The Body Public

“I am what I eat: especially if I am a woman.”
“To be thin is to be divine.”
“It’s okay to be called a skinny b—-h.”

When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was diagnosed with cancer in her early sixties she is quoted to have said, “If I had known this was going to happen, I wouldn’t have done all those sit-ups.”

Why are woman judged so harshly by how they appear in the public? From tabloids to respected news syndicates a female’s worth and wisdom are appraised by appearance first and substance second. In our centuries of evolution the value of female beauty still reigns supreme over her other qualities.

This surprises me in a post-modern age where we have concentrated a lot of political and societal effort on closing the gender gap. More women are working in fields such as medicine, law, and government than a century before. However, women are still largely under-represented in political office, as leaders of companies and in the fields of research science and other male dominated fields. Several women who choose to take time off to rear children are often unable to regain their previous traction in both academic and career tracks. The statistics are staggering, as listed in the documentary Miss Representation.

When I asked my students to read aloud a few of their New Year’s Resolutions most of the females (85%) listed “losing weight, eating better, and transitioning from a couch potato to a french fry” as their main resolutions.

On the other hand, most males mentioned wanting to make more money, save-up for a gaming console of some sort, or doing better in school.

Both genders listed wanting to spend more time with family, being nicer to siblings and making more time to do schoolwork.

Not a single male voiced the desire to become more athletic, lose weight or eat better.

Having volunteered in clinics for individuals with eating disorders (which comprised 98% of female clients) and witnessed first hand how debilitating such a disorder is, it is shocking when I hear both adolescent and adult women alike boasting their goal of “having the endurance of an anorexic”.

The public often equates being thin with being healthy.  When a person loses weight we often assume that they are “doing something right.”  In the past year, I lost approximately 9kg (or 20 lbs).  Far too many people commented on how “good” I looked.  My closest friends knew I was either not getting enough to eat, due to financial issues, or that I had lost my appetite due to stress and health problems.  It was not a conscious effort, at all, to lose weight.  My weight loss did not bring about better health, if anything I had less energy because food simply did not taste good.  Having to force myself to eat was a stressful experience.

Thus, my outlook on individuals who wish to become “like an anorexic” or morph from a “potato to a french fry” scares me.  We weren’t meant to look like stick figures.

Most developing nations find our body trends rather alarming because they know what it is like to live without food.  To have a little extra roundness in one’s face (I’m not talking about obesity) and a little something spare around the middle is actually a good thing.  It means you have enough to eat.

I would like to understand why women are held to such a high standard of beauty that is both expensive, often harmful, and doesn’t add to their psychological well-being, whilst men feel no such compunction to do the same?  Are women their own worst enemy or is the pressure of society so large that we cave in?

Why do people believe that women’s bodies belong to the public and are open to discussion?  Is there a systemic belief that we are the property of the public at large because we can bear children?  Or, have the rise of violent crimes against women and the depiction of them in T.V. and film dramas led us to believe that one gender’s body is less important than another?

What surprises me most is that most individuals don’t give their criticism of female public figures a second thought.  Whereas the bodies of balding, aging and overweight men on television are rarely the subjects of satire.  Instead, men tend to be criticized because of their way of handling a subject or their verbal goofs on television.

I am curious what others think about taking the pledge to help balance public portrayals of women less as objects and more as people who have feelings and as much dimension as males.  I’m not saying that women and men have to be the same.  I just wish we were treated the same in media and public portrayals.

14 thoughts on “The Body Public

  1. I feel like this is a statement that shows women and adolescent girl that they shouldn’t feel like they have to make men and boys believe their beautiful because their anorexic.

  2. Women can sometimes be their own worst enemy because they are so afraid of being made fun of or not likening their body’s that they force them self’s to not eat. The pressure of society so large that we cave in sometimes, there can be so many reasons to feel self conscious such as bullies, peer pressure, or pain. Sometimes pain can be more than physical, pain can be mental or emotional too. Pain can cause many horrible things such as bad thoughts self harm and anorexia, some ways of one woman’s ways to cope are often different than others, some women decide to hide their pain and others chose to publicly display their pain.

    People believe that women’s bodies belong to the public and are open to discussion for unknown reasons. Some women display their bodies for the public to see, and I understand why some people would thin k that that persons body is okay to judge, but if it is not your own then why would you judge it? Why would you say that its okay for you to judge some one you don’t know, because they have their own struggles to worry about. I do not understand why men’s body’s are not judged like women’s. In almost zero cases do people judge men’s bodies saying such awful things.

