Being a female is complicated.
Before you start rolling your eyes, relax: this is not a rant about women’s rights. We won suffrage in 1920. So far, so good.
What I want to talk about is the confusing, beautiful, and tragic mess that is life and how it influences the concept and definition of womanhood.
We enter into life as a solitary yet connected entity. Emerging from the safe and warm water-bubbled happy existence of our mother’s womb, we are thrust into a cold and sterile environment where that connection is literally severed. We are then placed lovingly into our mother’s arms.
Two distinct beings, bonded as one.
Thus begin the trials and tribulations of simultaneously existing as an individual and social being.
If you have ever been around a child, you can easily discern how the two intertwine. Children want to exert their independence, yet are significantly impacted by social cues. An encouraging smile, a disapproving frown, a specific tone in voice. They all influence and shape the relationship between how we view ourselves and how we view the world.
As we grow older, what is influenced grows more abstract in nature. We no longer search for direction on the safety of touching that shiny hot object. We have learned the tangible consequence: you burn your skin and experience physical pain.
Instead, we seek guidance about our identity and value. We commonly forge these concepts in the fire of social approval. We determine what we are worth through the eyes of others. This is not always a conscious undertaking, of course. In most cases, we are completely unaware that we are being influenced, let alone how it is happening. Though intangible, we still feel the euphoria of approval and the sting of rejection. Every experience, positive and negative, is filtered into an ontological database. We begin to classify, categorize, and calculate. Who do we want to be? How do we optimize approval?
Women bear the burden of this process in many ways.
I believe that males, too, are under society’s judgmental gaze. I can only speak with a woman’s voice, however.
Females are commonly socialized into presenting and behaving in a certain way. From pink onesies to barbie dolls to frilly dresses, we are acculturated into a specific way of life. We have moved from the domain of the kitchen to that of the boardroom, yet we are still expected to maintain that air of femininity. Women have risen to power professionally and politically, yet the phrase “powerful woman” seems to carry a negative connotation. We dress in short skirts and we are sluts. Conservative clothing makes us prudes. We are judged by men and women alike. How do we figure out what is best for us with so many interfering thoughts and voices?
All of this confusion, and I begin to mention body-image only now. Currently, over 20 million women in America alone suffer from some type of eating disorder. A myriad of factors contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Genetic predispositions, invalidating environments, control issues, and a lack of healthy coping mechanisms are all involved in the etiology.
Body dissatisfaction, in particular, has often been cited as a primary indicator. This is true for women and men.
Are we born with an innate sense of self-loathing and shame if we gain weight or our dress size is not small enough? That seems a little counterintuitive. Being shamed into fitting a certain ideal is not the proper catalyst for facilitating change. Feeling forced to always be thinner and to fit into the right pair of jeans does not encourage a healthier lifestyle. If it did, millions of women would not struggle daily with anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, bullying, and suicidal thoughts.
So what contributes to female body dissatisfaction?
The finger of blame has ceaselessly pointed at the media. And rightfully so. The definition of female beauty has been dictated by the media for decades.
In recent years, social media has been the primary force in disseminating standards of female beauty to the masses.
In an Insta-world dominated by coloring an otherwise ordinary existence with exciting and exotic filters, we are constantly comparing how we live and what we look like to others. 140 characters and the right hashtag can either confirm or devastate your entire existence. The more “likes” you get, the more valuable you are. Social click-through-rates are king. We no longer take the time to form opinions of others based on their value systems, philosophies, life experiences, thoughts, and actions. Instead, we determine if you are a worthwhile person if your “selfie” is hot enough. Are you skinny enough? Is your waist small enough? Is enough skin showing? Breasts large enough? Extensions long enough? Lips plump enough? Nose narrow enough? Hair straight enough? Thighs thin enough?
With social media as the marketplace, our identities become commodities. We are the product and the consumer. People have no qualms about voicing what they deem as their expert opinion on how you rate as a valuable woman using the scientific scale of hot or not. In a matter of minutes, your stock as a human being – as a woman – plummets. You are made to feel that you are ugly, fat, awkward, unwanted, unlovable, and less-than.
Isolating reviews made in relative isolation under the guise of connectivity and a global community.
The tragedy lies in the chains with which we bind ourselves. Others shackle them around us and we keep them locked in place.
Our belief in this system of superficial approval is what gives it its power. Years of inculcated comparisons have shifted our focus onto what we do not have as opposed to what we do have. We ascribe objective truth to subjective observation, allowing society to define a woman’s identity and value.
Shifting the focus onto what you have instead of what you lack begins to unlock these binding and unhealthy chains. You are an inherently beautiful and precious woman, as you are, at this precise moment in time. As you deconstruct the facade of your value built by others, you begin to realize that you have the intrinsic knowledge and power to construct your personal truth. A truth rooted in beauty and brilliance.
You cannot control how others perceive you, but you can control how you perceive yourself. Do not allow others to define your character, to write your story. Making an active choice to love yourself promotes a sense of personal agency. Empower yourself to author your own narrative. Accepting this liberating and terrifying freedom is difficult. It demands dedication, hard work, introspection, and the willingness to change.
Once achieved, you acquire a healthier perspective, a newly discovered confidence in the relationship between you and the world.
Two distinct beings, bonded as one.
Healthshire is working in conjunction with other organizations like bingebehavior.com that are highlighting binge-eating disorder’s recent recognition as a legitimate diagnostic entity in the DSM-5 released earlier this month. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out to your primary care physician or a mental health professional.