Beauty and Learning a New Dance

girl dances in rainAccording to a new study published in the Journal of Women and Aging, only 12 percent of women 50 and older feel satisfied with their bodies. 50 is several years away for most of us who read this blog, but I think we can (sadly) relate, even in our 40s. This dissatisfaction with our bodies is an awkward dance we learn as young girls.

 

We learn it by listening as our mothers lament about weight gain and wrinkles.

We observe our aunts and grandmothers doing this dance as they armor themselves with girdles (Spanx predecessors), and paint on faces before they dare step foot outside of the house.

We get confirmation in television commercials, even those selling cars and hamburgers, that when it comes to being a woman, beauty, is everything. And by definition this beauty standard must be extremely narrow (pun intended), come hell, high water, or eating disorders. This narrow definition of beauty, and the importance of it, fuels a billion dollar industry. An industry that teaches girls that they’re not whole, but parts, and that they’re only as good as their worst part.

The goal is to make girls think that every part of them needs fixing, and then sell them products that will fix them.

If your hair is curly, it should be straight. If it’s fine, it should be thick. You’re either too pale or too dark, too short or too tall. And you can rarely, if ever, be too thin. And to hear them tell it, unwanted body hair is basically responsible for global warming.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely against products that do these things. Nor do I think that wanting to change your appearance is inherently wrong. What I am against is the ultimate tie-in to self worth. I’m against a culture that whispers in little girls’ ears that their worth is directly tied to how they look and what they wear. And we start them off young. Over eighty percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat. Not afraid of not being smart, or not being healthy, but afraid of being fat.

When we inundate girls with these conversations, the ones that equate worth with beauty, we give them words they can’t un-hear. I know because I was one of them. That message gets played over and over again and it becomes the only truth. It’s a song and a dance we spend our lives trying to erase. And now, in the digital age, the message of unworthiness is on social media forever. Nowhere is this more exemplified than in the new trend of girls uploading videos on You Tube with the question, “Am I pretty or ugly?”  The girls then subject themselves to the comments and criticisms of respondents. These girls will never un-see this. The internet assures us of that.

The effort it takes to unlearn all of these messages and forget that awkward dance can be a difficult one. For some of us it’s our life’s work. It would be better, far better, to raise young girls, and boys for that matter, to know, intrinsically, that their worth is a birthright, separate and unattached to social status or perceived beauty.

If we don’t teach them this we will continue to raise generations of girls who look to social media for validation, who tie their worth into the flatness of their abs or the straightness of their hair. And these girls will turn into women who are dissatisfied with their bodies at an age when they should be marveling in the miracle of  it. It’s time we start learning new dances and teaching them to our children.  I promise we’re worth it.

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Blogger, self-proclaimed-philosopher, voracious eater and opinion sharer.

  • Ron

    Interesting post, but I do not see what is wrong with sending a positive image about weight, be if for girls or boys. The sad reality of today is most of the children are over weight, even before they hit their teens. We as a nation are turing a blind eye to weight gain, no matter what the age, we call it fat shaming, etc. But just do a simple exercise and pull up the year book photos from you high school for 65, 75, 85, 95, 2005 and 2014. You will see that up until 95 we all looked normal (i.e. normal weight and body fat), and the wham, each decade we got larger and larger, even in high school. If you see something long enough, you think it is normal.

    Now we may want to blame it on all kinds of things, be it medical conditions, etc. but the reality is we eat garbage, the American diet sucks, so we have obesity every where. And when you are 40, or 50 and want to date, we guess what, it sucks as everyone looks terrible.

    So being 50 does not need to be learning a new dance, it should be starting young and eating and working out right. You can still look hot at 40, 50, or older. It is not just a woman’s issue but a population issue. We dress like slobs, eat like slobs, and then we look like crap, the old garbage in garbage out saying.

    And it is not hard, I am 56 yo male, 5’10, weigh 183, 10 % body fat, do crossfit and give the 20 somethings a run for their money during the WOD’s. Currently date a woman in here early 50’s who also does corssfit and looks like she is in her mid 30’s. Everyone I know that has started crossfit when older, that has had Heart Attacks, high blood pressure, was on meds, type 2 diabetes, etc. and that has stuck with it for 6 months and changed their eating to eat clean whole foods is now in mid teens body fat, off the meds, runs, lifts heavy weights and looks great.

    Do not age gracefully, fight it every step of the way, for me, being able to fit in a 30 inch waist jean, or look good on the beach is worth 1 hour a day, 3 days a week, and I take no med.

    So I think we need to keep pushing a better body image, we should not be accepting of a body image that is over 15% BF for men, or over 20% for women, those numbers are the average healthy ones, and supporting or condoning any other number or image is a disservice to us all.

    Best
    Ron