Saturday, August 12, 2006

Pretty Women

Okay, we all knew it was coming. This is one of many (I'm sure) posts about women and the current ideals surrouding women.

In modern American culture, women are supposed to be (alternately or concurrently) skinny, sexy, innocent, strong, beautiful, cute, childlike, and/or Amazonian. Young women are forced to compare themselves to these ideals and it is almost impossible for them to measure up.

I have never lived up to any of these ideals, and I'm over it. Of course, I wanted to be everything I've listed above. I still have issues with how I look, but I don't let those issues affect how I feel about myself. How I look is not related to how I live or who I am. And, living in this culture, that's as far as I've been able to come.

I do realize that men are suffering from increased expectations and male ideals. But this is rather new and has not permeated every facet of our society.

There are many topics to be explored on this subject, and I realize many (much more accomplished and talented) writers have articles and books relating to different expectations and goals for women in American society. But this is my blog and I want to talk about it.

In this post: Magazines
When I was a pre-teen, I wanted to look like the "normal" girls in YM. Yes, I was a subscriber. A brief visit to their website (I refuse to put a link) reveals the sections in the magazine: Beauty, Body, Stars, Style, and Private Life. Scrolling down, there is a poll asking: "Are you following the current war in the Middle East? " The choices are: "Yes, it's scary! I watch the news or read about the situation to try to understand what is happening between Israel and Lebanon." or "No, I really have no idea what is going on there. "

Okay, so I guess it could be worse. At least they are addressing the fact that there's something going on in the world outside of 'body' 'style' and 'stars'. But "yes, it's scary" and "try to understand?" What kind of language is that? Perhaps an article about the crisis (minus the flowery, condescending language) could address the situation more fully. Is there a reason this POLL doesn't ask people what they think of the crisis? Who they think is right? If anyone is right? Yes. They assume these girls can't UNDERSTAND the concept of the war. The issues behind the war. The history is complicated, yes. But I think we should give young girls more credit. Maybe then they'd try to live up to it.

These magazines, along with magazines for older women, not only perpetuate but create ideals. Going back to YM (my only first hand experience with a magazine of this ilk), I was affected for years by one of the more 'serious' articles in the magazine. It was an article (probably from the 'Body' section) about a girl who had different sized breasts. Everyone does. Hers was particularly severe. The story was about how she had plastic surgery and now lives a 'normal' life. (This kind of plastic surgery is necessary because of the type of society we live in. I don't blame the girl. I would've done it had I been in her position.) Naturally, for a couple of years, as I watched my breasts grow, I feared I would turn out like the girl in the article. That was time spent worrying about something I had never thought of before. The article (if I'm remembering correctly) served as a warning to girls. Don't just assume you're normal. Make sure you ask your doctor about plastic surgery. It may be right for you.

Teenagers are impressionable. They are figuring out who they are and who they want to be. Hell, so are adults. Women's magazines show women who they SHOULD be. Who they should WANT to be. It derails younger and older women alike. It takes away their creativity, their uniqueness.

Yes, that is melodramatic. I was able to hold onto myself and I'm happy with who I am today. But can I really say that? I'm happy with myself inside, but I doubt I'll ever overcome the ideals surrounding the way I should look. I wear certain clothes and dress a certain way so that I can function, so I don't have to worry about the quirks my body throws at me. I would choose different clothes if I felt more comfortable with my body. But EVERY normal person has something weird or different about their body. Why can't we all just decide to be okay with those differences? Why do we all have to look the same?

Leave it to Canada to get it right. Check out Shameless Magazine for the right kind of teen magazine.

1 comment:

jmixont said...

I can't even imagine what it must be like to grow up as a girl in America. The images and such must be overwhelming. The strength of character required to be one's self in the midst of all of the pressure to look and act a certain way is incredible. I'm sure if I were to inspect my daily life I'd find that I contribute to these messages a lot. I wish I could tone that down. I do try, however, to promote a belief in one's self. And, as many people know and have lampooned, I have an peculiar place in my heart for young girls who suffer from lack of confidence due to media blitz. A friend of mine once accused me of behaving like this just so I could get young girls to like me. For a long time, I stopped making these efforts as I struggled with this - wondering if I was building these girls up falsely just so I could benefit. Happily, I've since learned that, for the most part, my intentions in this area have always been solid and I continue to strive to make young women comfortable with themselves, their looks, and their abilities.

All that said, I'm directing a show right now which requires strong women, sure, but also women who use sex and their bodies to get what they want. Further, the men use women and think of them as totems or ticks on their belts. Maybe that's not so much a bad thing, though. After all, I've decided to essentially play the black comedy being all too aware that none of these people really have any redeeming qualities.