How We Can Change the Way We Think and Feel About Our Bodies (With the Help of Women Around Us) // Ronna Milo Haglili

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To what extent do women’s looks interconnect with their self-esteem and self-worth? What do women gain and what do they lose from appearances being part of their identity? What change do we want to induce in the way we shape our identity and the identity of our daughters? And how is it even possible?

The appearance and body image of women not only significantly influence their self-esteem but are part of their identity formation, which starts in early childhood and lasts throughout their lives. It is a lens through which women experience the world and by which they define themselves. Identity is multilayered and how a woman looks is only a single element of it, but it takes up much more space than it should. We need to rethink the relationship between women’s looks and their self-identity.

On one end of the spectrum, there is an objectifying look, by which women are defined solely or prominently by their bodies. This look is different from an internal look, which carries out one’s subjective desires, actively searches for meaning, and is directed from the inside outwards. The latter helps us to define and fulfill our goals in life and enables us to thrive intellectually and professionally. Interestingly enough, under certain circumstances, women can and should enjoy being objectified. For example, when they are being praised by their partners for wearing a new dress, a nice set of earrings or sexy lipstick. They can most certainly benefit from objectifying their partners too. This is part of a playful, joyful, healthy relationship. Yet, the self objectifying look comes with a high price. From a personal perspective, it connects how we look with our self-worth and self-esteem. Many women are familiar with how bearing a demeaning internalized perspective on their bodies can be extremely vicious and derogatory. For example, when a woman feels a tremendous sense of shame when entering the water in her swimsuit while hanging out at the beach or by the pool. From a societal perspective, this perspective perpetuates discrimination and injustice against women, creating gender driven segregation in the workplace, reinforcing sexual harassment and sexual assault, dehumanizing women and diminishing their rights for equality and dignity.

What should we do? Can we disconnect completely from how we look? Merav Michaeli, an Israeli Parliament member and a groundbreaking feminist, wears only black clothes. She has chosen to put on a neutral stance with regards to her appearance so that both she and the public would concentrate solely on what she does and how she acts, rather on how she looks. Do all women need to do so as part of a struggle against the objectification of women and the internalization of it? Is this step required for redefining the relationship between women and their looks? Would it help to reshape the beauty ideal?

It may be a question of choice, but can women willingly transition between the dual positioning of oneself as an object or as a subject, depending on the context? Unfortunately, as much as the objectifying look is easy to put on, the internal look is much harder to embrace. Well, there might be an intra-psychic exercise that could support the embracement of the internal look that connects with one’s inner desires and aspirations. Let’s take as an example two powerful women we have observed for the past few years and who have begun shaping our minds through the media, namely Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham. These are women we can identify with, can look up to and who inspire us. They are feminists, successful, talented, astute, hilarious, and blunt. Also, their presence is important as they ostensibly deviate, to various extents, from the unbending model of beauty reinforced by the western, capitalist culture that is imprinted through the media. What I would like to suggest is first to recognize the importance of having these two fabulous ladies in our lives, as well as other women who do not necessarily adhere to the engrained model of beauty but nevertheless serve as an inspiration, regardless of their looks. Second, think of how each of the women I mentioned, in her subversive, revolutionary, unique way, changed the current discourse relating to women’s appearance. Among other things, Lena Dunham is doing so by proudly displaying her body although the ostensible deviation from the Hollywood prototype; Amy Schumer is doing so by surfacing contemporary issues women face in relation to appearance as part of her comedy and satire, including a remarkable sketch where she mocks Hollywood ageism and sexism toward women; as mentioned, Merav Michaeli is doing so by purposefully neutralizing her looks. Now, if women feel that an objectifying look is being imposed on them, and that this look is jarring and toxic; if they have difficulties disconnecting from a demeaning self-objectifying look that inhibits their passions, they can use these women not only as role models, but also as objects to identify with for an internalization of a more respectful, empowering look on themselves; a look that embraces higher self-esteem, self-cohesiveness and self-fulfillment.

Women’s value is filtered through how society views their bodies. Sadly, to a large extent, our self-esteem is filtered through this as well. We do not want to be measured by how we look, not by society nor ourselves. We can choose to be objectified, meaning to be an object rather than a subject, if it makes us feel good; but we should be able to make this choice ourselves. This is especially true in a reality where women who have an ambivalent relationship with their bodies is an epidemic; where in addition to loving and nurturing feelings toward their bodies, women hold feelings such as hate, fear, anger and contempt too. This is one high price paid by women of the thin ideal, driven by patriarchy and capitalism. As long as society judge and evaluate women by how they look, they should make a conscious effort to do the exact opposite. In order for this to happen, women should embrace an internal look that stems from their inner selves and which disregards external appearances, either completely or upon their choice. Nevertheless, when the demeaning external look is inflicted on us, let’s think of Amy, Lena, Merav and all other women in our lives who inspire us, not only because they are marvelous, but also because they set themselves free of this potentially harmful look.

1 comment:

  1. Empowering, beautifully written and all so true...❤️