“We won the minute they started doing pole dancing for exercise.” Ryan Gosling as Jacob in Crazy, Stupid, Love on the battle of the sexes.
When I was in college, Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth was the mainstream feminist text of the day. It posited that as women gained more power in the world, so did the pressure to adhere to unrealistic social standards of physical beauty and because of commercial influences on the mass media women were more objectified than ever. Personally, these ideas gave me pause to evaluate my own self-image and consider the role the media had played in shaping my standards of beauty.
Flash forward 25 years and not only are women’s bodies still being used to sell everything from deodorant to cars, we now have access to more images than ever before through social media. Each of us is curating a story about what we want the world to know about us; pics of our dogs, our lattes, selfies. There used to be great debate about the dangers of television but we have so evolved beyond that, that television seems benign compared to the image-based world we are living in today. It is impossible to avoid being constantly bombarded by images, day in and day out. No matter where you are, there is a television, an advertisement, a magazine, a logo, computer screen or phone in your hand to deliver ideas and standards of beauty.
Of course we all want to be pretty and admired. However, one scroll through my Instagram feed is enough to make me cringe. Smart women with feeds showcasing their bodies in hyper-sexualized ways that would be worthy of old-school Playboy. Then there is the argument that it is our choice. The idea that we have achieved such freedom and equality that women have the choice to do what they want with their bodies. I get it but I am baffled.
It seems to me that we have turned self-objectification into empowerment and it does not seem to be in an ironic way. I recently had a frustrating conversation with a man who told me that he thought women wanted men to look at them with lust- he even went so far as to suggest that women who worked in the sex industry were seeking male attention. I tried to make an argument that our society has turned women’s sexuality into a commodity and that for many women it becomes the only currency they have, especially when they have not had access to education and opportunity.
However, what about the educated women? Women who are talking about their boob photos and perfect moist pouty lip selfie as empowerment? Maybe it is empowerment- if they believe it. Or maybe the brainwashing has gone so far that we are our own worst enemies.