By Lucinda Marshall
17 October, 2006
I am a middle-aged woman, complete with grey hair, wrinkles, sagging
breasts and stretch marks, on October 18, I will celebrate Love Your
Body Day, an event sponsored by the NOW Foundation. The celebration,
now in its ninth year, is designed to draw attention to the horrendous
damage to self-esteem that is experienced by women as a result of the
purposeful efforts of "Hollywood and the fashion, cosmetics and
diet industries. to make each of us believe that our bodies are unacceptable
and need constant improvement."
Because of the relentless
messages we receive telling us that our bodies are less than ideal,
women spend billions of dollars every year to 'improve' ourselves and
salve our damaged self-esteem. For most American women, feeling insecure
about our bodies and how we look is a way of life. We are bombarded
daily with images of what we should look like, images that for the vast
majority of us don't come naturally.
Unless of course we go on
a fad diet. Never mind that most of those fail, we still spend some
$3 billion dollars a year on weight reduction programs and diet food.
Or we could undergo cosmetic surgery, and millions of us do, despite
the risks. We spend billions on cosmetics (many of which contain unregulated,
harmful ingredients), fashion magazines and the latest clothes. We dye
our hair at the first sign of grey. In short, we have (literally) bought
into a national epidemic of feminine insecurity.
The latest manifestation
of the normal is ugly mantra is a new show on ABC, "Ugly Betty".
Is Betty ugly? Not according to the promo shots. She just happens to
be of normal build, maybe a size 10 (which the show description characterizes
as, "slightly pudgy"), wears glasses and clothes that haven't
been advertised in Vogue or Glamour and has braces that make her look
like a 14-year-old girl, not a grown woman. The theme of the show? Betty
and her sex-crazed boss conquer the "sharks" of the fashion
industry who include, "many couture co-workers with botoxed smiles."
Definitely a worthy heroine.
But of course we all know
that Betty isn't really a role model, she is just a laughable character
on a sitcom. Not someone to be emulated. For that we watch the likes
of the CW's "America's Top Model" where the women who are
winners are tall, anorexically skinny, have big breasts, perfect hair
and behave in sexually suggestive ways. This, in the age of pimp chic,
is the epitome of female perfection
While positive role models
for girls and women are still marginalized, pornography can be easily
downloaded to an IPod or a cellphone. Video games use prostitutes as
characters and offer virtual violence against women as entertainment.
While Janet Jackson's breasts offend us, misogynist hate language has
become extremely common on both television and radio where words such
as" bitch", "slut" and "whore" are now
used with impunity, particularly on shows marketed to teens and young
adults. Most images of women in advertising are scantily clad and depicting
violence against women is an acceptable advertising theme as long as
it sells the product.
It has become normal to consider
normal women ugly. We abide by the denigration of women's bodies because
it is very, very profitable. The result for millions of women is not
only damaged self-esteem and unrealistic expectations, but damaged health
and bodies as well. And that is a very, very high price to pay.
Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist.
She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org.
Her work has been published in numerous publications in the U.S. and
abroad including, Counterpunch, Alternet, Dissident Voice, Off Our Backs,
The Progressive, Countercurrents, Z Magazine , Common Dreams and Information
Clearinghouse. She blogs at WIMN Online.
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