This Post is About Volleyball Shorts.

Here’s a fun game:

Images from acdsports.com

Google Image search your local school’s men’s volleyball team.

Now Google Image search the women’s volleyball team.

Now ask yourself why the guys are drowning in all that extra fabric!?

We’re concerned about the men here. All that extra shorts baggage has got to be keeping them from playing at peak performance levels! If they were wearing spandex with a 1″ inseam, they’d be able to bend and stretch in much more liberating ways. Who is the athletic shorts lobby that is enforcing such oppressive ideals on these male athletes?

But seriously. In a world where dress codes are strictly enforced against girls at school and leggings are hotly debated for their modesty or lack thereof, every volleyball-playing school and organization in the country sets some clear rules to distinguish female volleyball players from the male ones: Guys, you get shorts. Girls, no shorts for you. We want you to question that. 

This post is about volleyball uniforms. But it’s really about so much more than volleyball uniforms. The arbitrary difference between male and female volleyball attire is just one of many gendered issues that look very normal in our everyday lives to the point of being unquestioned. Just think about all the products women are pummeled with every day that men are never (or *very* rarely) asked to buy just to look “normal” or “feel confident.” Pore-minimizing creams; anti-aging solutions; breast, butt, and lip implants; lash-lengthening potions; all-over hair removal procedures; stretch mark and cellulite creams; scar minimizing solutions; etc. Think about all the men you get to see on TV, movies and in the music industry that don’t fit any sort of beauty ideals, but are valuable and loved and in starring roles anyway, while women are too often relegated to decorating the background. Think about local and national broadcast news, where men get to sport their grey hair and wrinkles while women get fired for aging. Consider how few girls and women are featured in G-rated kids movies, where male characters outnumber females 3:1 (in group scenes it’s 5:1!), female characters wear the same amount of sexually revealing clothing as those in R-rated movies (thanks to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media for this info).

Men’s and women’s basketball players have fairly similar uniforms, as do athletes in softball/baseball, soccer, lacrosse, rugby, etc. In tennis, women have to wear skirts, which is an odd distinction. In gymnastics, dance, and cheer, we definitely see female athletes required to wear much less clothing than males in the same sports. The argument that gets the most play for this seems to be, “Women need to have a lot of give in their uniforms for doing high kicks and splits.” But it doesn’t change the fact that there are lots of things to wear to do kicks and splits and guys would never be required to wear that to do the same job. Athletes in all levels of karate, MMA, and kickboxing  do a lot of kicking, and they get pants! But never is the disparity greater between what we expect boys/men to wear versus what we expect girls/women to wear than on volleyball teams. And don’t even get us started on beach volleyball. Really, don’t. It’s too much.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying or feeling great in the standard volleyball uniform worn by female athletes today. Nowhere in this post or anything else we’ve ever said or written will you find us shaming or judging the people who agree to wear or love to wear those uniforms (or anything else, to be honest). Our problem with the uniforms comes with 1) the striking disparity between male/female uniforms, which reflects the objectifying idea that women’s bodies are primarily ornaments to be looked at; and 2) the hindering effect that unnecessarily body-baring clothing has on body image and athletic performance (i.e., self-objectification). 

Here’s the thing: Beginning at puberty, girls are TWICE as likely to experience depression as boys. This is directly associated with our objectifying culture, which leads girls and women to evaluate and control their bodies in terms of their sexual desirability more than anything else. Girls and women are picturing what they look like to others while they are living instead of just living. Serious mental capacity is lost in the process of focusing on your appearance when you should be focusing on anything else. But one bright spark in this dim world of body fixation is participation in sports! Participating in competitive sports is an excellent way for girls and women to resist the soul-sucking self-consciousness that they are often plagued with. However, the awesome body image benefits are limited to non-aesthetically-focused activites (like competitive team sports, rather than activities that rely in any way on how you look while participating). For us, volleyball is straddling the line between what constitutes a sport that supports positive body image and one that can hurt it for some.

We highly and regularly recommend getting involved in physical activities to beat body shame and experience your body as an instrument instead of an ornament. We sing the praises of basketball, soccer, softball, swimming, rugby, track, etc., but don’t feel like we can offer up volleyball as a similarly great option. This is not because volleyball is in any way aesthetically focused, but because the body-baring outfits can be such a problem for girls and women who are already predisposed to being fixated on their appearances. Our cultural beauty ideals for female thighs and behinds are brutal and achievable for so few, which leaves most girls and women feeling self-conscious of some aspect — tan but not too dark, no dimples, cellulite, stretch marks, smooth skin, shapely but not TOO shapely, and the list goes on. If you are prone to feeling shame and preoccupation with your body — especially your legs and behind — those spandex volleyball shorts with little-to-no inseam that are generally hiked up to *just* below the backside will likely prevent you from being able to take your mind off the appearance of your body to fully experience the positive effects of the sport. Interesting research backs this up:

  • Prichard and Tiggemann (2005) found that women in fitness centers who wore tight and fitted exercise clothing placed greater emphasis on their appearance attributes and engaged in more habitual body monitoring than women who wore looser clothing (T-shirts and sweatpants).
  • Strelan and colleagues (2003) found that the attention focused on women’s bodies in fitness centers (like mirrors surrounding them in gym classes) leads women to self-objectify more.
  • Fredrickson and colleagues (1998) had women try on a swimsuit or a sweater in front of a mirror – alone – and then complete various tests. Swimsuit-wearing women expressed more body shame and performed worse on a math test than did sweater-wearing women.
  • As a follow-up, Fredrickson and Harrison (2005) explored these effects on athletic performance, and found that girls experiencing higher levels of self-consciousness performed worse than girls with lower levels, regardless of their actual athletic experience.

We wonder if a less body-baring uniform would promote a higher level of performance among female athletes, especially considering the high percentage who likely struggle with body anxiety on or off the court.

We wonder if a less body-baring uniform would put female and male athletes on a more equal playing field (or court), because the same sport shouldn’t require significantly different uniforms.

We wonder if a less body-baring uniform standard could encourage more girls and women to play volleyball, considering many might count themselves out specifically because of the uniform.

Are you involved in any way with a volleyball club or team, whether in administration, coaching, playing, parenting or cheering? If so, we encourage you to consider our questions above and pose them to others with influence*. Consider why there is such a disparity between the men’s and women’s uniforms and if that disparity is necessary. Consider if it might be limiting the athleticism of the players, and if minimizing the disparity between the male and female uniforms is a possibility. What would happen if just one club or team of any age group or ranking were to push back against the uniform standard by wearing modified attire, whether or not it conflicted with rules set by the sport’s governing body? Whether they believed their performance might be hindered by self-objectification that is exacerbated by the standard uniforms, or they wanted to open the sport up to others who might be uncomfortable with the short shorts, what if they made a change? Could it be worth the risk? We think so.

When we work to think of our bodies as instruments to be used for our benefit rather than ornaments to be admired by others, we start to question the norms and habits that serve only ornamental purposes. We would love to see girls’ and women’s volleyball uniforms serving a more instrumental role and less of an ornamental one.  

*Current uniforms are obviously a deeply ingrained norm in the sport, so we are happy to discuss our research with members of governing bodies who determine standards for volleyball uniforms.