  3. “People judge women as if they are public property” – Jensen, Britta. I think that this says a lot about how people expect so much out of women but not men. We cover our selves with make-up in hopes of being accepted more into society and eat less to become skinny and have men think nicely of them. Truly this world is a messed up place and everything that goes on in the world in not right. Women should not be judged on how they look on the outside but judged on if they have a good heart, mind, and soul. If we have to cover ourselves with make-up, be stick thin, and have a great personality, society might as well put a chip in our brain or just make robots.
    Men don’t have to deal with women body problems such as: boobs, periods, sexual harassment, and etc. We women should be dearly respected in society for all the things that our body puts us through and on top of that, we have some men (not saying all) think of us as nothing put an object that they may use and throw away.
    Women should be accepted into society with honor no matter how you look. I would like to see men take the place of a women and have to go through this. They would not be thinking the same ever again.

  4. “Thus, my outlook on individuals who wish to become “like an anorexic” or morph from a “potato to a french fry” scares me. We weren’t meant to look like stick figures.”- Ms. Jensen

    This statement is very true. Many girls my age feel that if they aren’t super skinny, they will feel left out or alone. On television shows and videos, many of the girls are freakishly skinny. This is not realistic. Image is super important in the world. For example, women who are blond or blue eyed and tall and thin seem to be selected to be in magazines or in movies as the beautiful girl. When you see them, they don’t look healthy sometimes. They are too skinny for their height, or you can see their bones through their skin. That is NOT attractive. Girls my age should be focused on school, being successful, kind to others and LIKE who they are. We are all unique individuals and that is what makes us beautiful.

    I completed the pledge on this site. But what else can a 12 year old do? I can make sure that I don’t judge girls myself. I can ignore comments like “I’m so fat” and reply with a statement about something I think is super about them. I don’t buy fashion magazines because my mom taught me that this is all a fake world. Real women don’t look or dress like that. I like to be comfortable with who I am.

    • Grace this is such a fantastic comment: regarding how young girls can make a difference simply by not buying into the fashion and media world’s version of what a woman ought to be.

      In Miss Representation it mentions that women spend more on cosmetics in their adult life than they ever do on their educations: something most women need to get a decent paying job.

      It is a struggle, but an important one, to be comfortable with who you are and knowing what is really important in life. It is a constant battle as you get older (and other adults try to assert their own version of who they think you ought to be), but I am glad you are aiming high and that your Mum has instructed you about the damaging effects of fashion magazines (which are created solely to get you to buy more stuff you don’t need!). Thanks for your wise words.

  5. I agree. Having a little fat isn’t bad, it shows that you’re well fed, and I’m not talking about obese people. Physical appearance isn’t what makes a person, it’s their personality. Just because women can have children doesn’t make them any less of a person.

    If people gave a second thought about what they said about a person, then life would be much more enjoyable. Maybe you see a women who’s bald. Don’t judge. Maybe she’s had cancer, or something like that. She would already know she’s bald, so you don’t need to comment on it. She can’t change that.

    And yes, we aren’t made to be stick figures. and why a French fry? French fries are one of the most un healthy things at a fast food restaurant besides the sodas. And a potato is good for you. But I get the diagram. Instead of a French fry, they could of said something like a carrot or celery.

  6. “Thus, my outlook on individuals who wish to become “like an anorexic” or morph from a “potato to a french fry” scares me. We weren’t meant to look like stick figures.”- Ms. Jensen

    Well that I know yeah I want to lost weight but I still want to have a little bit of fat on me. Some people that I know say that there fat and I am like your perfect just the way you are it doesn’t matter what people say about your weight or size. You will have a person that will support you and make you feel better about your self. The guys spend most of there time doing sports everyday, so that why there so skinny. Boys don’t understand what they say about girls. That’s why most of the girls want to lose weight because they want to look good just for people. Though When people get to high school people are going to judge them even more. People get bullied because of there weight too it just sad to see what people go though just doing that to them self its just wrong.

  7. I totally agree people shouldn’t judge anybody on their looks they should accept them for who they are. Girls are worrying about their looks at a young age.They should not be doing that especially if they are still in school because they have that to worry about and focus on not their looks.I think that it is disrespectful to call someone fat when they actually aren’t. Lots of people call themselves fat when they are just fine and that they want to look skinny just for their boyfriends or their crush and that is not right.They are perfect just the way they are and they do not need to change.Doing that is just wrong and not right so I totally agree with you.

