Scrutinizing My Body Takes All My Time

imagesOn 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 while 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 September 11, 2013, in body image, feminism, objectification, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. I found this post to be very interesting, thought provoking, and “spot on.” This blog post helps me understand that when women self-objectify themselves, they are not necessarily viewing themselves as sexual objects, but they are rather perceiving their bodies through how people consume them. Some men further reinforce the idea that women’s value and self-confidence should be concentrated on their physical attractiveness through sexually objectifying women’s bodies, subordinating women, speaking down on feminism, and problematizing women leaders. I also agree with the concept of body monitoring which I thought was brilliantly tied into W.E.B. DuBois’s theory of double-consciousness. For a while I definitely viewed double consciousness as something I encounter as a Black woman; however, women and people of color in general definitely experience it as well. I never really linked women’s pre-occupation with image as “a sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others” but it makes perfect sense. I also love the title of this blog post because self-monitoring and double consciousness is something that continuously takes control of how people interact with themselves and the world at large consciously and subconsciously.

  2. I completely agree with Heldman, avoiding fashion magazines or such things(media) that make you want a “perfect body” can be helpful. Therefore, when viewing too much I myself have felt less attractive in doing so. Also, I am aware that I’m not the only one who feels the same way. I’ve heard of other women and even young girls talking about their self esteem being very low. Media causes us to feel dissatisfied most of the time. It’s truly sad to have a “dramatic increase of poor body image.” It is not teaching us the true meaning of life and happiness. Contrary, it is teaching us the complete opposite, causing women of all ages to feel uncomfortable in the world we live in. There is nothing wrong with improving your health but there is certainly something wrong with pressuring women to look the same with a specific body image.

  3. I think many young women are so worried of how they need to look now a days. But lately, athletes and celebrities are encouraging young ladies to put out those negative thoughts to accept who they really are. The celebrities and athletes reminds us girls to stay positive and ignore all those superficial advertisement on the magazine which are photo shopped. It really inspires quite a lot of people these days.

  4. I love that this topic is being talked about. I always thought I was the only one feeling this way about my body. Over the last few years, I’ve become more and more consumed with how I look and thinking about how other people see me. I’ve never worried more about the issue, than now… I’m not sure if it’s because I watch more tv nowadays, read too many magazines, etc, but I feel as though i’m constantly comparing myself to those anorexic models. Sure, it makes me feel a little better when I think about how much their body is getting airbrushed/edited before the final clip, but still, it makes me question the way I look, makes me pick out every flaw. Just as Paula had confessed, I too have a mild case of OCD, so that may have something to do with it, but I know I shouldn’t feel this way.

  5. Christin Janicki

    Advertisements have definitely made me more self conscious about my body. Every time i look in a magazine or watch a commercial it makes me want to cover up and hide. There is not way to escape it either. When you’re driving down the highway every billboard has some image of a women looking sexy on it. Looking at these images always provokes the same response in me, why don’t i look like that? Although i realize that these photos are air brushed, and that nobody in the world actually looks like that, it still makes me feel bad about my own appearance. These advertisements are men’s ideas of what women should look like. When they see these ads they assume that all women are going to look like that, and then are disappointed when they don’t. This has created an impossible standard for women to live up to. By simply having ads that portray woman’s natural beauty all of our problems would be solved. Men wouldn’t have such high expectations, and women could start to feel better about themselves.

    • Yes, it’s a real problem.

      And even more than portraying way men want us to look, it portrays the way advertisers want us to look. Or want us to think we want to look. Because then we will buy an endless stream of products (they hope) trying to achieve an impossible ideal.

  6. Women in modern society have become fixated on their looks and their body. It has increased drastically thanks to the social media. You cannot avoid seeing slender models in a magazine, or viewing flawless celebrities on the TV, and not compare your appearance to theirs. Women lose so much confidence in themselves when they see that a celebrity or a model has a prettier face or longer legs or a perfect stomach or whatever it may be. What we fail to realize as women is that these photos are not always what the seem. In the news there have been many problems with photographers photo shopping these women into looking even skinner than they already are or altering their looks. These women that we look up to and admire are not always real. I agree with this article’s solutions on how to boost women’s self-esteem by boycotting these companies who release these ads and stating our opinions and put an end to this.

