Turn on the TV or open a magazine. We must perceive ourselves as being ugly, quite ill, and in need of serious weight loss. Why are we so obsessed with beauty? What exactly is broken? How much time do we dedicate to analyzing all our faults? And…who decided how you should or shouldn’t look anyway? Who imposed these ridiculous rules? Why do we accept them without question?
Everyone who consumes media is being told a story. Right now, its girls and sexuality. We get social cues about how we should see ourselves. Media is the biggest social cue and it’s sending a really destructive message to the world that little girls and their bodies are for sale. Look at the billboards, music videos, magazines, TV ads…sex, sex, sex. These risky messages are pushing the sexy threshold.
You also have social media tools for self-exploration. On Tumblr and Facebook, teenagers post images of ripped athletes under the heading “fitspo” or “fitspiraton,” which are short for “fitness inspiration.” The tags are spinoffs of “thinspo” and “thinspiration” pictures and videos, which have been banned from many sites for promoting anorexia. (See my June 2012 Musings from the Mat e-news on that topic.)
I was talking with a fellow parent recently and he was upset with his son’s idea of beauty. (We both have 17 year old boys.) This very attractive gal was trying to get his son’s attention. When the Dad mentioned to his son that this girl was beautiful, the son replied, “But she’s not hot.” Of course, the Dad asked what “hot” was and his son described a young lady that is heavily made-up and donning an overtly sexual wardrobe.
Dustin Hoffman says this so eloquently when he was interviewed about his role in Tootsie. He wouldn’t do the movie unless they could make him look like a woman, not a guy in drag! He was shocked that he didn’t look like a “beautiful” woman. They told him that was as good as it gets. He started crying , “When I look at myself on screen I think I’m an interesting woman. I know if I met myself at a party, I would never talk to her because she doesn’t fulfill physically the demands we’re brought up to think; that women have to have in order to ask them out.” He really got choked up, “There are too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed.”
Access Hollywood did a documentary called “Sexy Baby” which examines the influence of sexual content and the over sexualization of female images and how its corrupting society especially little girls. It’s not okay to make 14 year old girls look like they’re 25 or parade a 6 year old “Pageant Prostitute” on the popular TV show Toddlers and Tiaras.
When I was teaching yoga at SMART camp, one class was about the power of images and advertising. I would show them photos of famous actresses and singers. For the most part, the kids did not recognize them. Then I showed them the photos of what they are familiar with….what they looked like after makeup, hair and air brushing. They were shocked.
Check out Britney Spears (original photo is on the left and photoshopped on right). She’s 29 years old with 2 kids. She has the body of someone who clearly works out regularly. We've been treated to close-ups of her acne, her bad hair days and her cellulite. Every imperfection has been carefully catalogued, circled in red, and commented on in magazines. It cheapens the self-image of the viewer as much as the image of the star. By reveling in a celebrity's imperfection, all we do is compound a culture of criticism which we turn upon ourselves.
Naturally waif-like, Kiera Knightly, has bemoaned her lack of curves in the past. The Pirates of the Caribbean star succumbed to computer wizardry as well for a fuller chest.
Another celebrity had her breast implants increased to DDDs, a brow lift, botox to foreheard, a nose job revision, lipo on her stomach, waist, hips & thighs, a butt augmentation, chin reduction, fat injection in cheeks, and her ears pinned back. At 23 years old, Heidi Montag, star on The Hills, is obsessed with her unending quest for perfection. Very much like actress Pamela Anderson and pop superstar Michael Jackson were in their heyday when cosmetic surgery was exclusively done by celebrities.
Take a look at this selection of female Olympic athletes from different sports. That’s right – Olympic athletes. You can’t really be in much better shape than this! It speaks for itself.
99% of these ladies don’t look like fitness models. There are all shapes and sizes of fit women and female athletes in the world, from 90 lb. gymnasts, to 150 lb. sprinters, to 200 lb. shotputters…and everything in between. Frankly, I find these ladies from Sports Illustrated for Women much more inspiring than the airbrushed cartoon bunnies on the cover of Shapemagazine. And anyway, most of the fitness models don’t look like fitness models. Again with the photographic tricks…lighting, angles and posing along with tanning, shiny bronzer and a myriad of makeup tricks.
