Scrutinizing My Body Takes All My Time

On a typical day, you might see ads featuring a naked woman’s body tempting viewers to buy an electronic organizer, partially exposed women’s breasts being used to sell fishing line, and a woman’s rear—wearing only a thong—being used to pitch a new running shoe. Meanwhile, on every newsstand, impossibly slim (and digitally airbrushed) cover “girls” adorn a slew of magazines. With each image, you’re hit with a simple, subliminal message: Girls’ and women’s bodies are objects for others to visually consume.

So says Caroline Heldman, Assistant Professor of Politics at Occidental College, in a piece for Ms.

This notion of bodies for consumption leaves us constantly judging ourselves and others. How do we stack up? How do “they”?

Our friends declare someone too fat or too thin; sitcoms quip on body weight or shape; tabloids spot celebrities’ flaws; men bluster about big boobs; Howard Stern picks women apart and Rush Limbaugh insists feminism was established “to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.” (Yes, really, Rush and Howard think they are in a position to make unkind remarks about other people’s appearance.)

All this leads women to “self-objectify” so that we see and judge ourselves through others’ eyes, and especially, the male gaze. Women live in “a state of double consciousness … a sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others,” says Heldman.

Self-objectifiers constantly “body monitor” – that is, think about how they look to the outside world. And this often leads to depression, lower self-esteem and diminished faith in their abilities.

Any surprise body monitoring distracts women from tasks at hand, whether math exams or throwing a softball? After all, girls have to split their attention between how they look and what they want their bodies to do.

Body monitoring also replaces the question “Who am I?” with “What image should I project?” It becomes difficult to imagine identities that are truly our own.

What to do? Heldman recommends avoiding fashion magazines, since just viewing those so-called “perfect” images makes women feel less attractive.

She also suggests we voice our concerns to companies and boycott their products.

Too often self-worth is based on unattainable body ideals. And with body image so closely tied to self-esteem, girls and women can end up pretty dissatisfied with themselves.

It wasn’t always so. There has been a dramatic increase in poor body image among women since the mid-20th century. Back then, a woman’s sense of self had revolved more around her talents, abilities and contributions. It was more about who she was than what she looked like. Maybe by shifting focus to who we really are we could more easily emerge out of ridiculous and superficial body consciousness.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on March 5, 2012, in body image, feminism, gender, objectification, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. I’m shocked by Rush Limbaugh words, that feminism was established “to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society,” but in researching more about him I understood where he was coming from, a sexist point of view. And I don’t agree with his argument many powerful women are beautiful, who also didn’t use their there bodies to get to where they are at know, who used their talents. I agree with Heldman that recommends that women avoid fashion magazines, but it’s not only fashion magazines that advertise “perfect images” that make “women feel less attractive,” everything involving the media from magazines to TV to billboards. Although avoiding fashion magazines would be a great start, but watching shows that involve fashion wont make a difference. I don’t know how or where a person would, “voice our concerns to companies and boycott their products,” as Heldman also recommends. I don’t read fashion magazines not because am avoiding them but because they seem useless, I dress the way I want to dress not because someone else tells me how to dress. This blog goes back to the girls that post videos about them selves because they believe they are ugly, the reason because of that is that so many teens do read fashion magazines, teens are so easy to monopolize that the magazines target them.

  2. Not just women. I see lots of ads now with physically fit men withouth their shirts all the time now. Just walk into an abercrombie and fitch store and youll see what i mean.

  3. Jessica Garriga

    I’ve honestly stopped caring how I look at this point. I used to be crazy self-conscious because of these reasons. I’ve even had a friend that mocked me for being too ‘skinny’ because she was too big to wear my jacket. (Putting me down to make herself feel better?). And even with people calling me too skinny, i felt too fat because girls on TV. However, it became so tiring to worry about how I looked all the time. Sometime in high school I just gave up and wore what I felt comfortable and warm in. Today I see girls wearing thin clothing on freezing days because it’s the fashion. And then I come up looking like a 5 year old with sweat pants and a raincoat. But I’ve never been so comfortable and confident in myself! As long as I’m healthy, I don’t care how I look physically anymore. Make up makes me uncomfortable, so I don’t wear it. It’s all about comfort now. Hopefully girls will realize this and be less self-conscious and subject themselves to uncomfortable practices. Then again, I stopped watching tv and generally only really watch cartoons. Magazines don’t phase me since i never read them and can see the Photoshop done to them. Maybe that has something to do with my thinking? I think a way to gain more confidence is then to cut down on media. Why read or watch something that makes you feel like crap? Especially when you can watch cartoons or Xena: Warrior Princess. Nothing builds confidence than a lone female warrior who can beat up a Greek God.

  4. Confidence is everything. Once we have that we can grow to become comfortable in our own skin. Easier said than done mist would say but I so believe it is possible. Although we are all guilty of it, including myself, we cannot constantly compare outrider to the women that we see in advertisement. Why? Because more than likely those images are edited to look a way that is not real.