Want more in-depth help to reframe  your health perceptions and improve your body image? Check out our 8-Week Body Image Resilience Programdeveloped and tested through our Ph.D. dissertations. See dozens of other people’s thoughts on this discussion on our Facebook page here

Female Objectification: Who’s Really to Blame

Women are constantly being dehumanized and reduced to objects to be groped, harassed, catcalled and evaluated — and some men feel comfortable doing all of those things and then boasting about it, or deny it by mocking the appearance of the women as unworthy of their assaults. In a culture that routinely portrays and values women as objects, who is really to blame when real-life women are reduced to objects? How do we stop objectification?

Let’s get this out of the way up front: objectification is not the same thing as admiring someone’s appearance. We all instinctively notice and evaluate appearance on some level, and it is perfectly natural and good. No shame necessary. Since objectification starts as a mental process, the only person who can determine if they’re objectifying someone is the person doing the potential objectifying. However, there are some signs that you’re perceiving someone as an object rather than a full-fledged human being. Ask yourself some questions:

  • Am I viewing that person primarily as a tool for my sexual gratification?
  • Am I catcalling or harassing people  with comments about their appearance or sex appeal?
  • Am I talking about these people primarily in terms of their appearance or sex appeal?
  • Am I considering these people as my equals and as active agents of their own lives, or am I considering them as passive objects or ornaments for my evaluation/consumption/use?

Obviously, “yes” answers = likely objectification happening. This is effectively viewing someone as less than human. This is bad. Let’s fix it.

Lots of people would have you believe that women, and their appearance or clothing choices, are the ones at fault for being objectified. After all, if your clothes are tighter or shorter or flashier or anything-er than someone else thinks is acceptable, then you intended for others to think of you as more of an object than a person, right? So wrong. Dang, it would be SO easy if objectification worked this way! If this was true, then we could stop objectification in its tracks by simply dressing more appropriately (as has been suggested by many a viral blog post). But, alas, there are 3 fatal flaws with this philosophy:

It embraces a distinct victim-blaming mentality that puts the responsibility for how one is perceived on the shoulders of the one being perceived, rather than the one doing the perceiving. Here’s a hard truth for some: Regardless of what you wear or how you look, you can never sufficiently defend yourself from objectification. Leggings or no leggings, you don’t get to decide whether people perceive you as a sex object or a person. You could wear the most appropriate outfit you could fathom and someone could still see that flash of wrist or ankle or outline of your body and blame you for sparking sexual thoughts. If we are teaching the girls in our lives that the primary objective of appropriate clothing is to keep themselves covered so boys and men don’t think sexual thoughts about them, then we are teaching girls they are responsible for other peoples’ thoughts. That’s a burden no one should feel like they need to bear. Keep reading for our ideas on how you could teach girls and women (and boys and men) to consider their own clothing choices.

Everyone’s definition of “appropriate” is different. Everyone’s. One person’s sophisticated sleeveless blouse is another person’s lingerie. One person’s comfy, inexpensive, covered-up leggings are another person’s too-hot-for-TV sexy pants. (Obviously, we’re referring to definitions of appropriate that can vary significantly but still fall within legal, common public attire and that fit dress codes for certain venues.) And the context! Oh the context. If objectification is really determined by what a woman is wearing, then the context in which she’s wearing those clothes is totally irrelevant. You can’t say, “She shouldn’t wear leggings on the street if she doesn’t want to be objectified,” and also flip-flop to believe she doesn’t deserve to be viewed as an object if she’s wearing those leggings at the gym or training for a marathon. You also can’t say, “She shouldn’t wear that short skirt at dinner if she doesn’t want to be objectified,” and simultaneously believe she’s not at fault for being objectified while wearing the same skirt playing tennis or using it to cover up a swimsuit at the pool.  If “inappropriate” clothing choices directly result in objectification, then there can be no on/off switch for the context of those clothing choices. They cause women to be viewed as objects or they don’t. 

The evidence of objectification in action (catcalling, sexual abuse and assault, etc.) is not determined or dissuaded by the clothing the objectified person (victim) is wearing. Girls and women across the world are raped and assaulted and hollered at while wearing flannel pajamas and cold-weather running gear and clubbing dresses and everything in between. Even in cultures where women are required to or choose to cover up a great deal, there is still an incredibly high incidence of rape and sexual violence. And in some cultures where clothing is optional (ex: some African tribes), rape and sexual violence are reportedly very low. I am very regularly catcalled (in explicit, anger-inducing ways) while wearing a winter coat and jeans or a skirt below the knee while walking in downtown Salt Lake City. Why? Not because of my sexy clothes, I can assure you. See this link for a bunch of examples to dispel the myth that scantily-clad women are more likely to be catcalled or assaulted. Harassment, sexual abuse, and assault are often about power, and men assert their power over women by publicly degrading them and/or abusing them as sexual objects for their own gratification.

In summary: you could never be clothed perfectly enough to ensure everyone perceives you the way you intend to be perceived. You could never obscure your shape or essence or beauty enough to prevent someone from having sexual thoughts about you and blaming you for those thoughts. That is because objectification happens in the eye and mind of the beholder. You are the only one who can control whether you objectify another person. Yes, it can be triggered by images and messages we have learned to view as sexual and suggestive. No, that doesn’t mean it is unavoidable. And NO, that does not mean you can blame anyone else when you view her/him as an object. We must take responsibility for ourselves – our own thoughts, our own intentions, and our own actions. [Please note: we are referring to face-to-face or person-to-person judgments and perceptions, not perceptions of media. Obviously, media purposefully and blatantly presents women as objects. We’re not letting them off the hook for that. We need to cut objectifying media out of our visual diets and re-train our minds to see people instead of objects in both media and face to face. More on that in a second.]

By Michelle Christensen for Beauty Redefined

By and large, it is girls and women who are being sexually objectified.* Many women even voluntarily sign up to be portrayed as objects and accept huge paychecks in return (think any men’s magazine, commercials for hundreds of otherwise non-sexual products, etc.). Being valued as an object is glamorized and sold as the highest form of power a woman can wield. Of course, that is a lie, and that faux “power” is at the mercy of others’ (usually men’s) preferences, appetites and money. The dangerous and normalized act of female objectification teaches men and boys that females are sexual objects above all else — that women exist to be looked at, consumed, and discarded. No wonder the dehumanization and devaluation of women is often so invisible to men. It’s normal. It’s comfortable. It sucks that we might have to battle this devaluation our entire lives while also having to convince men (and other women) that objectification not only exists, but that it is incredibly dangerous, and it needs to be fought against — not just by us gals, but by all of us.

We all learned how to view people as objects from the same sources — our shared media landscape. We live in a world where the objectification of women is so standard that it is invisible and unquestioned. But the only way to fight it is to see it and question it. Sexualized female bodies are inescapable in media. Consider 90% of movies that have come out in the last decade and how they pan up and down women’s bodies and zoom in on their parts; Victoria’s Secret’s inescapable advertising in mailboxes, storefront windows and TV; the good ol’ SI Swimsuit Issue celebrated on TV news programs and late shows, as well as public displays all across the country; Carl’s Jr.’s insanely sexist commercials, the list goes on and on and on. Last but not least, one of the most profitable industries in the world is the absolute biggest perpetrator of female objectification: the porn industry. Hopefully this doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but if it does, please know that it isn’t sexual shame, prudishness or religious beliefs that tell us pornography is the guiltiest culprit in this fight against objectification. Since porn is a topic all its own, we devoted a whole post to it here.

