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Pretty Little Pressure: Women in Competition

It’s the day after the Golden Globes aired and I’m inundated with pictures of women in gowns. According to one link on my Facebook feed, Rachel Zoe “killed it” in her dress last night. Another on my Twitter announces that Kerry Washington can never go wrong. Still another link points out that, unlike Washington, Lena Dunham can, and somehow always does, go wrong. I find myself looking at Dunham’s dress. Even though I personally don’t like it, I am jealous. I feel suddenly inadequate, looking at her expensive clothing. Her outfit is being figuratively torn to shreds across the Internet, but I think mine is still worse. I make a mental note to wear a dress tomorrow instead of jeans and I quickly close Facebook, but not before seeing another picture of Reese Witherspoon. I think to myself how she has a jawline like mine, but remarkably, she makes it work and I just don’t.

The majority of news sources I subscribe to and people I follow are ardently feminist. By the time I commute to work on any given morning, I’ve probably already read two or three scathing critiques of female beauty standards just by virtue of being logged into my Twitter account while I’m on the train. Still, the days after an award show always bring out the critics, and my usually-kind timelines become just another place on the Internet where women’s clothing, hair, makeup, and presentation are dissected and judged.
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For all the awareness I have, though, of the harmful effects of this type of judgment, even I can’t help doing a double-take at Jennifer Lopez’s or Amy Poehler’s incredible, big, gravity-defying breasts and thinking nasty, jealous thoughts for a second before remembering that women aren’t defined by their bodies and I’m not in competition with every woman on the planet.

 In a perfect world, knowing those things would be enough, but we are faced with so many conflicting messages about who and what we, as women, are “supposed” to be that it’s almost impossible not to let the confusion and resentment permeate our daily lives.

Celebrities are pitted against one another. Magazines ask readers who wore a particular outfit better and headlines declare that a different set of starlets is fighting over a new and ever-more-disinterested-looking man-boy every week. In a fundamentally horrifying trickle-down effect, that concocted competition between public figures can also be found between regular women and celebrities. Comparing ourselves to women who have the resources to look consistently flawless–whatever that is–is fruitless, and yet, not only do we do it, but we compare ourselves to the women around us, too. If we can’t be more beautiful than the woman on the cover of the magazine at the grocery store’s check-out, we can at least try to be more beautiful than the woman in front of us in line! We don’t ask ourselves why this is so important. We don’t question why we aren’t equally invested in being more intelligent or self-sufficient. We aren’t supposed to.

The female population has been inured into infighting. We are conditioned to believe that our beauty is tantamount to our happiness and success and we are conditioned to believe that someone else’s beauty can somehow detract from our happiness and success. It starts when we are young and it keeps us down by making sure we keep each other down.

Lindsey Ellefson

Lindsey Ellefson

Lindsey Ellefson is a 23-year-old New Yorker who enjoys reading biographies, attending protests, drinking cheap beer, and wearing velvet dresses. She is from North Dakota, which is consistently ranked among the worst states for women, topping the list in voting years. She fights for women's rights and over whether or not Nicki Minaj is the greatest entertainer of all time. (She is.)

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