When I was younger, I never felt good about how I looked. I was too skinny, not pretty enough, not graceful enough, just not enough. Looking at the models in Seventeen Magazine made things even worse. I was 5 foot 7 inches, and in my last year of high school, I went from 115 pounds, to 118 pounds. That sent me into a total panic, so I decided I had to take drastic measures. I started skipping lunch at school, instead eating only a box of raisins in a desperate attempt to stop the normal curves of approaching womanhood from overtaking me.
In retrospect, for a girl with self-confidence issues, moving to California – specifically Los Angeles – was probably not the best move to boost my self-esteem. Particularly, working in the entertainment industry where every female looked like she had come out of the live-edition Barbie factory. The message that was reinforced again and again, both at work and in the dating world was, appearances matter. Youth, beauty and near-starvation were the values that ruled – and (lots of) money was the only thing that might help alleviate the lack of any of the first three values.
From a young age, girls are praised for being pretty. As we get a little older, we’re praised for being beautiful. Or thin. Or both. Brains and talent often take a back seat, or are mentioned almost as a consolation prize.
Two things I saw today brought all of this home to me once again. The first was a photo of Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford. You might be aware that Ms. Fisher has been relentlessly derided by many online users for having had the temerity to actually age. She has ably shut down the haters, but it’s still disgusting that she has to put up with this kind of garbage. So the words that go along with this photo (from Being Liberal) are: Men don’t age better than women – they are just allowed to age. Exactly.
The second thing I saw was a post about a young actress named Ashley Benson who was told she was told she was too fat to get a role. Ms. Benson is a size 2. Wrap your head around that. A size 2 is considered too fat. Will Hollywood only be happy when they cast skeletons in their films? And young girls see this. Or they see completely unrealistic, air-brushed images of other young women, thinking this kind of perfection is the only way they will be accepted – and acceptable.
There are people fighting against this, most notably the Dove campaign for real beauty, attempting to widen the definition of beauty. According to one of their studies, only 2% of women around the world would describe themselves as beautiful. How sad is that?
As we age, women become invisible as far as our society is concerned. But in spite of that, we’re still expected to be stylish, wrinkle-free, and as always, thin, or we’re discarded like yesterday’s trash.
We’ve made some strides over the years, but just like the lack of income equity, there is no such thing as age equity when it comes to gender. Or body image equity. Since Hollywood – which is where so much of our societal expectations come from – is still mostly ruled by testosterone, I guess this should come as no big surprise. But maybe we can work on the vocabulary of gender. I’m not saying it’s wrong to tell a girl she’s pretty, just as I believe it’s OK to tell a boy he’s handsome. But let’s not stop there. Let’s make sure our children see the beauty in what’s inside a person. And that different sizes, shapes, colors, and abilities reflect diversity, which is a good thing. A beautiful thing. How poor this world would be if we were all the same. Let them celebrate the fact that everyone is unique. And that no matter what society says, they should love themselves. Which is something we all need to remember, no matter how old we are.
Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved