Trending on Facebook was the praise actress Helen Mirren gave to Kim Kardashian, and J. Lo, for “allowing” women to have butts and thighs these days. While I am against body/slut shaming, I and many others on the social media platform see some flaws in her comment and its celebration.
- More Harm Than Good
First, praising any body type over another is not helpful to women. Although there is much debate about whether or not Kim has been surgically enhanced in various ways, the bottom line (pun intended) is that a lot of time, effort, products, and expertise from others goes into the way she looks.
Such an extensive beauty and health regimen is not usually available to the everyday woman and it might encourage her to go to extreme lengths to replicate it, or to feel badly about herself if she can’t. In the end, the underlying message is still the same:
- A certain body type is ideal.
- Women need to meet that ideal in order to be perceived as sexy.
- Sexiness defines a woman’s worth and should be her ultimate goal.
Absolutely, different body types should be accepted and seen as beautiful. But there is a difference between promoting positive body image and promoting self-objectification, and it is often confused. As Lindsay Kite, cofounder of the nonprofit Beauty Redefined, explained,
“Sometimes [we] think self-objectification means displaying
ourselves as an object—wanting people to look at you as an object. And that’s not what it is at all. Self-objectification happens inside your own brain. . . . We see girls and women picturing what they look like as they go about their days. . . .
This gets in the way of everything—absolutely everything. It saps our mental energy, our capacity to think complete thoughts, our ability to focus on what we’re doing and to participate fully in our lives, our relationships, and the world. So, self-objectification is an element of this whole conversation that is hugely important, because when we view objectified images and participate in this objectifying culture, whether we know it or not, we end up turning that gaze inward on ourselves and evaluating ourselves in terms of what other people see, rather than based on how we feel, what we do, and what we say and contribute to the world. . . .
[W]hen people try to fix girls’ and women’s confidence issues—not just their body issues—by telling them they’re beautiful and they’re actually prettier than they think they are, that just serves to further reinforce the idea that your body is the most important thing about you, and that your looks define who you are.”
When women put all their focus on how they look instead of who they are, they lose a sense of humanity. That is the real source of shame. If we stopped viewing ourselves as objects that need to be perfected, or even embraced, and started viewing ourselves as humans capable of doing amazing things and worthy of unconditional love, we all would be healthier and happier. Which shapes and sizes are “allowed” by society should not be something women feel the need to worry about.
- Worthier Attributes to Praise
Along those same lines, why aren’t women praising each other more for their wonderful inner qualities and their accomplishments instead of their images and fashions? The more we focus on bodies, even in seemingly positive ways, the more bodies will continue to take the spotlight over more important matters.
For example, another trending news story on Facebook was of the Twitter response Maisie Williams, from Game of Thrones, gave about the Daily Mail headline accusing her of inappropriate dress at a charity event. She suggested they use instead, “Game of Thrones actor, Maisie Williams, helps raise thousands at a Summer Masquerade Ball for @NSPCC.” Whether or not you agree with what she wore, there is no arguing the news site focused on the wrong thing.
What was important was her philanthropy and the cause she was involved in, not her outfit. In fact, most people probably wouldn’t have even given her outfit a second glance, but thanks to that article, more people are informed about her dress than about the charity, which deserves the attention.
Another example involved J.K. Rowling and an acquaintance she hadn’t seen in a while. “The first thing she said to me? ‘You’ve lost a lot of weight since the last time I saw you!’ ‘Well,’ I said, slightly nonplussed, ‘the last time you saw me I’d just had a baby.’
“What I felt like saying was, ‘I’ve produced my third child and my sixth novel since I last saw you. Aren’t either of those things more important, more interesting, than my size?’ But no—my waist looked smaller! Forget the kid and the book: finally, something to celebrate!”
There are numerous other examples of an irrational or unjust focus, such as political women’s looks instead of their policies. Until we take the lens completely off of bodies, we won’t notice anything else.
- Nothing New
Even those who saw no issue with the motivation behind the praise brought up the point that Kim isn’t the first woman to flaunt a curvier body type. There were plenty of women before her, especially black women, who deserved credit for breaking the skinny ideal and encouraging women to be accepting and proud of their bodies. In this case, the comment was seen as an insult to women who already had similar bodies to Kim’s but didn’t get celebrated for it until she made it sexy.
I’m not trying to hate on Kim. I understand that doing so is another version of sexism, reaffirming the view that women who are sexually bold and break conservative molds of womanhood deserve to be shamed and are less valuable or intelligent than women who fit socially acceptable standards of femininity. Regardless of how I feel about Kim, she is a human, too, with abundant worth not dependent on her actions or people’s thoughts about her.
The only point I’m trying to make is that focusing on women’s bodies only perpetuates body image problems, not eliminates them. We shouldn’t even be having this discussion at all. We are more than bodies. See more, be more.