The Girls on the Train.
On a Sydney train, I stood close to two young women. On a Sydney train, standing close is pretty luxurious; I wasn’t actually pressed up against anyone or competing for something to hang on to. These two young women were headed in to town to meet their friend for a bit of shopping. They were buying accessories to wear as part of the friend’s bridal party. (Yes, I was close enough to hear their whole conversation, whether I wanted to or not.)
This means they were most likely close friends of the bride to be, I imagine. Close friends or not, it didn’t stop them from saying some pretty unkind things about her. Not about her character. They seemed to agree that she was a lovely person, but… Could she not wear something different? Why is she always wearing those short skirts? She has great calves, everyone knows that, but her thighs? God! She needs something at least knee length to hide those dimples. She actually needs to be careful, because remember Cherie? She used to be so pretty until she got fat.
There was at least a moments silence while we mourned for poor Cherie, who used to be pretty until she got fat. Who knew the two things were mutually exclusive?
I don’t know what part of all this was the most depressing. These two young women were in their early twenties and had such fixed notions about appearances that they happily trashed a woman who regards them highly enough to have them in her bridal party. And they have another friend who they sigh piteously about, because she weighs more than she used to.
On the same day that I overheard this conversation, I read about a woman called Dani Mathers who took a photograph of a naked woman in a gym change room and shared it on Snapchat. She captioned it with “If I can’t unsee this then neither can you”. Her arguably flimsy defense? She only meant to send it to her friend and made it public by accident. She says that, as a Playboy model, she loves the female body and understands that body shaming is wrong. Legalities aside, she essentially violated this woman for the express purpose of body shaming her. She knew it was wrong and did it anyway. Whether she meant to do so publicly or not is almost irrelevant; the intention and the mindset behind it are disgraceful. This woman getting changed at the gym is under no obligation to look a certain way. None of us are. Newsflash, Dani: There aren’t that many of us with the physique of a Playboy model and there are even some of us that are fine with that.
Where do these ideals come from? Going without makeup is considered brave and a selfie without a filter? My hero! Not being Photoshopped on a magazine cover is practically a revolutionary act. Why? We can look to the media for helping to perpetuate them but although they help to keep it burning, they didn’t start the fire alone. There are whole industries built around telling us that we aren’t good enough in the skin we’re in. Just take a look at these products my friend snapped pics of in her local pharmacy:
Stop the world, I wanna get off! Seriously, what even IS this stuff? I love the disclaimer on the left: This is not a weight or fat loss product. Right. So, what is it, exactly? A pointless product to remind you that having fat on your body is terrible and you should spend $40 on a jar of scrub that won’t remove the fat but might…what? Lessen your shame? Or $43 on a gel that will apparently infuse your love handles with caffeine? No, thanks. I prefer my caffeine applied orally. This brand has more products of a similar nature and so do many others. Who got together in the first place to decide to market this sort of crap to women?! The last thing I want are my toiletries body shaming me!
Changing beauty standards is a mammoth task. We might never have any personal influence in Hollywood or over advertising or any other forms of media. We can’t expect to tear down the patriarchy single-handed. We are living in a patriarchal society that is saturated with images, products, articles and other influences that want us thin, young, made-up and sexualised. It might be really hard to not conform to those ideals at times, but we can definitely choose not to be complicit in pushing them on others. That means not body shaming anyone or criticising their appearance when it doesn’t fit with certain standards. It means not sharing “hilarious” memes, photos and viral videos that mock people for their size or looks. It means not staring, voicing disgust or disapproval because someone chooses not to shave their legs or wear make up.
It’s not a hard concept. We can’t change the social constructs that put these pressures on women unless we also stop enforcing them on each other.
#IBOT @ Essentially Jess.