So… this entry started out with one inspiration, and got hit by another…
What is wrong with our self-esteem? And by us, I am talking primarily to my own gender, but guys, you are also impacted by external judgment on your physical appearance and actions in a way that can plummet your self-concept into the whirling abyss of self-loathing. It just seems that women are the most frequent and common victims in the rape of our pride in self.
I actually got into a discussion today with a friend about this very issue. He had posted an image on his Facebook timeline that illustrated the way society has changed in the image of female beauty, and I liked, commented, and shared. Yes, I did. What sparked the conversation was my comment, which was “Guilty as charged…” or something along those lines. My friend was baffled by my comment and incredulous to the verity and instant messaged me to say so. What transpired was as follows…
He never understood how I could possibly not see myself as attractive. I remember his frustrations from years before when he would give me a compliment, and I, in the traditional female fashion, would brush it aside with a “No, I’m not.” It wasn’t a fishing-for-more-compliments situation. I actually never saw myself as pretty, beautiful, attractive, or any of the other typical adjectives used to describe the female form and face. I have never had any false vanity about my appearance. Neither was I a proponent of false modesty. I am not Quasimodo, but I do not particularly fit the modern mold of the beautiful woman. For decades (I will not reveal how many), I have been aware that my best attributes would not be found by visual assessment. I knew this as well from years of observation and witnessing the females found to be irresistible by the males of my acquaintance. I looked nothing like them, and I certainly did not have to beat suitors off with a stick. Casting aside the theories of charisma and pheromones, the bottom line is that I am as susceptible as the next woman to the brainwashing of the popular media.
This is not a terribly new phenomenon. The popular conception of attractiveness and beauty has changed and evolved more than our actual DNA through the ages. What we, in the modern world, consider to be attractive and beautiful qualities would have been seen in earlier times when having a little meat on the bones meant you had the money to actually buy food to sustain yourself to be unattractive and too skinny, a truly poor choice of mate, and it might even have been assumed that the individual in question carried disease or was in some other way unhealthy. In truth, even today there are cultures that do not find the thin supermodel physique to be feminine or beautiful and prefer healthy or even Rubenesque form to be more attractive. However the popular Western concept of the ideal female comes closer to resembling Barbie than any form found in nature. Definitely not attractive qualities. That being said, there were a host of other fashion dictates in previous centuries that were not terribly healthy, including using arsenic to whiten the skin and the evils of the various corsets that could, with enough use, actually derange the organs into unnatural positions. And as for unnatural, the fact that there are people out there addicted to plastic surgery should be telling us something about the negative impact of externalized conceptions of esthetic acceptableness in physical appearance. Beauty has never really been left up to nature. However, the further we have strayed from the concept of “natural health = beauty” the more we have embraced the ideal qualities of beauty that some people give up their health to attain.
No matter how intelligent we become or believe ourselves to be, bombardment through every sense with the popular images and descriptions of the day will have an impact. I know that the advertisers of the world are just doing their jobs to make various products desirable to the market. However, it is important to remember that their consistent appeals to our vanity and self-esteem to be slimmer, prettier, sexier, and in all other ways more appealing are merely marketing strategies to make the public feel that they cannot be a whole being without purchasing the product touted as the miracle, without which you will be a pariah among your fellow humans. The problem is that subliminally, we all absorb the underlying message rather than merely what they are saying. Not so much that we have to purchase the product in question but that we are not good enough, not pretty enough, and in short… just not enough to live happily or to attain humanity’s programmed directive of being fruitful and multiplying.
Sadly, no amount of CIA-level programming can undo the years and years of impact that the media has played upon our cerebral cortexes to embed the message that we are fat, ugly, and stupid. It seems that there are individuals in the world that are immune to such things. These enviable few are sometimes looked upon negatively by their peers because they truly believe they are the hottest thing since the sun rose, but this reaction to those happy few is probably envy, envy that they have the confidence and attributes that allow them to like themselves as they are. In truth, sometimes the cause is sufficient for their self-approbation. However, at other times, it is not entirely obvious as to why these bastions of self-esteem have not succumbed to the same negative propaganda that the rest of us have failed to repel. If I could figure out the trick and bottle it, I could retire wealthier than all the producers of the products spawning the unrealistic media image of the perfect human. Alas, it doesn’t seem to have any perceivable direct cause for the positive self-image that provides immunity to the inferiority complex plaguing the rest of us.
On the other side of the argument is that women who have confidence in their physical appearance and character are often misinterpreted, poorly understood, and generally labeled with unflattering titles and damaging assumptions. What is wrong with people?!? And why does it seem to be the desire of much of the world to control the image and aspects of feminine body, spirit… oh, and reproductive functions (can’t forget those). Are we really that scary? (The males in my family are not allowed to answer that). If we don’t follow the fashion and body image trends of the current societal expectations, we are somehow inferior. However, if we do… we are vain, immoral, and ask for unwanted attention. How confusing is that? It is no wonder that women in the world today cannot get a solid grasp of self-esteem and hold onto it. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I am not saying that all people are judgmental asses with no sense of empathy or beauty in all forms, but… ok, yeah, I am probably saying that there are a greater number of people that fall into that category than otherwise, and that is a sad statement. Women (and men, too) should be able to appreciate and fulfill what is healthy for them. They should be able to enjoy their style and express it as long as it is not negatively impacting others who have the same rights. A woman should be able to be healthy, happy, and feel beautiful without having to conform to identical shapes of some adolescent, exaggerated fantasy of sexy. Additionally, we should be able to feel sexy and good about our appearances without the unwelcome assumptions that we are open to any sexual advance. Is that a double standard and confusing? Perhaps, and now you know how we feel trying to make sure that we look good enough without looking too good, and failing on both counts. Wow, did I write myself into a corner! I know that there have been some efforts in promoting healthy images for female and male ideals, but we still seem to be a long way from truly representing healthy human beauty in all the forms it takes.
As the years have progressed, I find that I am less subject to the media-fueled misrepresentations of beauty. Part of this is possibly that my brain has accepted that I am no longer part of the “breeder” group and no longer am I fighting to obtain and retain a mate. However, I prefer to see it as a maturity that eventually comes to most of us: If I am healthy and making choices that allow me to feel good and participate in the activities I enjoy, then screw a bunch of other people with their expectations of how I should look while doing so…! I wish I were really that confident. In actuality, I find that while for the majority of the time I don’t really think about my appearance or compare it to the other examples of feminine grace around me; I am on occasion still a victim of the mirror. I still want to feel pretty and look, if not appealing at least inoffensive to the rest of the humanity around me. I am more apt to find the flaws of age and nature than perhaps someone less familiar with the image I see every day while brushing my teeth. Familiarity breeds contempt, and never is that more true than when you are looking at yourself in the mirror trying to get ready for work and hoping to appear to your best advantage before peers, employers, employees, customers, or even that social acquaintance that caught your eye. I think that I will start practicing more acceptance in my own self-esteem regimen. Baby-steps… I’ll start looking for the things that I like about myself instead of looking for the flaws. Perhaps I can even give myself a little “Not too shabby” affirmation on occasion. Who knows? I might see some of what my friend always tried to tell me.
Instead of tearing down those around you who might appear to your eye to have what you do not in order to make yourself feel better, try appreciating the positives and differences between individuals to recognize that uniqueness makes the world much more interesting than a multitude of carbon copies. We aren’t all of a pattern. So, no one should try forcing us into the same molds, not even we ourselves.