  8. This subject needs to be brought up more in the public. Women should not have to morph their bodies and cause themselves pain for the benefit and pleasure of others. The young girls in our world today, like myself and my peers, are growing up with this thought in our minds of being “perfect”. Perfection should not be based on your physical appearance it should be based on what is on the inside of our hearts, the compassion, hard work and determination.
    Society plays a big role in the issue with magazines, Photoshop and etc. Women and some young girls are not eating, constantly looking in the mirror at their bodies to see if they are “skinny”. Self-harm is yet another side effect of trying to be “perfect”, females should not have to hurt their beautiful bodies because they are not “perfect” in society’s eyes.
    Society does not understand how many great leaders and amazing human beings that are females, society is crushing their self-esteem and some females go as far as ending their own lives. These girls and women could have gone on to accomplish great things in this world but were delayed or stopped because of society. It is painful to watch my friends and my family have to fight with themselves over something that is not worth fighting for, they are trying to be “perfect” missing the fact that they already are.

  9. I believe this article finally sheds some light onto the growing problem of people, not just girls, who believe to be “liked” or called “good-looking” they have to eat less, or nothing at all. I’m not saying we haven’t had this problem for a while, but with society’s raising expectations on what a person should look like, it is becoming an even greater problem than what it was before. And those who don’t make an effort to do this are ridiculed by their peers, and it is just sick. These newer expectations don’t just lead to an unhealthy life physically, but also to one mentally. If one is labelled “over-weight” or “fat” two things could pop into their heads. The first leads up to “no food”. The second leads up to “no life”. So this new society is not only causing an unhealthy population to this world, it is causing bullying. And when that gets out of hand, sometimes there is even suicide. It’s okay to be a little tubby here and there. At least it’s better than being anorexic. I think it is better to be a healthy potato than an unhealthy french fry. In the words of Meghan Trainor I end this reply, “I’m all about that bass, no treble … Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.”

  10. So many women today think that being a stick figure is great. It’s really not. Many women look fine just the way they are, but no. It’s not the appearance that makes you perfect. The inside is what counts. They think they’re fat and will do anything to get skinny.

    Women search the internet for the quickest way to lose fat, and some of those websites are wrong. They tell you to cut off (blank) in your diet, but (blank) is actually good for you.

    Some women exercise too much and they hurt their muscles. They might think “No pain, no gain”, but taking exercise to the extreme is bad for you.

    Now a days, young girls care about their appearance too. I was shocked when my ten year old sister said she thought she was fat. She looked fine! Why are ten year old kids worrying about how they look? Ridiculous.

    Girls shouldn’t be flipping through magazines wishing their bodies could be as perfect as the models with the perfect waists and hair, but they do. Many women don’t realize it, but they are wishing to be like the ones who are anorexic.

    As for people who lose weight to impress guys, I don’t think guys judge you on the few extra pounds. If they do, they’re not someone you want to be with.

    I wish women were treated better in this new society that we live in. We’re perfect just the way we are.

  11. I believe that women should not think or believe anyone’s thoughts that are negative about them. Sometimes women or young girls are so stressed out that they don’t have time to think about all the good things that are actually said about them. It’s ashamed for a child to have to go home for the worst day of school because someone called her ugly or called her fat. Women and girls should not have to worry about what to wear the next day so that they look good enough for school. They should not have to impress anybody but themselves. Women should be able to go for the same job as a man and have the same chance as he does. Nothing should be different wether or not you are a woman or a man. The requirements should not have to change because someone thinks that you are helpless or will not do it the same way as a man would. Gender, looks, or intellgence should not matter.

  12. Who cares! Who cares about what anybody thinks about you, the only opinion that matters in the world is yours. I will admit I was one of the girls that wanted to lose weight. Now I feel really foolish. I am who I am and I’m perfectly healthy so why change the way I eat and carry myself.
    Many girls at school call themselves fat and say that they need to lose weight. Many of them don’t even eat lunch! That right there makes me sad to think that that’s how they see themselves. these same people tell me to eat because I’m to skinny, all i can say o this is why? It doesn’t matter the way you dress, how big you are or how skinny. God made you that way, he blessed you with that body, so the next time someone makes fun of you just remember that God loves you and you are perfect the way you are. ^-^

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