Time for some real talk, folk. And as a warning, there is liberal useage of the four-lettered f word. I very rarely get my feminist cap on because I find there are problems either side and I prefer to just carve out my own corner of equality in my life but the truth is: sexual objectification affects me. Every day. In almost everything I do. It is, perhaps, one of the leading causes of my mental health issues. And perhaps even one of those self-fulfilling prophecy thingies.
I am worthless because obviously men will never find me attractive – because I am not the definition of beauty that magazines and TV have led me to believe is normal – and so I acknowledge that this means that people are constantly thinking how fat and ugly I am (pretty self-centered, huh?) – and thus I hate myself because I am worthless… rinse and repeat.
How wrong is that? When I take a step back from this and really look, I can tell myself quite clearly that my worth as a human being has nothing to do with the way I look or how men, or even other women, perceive that. In fact, if other people do decide that I am worthless because of something as stupid as my physical appearance.. well.. what does that say about them? When I hear people judge others on the way that they look, I instantly decide that they are nasty. So why do I put so much stock in their opinions of me?
I just came across this video on UpWorthy and it really got me thinking. Sit back and watch. I’ll wait. (Some language, be wary of this if watching at work or around kids)
Gets you thinking, right? And I warn you, really really do not read the comments on this one. I can sum up: men are debased too, we have to pay for dates, and Magic Mike! Right, now that’s over with. It is bullshit.
Making You Think
The first thing that Laci does is define what sexual objectification is. So let’s just think about this for a moment. She used examples of sitcom after sitcom wherein men are varied and full, but the women are just pretty things there to be looked at. (Big Bang Theory, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Two and A Half Men, Two Broke Girls, and on and on and on..) She tells us how normalised the idea of “women are things there for me to have sex with” really is and it got me thinking further. Just look at advertising (sex sells!), Page 3 girls, the whole rubbish with photoshopping star’s pictures to make them “perfect”.. it’s a real issue that is ensconced in our society and I don’t personally see it getting much better any time soon. As long as people keep giving credence to the act of sexualising just about everything a woman does, we will have to live in a world in which our worth is defined by our body shape, skin colour, hairstyles, our makeup.. it’s actually pretty disgusting. And it’s not just men. Women judge too, it’s that deep in our psyches to think of women in terms of boobs, bums, and cameltoes. Maybe it’s a subconscious way of thinking “well I put the effort in to look good so why the hell hasn’t she?” I don’t know. And I’m not going to try and think too long on that. But it’s bizarre.
Please bear in mind, however, that as Laci states in the video I linked to, there is a difference between finding people attractive, and sexually objectifying people. If you think somebody is hot, but still accept that they are a human being with their own desires and plans, then you are doing it right and please carry on. If, however, your reaction to Page 3 is “cor, them tits!” then maaayyybe you need to shuffle a few priorities around..
Why You Aren’t Good Enough
Modern culture’s way of telling a woman she isn’t good enough is subtle. Kind of. When you really look at it it’s more like a big arse in your face telling you to rub it but that’s tying back into the point I tried to make in the paragraph above. This one is explaining that wherever you turn as a woman, there is something telling you that you aren’t good enough and can do better. Okay, you can avoid the rubbish that tells you 15 ways for flat abs now, and how you can be better in bed in just 5 easy steps, but that doesn’t make it any less problematic. It’s all about “real” women, things you can do to be sexy for your man, how to be gorgeous (because you aren’t already), why being single is bad, sex, beauty tips for youthful skin, sex, tricks for great hair, sex… Yawn. Modern media seems to think that women aren’t fucking people. It’s plastered with this “ideal” image of what a woman “should” be, and this is where that thinspiration shit (we’ll come back to this later) comes from. And that makes me pissed. Seriously. All women are real women and we do not have to define ourselves by the way men (or women!!) perceive us or make us feel. Your worth is not defined by your fucking dress size or the way you do your makeup – if you do it at all. You don’t have to.
She goes on to talk about how men get Halloween costumes and women get sexed up versions. And you’re probably tired of hearing it, but this made me think about how we even get this in our fucking video games! We hear that women are “too hard” to code, their stories aren’t interesting enough, meanwhile, men are consistently getting the hero treatment while women are emotional messes, or more commonly, this:
How is that okay? How the fuck does this stay on those over-sized torpedo boobs? That’s not natural.. And WHY is she oiled up?? Oh, Blade & Soul.. you have issues. So many issues.