While the porn industry has infiltrated all aspects of pop culture in the last couple of decades – leading us to barely flinch at images and acts on primetime TV that we would have been totally shocked by before, we have learned to view female sexuality as something to be viewed, purchased, and even stolen. Female bodies have become objects to be bought and sold, both literally and figuratively, and with that commodification, girls and women have become devalued and dehumanized. In other words, objectified.

This not only affects the way men view women and the way we as women view and evaluate each other – it also deeply affects the way we view ourselves.

This sexually objectifying culture persuades women to self-objectify by evaluating and controlling themselves in terms of their sexual appeal to others, rather than in terms of their own health, happiness, and desires. They literally picture themselves being looked at while they move throughout life. And what do you know? Girls and women suffer in very literal ways when sexualized female bodies inundate our media landscape. Adolescent girls with a self-objectified outsider’s view of their bodies have diminished sexual health, measured by decreased condom use and diminished sexual assertiveness (the ability to say “no”), and decreased cognitive and physical abilites, including math, logical reasoning, and athletic performance.* Add to that the fact that industries beg women to surgically implant things in their breasts and buttocks and lips to enhance their sexual appeal, and every year hundreds of thousands of women go under the knife, with 92% of those procedures – mostly breast augmentation and liposuction – performed on girls and women. Self-objectification works as a harmful tool to keep girls and women “in their place” as objects of sexual appeal and beauty, which seriously limits their ability to think freely and understand their value in a world so in need of their unique contributions and insight.

Though you cannot protect yourself from being objectified by others, please know that you CAN protect yourself from self-objectification.

You are more than your body and you’re capable of more than looking hot for others’ approval. You get the opportunity to reflect that truth every day in the way you carry yourself, what you do and what you say. We’ve written and talked extensively about this topic here and here, but today we’re going to highlight one aspect we addressed previously in this post, but in a totally different light: how we choose to dress ourselves.

Studies on self-objectification show us that “clothing represents an important contributor to the body and emotional experience of contemporary young women” because body-baring clothing leads to greater states of self-objectification, body shame, body dissatisfaction, and negative mood**. What this tells us (and what our own experience living in female bodies tells us is a no-brainer) is that when we wear clothing that feels revealing or that overtly emphasizes our parts, we become very self-aware of those parts that are being (or could potentially be) looked at. We self-objectify and are in a near-constant state of adjusting our clothing, thinking about what we look like, and looking at other people looking at us. It’s OK to like being looked at, and even to like attention from others for our looks, but if it’s getting in the way of progress, happiness, and health — as so much research confirms that it is — we’ve got to make some changes.

Research shows a level of “modesty” or less-revealing/more-covered clothing can be an important tool in safe-guarding ourselves from being in a constant state of self-objectification. This idea of “modesty” and less-revealing/more-covered clothing will inevitably vary from person to person and culture to culture — maybe even dramatically. That does not matter. We have got to stop worrying about everyone else’s choices and start focusing on our own. You get to decide what “modest” clothing means for you. For some, leggings will fit very squarely in the category of covered and comfortable. For others, leggings will make them feel exposed, uncovered and uncomfortable, which fuels self-objectification. You get to decide how leggings make you feel. Other people also get to decide how your leggings make them feel. But you don’t have to carry that burden. They need to do that.

What all of this comes down to is so simple: we all have to look out for ourselves. We have to be accountable to ourselves to recognize when we are objectifying others and work to shift our perceptions through conscious awareness. We can’t attribute our perceptions to anyone else, no matter what they are or aren’t wearing. And finally, though we can’t protect ourselves from being objectified by others, we absolutely can protect ourselves from our own self-objectification by recognizing our value as more than just objects to be looked at, and then thinking and acting accordingly.

Women are more than just bodies. And men are more than their bodies, too. We are all thinking, feeling humans who have the opportunity to learn to view ourselves and each other as such — even if those humans are showing more skin or wearing more makeup than we deem appropriate. When we can see more than just bodies in ourselves and others, we have the opportunity to be more. Let’s do this.

Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

The beautiful illustrations above commissioned for Beauty Redefined by Michelle Christensen Illustration.

*Boys and men are sexually objectified as well, though to much lesser degrees than girls and women are. We acknowledge this and stress that our focus on the objectification of females in no way detracts from the reality that boys and men are degraded in similar ways.

**Tiggemann, M. & Andrew, R. (2012). Clothes Make a Difference: The Role of Self-Objectification. Sex Roles. Vol. 66 Issue 9/10, p646. For a comprehensive list of self-objectification’s many negative consequences, see the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls

Invisible Women Over 40: Anti-Aging and Symbolic Annihilation

If you lived on another planet and everything you knew about humans came from mainstream media, you’d be absolutely shocked to find out a couple of facts:

Female humans do not die or crawl into caves to disappear at age 40 while male humans live much longer, active lives.

As female humans age, they tend to develop lines on their faces where facial movements occur, as well as looser skin, darker spots from the sun, gray or white hair, and other features that distinguish them from teenagers as they progress throughout their lifetimes. This is NOT only true for men.

Thankfully, most people have the ability to see a variety of females face-to-face to disprove those laughable media myths of  women disappearing with age or perpetual teenage faces and bodies. Unfortunately, that ability to see reality hasn’t put a dent in the anti-aging industries that sell extreme appearance anxiety for record profits each year. But still, that’s what we want to focus on here: reality. Most notably, we want to emphasize how shockingly different reality looks from the ever-present and powerful media world, and how that impacts real, aging people. Once we recognize the effects of the anti-female-aging phenomenon that what we’re buying into by the billions, we can fight back. 

One of several awesome graphs from Vulture. See the rest by clicking the image.

From local or national nightly news to children’s cartoons, people over 40 are drastically underrepresented in all forms of media, despite the fact that they make up the majority of the population. A whopping 62 percent of the female population of the U.S. is over 40. But get this: Older men appear as much as 10 times more frequently than older women in media (1). Even when film depictions of relationships feature older men, their girlfriends and wives are most often decades younger (for more evidence, see this cool piece on how leading men age, but their ladies do not, including graphs documenting age differences). We could probably call this the Liam Neeson/Olivia Wilde phenomenon (see right side of graph). Men in all forms of media are featured well into their 70s while women tend to start becoming invisible in media right around age 40. Academics even have a name for this egregious level of under-representation: symbolic annihilation. Unfortunately, the effects of that annihilation on women’s  body image, feelings of self-worth and bank accounts aren’t so “symbolic.”

With an extremely low number of women over 40 represented in media at all, the WAY they’re represented becomes especially important. And once again, the news isn’t good. Headline #1: Older Women are Portrayed in Negative Ways Much More Often than Men. Think of the wise, funny, intelligent, “sexy” image represented by men in media well into their 50s, 60s and even later – Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Richard Gere, Tom Cruise, Liam Neeson, Pierce Brosnan, Denzel Washington, Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood – it isn’t hard to think of a list of examples from past or present. Trying to come up with female equivalents is much more difficult. It’s rare to think of really positive portrayals of women over 40 – NOT the neurotic, crazy, evil, out-of-touch-with-reality characters that are most prominent. Betty White is one notable exception to this rule, as a truly funny, relatable, positive character in her many roles who isn’t simply the butt of jokes or the domineering mother-in-law.

Studies show the vast majority of any older mom, grandma, aunt, boss, teacher, queen or extraneous female character over 40 in any media fits a negative stereotype (2). And that sucks. The largest segment of the population is not seeing themselves represented, and when they do, it’s in negative ways*. What’s more, that information is only about white women. We don’t have any accurate information about how older women from other races are represented. Why? Because there aren’t enough examples to generate any significant findings. One study examined 835 TV characters and found only four African American characters over the age of 60. I’m no math whiz, but 4 out of 835 is a sad statistic. Interestingly, the most popular older woman of color in media happens to be played by a 42-year-old black man, Tyler Perry, as the much-loved “Madea.”

Vogue’s “Age Issue,” where perfectly normal signs of aging are not welcomed!

But aside from the monster oversight in under-representing and misrepresenting older women, mainstream media knows exactly what it is doing when it comes to that huge, money-packing demographic. Excellent business decision #1: Convince women their value entirely depends on their appearance, and that aging is the worst thing that could happen to their appearance. And don’t forget, older women are THE WORST – gross cougars, not hot, totally out of touch with the real world, neurotic … OR age-defying wonders! Then, convince them it’s possible to entirely stop aging and look 15 years younger with these products. Since people over age 50 own 70 percent of the total net worth of American households (4), targeting this powerful demographic is a strategic move — especially considering that women over 40 influence 80 percent of the purchasing decisions in the U.S. (5). I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the age-old “fountain of youth,” which has long been fabled to stop the aging process entirely, has been discovered! It’s being marketed and sold to women in the U.S. and raking in billions for several different industries each year. You can see it in countless magazines, billboards, commercials, TV shows or movies – you know, the 50+ year-old women with zero signs of aging. No lines or wrinkles, tight skin all over, no signs of silver hair sparkling through their thick, flowing brunette and blonde heads of hair. We rarely see an older woman in media, but when we do, she generally fits that description. These women have obviously partaken of the fountain of youth, but what did the trick?! We’ve discovered it!

Media’s totally normal-appearing ageless older women are the product of two tricks: cosmetic procedures and digital alteration. Whether we like it or not, we start to look different as we age. For men, those changes are most often** depicted as looking “distinguished” and aren’t something for men to be ashamed of. For women, those changes are to be immediately stopped, reversed and hidden at all costs. Seriously, ALL costs – financially, time-wise and health-wise. Because you’re worth it.

Let’s talk about Botox, baby. Plastic surgery is the most profitable industry in the U.S., and Botox is the No. 1 cosmetic treatment. Several million people have Botulinum Toxin injected into their facial muscles in order to paralyze them and conceal the appearance of wrinkles, which must be repeated every 3-6 months. About 92 percent of those who get Botox are women. The next most popular procedures were all also for “anti-aging,” including soft tissue fillers, hyaluronic acid and chemical peels.

While watching “The Bachelorette” a few years ago  (I know, I know, not the greatest choice), my beautiful, 27-year-old friend proclaimed that she had “the forehead of a 90-year-old woman.” What prompted that (extremely untrue) declaration? Emily, the beautiful bachelorette, who is our same age, has a perfectly smooth, line-less face. So does every other woman on TV, in movies or in magazines. Lineless and expression-free starts to look normal and ideal, while real-life, expression-ful(?) faces look abnormal and sub-par. Yikes. That’s why, in just the last 15 or so years, there has been a 446 percent increase in cosmetic procedures in the U.S., which raked in $12 billion in 2010 alone. The American Academy of Plastic Surgeons called laser de-wrinkling procedures “recession proof.” It’s a little startling that in the toughest economic times in decades, women are still sacrificing thousands of dollars for painful and temporary procedures to prevent the appearance of aging.

That brings us to the other fountain of youth trick: Digital Alteration. If a woman isn’t outrageously gorgeous, thin and young-looking for her age, she’s almost always either Photoshopped to look that way or is completely invisible in mainstream media. This DOES have an effect. These pervasive, nearly inescapably and strikingly consistent images of young-looking older women create not just a new ideal for female beauty, but a new normal for us.

Our Photoshop Phoniness Hall of Shame sheds some light on the extreme abnormality of those images by pairing before-and-after alteration shots. A couple of epic age-defying examples are Faith Hill on the cover of Redbook and Twiggy in Olay’s eye cream ads.

Faith Hill on the July 2007 Redbook cover. Right arm? Suddenly appeared on the cover. Left arm? Cut down by at least 1/3 of its original size. Wrinkles, normal complexion or any other signs of life on her face? Erased. Back? Sliced out almost entirely. Enough said.

 

A 2009 Oil of Olay eye cream ad featuring Twiggy — one of the world’s biggest modeling/fashion icons for more than a decade, now she’s relegated to the unglamorous realm of photoshopping disasters for beauty industries lies. Straight-up lies. Amazingly, this ad was banned by the UK’s advertising watchdog after more than 700 complaints were gathered for a campaign against airbrushing in ads by the Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson. The ad was deemed to be misleading. Um … yep!

These aren’t two freak accidents — these are daily deliberate decisions by media powerholders who profit from female anxiety about our faces and bodies. Keep in mind that Olay, the anti-aging skin care brand owned by Procter & Gamble, spent more than ANY OTHER COMPANY in the U.S. on advertising in 2011. That’s more than any company in any industry. They and many other companies claim to sell the keys to the fountain of youth at every drug store in the nation, but the only real solution to aging lies in the hands of their photo editors. Ever noticed the stark difference in the way men’s faces are portrayed compared to women’s faces in mass media — whether it’s the cover of GQ or a Chanel ad? Here’s an extremely telling example we pieced together, featuring about as comparable of a pairing as you could ever find: similar age, both major celebrities, both in ads for the same company from the same year. Just one major difference: one is a human face and one is a cartoon.

Wonder why you never see women with gray hair featured positively in any sort of mainstream media? Because gray hair doesn’t make anyone any money. A very telling example from the must-read “The Beauty Myth” by Naomi Wolf is of a fashion magazine in the ’90s that featured a spread of beautiful gray-haired older women in all the latest fashions. Despite positive feedback from readers, one of the magazine’s main advertisers, Clairol, threatened to pull all its advertising support if gray-haired women were ever featured positively again. Thus, no gray-haired women are ever featured positively in any magazine that depends on beauty advertising dollars (hint: all of them).

One scary fact is that those great lengths women are going to in order to achieve a youthful ideal are not limited to surgical procedures and magic creams — they also include disordered eating of all types. Our friend Michelle Konstantinovsky at HelloGiggles reported on a study from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, which found that in their sample of 1,900 women 50 and older, more than 60 percent of women said their body weight or shape negatively affected their lives and 13 percent admitted to having an eating disorder. We agree with Michelle in saying “duh” to the “surprising” new finding that older women also suffer from disordered eating.

But enough with the depressing stuff already. Let’s get to some solutions!