  7. I completely agree that models seen in advertisements and television commercials make women believe that their own bodies are inadequate. I was surprised by the first comment to this topic that described how an image of an attractive woman is airbrushed and photo-shopped before the ad is finalized. A while ago I read an essay on the topic of advertising which may explain why advertisers use these unrealistic images in their ads. In the essay “Advertising’s Fifteen Basic Appeals” Jib Fowles explains that in today’s environment advertisers have only a few seconds to catch the viewer’s attention. The author goes on to state, “Advertisers know there is little chance of good communication occurring if an ad is not visually pleasing” (83). Jib Fowlers also states, “…for the greater number [of ads] by far the appeal is contained in the artwork…since visual communication better suits more primal levels of the brain” (73). I think that if more people understood that the images in the ads are not real and even the woman in the picture or image does not really look like that, it may help women stop being so critical of their own bodies.

    • Interesting.

      Also, ads often work by making people feel bad about themselves and then offering a product to “help”

      If impossible ideals are set forth, then women can end up buying a lot of product to “help.” Neverending product, actually, since the ideal is unattainable.

  8. There is a real need to shift the primary focus away from what we look like. Have you seen the controversy over the latest Roxy ad? I think there is some pressure on men to look ‘hot’ but a lot more pressure on women.

  9. Have you seen the statue of Venus from ancient Greece?
    Nowdays she would be considered to be a chubby ordinary and probably unattractive woman for the standards of the media but back then she was the goddess of Love!
    I guess at that time there weren’t any companies trying to convince women they need to buy their products.

  10. I agree that some boycotting is needed, Georgia. I also think that we could just stop looking. I have been on a television and magazine fast for the past year, and I can feel the effects.

  11. Interesting point of view, “Advertisement with a woman in it” is definitely the cause of body monitoring for women. In my opinion, this whole phenomenon of “self-objectifying” could be traced back to the invention of mirror.

    • Actually, this sort of obsession didn’t really happen until fashion, advertising and otherwise, began extolling ONE narrowly defined body type as the must-have ideal. And that was done to create an impossible image via starving models who were then photoshopped. With an impossible ideal, women would need to buy never-ending products to keep trying to measure up. Marketing genius, and extremely unhealthy, both physically and mentally.

  12. The thing is, don’t women and girls realize these ads are to make women self conscious and getting profit from it? A lot of corporations are greedy sobs and don’t give a shit about people but the holy dollar. They advertise this fake, perfect body, because they realize many women don’t have their bodies and because women are ultra competitive and can’t be satisfied with their own beauty even if they do get attention and are admired from their boyfriends, husbands or men, they have to be hotter than the next woman. When you let the media dictate your worth and too much emphasis on the media and not in real life, that’s a problem. Want to be valued for more than your looks? Then have worth and a career, intelligence, talent, hobbies that highlight your worth in other areas as well. If some guys don’t find you pretty enough or as pretty as the hot girl. then so what, it’s their loss. After all, don’t many women want a guy they can have a meaningful relationship with? There are plenty of guys who value women for more than their looks, and they will want to be with you even if you’re not the “hottest” girl there, and that’s what should really matter. I think a lot of this is provoked or happens because of girls egos, and this desire for approval seeking for some reason.

    • In my own experience I didn’t know for a long time that the models starved themselves and we’re photoshopped. Or that the images were created to make women buy stuff to help them feel better. (and with impossible ideals, it won’t really work)

      Women do often feel under a tremendous amount of pressure to look good. You could call it ego, I suppose. But you also feel like its a societal expectation — like to be worthy of esteem, love, approval… That people won’t value you if you don’t look like THAT.

      It’s taken me a while to get over it. And really, I can still struggle with it at times. Though most of the time I don’t really think about it anymore.

