Part One: Body Image and Physical Attractiveness…. Are We Fighting a Losing Battle Against Ourselves??

A dear friend of mine recently wrote a column on a love/advice blog. His general theme was how women blame men for placing unrealistic expectations on them so that they are struggling the rest of their lives to appear young and perfect whilst men are allowed to become paunchy, grey and bald as part of the normal aging process. His consensus was that we give men too much credit. That men aren’t intelligent enough to mastermind such a skillful plan and although they are happy to encourage such “ongoing maintenance”, are not the perpetrators of pristine. He goes on to name women as the ones who place unrealistic expectations on themselves; through a competitiveness of spirit. So ladies, what do you think? Are we fighting a losing battle against ourselves?

I of course disagree with some of Kev’s article. I think men do place a lot of importance on looks. Almost all the women with serious body issues I know were told by a male figure in their young lives that there was something wrong with their physicality. My biological father told me when I was young that I was “fat” and would never get a boyfriend until I lost weight. Another friend of mine had a male family member tell her that she had “fat legs”. We’ve carried these emotional weights with us throughout the entirety of our lives and believe me, they weigh in a lot heavier than what it tells me on the scale. While it’s not the fault of the whole of the male race…I’m sorry boys but I don’t think we can totally exonerate you.

I do agree with Kev that women are competitive. REALLLY competitive at times. No one has ever been harder on me than I’ve been on myself, and I’ve rarely seen a man be CRUEL in the same way I see women be to one another on a daily basis, myself included. Why do we feel the need to do this? Why must we constantly critique the style and body type of other women? I can only speak for myself here and say that I do it because I feel inadequate. I feel some weird sense of guilt that I’m not doing more to make myself look perfect. When I see someone truly lovey, I feel the need to pick at something. It’s a type of feminine psychosis really.

In another way, I feel that we’re just continuing a trend that been going on since the beginning of civilised society. Women as the so-called weaker sex, have been expected to conform throughout history to be the embodiment of whatever trend was meant to personify femininity at that particular time. It’s all very political. What about bound feet? This was considered extremely erotic in the Qing dynasty…but beyond eroticism it limited a woman’s mobility and cause her to be dependent on her family for the rest of her life. In the 1800’s it was whalebone corsets, causing some women to actually have ribs removed in order to cinch their waists a bit tighter. All this in order to compete for a more desirable husband. Today it’s liposuction, breast implants and plastic surgery. We no longer need someone else to take care of us, so why do we still allow ourselves to compete for an ideal that is unattainable?

Because beneath the surface of our society, the perception of physical attractiveness still has a hand in dictating our place in it. I think sometimes people forget that women had to fight for that place (relatively recently I might add), that we’re still fighting. We’ve allowed society to sell us a fantasy that says if we look a certain way that our lives will be fulfilled; while we totally ignore the problems that exist beneath our skin. We’re depicted in the media as sex-objects; yet expected to be chaste according to our religion. We’ve got a lot of issues, and rightly so. Perhaps we could all take a lesson from the following anonymous declaration of self-esteem….

I am me.

In all the world, there is no one else exactly like me. There are persons who have some parts like me, but no one adds up exactly like me. Therefore, everything that comes out of me is authentically mine because I alone chose it.

I own everything about me – my body, including everything it does; my mind, including all its thoughts and ideas; my eyes, including the images of all they behold; my feelings, whatever they may be – anger, joy, frustration, love, disappointment, excitement; my mouth, and all the words that come out of it, polite, sweet or rough, correct or incorrect; my voice, loud or soft; and all my actions, whether they be to others or to myself.

I own my fantasies, my dreams, my hopes, my fears.

I own all my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes.

Because I own all of me, I can become intimately acquainted with me. By so doing I can love me and be friendly with me in all my parts. I can then make it possible for all of me to work in my best interests.

I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me, and other aspects that I do not know. But as long as I am friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously and hopefully look for the solutions to the puzzles and for ways to find out more about me.

However I look and sound, whatever I say and do, and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is me. This is authentic and represents where I am at that moment in time.

When I review later how I looked and sounded, what I said and did, and how I thought and felt, some parts may turn out to be unfitting. I can discard that which is unfitting, and keep that which proved fitting, and invent something new for that which discarded.

I can see, hear, feel, think, say, and do. I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive, and to make sense and order out of the world of people and things outside of me.

I own me, and therefore I can engineer me.

I am me and I am okay.


11 comments to “Part One: Body Image and Physical Attractiveness…. Are We Fighting a Losing Battle Against Ourselves??”

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  1. Very interesting musings, Lo, and the saddest part is the bit about women cutting each other down on a daily basis instead of supporting each other. It’s too simplistic to say it’s us against the world when there are so many amazing men around who don’t try to make us subservient, but it is true that it’s each individual against the world – I’d love to have a more gender balanced group of close, supportive friends to help me in my quest. I hope one day that’s possible!

  2. (@lobeliasabo ( tried to tweet this back to ya.. but twitter on go slow again seems like :/ … No matter I’ll say it here instead πŸ™‚ )

    Great post!

    Judging people by what’s on the outside is particularly odious when it’s done in order to control another person(s).

    You have a wonderful voice. I wish you all good things for the future πŸ™‚

  3. I have so many thoughts on this whole subject – we did a service at greenbelt called Body Mass for which I spoke a bit about body image post-pregnancy. I wish I could find it!