What can be done to break these body image issues? Importantly but not surprisingly, the researcher agrees with everything we preach at Beauty Redefined: The lead researcher’s main solution is to help women get themselves out of this “appearance focus.” She recommends instead of looking for flaws, women work on focusing on something positive about themselves — a characteristic that will endure long after their looks fade. Easier said than done, right? We can help you start with this list of totally doable strategies, including going on a media fast, complimenting others on more than their looks, shutting down negative thoughts, and many more. Please choose even just one, and start right now to change the way you perceive your own face and body. This isn’t an individual fight with individual effects. The way we feel about ourselves and treat our bodies has real influence on those around us, even if we aren’t aware of it.

Please consider your influence on the reality of the girls, women, boys and men in your life.

What would happen if confident, happy, beautiful women decided to forego painful and expensive anti-aging procedures, breast lifts and enhancements, liposuction, all-over hair removal or tanning regimens? How could that change the way their daughters, students, friends, nieces and coworkers perceived themselves and their own “flawed,” lined, real faces? How could simply owning (and treating kindly and speaking nicely about) our so-called “imperfect” bodies affect not only our own lives, but those over whom we have influence? Is it possible to slowly but deliberately change the perception of these “flaws” as something to shame, hide and fix at any cost to something acceptable and embraceable in all their human, womanly real-ness? We say yes.

Yes, maybe every 30- to 80-year-old woman on TV or movies has a wrinkle-free, perfectly stiff and lifted face that appears ageless. The pressure to Photoshop ourselves into hopeful conformity with beauty ideals is intense, and backlash against female aging is unbelievable. At 29, I frankly don’t yet grasp the real pain and anxiety that accompanies aging and its effects on female faces and bodies that become invisible and worthless in some ways to a society that prizes youthful beauty above all else. But at any age, embracing your own beautiful reality and owning it for the others in your life is the epitome of redefining beauty. Media will continue to symbolically annihilate women who don’t fit money-making beauty ideals, but WE do not have to annihilate our own faces and bodies to fit those unreal standards. What we COULD annihilate is our allegiance to the idea that women have to look young forever, and that women who don’t look young forever aren’t worthwhile or beautiful. I promise that will be much more empowering and less painful. Let the anti-anti-aging annihilation begin!

Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.
 
Sources:
1) Peterson, 1973; Harwood, 2007; T. Robinson & Anderson, 2006; Raman, Harwood, Weis, Anderson, & Miller, 2006; Stern and Mastro, 2004; Miller et al., 2007
2) Signorielli, 2004
3) Harwood and Anderson, 2002
4) L. Davis, 2002, cited in Harwood, 2007
5) Invisible Women, 2010
6) U.S. Plastic Surgery Statistics, April 2011: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jul/22/plastic-surgery-medicine#zoomed-picture 
 

*There’s a wonderful organization called Invisible Women that is working to fight against the under-representation and misrepresentation of older women in media through a documentary and education outreach.

**This may start to change as media capitalize on sparking men’s insecurities as well as women’s – but it’s rare. Key example: Those men’s hair color commercials with the little girls convincing Dad to dye his hair and beard in order to get back in the dating game. Ugh. We don’t endorse this tactic. Evening the playing field by bringing down both men and women with body shame and appearance focus helps no one.

Our 3 Issues with the Swimsuit Issue: Sports, Sexualization and Side-Effects

Since the debut of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is being celebrated on the Today Show and the Tonight Show and everywhere in between, we have to counter that excitement with a reality check about this supposed sports magazine’s serious blow to female equality, self-esteem and body image packaged as “safe” for newsstands and coffee tables everywhere.

Here are our 3 biggest issues with the “Swimsuit” Issue:

 The Sporty Source

The Swimsuit Issue is Sporty, Safe, Swimwear Fun!! Right? Nah, it’s just sexual objectification, repackaged in an unlikely source. Every week, 30 million people catch up on the latest sports news in SI, the self-proclaimed “foremost authority” and “most respected voice” in sports journalism. Published since 1964, the SI’s 200-plus pages of nude to semi-nude women is truly a cultural event, generating global mainstream media coverage, TV shows and memorabilia to push SI’s sales through the roof every spring. Since its birth, the Swimsuit Issue has earned more than $1 billion for SI’s parent company, Time Warner, which owns CNN, AOL, HBO, the CW, Time Inc., DC Comics and hundreds of others. Talk about a media powerholder! – and thus, the constant mainstream media plugs from shows and companies that probably wouldn’t normally celebrate voyeuristic magazines.

The source of this particular brand of objectification is crucial to our issue with SI, since SI is branded as a sports publication, which is openly displayed on newsstands everywhere, and is packaged as innocent and safe for all viewers. Magazines like Playboy, Hustler and Penthouse, on the other hand, are an obvious source for voyeurism, or the act of secretive looking at things of a sexual nature without being seen, and those sources do so without apology. Since they’re not selling their objectification (with only slightly more nudity) as sporty, safe, swimwear fun!!, they also required to be covered in opaque paper for mailing and can’t be displayed publicly like any other magazine deemed appropriate for all-ages public viewing, like, say, SI. The Swimsuit Issue is equally voyeuristic in nature, but does so under the guise of being “America’s foremost sports authority” and “most popular sports journalism magazine.” Duncan* put it best in 1993 when she said, “If they so desire, readers can sneak looks at the models while steadfastly denying that they buy and read the issue for pornographic content,” and she had no idea what SI would look like 20 years later, with the help of digital manipulation, surgical enhancements and reductions, and a global company owner with the power to publish and produce nearly any message and distribute it immediately.

The source of this blatant objectification also provides one extra slap in the face to female equality just in the fact that it is the #1 sports magazine, but very very very rarely features female athletes. Women appear on less than 5% of SI’s covers and the editorial content is similar. There’s no lack of female athletes to cover — those just aren’t the women SI values and they certainly aren’t doing the things SI values women for.   

 The Sexualization

There’s no way around this one. SI is unapologetic in its increasingly explicit sexualization of women. Anyone who thinks this magazine is featuring models to display swimwear, or the models’ accomplishments (physical or otherwise), or anything other than just sexual stimulation for audiences is kidding themselves. Those models aren’t posed or displayed to look merely beautiful, or strong, or to show off their swimwear – they are posed and displayed to provide visual gratification to viewers. Let me be blunt here. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is the epitome of female objectification. It is only getting more extreme. In the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, the swimsuit models posed in what we’d now call mildly seductive positions. Posed with flirtatious smiles and hands on hips to emphasize the curve of their waists, these women were acting to accentuate their best features – the objects of men’s desire. But as years passed, the models seem to more fully act like they were turning themselves into objects. By 1988, the cover model, Elle Macpherson, is staring intently into the camera while pulling her swimsuit down to expose her cleavage. Because her goal is to attract and satisfy the male gaze, she is acting with herself as a male would act if he were present – a clear display of the mental act of self-objectification (more on that in #3).

Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman in the 2017 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

SI masks its pornographic presence by placing the models in foreign locations with sandy beaches and tropical jungles so as to appear to promote travel destinations and the appreciation of nature – but don’t forget their appreciation of nearly non-existent swimwear. The 2008 issue marked the beginning of a more naked era for SI, titled “Barely Bikinis,” is an understatement: the majority of the models appear naked, missing either the top or bottom of their bikini or are wearing completely translucent coverings with visible nipples. The latest issues feature topless models with string bikini bottoms only big enough to cover the necessary amount of skin to avoid censorship, and no cover model has worn both the top and bottom of her bikini in several years. When they do wear bathing suits, the most private of parts that are normally censored in mainstream media are repeatedly exposed in an “oops, I didn’t know that was showing” sort of fashion. These are not swimsuits on display, or even just bodies on display – the vast majority of the poses are reflective of exactly what is depicted in straight-up porn.  The 2015 cover is such an egregious example of a stereotypical pornographic pose meant to invite viewers to a sexualized view of her genitals more than anything else.