    • Brian, women are competitive and can’t be satisfied with their looks because of the media. The media does this because they’ve won. Years and years of being exposed to thousands of ads a day, has finally gotten girls and women exactly where they want. And boys and men too. Because now they expect their partner to be eye candy. On the surface, it seems a bit dramatic to think people are so easily brainwashed. But constant exposure, daily, and for years, can go no other way than subconsciously very dangerous.

  13. Hi Georgia, I have a post in my drafts for next week, and I touch on this just a little bit.
    It’s something close to me as I’ve struggled with body image most of my life.
    The fact I have mild OCD doesn’t help either. If I’m not obsessing over one thing…I’m obsessing over another. My body is something I’ve targeted again. I hate listening to guys talk about how fat so and so is etc. I look at the guys talking and see their huge bellies and think? What the?? I’m only 48 kilos and still I pick on myself. I don’t think it will ever change. I’ve had heaps of therapy for it, but still I tend to go back into the same patterns of behaviour. Hugs Paula xxx

    • So sorry to hear about the difficulties so many face. I can relate because I’ve struggled with it a bit, myself.

      Look foreward to reading your post. Feel free to add a link in these comments.

    • Have you seen the statue of Venus from ancient Greece?
      nowdays that would be considered to be an ordinary and more like unattractive female body but in ancient Greece it was the Goddess of love!
      And male bodies at that time, they all were lean.
      It’s natural for women to have more body and it’s unhealthy for them to be thin.
      It’s natural for men to have lean bodies and build muscles and it’s unhealthy for them to have high body fat – belly fat is a big danger of heart diseases for men.
      But the media has convinced us that’s is suppossed to be the other way around.
      Women have to be thin (which is unhealthy to them) and it’s ok for men to be chubby (which is unhealthy to them).
      Isn’t that ironic?

      Women have to starve to be thin because that’s unnatural to them.
      But men don’t have to starve to be lean, men have more muscles, more testosterone and it’s very easy for them to be lean. All they have to do is a little work out and stop eating processed foods. But men are lazy and they love eating junk foods.
      Why should they care about their appearance?
      nobody told them they have to look beautiful to get a woman.
      Why should they care about their health?
      nobody told them how to eat right – otherwise food companies would be out of business

      I suggest stop eating processed food, work out a little bit and your body will take of itself.
      Don’t care about what other people think, you should only care about being healthy.

      • Haha! I love your comment and its so true.
        Most of my life I’ve been thin
        Only put on weight from medication which drove me crazy and now I’ve lost it. 🙂
        I’ve struggled my whole life with Anorexia and bulimia. I swing between the 2. Its been a personal struggle I wish had never happened to me. I could talk about this forever…but best stop. Thank you and your very inspiring. I hug you, Paula xxx

  14. In my 8th grade Health class, we watched a documentary about what goes into making a typical advertisement with a woman in it. I think it was for a brand of vodka, but at any rate it featured a light-skinned black lady reclining sideways on a giant glass bottle.

    First, they took a starndard picture of her (already an attractive woman) lying propped up on her side. Then her image was fed into a computer and drastically altered…

    Her skin was lightened by about 2 shades. Waist was “cut” so that it took off about 10 lbs. Legs were stretched and made thinner, changing her from a 5’7″ woman to a 6′ woman. Her arms and neck were normally toned and muscled, but the graphic artist highlighted them in such a way as to eliminate any fat whatsoever. Lastly, an airbrush effect was used to remove the few “imperfections” she had…normal things like a skin tag on her neck, and a beauty mark on her face.

    In the end, you could tell it was the same woman…but the fact that someone I’d consider an 9/10 naturally needed her image to go through so much to be “worthy” of being in an advertisement was disturbing. If someone who looks like a physical representation of the “ideal” female isn’t even good enough to look at…what does that tell other women?

    This is why I strive to be a typical person: Clean body and hair, healthy skin and teeth, fresh breath and nice clothing, good diet and daily exercise. But no makeup, no heels, and no revealing clothes…I want people to meet the real me, not an illusion.

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