    As for whether it is the fault of men – in some cases I’m sure it is, but the majority of our sex manage to feel perfectly inadequate all on our own! And constantly comparing ourselves to unrealistic images in magazines etc doesn’t help – but we seem to be gluttons for punishment.

    I also think that in many ways, very high heels are a bit like a modern equivalent of foot binding – men finding tottering women attractive, and is that in any way connected to the fact that they aren’t very mobile/can’t get away…? Don’t know if that makes sense, or if I’d agree with it if I wasn’t unable to wear high heels myself – Maybe I’m just bitter!

  4. My friend Lorna (http://www.lornaart.com) told me a few weeks ago that if you repeat something enough times it becomes a pattern. Granted we were talking about art at the time, but I really think this little nugget of wisdom pertains to many things in life. When a situation plays out enough times in a row, the person or persons who started it don’t even need to be present for it to repeat. It’s like the bird that gets used to sleeping in it’s cage each night…no matter how many times it flies free it will come back time and time again. I’m like that. No matter how much I rebel against the notion that I need to look a certain way to be happy, I return to feeling like I’m not thin enough.

    Lar,

    I’m trying to be more gracious and kinder towards myself and others. Growing up in Southern WV where gender roles are about 50 years behind the times didn’t help. I never agreed with the rampant misogyny that went on there; but I think that the essence of that stays with you no matter what. That’s where I got that weird Southern trait for wanting to ‘serve’ everyone. I certainly don’t blame men as a whole, though sometimes I’d like to give one or two a good hoof in the pods. πŸ˜‰

    Hi Linda! Thanks so much for the kind words and great comment.

    Carey,

    Yes, I think high heels are indeed a bit like foot binding…or as Steve Martin called them…”The Cruel Shoes”. The appeal of both being the tottering swaying walk that would make it harder for a woman to run away Interesting connection. I used to torture myself with painful shoes all the time when I was younger…even though it’s a bit stupid as I’m almost 6ft tall anyway!

    Hope you’re doing well lovely. Let me know if you find the service you did for greenbelt! Love to read/see it. We need to come see you soon and meet R! Steve is on tour all next week but perhaps the week after?

  5. I believe how one views the male/female relationship totally depends on their personal experience. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer because it’s so subjective. For example… I tend to see the female gender as powerful because I feel that I am in charge of my own course and I whole heartedly believe that it wouldn’t matter which age I were born into, I would feel the same way but with different societal rules. Furthermore, I find it rare that two exceedingly beautiful people hook up together which tells me relationships aren’t built on aesthetics but on a deeper level of chemistry. Most of the time, from what I hear from men, they are skittish of women who are too attractive for a base fear of them being too high maintenance.

  6. Fuhrmanator says: -#1

    Male point of view here:
    Nobody’s perfect physically. But feeling comfortable in one’s own skin is hugely attractive. Confidence, sense of humor and positive attitude trump a lot of the physical imperfections.

    I think it’s generally true that women have a tougher line to tow appearance-wise in today’s society, but I’m not sure whose fault it is (men or women). I think that competition to attract the opposite sex goes on on both sides. Maybe women are competitive in a subtler, more psychologically aggressive way.

  7. My point of view is that we’re just not as far “out of the trees” as we think we are. A lot of these beauty myths can be traced to the perception of fertility. It’s the same thing that drives the Midlife Crisis High End Auto Market for men. “Car shiny! Girl like!”
    So is embracing evolution a part of evolution? Humans seem far too short-sighted to really pull that off.

  8. Great Comments Cris and Tess! Tess, you are definitely one of the most confident women I know. It’s refreshing to see.

    Kennan,

    Fascinating topic. I’ve been reading a lot about this very subject….the laws of attraction, facial symmetry, hip to waist ratio ect… I do think attraction has a lot to do with evolution in ways that we don’t readily understand. Perhaps people feel they’ve risen above their instincts??

  9. Looks and status definitely go together – celebrity being the yardstick by which all are now judged. Interesting topic, well opened up..

  10. Thanks Dean. It’s a strange business, the way we collude with the media to put pressure on celebrities to look a certain way and in turn, find ourselves subjected to that same pressure. It’s a vicious cycle.

  11. It was my mother that gave me my body issues, when I got to around 16 I started to fill out and at that point she started to make comments about me putting on weight and getting fat. At that point filling out translated to a gymnast & figure skater putting on enough weight to be about 8.5/9 stone (which considering I’m 5’7″ is pretty light & toned if you ask me). This wasn’t helped by the fact that I do have a bit of an ass on me…..figure skating does tend to develop you’re glutes, but her comments have stayed with me for years and it’s only now at 33 years old that I really feel comfortable with my body and how I look.

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American born Lobelia isn’t just your typical singer-songwriter. A multi-instrumentalist who worked as a studio musician for 10+ years, she has won multiple awards for her songwriting, has been featured in Billboard Magazine, and was one of the original Women of MP3.COM in the early days of the Internet. Now living in the UK after a 7 year stint in Montreal, she hosts several acclaimed songwriter nights at Tower of Song, Birmingham’s best small music venue. An advocate for sustainable touring, she travels the world performing at house concerts and small venues.