  5. Becky Gardner

    Perhaps the most damaging part of this whole phenomenon is attention-splitting: women and girls are expected to focus on their appearance, thus taking away from time and energy that could be better spent studying, cultivating a talent, etc. When this standard is place on young girls, they lose focus in school and are at risk for losing their potential for independent success and really and truly bettering themselves to the fullest, not because someone else wants them to, but because THEY want to.

    Jessica makes a great point– by ignoring the direct comments and expectations, we’re allowed more time to do what we want to do and the self-confidence that comes from that is worth so much more than the attention of a thousand men.

  6. I am not at all surprised that women spend so much time consumed with thoughts about weather their bodies are perfect. Heldman brought up a valid point in suggesting that we avoid fashion magazines so as not to be affected by these images of the “perfect” women but even if you do this you are bound to run into it sooner or later. There is just so much concern and focus put on body image in the media. I notice it involves women a great deal more then men, it seems like men are cut a little more slack. If a man’s body does not look fit and strong people are more likely to gloss over it then they would a women who was curvy, very thin, or chubby. A recent phenomenon has hit youtube and it involves girls as young as 9 posting videos of themselves and asking the public to comment on how pretty they think they are. This is so sad and makes me cringe that they feel the need to ask strangers for reassurance, but the worst is the people who think they have the right to make rude comments like Rush Limbaugh and Howard stern.

  7. I related to this article in numerous ways. Being a young woman I constantly battle with my self image. I used to refuse to eat any carbs at all because I was afraid of gaining any weight. I would diet constantly to try to be as petite as possible and to avoid being curvy in any way. Even though today I have let up a great deal I always battle the urge to do sit ups after evry meal I deem unhealthy because I am afraid of being fat and having people judge my image. I see all my guy friends in college making fun of any girl thats pudgy or has any excess weight on her and that upsets me. It is incredibly unfair that our standard of beauty has been reduced to size double zero models who are nursing eating disorders. As a woman this hurts me everyday. I finally am in a place where I dont mind having some softness to me. I have big hips and thick thighs but I also have a waist. Every one is different and every body is different and have differnt level of what it means to be healthy. As long as you are healthful and a nice person I personally think you are automatically beautiful no matter what your weight is.

  8. First and foremost, people have to learn to be comfortable with their selves. There is no way I would let the media change the way I feel about myself. I agree with Tayla that confidence is the foundation of being comfortable with you. One thing people need to understand is that the “perfect” images the media portray of men and women is all a figment of their imagination. We all have flaws rather they’re visible or not, so there is no such thing as being perfect. In my opinion, people should learn how to embrace their flaws and stop worrying about “how they look to the outside world.”

    • I’m really glad you’re enlightened enough to get this. Media influence is most powerful at a subconscious level. If people aren’t aware of the critique, media retains that power.

  9. You know, I have to admit; I totally ‘monitor’ my body. Many times I tell myself that I don’t care what society thinks, or how I am supposed to look. But then I go shopping, and everything is a size zero or x-tra small, and it starts to make me think that’s normal, and I’m different. Don’t get me wrong, I know that these girls are photo shopped, and I know many take extreme measures to maintain the ‘perfect’ body image, and I know the average size if far from a size zero; however, it does put pressure on me. I think the worst is when a friend calls someone else fat, or calls themselves fat, and I know that I’m bigger than them; I think, geez, they must think I’m fat then. As someone else mentioned, girls are starting off younger and younger, and I think that school can be a tough place for a young girl. If you are teased, like many kids are, it’s hard to overcome. As adults we know right from wrong, but to see it affect children the way it does, is probably the worst part.

  10. i think that Confidence is very important, outlook doesn’t mean anything. but people always think that the shape of people and the size of people can built up there confidence. Some went to do plastic surgery to redo their body. A lot of people think that skinny is pretty. So that they eat less to keep their body. I think health and confidence is important than anything. Do not need to care what others think and see.

  11. Women are obnoxiously over sensitive about their appearance. I understand though, I sometimes look at myself and wish I had different features but then I stop to think, Why do I want to look just like another person? I think, as women, subconsciously we are always trying to compete with the women we see on TV and in Magazines because those are the men numerous amounts of people drool over, but even they don’t really look like that. What we do see is movie stars and models walking around in high heels all day long and their makeup is flawless, like they just stepped out of a photo shoot. From this of course, every day at school I see at least 10 girls with so much makeup on their face you would have to power hose it off, and girls in high heels. We go to school on a mountain…it just doesn’t make sense to me. These girls are trying to mimic what these “beautiful” people look like, but most people are just thinking they look ridiculous. Women spend so much time trying to be society’s idea of “beautiful” that all the time they spend takes away from everything else, and they tend to end up never being truly happy with themselves or the life they have. Also, it’s sad that girls are so self-conscious about their bodies and think they have to be a size 2 when even today, Marilyn Monroe, a size 12, is a sex symbol and many men and women find her to be beautiful.

