Girls. It is so hard. We are comprised of unbreakable self-esteem and confidence throughout our early years; the responsibility the world offers, the gender-binary relationship and in truth, anything, is so distant from reality we have little reason to ever question. Things seem easy. Whatever it is that you find yourself doing as a child has no greater impact on your line of thought, nor your identity or self-worth. You are simply being. Suddenly, however, the sharp turn of intellectual development and exterior saturation of the mind suddenly overwhelm us to the point of questioning all, the opposite of non-questioning during childhood. I make specific reference to girls because at the time of adolescence, we are subject to a melange of agents enforcing rules regarding our bodies (and their space), aspirations, self-worth and our self-publication; that is, how we choose to exist as people, and as women.
Ever since day one, gender screams in your face. The nouns carry a heavy weight of expectation that oscillates through hospital corridors and out onto plain, normal streets. The words are perceived nothingness, they are just happiness. They are, in fact, deterministic and refined in opportunity, choice and identity. They say, “she is so beautiful!“, “the boys will be after her!“, “your daughter has gorgeous hair, eyes, a lovely dress on; she is everything you would want” – later followed by: “you don’t have a boyfriend yet?“, and then “are you sure you don’t want children?“. Have you noticed? We tell girls their self-worth, their personal construction of happiness should derive from beauty, from something they have minimal power over. We tell girls that their identity is beyond their own autonomy, to deviate and not be associated with male attention is questionable. Girls begin to internalise these messages; we learn that should we not fit the ideal image of woman, if we wish to be unassociated with man, if we choose to embrace opportunity and choice – we are anomalies. We are controlled by appearance from birth, then by male definition.
The main issue, in the midst of this all, is that to teach girls to derive wholesome self-worth from beauty, is a very dangerous road, that only leads to an unhealthy relationship between the psyche and the body. If you force girls into believing that alternative escapes do not exist, that make-up can solve every blemish, you tell girls that they are not enough. You create insecurities (readily exploited by capitalism), you encourage an epidemic of eating disorders and mental health conditions that kill girls. You make girls, and that is the big issue. Girls deserve, at the very least, the unaltered ability to define themselves free of your barriers.
As girls make the miserable journey through adolescence and into adulthood reinforcers help aid these messages regarding beauty and confidence. Let us begin with the media, seeing as it beams on your every choice. Naivety is believing the media to be no more than an aspect, or part of life. It is more, I can totally assure. Our lives make the media, we are the media; the media, however, shapes us. From our choice of clothes, to music, to political party, to interests and back to identity – we are simply the vein for travelling blood. Beauty becomes bigger, girls can look for ways to fulfill expectations; they take alternative routes, they find self-consciousness in parts of them they had hitherto known to exist. The media chokes us with images of idealism, introducing to us some wishful thinking with products we can consume over and over, until we never come to the realisation that it is all false. We encourage a hyper-realism machine of all the bad in the world, combined in one powerful force. The media ruins girls. Those earlier messages of beauty defining how we are seen make prominent feature in the mass media; we are told about the existence of one fine, singular route for worth to blossom and grow within, we are made aware that should we not be pretty and alluring and always smiling and totally submissive and sexual, but not too sexual and non-argumentative, but bitchiness is fine and cute and accepting and emotional and friendly – then your self-worth will invariably be minimalised. And to say that some of us cannot quite fulfill these standards, is quite the understatement.
Porn. The worst of it all; unless women are behind the camera, you can almost be assured that female representation will be subject to complete saturation and fallacious, sexualised depiction that consequently effects girls worldwide. Porn is, without doubt, the progeny of patriarchy and for that fact alone, we should be especially dubious of the role it plays in our lives whether we like it or not. In essence, it creates a culture that legitimizes and strengthens a prejudiced perception of both sexuality and the binary relationship between the sexes while simultaneously portraying a delusional interpretation of sex. Most daunting of all, is that while we recognise this cruel force, it still acts as a source and agent of information that is considered useful, something applicable to reality. As this is evidently the case among boys in western cultures, these practices they so whole-heartedly endorse are then transmitted to the bedroom and thus begins, the cyclical malaise of women. Not to mention, the objectification of women; she is re-born, created only with the intention of satisfying male libido, described only in slurs and represented as a cock-loving sexual beast of whom manages to orgasm at the sight of man. Porn creates culture among men. It informs us all that if a woman is crying, she is enjoying it. It tells us that despite degrading women to inanimate objects, she will still enjoy it. Porn makes rape, and rape makes porn. Can you not see the harm? Can you not see why I am most angry about our poor sex-ed curriculum (a subject for another blog post)? Can you not see why the beauty-confidence relationship is damaging?
I hope I have made the case a little clearer – beauty, and the expectations it carries, damages girls at all ages, across cultures and throughout time. What I would like to propose is that there are unconventional, non-standard routes to achieve confidence, some of which I have taken upon myself. Education. It is so empowering, you are able to develop both your intellect and identity of both who you are and who it is you want to be. To find myself frustrated with losing a mark, is perhaps the equivalent of gaining a few pounds – should we be drawing parallels with how we all attain our individual self-worth. To choose either education or beauty is not what I propose; I am suggesting that to totally rely on one malleable part of our constructed feminine identities is at the least, risky. I radically encourage alternative routes – let beauty not be that of which defines you, but that empowers you. Seek out education, sport, music. The scope is so overwhelming once you look beyond the male essentialism that has constructed the world. I have full confidence that girls will soon deconstruct these pre-disposed standards that restrict opportunity and choice, while simultaneously refusing to be eliminated as human.
As de Beauvoir put it – humanity is male, and woman is only relative to his presentation. She is the inessential, the bad; he, the neutral and good. Women are the Other; they are, from day one, defined in thought, appearance and opportunity by patriarchal social structures. Women are second-class citizens.