And if we complain? Oh boy do we get told to quit whining and then add on any disgusting expletives you like.
Therein the Problem Lies..
Here’s the thing though, Laci then connects sexual objectification to mental health issues and that’s where it really hit home for me. Remember that self-fulfilling prophecy thing I talked about earlier? That there is self objectification. And it stems from somewhere. I can walk down the street and have kids point at me, groups of lads shout derogatory and nasty things at me, women laugh, people avert their eyes.. I’m almost constantly being judged. So it’s little fucking wonder that my social anxiety kicked off big time with the full expectation that everybody I pass will be critiquing how shitty I look to them and how little I deserve to be in their presence and why I barely leave the fucking house because of this constant fear. I realise that most people won’t even notice me, that everybody has their own issues they’re dealing with, and some aren’t as dickish as that. Sometimes I even notice people not noticing me walking past them and I lift my head a little higher. But for the most part I’m in a constant state of telling myself to smile at people I pass and put one foot ahead of the other, that people who judge aren’t worth my time or attention, but it’s so tiring and I end up sleeping for hours and still feel drained as a result of simply trying to live my life like a normal human being. Now let’s imagine that sexual objectification wasn’t a thing. People might look at me, decide that I’m unattractive or even simply acknowledge that I am another person walking past, and I would recognise this and not develop this side of my anxiety. In an ideal world, am I right? And that’s just one end of the scale. Let’s bring this back around to the issue of thinspiration that I talked about above which stems from a very problematic portrayal of how a woman should look. Now, don’t get me wrong here, there is nothing wrong with using images to inspire yourself to keep going when you’re struggling with weight loss, but the very idea that entire communities of girls and women post pictures of skeletal women as inspiration to keep losing weight throughout their eating disorders sickens me. Eating disorders stem from the idea that you are not good enough, and the constant use of images in the media and beyond to drive the idea of the “ideal body image” home exacerbates the problem tenfold and this needs to stop. We need to help people overcome their problems not make them worse.
Sadly, this isn’t the way the world works, and this TedTalks hits the fucking nail on the head (I’ve linked from the self objectification part but do rewind and watch the whole thing). Caroline tells us that the more self objectification effects us, the higher our rates of depression, concentration loss due to focusing way too much on how we are presenting ourselves to others (and yes, to the statistic she gives, for those who watched the video, for those who didn’t, she states that on average, a woman who occupies in ‘habitual body monitoring’ thinks about how she is presenting roughly every 30 seconds, think for a moment how damaging that is), loss of sexual desire and pleasure – again because we spend too much time and energy on worrying about how we’re presenting ourselves.. it basically just lowers our mental capacity to function the way we’d like to. On top of this, “it lowers your ability to get along with other women. We engage in female competition..” This quote. How many times have you said, or heard the words, “I struggle to get along with other girls, I just get along better with guys.” raises hand Too many times to count, for me, on both saying and hearing. Could this be because we know that sub-consciously we compete with other women and get tired of it so opt to step away from it entirely? I think so. It makes sense to me. And the older I get, the more I hear other women say those words, and the more I find that these women are the kind of people I can connect with, because I know deep down that they are tired of the stupid, inward competition too.
And fyi, this is why I despise rating women. Saying things like “cor, she’s a 10” or “I am punching above my weight” acknowledges to us the idea that there is a social pecking order based on appearances and thus reinforces the self objectification as we automatically remember that we place ourselves at the lower end of the scale, when in reality, there is no scale. We are all human beings and everybody finds something different attractive. What one person considers a “10”, another might not even look twice at. So really, the idea of scaling women based on their beauty is not only needless objectification but also completely meaningless and harmful.
You Don’t Have To Accept This As Normal
Caroline proposes a personal plan of action against sexual objectification:
This is why I have issues with terms like “social justice warrior”, because it demeans the very positive actions of some good eggs and furthers the sexual objectification problem. Also, I think we can add for girls: You are beautiful, fuck what media tells us, you don’t need to change. Raise your head high. Though by all means, ladies, lose weight and look great. But do it for you, not for anybody else. Okay? And men who read this and agree? Keep being awesome. If that makes you a social justice warrior then fucking raise that sword and keep at it. I think the vast majority of the people I call friends already live by a lot of what is listed above because you’re all awesome human beings.