Though the swimsuit issue only shows up once a year, it fits into a much bigger picture of women being consistently displayed as sexualized ornaments to be looked at while men are featured and validated for so much more – like being featured for their athletic prowess in a sports mag rather than their oiled-up, mostly naked bodies! How novel. Objectification of women is inescapable in media from every genre for every audience, from G-rated children’s programming to network TV commercials to mall storefront windows to blockbuster movies. The SI Swimsuit Issue joins countless others in constructing men as active, women as passive; men as subjects, women as objects; men as actors, women as receivers; men as the lookers and women as the looked-at; and men as consumers and women as the objects to be consumed.

 The Side-Effects

Our culture, which focuses so intensely on female appearance over anything else, teaches little girls and grown women to see themselves through an internalized objectifying perspective called self-objectification, which turns them into both the spectators and the spectacles. They literally picture themselves being looked at while going about their lives, unconscious that they are devoting part of their mental capacity to constant appearance monitoring. When women are feeling self-conscious of their bodies, or self-objectifying, they perform worse on all types of tests – they can’t run as far or as fast, lift as heavy of weights, or do as well on math, reading and spatial skills tests as they can when they aren’t worrying about what they look like. This is a huge barrier to female progress and success, and it can only be stopped once we recognize that it is happening. For most girls and women, it is unquestioned and normal. We have to denormalize this internalized objectification.

The side effects of objectifying media like the Swimsuit Issue, whether unintended or designed for profit, are changing the way we view ourselves and women in general — and not in positive ways. As spectators of themselves, women learn from popular media, in this case the wildly popular Swimsuit Issue, to compare their appearances with the media’s feminine ideal – young, tan, very thin**, clear skin, white but not too white, tan but not too dark, curves in all the “right” places, and the list grows every day. We see the exact same look, and the same body type, over and over again. This isn’t a celebration of female beauty or fitness, this is a celebration of one ultra-narrowly defined idea of female beauty or fitness that drives many girls and women to unhealthy extremes to emulate. This belief forms the foundation for a lifetime of work for women trying to live up to these constructed ideals of beauty and value. The amount of money, time and energy women devote to chasing these often unreachable ideals throughout their lives is unbelievable. These same ideals about what is most valuable in women also leads boys and men to believe these appearance-focused qualities are essential (and attainable) in a romantic partner. What it comes down to is this: the more women’s bodies are represented as objects to be looked at, consumed and discarded, the more people view and treat women’s bodies in real life as objects to be looked at, consumed and discarded.

We are not asking you to sign a petition or anything else meant to force Sports Illustrated to change the way they represent women. That’s not how we operate.

We work from the bottom up, changing the perceptions of individuals who can spark change in their own circles of influence – not from the top down, by asking media to change. We hope people will reject the harmful messages sold by outlets like SI and let that send a financial message to the companies, but we aren’t banking on that. Instead, you can join us in pushing back against the celebration of objectification by doing a few things: 

  • When you see the Swimsuit Issue on display in airports, gas stations, grocery stores or other public places, respectfully ask a manager or other supervisor to move the display away from public view, just as they would other titles with similar covers, such as Penthouse and Playboy. We’ve had surprising success with this simple request, as store clerks and employees have readily agreed to rearrange magazine racks or place covers over the content.
  • Share our sticky notes with positive reminders like “Women are more than just bodies. See more, be more” in public places where people can see empowering messages to challenge the objectifying ones. We leave them on public bathroom mirrors, lockers, magazine racks (unless an employee asks you not to), public signs and ads, etc.
  • Talk openly to your family, friends, colleagues, students and others over whom you have influence about the harms of women being sexualized in such inescapable media outlets. Point it out when it is happening and ask questions about why. The answer is almost always money – someone is making money off those sexualized and objectified depictions of girls and women. We’re #notbuyingit.
  • This might be a no-brainer, but if you’ve got a subscription to SI, consider canceling it. Let them know via e-mail or even better, publicly on FB or Twitter, that you canceled because you are opposed to the objectification of women they bank on. Speak up with your spending habits. They always listen to that.
  • Use your body as an instrument rather than an ornament to be looked at. You are capable of much more than looking hot, and you can constantly remind yourself of that by caring for your body and using it as a tool to experience and enjoy life, rather than using it as a decoration for others’ viewing pleasure.  Avoid media like Sports Illustrated that seeks to convince you otherwise.

Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

*Duncan, Margaret Carlisle (1993). Beyond Analyses of Sport Media Texts: An Argument for Formal Analyses of Institutional Structures. Sociology of Sport Journal. 10: pp. 353-372.

**We absolutely do not see the inclusion of one “plus-size” (6’2″, size 12) model in the 2015 issue as a victory. We see this is a slight expansion of who SI deems “objectifiable,” which still upholds dozens of beauty ideals sold through every other image, even if she embodies a size slightly larger than her objectified counterparts. Additionally, we absolutely do not see the inclusion of a plus-size model in a $455,000 paid advertisement as a victory. We are not equal opportunity objectifiers and we can’t applaud anyone who is.

Lessons from Porn: Women are Objects to be Used, Abused and Dismissed

We are unapologetically anti-porn.

It may be one of the most profitable and powerful industries in the world, and one that is embraced by otherwise like-minded people as an acceptable personal choice, but we are not afraid to state that pornography is one of the worst and most degrading forces against women today. 

Against not only women, but against men, and against real relationships, real love, and real sex. There are undeniable links between sexual assault and pornography use by the perpetrators. There are further undeniable links between pornography use and decreased sexual satisfaction, sexual function, relationship satisfaction, attraction to real-life partners, and acceptance of terribly dangerous myths about rape. Further, the pornography industry works hard to keep up a glamorous image, but behind the camera is a reality of violence, drugs, and human trafficking.

Most pornography searched for online today depicts people, but usually women, as objects for sexual gratification and consumption. It is well-known that most porn has a predominantly male perspective. The directors are usually men, and most of it is made for men. As a result, the camera often embodies the “male gaze:” It looks where a man (a stereotypical straight man, that is) would look. As Jean Kilbourne famously stated, viewing someone as an object is “almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person.”  We have no doubt that sexual objectification promoted and normalized by pornography is playing a role in the sexualized violence against women that is epidemic across the world.

For our work in particular, which deals with female body image issues, we know there are undeniable links between sexual abuse and serious body image disturbance. Sexual abuse alienates a person from his or her own body and very often leads to harmful coping mechanisms to deal with that body shame, such as disordered eating, self-harm, body anxiety and depression. As many as 60% of women treated for eating disorders have been sexually abused.

