Recently I was on a train crawling out of Richmond Station. My attention was caught by two big signs on a clothing factory wall. Together they proclaimed “Today’s Woman” and “Slim Form”.
Below the signs was a row of bare windows. In one window stood a mannequin in a bathing costume. In another stood a naked mannequin with big bare breasts facing out the window for thousands of passing passengers to see.
It struck me that the signs and the mannequins sum up the distorted, damaging demand our society places on women…
You must be physically beautiful and have the ideal figure if you want to be valued.
Slim female bodies and big breasts are not a common natural combination and yet men in our society generally believe this is the ideal. No wonder the cosmetic surgery industry thrives on transforming perfectly normal, healthy breasts into the ‘perfect’ C or even D size.
Women generally believe a slim body with shapely, attractive breasts is the ideal. Unfortunately however, ‘slim’ usually means ‘I’m not slim enough’.
But body shape is only the beginning.
It’s not wrong for women to be physically attractive. We can all appreciate women who are beautiful, and, let’s face it, physical attraction is one of the fundamental drivers for men and women to form relationships, and ultimately perpetuate the human race.
What IS wrong is that physical attractiveness has become the basis of how women are valued by our society. Little or no consideration given to a woman’s personal qualities, capabilities, values, attitudes, goals and achievements in life.
The true value of women has been undermined by a lie. The lie is so pervasive and powerfully reinforced that most men and women have come to believe it. The insidious result is that we, the victims of the lie, perpetuate it ourselves.
What drives the ‘ideal’ female image?
The ideal female image has been created to achieve one thing… to make money.
Advertisers use highly effective, research-based strategies to form our beliefs about women and our attitudes toward them. We are constantly bombarded with carefully crafted messages compelling women to reshape, re-clothe and ‘beautify’ their bodies, literally from head to toe, in order to attain the ideal image and the supposed benefits it offers.
The strategy for manipulating women is very simple and seductive…
- Play on women’s natural human needs for love, acceptance, security and significance.
- Create in women the fear of ‘not being good enough’.
- Convince them that attaining the ideal appearance will ensure their deepest needs and desires are met.
- Convince them that spending their money on the endless range of products and services promising beauty and attractiveness will enable them to approach the ideal.
The strategy for manipulating men is even simpler…
- Create an image of the ideal female body in men’s minds.
- Use sexualized images of women to get men to focus on whatever product you want to sell.
- Sell almost anything!
These strategies are highly refined and totally deliberate. There is no innocence on the part of those using them. Behind the scenes the corporate owners rub their hands with glee as the products roll out and billions of dollars roll in.
- The self-worth and confidence of women is being undermined by fear.
Very few women can attain the ideal image. Every other woman is told they risk being undervalued and missing out because they not attractive enough. The self-worth of women is being attacked at the very core of their beings.
How much anxiety do women from teenage years onward experience because they fear not being “attractive enough” to make friends, get the job they want, find a partner?
- Women are pressured to spend huge amounts of money trying to achieve the ideal appearance. The demand to be attractive drives endless spending on clothing, makeup, jewelry, beauty treatments, cosmetic surgery, exercise programs, weight loss treatments and much more. Consider the amount spent constantly updating wardrobes (already full of perfectly good clothes) with the latest fashions.
- Women are pressured to spend hours each day ‘beautifying themselves’.
Every hour of our busy lives is precious. Why should women have to spend an hour or two every day maintaining their appearance instead of doing activities that would add true value and enjoyment to their lives?
- The ideal female image is even being used to manipulate the buying habits of pre-teenage girls and their parents. Fashion for “tweens” has become a thriving industry as young girls are sold the lie that they too must look like the adult women even before they’ve reached womanhood!
- It distorts employment opportunities. Discrimination based on appearance is illegal, but also very difficult to prove. How many employers (both male and female) rank ‘attractive’ women ahead of women with better capabilities? This discrimination may not even be conscious because “attractiveness = value” has been so deeply scripted into our thinking.
