Before I start I should say some of the images on this post are not particularly safe for work ... or for children! Which is kind of the point ... but I thought I'd better stick a little warning here.
So, if you know me, you'll know I'm fairly outspokenly feminist. So I am starting a little mini-series on feminism, where that fits in with my faith, and why I feel so strongly about it. Starting today with body image and the standard women have to live up to.
I am so glad that people are now calling out companies for their sexist, old-fashioned attitudes towards women. I'm glad that sometimes all it takes is a tweet to get a bunch of marketing executives to realise their mistakes. Because of social media, the power has been transferred to us. Instead of having to sit back and accept whatever a select few powerful people want to say about how women should look, dress, and behave, we can fight back. We can choose to call it out for what it is.
I know what you're thinking. 'But Megan! Things have improved since the olden days!' ...
I mean, that was olden times. People didn't know better then. I mean, at least we have more power than we used to. It's not like we're treated like slaves or objects now, right?
But still. Girls these days are so media savvy! And that's true. I look at those adverts and laugh at the stupidity of them. And wonder what the hell people are thinking when they dream these ideas up. I know that a lot of girls will look at them and scoff.
But when you combine them with all the other standards of beauty girls have to live up to ...
I was watching music videos with my niece the other day and I felt like an old woman. No way on EARTH was I going to let my ten-year-old niece watch some of those. I remember watching similar videos as a tweenager. Some of the people were different, but the content was basically the same.
It frustrates me that so little has changed between then and now. What do you get in the background of every music video?
Half naked women.
What do a lot of female popstars wear?
Not many clothes.
Or, you know. No clothes.
Listen: I am no delicate wallflower. I don't look at these images and feel like fainting. Nor do they make me want to strip off the next time I make a roast dinner. (Or start rolling around on the floor licking power tools). I'm not suggesting girls aren't smart enough to know none of this is real. Or that they will see it and think 'oh, I must do that myself.'
But the reality is, the images that young girls are bombarded with have been proven to be damaging, again and again and again. Not just to girls, either. Despite the fact that young women have a wealth of talented, intelligent, funny, smart women to choose as role models, we are still being sold a message:
Our bodies have the power.
Our bodies are where our worth is.
And it would almost - almost - be a teeny, tiny, infinitesimal amount better if there were lots of different body types being represented in these stupid half-naked adverts and music videos, but there really isn't.
I don't buy into Beyonce's brand of feminism. Sorry. Or Miley Cyrus's, come to think of it. Yeah, okay, women shouldn't have to pretend that they're perfect, or innocent. Women shouldn't be forced to suppress their sexuality. But I don't for one minute think that Beyonce or Miley Cyrus have ever made a clothing decision that didn't have greedy agents or publicists or advertisers rubbing their hands together in glee. Yeah, these women are making the final decisions - but in their own bubbles, surrounded by yes men that understand that the bottom line is that sex sells to the wider world, where we continue to lap it up.
That power is false - the power to turn heads because you look just like society says you should. It might feel real, but it isn't. It is a facsimile of power. It's a sham.
And while all this makes me feel fired up and angry ...
I'm not saying I know what the answer is. I don't think that women should be ashamed of their bodies. I don't think we should walk around wearing sacks. I don't think we shouldn't be allowed to feel attractive or sexy. And I'm not blaming pop stars or models. I'm frustrated that we live in a society that continues to use women to sell products. I'm frustrated that this is not just acceptable, it is normality. I'm frustrated at the message that we are only as powerful as we are beautiful. And I am frustrated that that standard of beauty is so narrow.
In no way is this post supposed to elicit the response of 'Ew, look at those slutty women'. Because that's not the point at all. I wouldn't want to live in a society where we are so easily offended that almost everything is banned. And I don't want to go back to a time where everyone was too terrified to talk about sex and women were made to feel ashamed because of their bodies. But even though the subject of the portrayal of women in the media has been done almost to death, it needs to still be talked about. Again and again and again until attitudes start to change. And I am adding my voice to the cacophony today. I've talked about body image at least twice before on this blog, but I'm still talking about it. Because it STILL NEEDS TO BE TALKED ABOUT.
I won't go into it now, but this bombardment of the perfect female body has had a tangible impact upon my life and that combined with other pressures led me to make some terrible, life-damaging decisions as a teenager. Which is partly why I feel so fiercely passionate about it.
By allowing advertisers and music video directors to send out these messages, we are accepting that women are only worth anything if you can dress them in their underwear and dangle expensive accessories from them.
I hate that we are allowing people to tell girls that they are only useful because their naked bodies look nice.
And I think this seemingly insignificant layer of sexism is symptomatic of a much deeper, darker, and more terrifying problem that affects girls and women across the globe: that women are still seen as less important, less significant, and less valuable than men.
Join me for part two of this series in a couple of weeks where I will go deeper into that ...
I've been collecting videos, articles, books, and more resources for parents on how to help their children navigate advertising, body image and the effects on their self-esteem. I've found some really useful stuff (for both Christian and non Christian parents alike), and at the end of the series I'm going to put it all up on the blog, so look out for that too.
Let me know in the comments how the bombardment of the Perfect Female Body Image has made you feel ... I'd love a discussion about this!
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