  12. Christina Long

    People who make comments like Rush and Howard don’t realize their words hurt women and their self esteem more than they can comprehend. It’s definitely true that women these days are always thinking about what they look like, I know because I definitely do it myself sometimes. And it’s like it doesn’t matter how in shape a woman is, she will always find something that she doesn’t like, whether it’s her stomach or boobs or butt or what have you. And it is definitely because of ads like Victoria’s Secret one’s where the women are so photoshopped everything about them seems to be “perfect” but who are these models to tell all women what “perfect” really is? I think being confident and comfortable in your own skin is what makes you beautiful. I agree with Heldman that if a woman is too self conscious about her appearance and wants to do something to help that, it would be a good idea to stop looking at magazines and ads and so on of models and just realize that you shouldn’t change who you are to look like someone else because your differences is what sets you apart and makes you beautiful.

  13. It is true for me that confidence builds women up. We can be too easily affected by others opinions about our shape and sizes. Also, we are likely to compare ourselves to other women or idols. We put too much emphasize on people’s views. As a result, we eat less or diet for a slim body shape or do surgery for a “better” look. Soon, we lose our health and face other problems. In my opinion, I think women should not care about others views but just become themselves and gain self confidence and health and thus enjoy a bright future.

  14. It is true that men are considered the stronger in our society, and women the weaker ones. However, this idea should be changed now because unlike the old times when women kept themselves alive under men’s protection, they now have the ability to support themselves. Therefore, it is time that women ignore how the outside world, especially men, think about their appearance. Their talent and ability is much more important than what they look like. In my experience, men are usually the ones who care about looks, and most men believe that it is normal, but this thought has put women in an unequal position. Women shouldn’t become the ones being judged by others, so neither others nor themselves should pay too much attention on their outside looks because what really matters to the entire society is who they really are, and what ability they have.

  15. The blog makes many strong points about the severity of women constantly monitoring their bodies. I understood it because it resonated with me very well. I have to admit I am constantly observing and criticizing my body.

    The part that makes it worse is, I noticed, is when I compare my body to that of other women. That is when I can really make myself depressed and lower my self-esteem. The more we compare ourselves to others, the more we further ourselves from a better solution. We have to structure an attainable goal for our bodily appearance without the influence of outside forces: magazines, models, or any other medium.

  16. Malar Ganapathiappan

    It’s true that many women over-examine themselves and their flaws. How many people actually have complete confidence in their own bodies and what they can do? I’m sure the answer to this is very few. With so many different sources telling people how they should be, it becomes very difficult for them to find out who they really are and should be. The last part brings up an interesting point. It would be nice if we were able to shift the focus again, away from what people look like, because it would be more healthy for everyone. Of course, this is a slow and difficult process.

  17. I appreciate the advice about “not reading those fashion magazines” so that we won’t be exposing ourselves to any more unneeded pressures. I found out a couple years ago that I could no longer stand looking at magazines that pictured impossibly skinny women and “their” supposed “perfect” lives. Those images do nothing but make its readers feel inadequate about themselves and their lives. I have friends who spend so much time “reading” those magazines, and it is those friends who tend to have the lowest self-esteem and body image. I only hope that more people will get this message and hopefully one day it will reach a point when the magazine will begin to focus again on the qualities of a women and not just what they look like on the outside.

  18. Nicole Neufeld

    A lot of the time in our society today all women can think about is how their outfit or their hair or makeup makes them look to other people. A woman’s appearance has really taken over “who” they are when how we may dress has nothing to do with who we really are. We as a society really need to stop focusing so much on appearance because it is really damaging our youth who grow up learning that perfection is what they should strive for when in reality “perfection” in the eyes of society is completely unattainable. Especially when we criticize young women’s idols that they may think ARE perfect. It in turn makes many wonder—“If SHE isn’t perfect, what am I?” Our society really needs to focus on what people are really made of, not what clothes they decide to wear.

  19. It’s just shocking how much a woman has to do to be attractive. We focus most of our time on how we look, and sometimes people don’t even care to glance. There are some women who focus on how they look and make their success a wavering opinion and put beauty before everything. Yes, theirs always going to be someone who comments on how you look, but it’s not worth paying attention too. People just have to be accepting to how they look and be comfortable with it. In order to be beautiful is to know you’re beautiful; women need self confidences to show their beauty inside and outside. Nobody in the world is perfect I think we just have to face it that there are many imperfections, and we just have to live with them and make the best of what we do have.

  20. Megan Aldridge

    First of all, I entirely agree that Rush and Howard have absolutely no right to judge anyone by their physical appearance. Those two men are not the definition of beauty that is for sure. Appearance has become so important to women recently. I have friends who constantly think about how they look and about how other people are viewing them. They sort have seem to lose themselves and who they are. I have seen some people be mean or degrading to other people just because they believe that they look better physically than the other person. It is hard to watch girls place their self worth so heavily on how they look rather than the person that they are. I do not know why some beautiful people have any “friends” at all when they are so ugly on the inside.

  21. i really don’t see why we are expected to all look and act like stepford clones!!! no two people are the same , so why should we follow society’s rules?!well, breaking news: society can screw it!! we are humans , not pre programmed androids of living barbies and kens! also, plastic surgery?! come on! have you seen what happens to people who have too much plastic surgery?! they look less human and more fake, look at jordan, look at peter burns, they had surgery to improve their looks and ironically they look worse!! well , screw it!! i’m not starving myself , or having bigger breasts, or turning myself into a living blow up barbie for anyone!!

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