The Illusion of Beauty: Part 1

“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.” ~ Helen Keller

My youngest child has cheeks that are rosy with color and she loves to don a swimsuit or shorts and bare her skin to the sun. She is a lovely, sensitive, smart, artistic, incredible little girl. She is also quite chubby.

Three and a half years ago, she looked like a little ghost: Pale, with dark circles under her eyes. She was constantly sick and would be doubled over with stomach pain nearly every time she ate. After taking her to doctor after doctor, she was finally diagnosed with an autoimmune disease: Ulcerative Colitis. Freqeunt bleeding and a 106 fever even landed her in the hospital; it was a scary event for her father and I. This resulted in a massive dose of steroids to try to manage the severe symptoms. It worked. It also left her with raging emotions and a wicked appetite. Her weight gain was so fast and so significant, that I commented to someone once that it looked like this child had eaten the child she used to be. After awhile, we were able to wean her off the high dose of steroids and begin a more long-term approach.

Today, she looks like a healthy kid. A kid that plays and colors and sings and makes it to school. A child that looks at me and sometimes my breath catches, because she is so amazing, inside and out. Yet…

As a woman who has struggled with body image, I am concerned. As an adult who knows the way this superficial world works, I feel trepidation. When she reaches for seconds at meals or wants to have a big slice of bread for a snack, I struggle with how to react. I don’t EVER want her to feel like she is less than the beautiful, amazing girl she is. So when her pants don’t fit anymore, I simply buy new ones. I never disparage or comment on her body and I only use positive language. I stopped calling myself words like “fat” in front of my children long ago. Still, I know the way the world is; as she moves into adolescense, if the weight issue hasn’t resolved itself, I fear she will suffer the consequences. So I feel a bit sick inside: How do I meet this situation? To treat her differently than her sibling (who looks like a wraith no matter what she eats) around the subject of food will bring an awareness of her own body that I really don’t want her to have. To not take any action feels like setting her up for failure. I have been struggling with this dilemma for months…

And I’m angry. I’m angry at a world that punishes us for how our bodies look. I’m furious at a culture that believes objectification is okay. And I’m not certain that the average person is aware of how insidious, how prevalent, it is. Let me help put it in perspective:

 

woman object 1woman object 7woman object 5woman object 6woman object 8woman object 11woman object 2woman object 10woman object 9

woman object 3

What do these images convey about women? They are nothing more than the sum of their parts: Breasts, thighs, ass and legs. Because of this they are interchangeable; we don’t even need to show their faces! They are vapid, empty vessels waiting to be filled by men. Merchandise, to be used and displayed as desired. If the female model’s face is even shown, it is often void of expression. Afterall, she is simply an object and objects don’t think or feel. She is a coat rack, a fantasy, an apex of thighs, a valley of breasts, a hole (while the guy fantasizes about his real passion, as exemplified in the ad for the car), a product…not a human being.

As if those ideas weren’t degrading enough to women, there is also the implied violence and oversexualization present in the majority of the photos. A man between a woman’s thighs as other men look on, a man possessively clutching a bare breast with one hand while grasping a woman’s head with the other, text reading “NOW OPEN” above a photo of a woman’s spread legs. The apathy and bared breasts of a model who looks to be barely out of her teens, selling riding pants.

Do we really need to wonder why we live in a culture of violence toward women? These images were a few culled from thousands just like them. The message that women are the sum of their sexual parts, they are objects, they are prized only for their beauty and sexuality…this is the daily message blared at us from magazines, billboards, television and the advertising industry.

Women: Is this what we want for ourselves? For our children? Men: Is this the norm you’d want for your mother/sister/daughter?

How did we get here?

To be continued

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