We see repeated exposure to pornography playing out in these ways for straight men and women:

(Though simplified and generalizing, and acknowledging that correlation does not equal causation, these correlations hold truth that is backed up in decades of research and countless personal experiences. Consider  as meaning “may lead to”)

For Men:

Porn consumption ⇒ objectification of women* ⇒ violence against women + and/or justification of violence against women + and/or sexual dysfunction + and/or lack of satisfaction (emotionally and physically) within real-life relationships

For Women:

Porn consumption ⇒ self-objectification ⇒ body anxiety ⇒ adoption of harmful coping mechanisms

First, let’s talk about some of the darkest effects of pornography on straight men, and, in turn, their relationships with women. Dr. Mary Anne Layden, director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program in the Dept. of Psychiatry at UPenn, was interviewed by Jonathon Van Maren here and offered some profound insight. She described feeling a call to study the damage that sexual violence did to the patients of her psychotherapy practice about 30 years ago, and realizing that she had never treated a case of sexual violence that did not involve pornography.

Men are not born rapists, but for some reason, many are increasingly justifying sexual violence. Why? Because pornography has turned the bodies of women and girls into a commodity. It is shaping the way men see women. This is a business and I think that a lot of pimps would stop doing this if there wasn’t any money involved, but it’s a business and as soon as you tell somebody it’s a product, as soon as you say, ‘This [is] something you buy,’ then this is something you can steal. Those two things are hooked … So the sexual exploitation industry, whether it’s strip clubs or prostitution or pornography, is where you buy it. Sexual violence is where you steal it – rape and child molestation and sexual harassment are where you steal it.

 

So these things are all seamlessly connected. There isn’t a way to draw a bright line of demarcation between rape and prostitution and pornography and child molestation. There are not bright lines of demarcation. The perpetrators are in a common set of beliefs, and when we look at the research, we can see some of those common beliefs, so that we know that individuals who are exposed to pornographic media have beliefs such as [thinking that] rape victims like to be raped, they don’t suffer so much when they’re raped, ‘she got what she wanted’ when she was raped, women make false accusations of rape because it isn’t really rape … no one is really traumatized by it. All of these are part of the rape myth. People who use pornography accept the rape myth to a greater degree than others. So we have a sense that pornography is teaching them to think like a rapist and then triggering them to act like rapists.

 

When you cheapen sex and you cheapen women’s bodies, when you treat people like things, there’s a consequence — and one of the consequences is sexual violence, but one the consequences is also relationship damage. There’s an interesting series of studies that actually highlights a bit of the phenomena of how this works. They were showing people just mildly sexualized pictures. They were men and women in swimsuits, men and women in their underwear, sort of relatively mild sexualized pictures and they showed them either upside right or upside down and looked at the processing in the brain, because it will display a phenomena of which part of your brain you’re using to process that picture that you see.

 

What we see with men, when people look at men, and look at them in their swimsuits or in their underwear, they’re using the part of their brain that processes humans and human faces but when we look at women in their swimsuits and their underwear we use the part of our brain that processes tools and objects and when you process a woman as a tool or an object you use. The rules that we use when we deal with tools or objects is if it’s not doing its job then throw it away, get another one. So the feminists years ago said these men are treating women as sex objects and we thought that was a metaphor. It wasn’t a metaphor. It was an actual statement of reality, that they’re using the part of their brain which they use to process objects and things and there’s a consequence in the society when you start treating sex as a product and women as a thing.”

 

Here’s where we interject to make sure this study she cited doesn’t get twisted. The images of women’s bodies in that study were just as sexualized or undressed as the images of the men’s bodies, but it was only the female bodies that were viewed as objects. This is significant, because our culture has a tendency to blame women for men perceiving them as sex objects. It isn’t their fault. It’s the way we’ve been trained to perceive women, even when they’re in the same state of undress in the same circumstances as the men. We’ve been surrounded since birth with media that sexualizes women’s bodies incessantly, depicting women as bodies to be viewed and consumed first and foremost, while men (though sometimes sexualized as well) are presented as active agents who are valued for many things aside from the appearance of their bodies. Women’s bodies are not naturally or inherently any more sexualized than men’s bodies, yet we see them that way. Blaming women for this tendency doesn’t make any sense or get us any closer to a solution. We need to take responsibility for how we see people, how we think about them, how we talk about them, how we act toward them, and then work to change it. We also need to take responsibility for the messages and media we’re taking into our brains and how they affect the way we view other people. Porn will absolutely keep our brains in object-viewing mode. If we don’t want to see people as objects and fall into the trap of thinking of them and treating them as such, then we can’t keep viewing stuff that upholds those lies. Dr. Layden continues:

The desire for love is built into us. [One of my colleagues] said, ‘The real damage is that it threatens the loss of love in a world where only love brings happiness.’ That summarizes what we are doing, that everybody is hardwired to love and be loved. That’s what feeds our hungry heart, and we have a generation who are starved and have hungry hearts and yet they are eating the sexual junk food and becoming sexually obese because they’re so starved they would eat junk food if that’s all that’s available to them.

 

And so partly we need to have people talk about the glory of good sex, the wonderfulness of good sex, of how it bonds committed couples together and helps them keep their promises to each other, that there is a thing called good sexuality that is enhancing and enlivening and is love-based, but all of this sexual junk food that is out there is not it. If I said to people, ‘I want you to eat healthy food and don’t go to McDonald’s,’ they wouldn’t call me anti-food. They would say you just want to promote healthy food and … find out if you eat McDonald’s every day for 30 days you’ll have a fatty liver. Well that’s what I want to do with sexuality. I want to promote healthy, loving, enhancing, soul-feeding sexuality, not sexual junk food.

 

I think we’ve got to educate ourselves, we’ve got to tell the truth to others, you’ve got to speak truth to authority because once you know this stuff, if you’re silent, silence is complicity.

 

We’ve got to go in to our schools and our libraries and say you’ve got to protect our children, we’ve got to say to our governments, ‘you’ve got to stop spreading permission-giving beliefs and that means don’t legalize prostitution.’ It tells men that it’s fine and more men will go to prostitutes. We’ve got to have laws against things that damage people; we’ve got to have outrage in this society when sexual violence is swept under the rug, when a professional athlete does it. We’ve got to come together and have the journalists, the lawyers, the parents to get together as a mighty team and say, ‘this society is worth saving, our children are worth saving, sexuality is sacred.’ We’ve got to do it together and so it takes a concerted effort … When I hear people say we can’t put the genie back in the bottle, I say, ’50 years ago, 60% of the people in New York City smoked; today 18% in NYC smoke.’ Put the genie back in the bottle. We can do this one as well and it’s worth doing.”

We wholeheartedly agree. We’re not going to tiptoe around this issue for fear of the trolls who will undoubtedly accuse us of being jealous, ugly, prudish religious zealots who are anti-sex (which is among the kinder things we get called). We recognize the harm done to many men and their health and their relationships by porn consumption. We also recognize the harm done to many women by men who learn damaging messages from porn about women’s worth. Women are not only hurt by porn through their relationships, but by their own exposure to the stuff as well. We recognize the harm done to women by exposure to pornography that convinces them to turn inward, to focus on the appearance of their own bodies and prioritize their sex appeal to others over their own sexual health or satisfaction.

Consider this example candidly e-mailed to us by a young woman:

Just as men and women learn to objectify each other through exposure to media that presents us in terms of our parts, women in large numbers learn to self-objectify and monitor their own appearances at the expense of all other aspects of their lives. This is an area of research we speak and write about every chance we get. It is an epidemic reality for girls and women of all ages, but it can be fought once we recognize that it is happening.

