Over the weekend I went to a party to watch the Oscars. As the different actresses and actors came up on stage, I overheard the commentary from other people watching, which consisted mostly of comments such as:
“Omg. What is she wearing?”
“Eew, she’s way too skinny now.”
“Wow, she gained a lot of weight.”
The actresses were the subject of much scrutiny and criticism, mostly around their physical appearance. The people doing the bashing? Women. All women. The craziest part of it all, is how normalized this negative talk is – and each and every one of us are guilty of it to some degree as well. Whether we are judging another woman’s looks, celebrity or not, or self-loathing over our own physical appearance, we are part of the vicious cycle that disempowers women.
This negative discourse happens not only when watching awards shows, but often creeps into our daily conversations as well. I started to pay attention to the topics that were the center of conversation when getting together with girlfriends. I noticed that there was an overwhelming amount of time discussing two topics: 1) guys 2) looks. Are men doing the same thing? When they get together with other men, are they talking about how skinny they want to be, or how they want to use filler to get rid of their laugh lines? Or are they talking about other things – politics, stocks, investments, business…. I suspect, it’s more of the latter. So while guys are getting together and talking about making money, career moves and business deals, we are spending that time talking about diet fads and Rene Zellweger’s plastic surgery? Does something seemed skewed here?
These conversations that center around beauty and the male gaze do not serve us. Ashley Judd summarizes this powerfully, when she was attacked in the media for having a “puffy face”.
“Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. The conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.”
Every time we tear another woman down because of her looks, every time we gather with our girlfriends to watch a television show or red carpet event and slam the attractiveness of the celebrities, every time we gossip that another woman is ugly, old or fat, every time we participate in these seemingly “harmless” behaviours and discourses, we are a part of the vicious cycle that disempowers women. We feed it. We allow it to become normalized. We become our own worst enemy.
I want to challenge you.
The next time you gather with girlfriends, pay attention to the conversation topic and ask yourself if the discussion is one that is rooted in positivity or negativity. If the latter, navigate the conversation into a direction that is empowering and inspiring. The next time you self-loathe and judge your own looks, force yourself to compliment yourself out loud. We are our own worst critics. In a world where all the advertising messages repeatedly reinforce that we are not good enough, it is crucial that we be more gentle on ourselves.
“Train yourself to see the beauty in everyone. This is a muscle you build. I promise you, once you have strengthened that muscle, not only does the lens in which you see the world become more beautiful, you become more beautiful as well.”
The next time you watch a show or see another woman on the street, instead of pointing out something about her that is physically displeasing, point out something that is beautiful. Train yourself to see the beauty in everyone. This is a muscle you build. I promise you, once you have strengthened that muscle, not only does the lens in which you see the world become more beautiful, you become more beautiful as well.