It would be difficult for anyone to argue that women aren’t being demeaned as objects in pretty much every single corner of society. It happens so much and is such a thoroughly pervasive message in media that we’ve almost forgotten to be angry about it. We just take for granted that it’s happening.
Well, I think it’s time for women — and men — to stand up and show some anger about this phenomenon. It’s time to stop the saturation of our culture with images of sexualized women.
I’ve been writing off and on about this topic, and I’ve nearly finished the book I’m writing, which focuses on the topic from a faith-based angle. But nearly every day, I see something else that makes me want to shake my fist and just DO something, SAY something. Yesterday it was a USA Today article about how breast cancer is being sexualized. Wha?? Yep, it’s true. I suppose I’d already kind of subconsciously noticed it myself, but the article really clarified the point. I also had just noticed a full-page ad in an in-flight magazine when I was traveling over the weekend: it showed a photo of a very trim, fairly young woman with smallish but nice breasts (a point I feel inclined to note, since most of these kinds of photos show women with larger-than-life breasts) dressed in an itty-bitty white bikini. Flat abs, no fat, no cellulite, no blemishes. And the ad had the nerve to have been run by plastic surgeons touting the message that they can do great reconstruction on women who have had breast cancer. Aaaaiiiieee!
Let’s think about this honestly. Is the average survivor of breast cancer going to look like a 20-something model? Ah, nope. She’s going to have scars, could be some pretty big and ugly ones, depending on how much surgery had to be done. She might be thin (thanks to not being able to eat much during chemo), but not necessarily in the “attractive” way. It might not even be possible for reconstructive surgery to get her back to “normal.” A friend in her 50s recently told me about her experience with breast cancer, and she said that after having a double, radical mastectomy, she was told by surgeons that the process for giving her breasts would be lengthy and, as she put it, “barbaric.” And then she wouldn’t even be able to have normal-looking breasts: they wouldn’t be able to give them nipples. She turned down the surgery; no point in going through all that to have substandard breasts.
Nope, these kinds of demonstrations of support for breast cancer aren’t help. They are simply marketing opportunities painted in pink. The article quotes Karuna Jagger, executive director of advocacy group Breast Cancer Action, as saying, “The implicit message in these campaigns is that it is breasts that are sexy; sexy is what is important; and we should care about breast cancer because it takes those lovely, sexy breasts out of the world . . . Every October, the stunts just gets more bizarre and further removed from what’s needed for this epidemic.”
Why can’t we just stand up and say, ENOUGH, ALREADY!? Sexy, young, thin, well-endowed female models are used to sell almost everything. I work out at the gym every day and can see a bank of about five TV monitors showing different networks while I exercise. I read or listen to music, but I can’t help but glance over at the monitors and see what’s going on. At any given time, I see several images of unrealistically-shaped young women, on commercials or the news or various programs. The anchors on news networks are thin and usually young (at least in comparison to the men, who can be any age). Innocuous game shows feature models showing off the prizes. Soap operas feature cute young girls and some older women who have often had various work done (at the very least, Botox and injections to plump up their lips or cheekbones). All the commercials feature women. Products for men and commercials aimed at men feature sexy models, scantily clad. Products for women and commercials selling those products for women feature women; most of them are for hair color (get rid of gray) or skin creams that aim to reduce wrinkles and make skin look younger and fresher. Car commercials even mostly feature women: young, trim models.
It’s all about sexualization. When will all women say, Enough. No more. I refuse to be sexualized, to be objectified, any more. It starts at home and with our circle of friends, even just on Facebook or Pinterest. Stop pinning the “fitspiration” pins. I don’t. I like to exercise, and it’s a vital part of my daily routine. But I refuse to put another photo in front of me that has a ridiculously skinny teen or 20-something clad in a sports bra and tight boy shorts, touting her amazing workout that will make all of us look just like her. It’s ridiculous. We should be laughing, not trying to emulate those girls! Stop posting about how you feel fat or ugly or that you look old. Don’t expect yourself to look your regular self two weeks post-baby, either. Stop focusing on how you look, period. And don’t focus on how your friends look. Support them as they do great things with their lives, as they work on being their best selves.
Focus on YOU, women. Allow the men in your life to focus on who you are inside, too. Teach your daughters to be who they are, and teach your sons positive language about women and not to focus on appearance. Yes, be healthy. Try to eat mostly well. Exercise regularly. But don’t make how you look the end-all, be-all. Don’t let yourself be objectified. Don’t let the media and the marketers and the porn producers dictate how you feel about yourself or how society views you. Gently remind friends that they are “more than eye candy,” as Beauty Redefined enshrines in billboards, or that they are more than just numbers on a scale.
We women are amazing creatures. We nurture future generations. We lead society. We do great things. Let’s show ’em what we’ve got! We’re not about our body parts, unless we talk about our brains, our hearts, or our hands. Let’s join those hands and speak up.
I'm a book reviewer, editor, and writer with four daughters and tons of projects always keeping me hopping. I blog at Life and Lims and run the book review site Rated Reads.