Women’s bodies and sexuality have historically been used as a commodity to sell everything on earth, from car tires to the household appliances! Women are often depicted as objects of visual and sexual pleasure across television, magazines, media, and entertainment industries. If we look around ourselves, we’ll find hypersexualized and unrealistically perfect female forms almost everywhere. Let’s talk about what can we do to dismantle the social construct of unrealistically perfect female beauty.
Over the last couple of decades, there have been growing concerns over the negative impacts of this objectification. Studies have shown that young girls around the globe are facing serious mental health issues because of the thin ideal and fatphobia imposed on them by brands, media, and social media.
They are at huge risks of suffering from negative body image, low- self-esteem, eating disorders, and body dysmorphia. According to Jess Wiener, the cultural expert for the Dove Self-Esteem Project-
Viewing unrealistic and unachievable beauty images creates an unattainable goal which leads to feelings of failure.
We measure our self-worth based on how others will think of us! Sad. Isn’t it?
Fortunately, in the recent past, we have seen a growing number of actresses, models, and feminists activists have started speaking up against brands, media, objectifying women, and started advocating in favor of embracing body imperfections, and body positivity.
Body positivity is a movement which in its simplest form challenges the unrealistic standards of feminine beauty like flawless, wrinkle-free, blemish-free skin, perfect body size and shapes, and avoidance of any imperfections. The body positivity movement encourages young people to love and accept their body irrespective of how they look and reject social constructs on how a perfect body should look like.
As women, we have very important roles to play in the lives of young girls and women around us to dismantle the social construct of beauty and to deconstruct the social norms of associating physical appearance with self-worth and success.
I would like to recommend a few basic tips which I feel we all should be consciously avoiding –
- Mentioning body shapes, size, height, skin tone, skin color while complimenting someone. It might sound surprising to some of you as the common perception is we hurt someone’s self-esteem ONLY when we criticize them. But that’s not quite true. For instance, If you tell someone ‘you look absolutely gorgeous and so thin in this dress’. Aren’t you endorsing the fact that she has to be thin to be beautiful? We all do it sometimes or other, but it’s time for us to remind ourselves and everybody around us that we are here to change what’s normal and embrace what is good for our well being.
- While talking to children, referring their body types, weight, or skin-color in any context. We often tend to get obsessed with our children and their well beings. But even very caring parents or relatives can potentially damage a kid’s sense of self-worth to the extent they can’t even imagine. For instance, when you scold your overweight kid for taking an extra serving of dinner or ask your dark-skinned child not to wear a specific dress because it doesn’t suit her complexion, they associate those comments with a lot of pain and stigma, internalize their emotions, and start disliking their bodies, which manifest in different forms as they grow older.
- Finally, let’s start with loving ourselves and our bodies first! Self-love and self-acceptance are the basis of all forms of body activism and body positive movements. Once we start loving and accepting our bodies, we would automatically stop judging others and start supporting one another.
We all have our unconscious biases and blind spots about physical appearances. It’s very easy to slip back to our old thoughts and patterns. However, we should constantly remind ourselves and bring awareness within us and around us about the fact we all are here to lift each other up, not to tear each other apart.
In the end, we should accept the fact that we all are struggling to find our place in the world – a place where we feel supported, heard, understood, accepted, empowered, and loved without being judged.
Let’s create that space for one another! Let’s stop judging, shaming, and blaming. Let’s walk each other home.
(This piece was originally delivered as a talk at the “Autumn Dialogue” organized by Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WICCI ) and Lighthouse )