We can work against self-objectification in similar ways to how we work against objectification. Let’s do this together and heal our relationships just as we heal ourselves from the lies we’ve bought and held against ourselves and those we love.

  • Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.
  • Encourage your partner, friends and family to join you in objecting to objectification, including avoiding all forms of pornography, degrading magazines that feature women on display as ornaments, and any other media that devalues women. People have to recognize what objectification looks like in media before they can root it out of their own worldviews and interactions.
  • Speak up when you see a woman being used as a prop or a sexualized nobody in that TV show you’re watching together.
  • Point out the disparities in the numbers of women vs. men featured in any media, as well as the disparities in what those people have to look like to qualify for that screen time.
  • Watch where the camera zooms, pans and focuses on bodies of women, regardless of which gender the program or movie was intended for.
  • Listen to how the dialogue differs when it’s about women from when it’s about men.
  • Remind yourself and your partner, friends and family that regardless of what a woman looks like or what she is wearing, each individual is in control of what she/he looks at, thinks about, and does.

If someone views you as an object to be ogled or judged or acted upon, that’s on them. Not you. We are all in control of what we look at, what we think, and what we do with those thoughts. In all this talk about objectification, men are very often being sold short as helpless, weak, and hopeless in the fight to see women as humans and not as a collection of body parts to be ogled. This is a lie.

We have to quote our previous post by Nate Pyle here:

A lot of people will try and tell you that a woman should watch how she dresses so she doesn’t tempt you to look at her wrongly. Here is what I will tell you. It is a woman’s responsibility to dress herself in the morning.  It is your responsibility to look at her like a human being regardless of what she is wearing.  You will feel the temptation to blame her for your wandering eyes because of what she is wearing – or not wearing. But don’t. Don’t play the victim. You are not a helpless victim when it comes to your eyes.  You have full control over them.  Exercise that control. Train them to look her in the eyes.  Discipline yourself to see her, not her clothes or her body. The moment you play the victim you fall into the lie that you are simply an embodied reaction to external stimuli unable to determine right from wrong, human from flesh. Look right at me. That is a ridiculous lie. You are more than that.  And the woman you are looking at is more than her clothes.  She is more than her body.”

To stop viewing and treating others as objects, and to stop treating ourselves as objects, we have to acknowledge the influence of pornography and sexual objectification on our relationships, health and safety. And once we recognize that influence, we have to reject it in all its forms. We can retrain our minds to see humans, rather than just sexualized body parts. We can retrain our minds to prioritize our own health, safety and satisfaction, rather than a fixation on our sexual appeal to others. But we can’t retrain our minds when we’re allowing powerful, hugely profit-driven sources to perpetuate lies about sex and bodies and our worth. 

 

*And more rarely, self-objectification among men as well. For both gay and straight men, this is especially manifested in fixation on sexualized body ideals highlighted in pornography, such as the size of sexual organs and muscularity.

9 Reasons to Ignore Every Mascara Ad Ever and Embrace Your Own Eyelashes

When we see this mascara ad (one of HUNDREDS just like it in any media directed at women), we have a few thoughts:

 Natural extension-free, insert-free eyelashes on women are unbelievably rare in all media today, and it has exerted some serious pressure on girls and women to keep up with that normalized new standard. Eyelash-related products and services are being sold at record rates. Before you dismiss this stuff as petty, consider that this is an example of one single beauty ideal (among hundreds) that has evolved to become inescapable and unquestioned. We LOVE to question these things.

Like the sticky note says, this ad has been altered to sell many unreal ideals, and the most egregious is the LIE so many of us are buying that any mascara can make your lashes look like this! Even this magic mascara can’t create the look in this very ad! Need proof? See the disclaimer in the bottom left: “Simulation of product. Results on the lashes enhanced by lash inserts.” In other words, “This is all a lie. But we hope you don’t read this tiny print.”

Why is “LOOK-AT-ME” always the goal if you’re female? We hate that becoming an ornament to be looked at is not only the unspoken message of most advertising directed at women (for beauty products and everything else), but is often also the literal, verbalized message, like it is here. Your body is an instrument to be used for your benefit, not an ornament for others’ viewing pleasure. Thinking about what you look like a lot of the time, even while you should be concentrating on other things, is called self-objectification and it’s not a good thing. Learn how to recognize it here.

No one ever ever ever talks about men’s eyelashes or sells men anything to do with their eyelashes or asks men to think about what their eyelashes are lacking. Male and female eyelashes serve the same functions and are created equal. Just like men, you don’t need to dye, extend, amplify, paint, or modify your eyelashes in any way. You don’t. Yes, we’re living in a world where natural eyelashes are becoming a rare sight in media (and unfortunately in the world around us too), but that does not mean your natural lashes are any less awesome or fulfill their intended function any less perfectly. When we flip the script and see how unbelievably gendered the expectations of eyelashes are, we get a much-needed reality check.

We are not throwing shade on anyone with lash extensions, expensive potions, mascaras, procedures or prescriptions. We get it. Long, dark, thick lashes look fab. But we gotta talk about the reasons so many women feel so compelled to spend their money and time on those potions and procedures. And why zero men do. And why ads like this target us at every turn. And how much money these companies are making off of our desire to look like these unreal images. (Hint: it’s in the billions.)

Own your reality. Own it and rock it and show other people it’s OK to feel good about their own realities — long, thick, dark lashes or short, thin, light ones or whatever. We all need them to protect our amazing eyeballs. When you accept and feel OK about whatever you’re working with, it gives others permission to accept and feel OK about whatever they’re working with too. And that simple example can be life-changing.

Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline. OR MAYBE it’s Maybelline plus lash inserts, plus Photoshop, plus an objectifying culture that teaches us our appearances define our worth that gives this ad its power.

I’m rebelling against this endless eyelash pressure by boycotting mascara today. And maybe tomorrow. Don’t get me wrong — I love me some mascara, but what I love more is my self-worth not being determined by the products I smear on my face. If you feel less “you” when you’re not wearing certain cosmetics or lash extensions, or you use certain products and services out of fear of what others will think if you *don’t*, I challenge you to try TRY try to wean yourself off of them. It is liberating to stop depending on that stuff. Prove to yourself that you are more than a body and your reflection doesn’t define your worth by foregoing the beauty efforts and expense you think you need. You don’t need makeup or extensions to make you any more acceptable and valuable or any more YOU.

If people ask you if you’re “sick” or “tired” or “OK?” when you’re not wearing makeup, we have to learn to blame the system that has created the made-up, unnatural ideals we now see and accept as the default of normal and healthy. Wear those questions as a badge of honor for pushing back against the pressures that make our regular, natural faces unacceptable and strange while painted, modified faces go unquestioned. You could even be honest and say that out loud when someone offers a comment or question about your less made-up or naked face — tell them this is just your natural face and the alternative is actually your altered face. If the person is cool, tell them you’re working to be more comfortable with yourself minus alterations. There is no shame in this game!

Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

For more about the Beauty Redefined Foundation and the work Lindsay and Lexie do to promote positive body image, check out our short intro video below, and don’t forget to subscribe to our new YouTube channel! 

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