Even a truth-seeking sport such as yoga is not immune to the fakeness fervor. Even yoga teachers can’t escape our culture’s obsession with the physical form. Both teachers and students can be described as “beautiful bodies outfitted in Lycra.” Females use their sexuality too, prancing in tight, sexy clothes, sending their sexual power vibes. Some women use their sexuality to empower themself and manipulate others. She causes men to want to serve her, to put her on a pedestal and thus increase her own importance and social standing. She makes other women fear her and they become obsequious servants in large and small ways. Devoted to her own being., the perfection of her own body, these women in power also undermine each other in their quest for more prominence.
And it is not just girls these days that are consumed by an unattainable body image. Pediatricians are starting to sound alarm bells about boys who take unhealthy measures to try to achieve Charles Atlas bodies that only genetics can truly confer. Whether it is long hours in the gym, allowances blown on expensive supplements or even risky experiments with illegal steroids, the price American boys are willing to pay for the perfect body appears to be on the rise.
In a study to be published in the journal Pediatrics, more than 40% of boys in middle school and high school said they regularly exercised with the goal of increasing muscle mass. 38% said they used protein supplements, and nearly 6% said they had experimented with steroids.
“There has been a striking change in attitudes toward male body image in the last 30 years,” said Dr. Harrison Pope, a psychiatry professor at Harvard who studies bodybuilding culture and was not involved in the study. The portrayal of men as fat-free and chiseled “is dramatically more prevalent in society than it was a generation ago,” he said.
Just as girls who count every calorie in an effort to be thin may do themselves more harm than good, boys who chase an illusory image of manhood may end up stunting their development, doctors say, particularly when they turn to supplements — or, worse, steroids — to supercharge their results.
Unfortunately these images are primarily female focused and pushing someone else’s idea of beauty. Now that my children are young adults, I see how powerful advertising along with peer pressure has affected them. As parents, we did everything to make them aware of how they were being marketed to.
As an adolescent, I frequently asked my daughter why she thinks that putting on makeup makes her any more beautiful…and she truly is gorgeous. She answered that it makes her feel good. Really? Who told her that…because it wasn’t me. Who’s to say you need make up to look beautiful? I admire Dove and Seventeen magazine for forging the way and showing what true beauty is. No makeup. No photoshopping.
My son can’t stand when I stretch out my hairy legs alongside his. His response is usually “that’s gross”. I retort “According to whom?” It becomes a discussion about how in many places of the world women do not shave (although it seems to be less and less). How did Americans get to this point? Then I move on to how men and women are both born with hair so why are only women expected to shave their legs and pits? Of course, he’s also the first to comment when I DO shave my legs!
Two ranks on body hair. Those being plucked, shaved, tweezed used to be looked at as overly obsessive, narcissistic, and faux. While those who don’t shave all their body hair off are looked at as unclean, unkempt, feral and tribal. Bit by bit we’ve been taken over by the hairless ethic…including this generation of young men!
Magazines bombard us with images of male’s representation of beauty. The media’s idea of sex and women changing to meet this “ism” has men responding to an image rather than a real person, real flesh. The feminine is not valued in this society. Studies also show the more TV a boy watches, the more sexist his views become; this is training them to expect girls to be sex objects. The common theme in our society is undervaluing the feminine and overvaluing and institutionalizing the masculine, patriarchal culture. Women have been denied, devalued and denigrated. This has created misogyny of young women. We should feel outraged and overwhelmed!
In an interview with Jada Pinkett-Smith, she shared her outrage about how the degradation of women has resulted in problems for both sexes. Here’s what she said:
How is man to recognize his full self, his full power through the eyes of an incomplete woman? The woman who has been stripped of Goddess recognition and diminished to a big ass and full breast for physical comfort only.
I am sure the men, who restructured our societies from cultures that honored woman, had no idea of the outcome. They had no idea that eventually, even men would render themselves empty and longing for meaning, depth and connection.
He doesn’t recognize that the [creation] of a half woman has contributed to his repressed anger and frustration of feeling he is not enough. He then may love no woman or keep many half women as his prize.
He doesn’t recognize that it’s his submersion in the imbalanced warrior culture, where violence is the means of getting respect and power, as the reason he can break the face of the woman who bore him four children.
