I know it has to involve the media. The media gives young girls the images and role models to look up for and to strive for, and when those role models are overwhelmingly white, skinny, young, pretty, beautiful, tall and well-dressed, it’s no wonder that girls start to focus on that. The representations of women has to change, it has to be more diverse and feature women in all shaped, colors, sizes, professions, classes etc for girls to feel comfortable and proud of their bodies, but first of they have to see themselves represented, to know that there is no one universal beauty standard, because the truth is, there isn’t, even though the media today makes is seem like there only is one.
(Originally posted on 2014/12/16 for Melanie Klein’s class blog “Women and Popular Culture”)