As a consumer of media, I can’t help but notice the appalling rate at which I am inundated with sexualized images on a daily basis. As a female consumer, I find it disheartening to be bombarded with the message on a daily basis that my worth is largely determined by the number inside my blue jeans, my cup size, and how well I’ve managed to mask the effects of that dreaded humidity on my hair. As a human being, I (like so many others) have finally decided to take an active stand against the belief that I somehow need to be tolerant of- or at least pretend I’m blind to- the constant barrage of media messages that I can be reduced to my physical attributes as an estimation of my worth.
In an attempt to save money while I pursue my doctorate, my husband and I opted to forgo the luxury of cable television in an attempt to save a little extra cash each month. To be honest, I was never much of a TV fanatic anyway, save for my secret obsession with the Food Network. (“Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”, anyone?) Anyway, I also am humbled to admit that I am incredibly technologically challenged. It’s true, my Mac laptop is a portal to merely 3 things: Homework, Email and Facebook. I don’t tweet or blog or read celebrity gossip on Buzzfeed. I’m not a gamer, nor do I even know how to work the control that turns on our X-Box at home. Despite my relatively limited awareness and use of screens compared to others in my generation, I am nonetheless forced to admit that I absorb media’s targeting messages about me and my fellow sisters on a minute-to-minute basis. If I’m not hearing on the radio how I can be more attractive with laser hair removal, then I’m accosted with 100 ways to “rock my man’s world in the bedroom” in the check out line, all the while feeling sized up by men who are complete strangers and hearing their cat-calls because I dared to have a pair of breasts.
But it isn’t limited to just me and my own experience, and that’s the problem. Although I am mindful about my own media consumption, I’m not exempt from the stories of other women who are constantly evaluating themselves based on the number of “likes” a picture of them received on their social media outlet. As a training clinical psychologist, I hear my female clients’ heartache every time they disclose their unwanted sexual encounters and describe through tears the devaluation they experience every time a new reality TV show makes yet another unrealistic standard of what their ideal body type should be. Many of the college aged women sitting in my office have suffered quietly with disordered eating behaviors for years, silently agonized with self harm tendencies and violated their own moral codes for sexual behavior in their pursuit of hearing just one person tell them that they’re beautiful. We live in an age where the size of our heels and the length of our skirts determine even our pursuit of professionalism and being taken seriously in the work force in which we find ourselves. I once heard a stand up comedian say that we live in a media-world that preys on the insecurities of women, and then we blame them for it. And if you ask my perspective, the very objectification that is sucking the lives out of our female youth is fueled by our fear- the fear of not feeling accepted. We have thus created a system designed to collapse on itself, and every constituent that’s within it.
That being said, I do have an incredible amount of hope. I have to, or else my pursuit of education in this field would be meaningless and definitely not worth the 8 years of graduate school it will have taken me to understand what our subscription to these beliefs is doing to our psychology. I wholeheartedly believe that slowly but surely, a new trend is beginning among our youth that is a forced to be reckoned with. I see it in the growing number of women choosing to pursue higher education. I see it in the gradual but sure growth of female members of congress in this recent election. I see it every time a female celebrity makes a statement that she’s exploring this word ‘feminism’ for the first time to see how it fits. I am given hope every time a legislation is passed that puts power back in the hands of women over their own right to reproductive and sexual health. In a recent event I held in our department, I was amazed to see the numbers of undergraduate and graduate students wanting to dialogue about all of these issues and more. My hope is that we never stop this conversation; that we never refrain from asking the difficult questions that are required for effecting change. And if all that is accomplished through these conversations is the deepening of our awareness, I am still honored to be a part of them.
-Written by Mae Adams