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
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. Her work has been published in
numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad including,
Dissident Voice, Off Our Backs, The
Progressive, Rain and Thunder,
Common Dreams and
Information Clearinghouse. She blogs at WIMN Online.