This abuse is pervasive. With men, it is death by one blow. With women, it is death by a thousand cuts. Maybe, eventually, it could evolve to the death of the ego. The exposure of the truth is a way of ripping off that protective layer. Forcing us to grow.
In yoga we describe the veiling power of the mind as maya. Maya is the illusion that our mind creates telling us that something is real when, in actuality, our perception is a function of the "software" our mind uses to create sensory perception.
As women and girls, we have this history in our collective that our value as females has so much to do with our appearance and our beauty. These ideologies impact our sense of self and identity. Plus we identify our roles as wife and mother when not all women are doing that now. This outward appearance shapes the core sense of self. A lot of our biases are covert. Are you making yourself “more than” or “less than?” Do you have an inner mean girl? How long have you been thinking that negative thought? (I’m poor; I’m fat; I’m overweight.) Where did we get this idea that we are deficient and need to improve ourselves? We got if from looking outside ourselves and comparing ourselves to others. We’ve allowed well-meaning parents, teachers, religious leaders and peers to tell us there is something fundamentally wrong with us. Many children have a sense that they are just being tolerated, not celebrated. How horrible is “tolerating” differences. We should be accepting and celebrating them. Looking for the beauty and all the colors of the rainbow (or beliefs).
This is a mind virus that’s infected us. That negative virus infects our “computers” (unconscious minds). We need to keep our anti-virus software up to date (i.e. what FEELS good to you and what you want, that which is in harmony with your desire).
Society offers a system of salvation (i.e. yoga, meditation, religion). It’sexactly that social mind/human thinking that is the root cause – not any individual person (or even Christianity). We give power to these cultural heroes over ourselves. Who is this assumed authority?
Vivekanananda said: “We are under the false notion that we are deficient. The more you focus on what is “wrong”, the harder it is to see what is right and perfect. The act of trying to improve ourselves causes us to believe there is something wrong with us in the first place. You cannot improve yourself because there is nothing wrong except the beliefs about yourself and the way life works. As the divine grows within you, the ego/false self will dissolve”. You can be a host to God or a hostage to your ego.
This thinking has been impressed on society over thousands of years. We’ve all been affected by those systems. We’ve forgotten how to think for ourselves. Most people don’t want to think so they look for authority that tells them what to think. They question nothing and accept everything they’re told and follow like sheep. We’ve lost the skill to think!
I don’t really care if you do or don’t wear make-up. I don’t care if you are hairy or hairless. I just want you to think about whether or not your decision is really your choice or is it based on someone else’s belief/values. Especially if your decision was because someone (or something like the media) makes you feel “less than” without their solution.
Solutions create the problem. There was no problem in the first place! Your essential nature is perfect and faultless but years immersed in this world, we’ve forgotten our roots. We need to cultivate and nurture a loving relationship with ourselves…”I am enough!” We are God’s form on earth. You are beautiful already.
Society needs a reintegration and revaluing of the feminine ways of being. Not just leaders from the heart; it’s using the wholeness of our being, inner knowing. What we have been beaten up for and repressed for is the thing we need most to bring forward. “Yes, I’m emotional. Yes, I feel things in my intuition. My body knows this is true.” That’s what the world needs from us right now.
You can’t value others if you don’t value yourself. If you are completely fulfilled in your connection with the source, you can be sitting in a beautiful garden or in a jail cell and it makes no difference!
Each person has their own greatness and it’s your job to discover it and share it with the world. Ask yourself, “Who am I outside my role as mother, sister, daughter?” Give yourself permission to greatness!
I am very lucky to have a husband who “sees” me. I love what Mike Meyers says as the Love Guru about intimacy. It means “Into Me….See?” Intimacy is really seeing the person as they are…perfect, whole and complete.
We are an imprint of uniqueness not like anyone else and if we are not that person, no one else on earth can be! Each of us came into this world with a unique assignment. An assignment that was tailor made for us. However our potentials and destinies is a team sport. We need each other.
I will sum up with lyrics from Lady Gaga, I Was Born This Way:
There's nothin' wrong with lovin' who you are
She said, 'cause He made you perfect, babe
So hold your head up, girl and you you'll go far
Listen to me when I say
I'm beautiful in my way
'Cause God makes no mistakes
I'm on the right track, baby
I was born this way
Now go and kiss that mirror reflection