- It destroys our appreciation of the natural beauty of the broad spectrum of female appearance. Everyone loses when we can no longer see the beauty in woman of all shapes and sizes. And we lose far more when we only see beauty in terms of external appearance and stop appreciating a woman’s personal qualities and capabilities.
- It distorts how men view and treat women.
- “Attractive” women get more attention. They are more likely to be spoken to, listened to and included by men in all arenas of life.
- It encourages men to sexualize women and view them as objects to be used, rather than seeing and appreciating the whole person.
- Seeing women as objects helps men ‘justify’ violence against women.
- It distorts how men choose women to date and partner.
Men usually agree that a wise choice of partner is based on the ‘total package’ and not just appearance. In practice however men are powerfully driven by hormones to choose women they find visually attractive.
Distort men’s definition of ‘attractive’ and you distort and narrow the range of women that men choose to partner. Sadly ‘less attractive’ women with whom they could have a stable, long-term relationship based on love and a deep intellectual and emotional connection can all too easily be overlooked.
How many relationships and marriages end in grief when men discover that physical ‘beauty’ does not guarantee relationship compatibility? Or because a ‘more attractive’ woman comes along?
What can we do about it?
We need to get our values straight…
- All women (and men) are immeasurably valuable human beings worthy of being loved, accepted, respected and appreciated for who they are.
- “Love one another” does not include any conditions regarding appearance… or abilities, social standing or achievements.
These values are easy to acknowledge but are very difficult to practice.
Grow your awareness…
- Don’t underestimate the extent to which your thinking has been conditioned.
It’s very easy to enthusiastically agree there’s a problem, and not realize how thoroughly conditioned we’ve become to judge women by their appearance.
- When you’re next in a group relating to women observe your own thoughts and actions. Which women do you tend to gravitate towards? Why?
- When you’re watching TV ask: Would I still enjoy this program if the female characters were plain looking? What if they were ‘ugly’? This question did my head in last night when watching one of my favourite comedies “Friends”.
- When you see advertisements look for the subtle (and blatant) ways attractive women are used to sell the products. Question it. Object to your thinking being manipulated.
Choose to think and act differently…
- Choose to reject your association of a woman’s value with her appearance. Choose to value women for who they are. Appreciate their qualities and capabilities as people. The theory is easy. Practicing it with integrity can be very difficult (for men especially).
- Keep an eye out for women who are being left out of the group. Actively choose to talk to them and appreciate them as people. (Keep an eye out for men who are being left out too!)
- Where appropriate, let the women in your life know why they are valuable. Start with the women you love and respect (e.g. family members and close friends). This will help you redefine your own measure of what makes a woman valuable… it will also encourage them!
Help others to become aware…
- Discuss the issue with friends, family and other people to help increase their awareness. You will also learn from their experiences.
- Where appropriate, ask women in your life how this issue impacts them. Not only will you gain valuable first hand insights, you will also be affirming their value and worth. You may even open their eyes to the lie and encourage them to free themselves from conforming to it.
- If you have children or grand-children talk to them about what makes women (and men) valuable. Develop their awareness of the distorted standards and advertising pressures being foisted on them by the media and advertising.
- If you have daughters and granddaughters reinforce that their own self-worth does not depend on conforming to an unrealistic ideal appearance.
You CAN make a difference…
Stop believing the lie.
Change your thinking. Women are valuable for who they are, not because of how ‘attractive’ they are.
Break the scripting and conditioning of your own mind.
Change your actions. Work at valuing all women. Appreciate each of them for their unique personalities and capabilities.
Grow your own awareness.
Increase the awareness of others.
You can still appreciate physical beauty… but keep it perspective. The true beauty of a woman is in who she is, not her external appearance.
Keep working to break free from the lie.
Deeply scripted thinking and habit patterns require hard work and practice to change.