Not only does the above title describe a bit of what I will focus on in this post, but it simply-and-accurately describes what I was doing while I gathered my thoughts for it.
I have parents who have always been supportive of me. In addition, they never told me that I had to lose weight, nor did they place blame upon me for some imperfect physical trait I had….reading this objectively, this shouldn’t be a huge revelation, and yet I’ve discovered that it is rare to escape such comments when you’re growing up as a female in the West. (I also want to make it clear that I am not saying that this isn’t the case for all genders or in other parts of the world, but thus far, only females have shared such experiences with me; I do not mean to exclude or promote all-or-nothing thinking).
I remember being five-years-old, unable to get to sleep during our daily Senior-kindergarten nap-time, and thinking to myself, “That girl is prettier than me, but maybe when I grow up I’ll be pretty too.” Why the F*CK was this a thought I had then and somehow still remember today?!
To all those people who say that the annoyances and pains that come along with certain feminine grooming customs are self-inflicted, I have finally come to a conclusion about what questions to pose: Wouldn’t something beyond the inner self-talk of individual women have to have inspired the feeling that we need to shave, put on make-up, etc.? If somehow seen entirely objectively before puberty strikes and external pressures on all humans to conform to beauty standards are felt with intensity, why would anyone willingly agree to spend the time and money that such grooming customs demand? This is not to say that such activities are not valuable, for many talented people have developed them into complex art forms that require time, practice and skill. However, with such things as the feeling that one needs to shave one’s legs, would anyone really make this as an autonomous choice if they lived independently of a society which would have told them differently?
This brings up another issue I’ve been thinking about lately, since the release of the new Wonder Woman movie. For the most part, I have heard people who’ve seen the film say that they loved it, but I have heard that some people refused to watch it because of how “sexualized” Wonder Woman’s outfit is. This comment surprised me for multiple reasons, one of which being that one of the people I heard this from is my age, and grew up in the same culture I did, with a similarly-high exposure to the same kinds of cultural messages and social media about things like Feminism and victim-blaming. By refusing to buy a ticket to see Wonder Woman because of the outfit she wears, is that not indirectly discouraging movie studios from investing in producing films that tell women’s stories, simply because you’ve been taught to feel that a “revealing” outfit means that a person is less deserving of respect? Many people use such reasoning to disparage women in the public eye, saying that this makes them poor role models for young girls, but I think that Wonder Woman is actually an excellent example with which to combat this view. If you were to look into Wonder Woman’s origin story in the original comic books, the 1970s TV show, and – in fact – the recently-released movie, you would discover that Wonder Woman was raised on an island isolated from the rest of the world, populated only with women to influence her, and she was encouraged to develop a strong sense of self along with her physical strengths. Taking these facts about her upbringing into consideration, it is not unreasonable to suggest that from Wonder Woman’s own point of view, a tight, “revealing” outfit is not designed to attract others’ sexual attention, but for the utility and ease-of-movement it provides.
Telling women’s stories – the narratives and details of what women experience in the world – is important. Telling women’s stories does not mean replacing movie roles that were initially written for men with women, it means writing stories about women from the outset, as throughout history, this has been rare. To tell women’s stories is not to replace or exclude men from the cultural narrative, although many wholeheartedly believe this to be the case because in their view, to give any attention to women is to “favour” them, rather than to equalize. Words are important. When I type “women in movies” into Google, the key terms that are returned include, in this order: hot, sexualized, objectification, revenge, badass and strong. It is clear that the representation of women today (in film – one of the most powerful, far-reaching media that exists) is a balancing act like no other.
When you grow up in today’s Western culture in which women are encouraged to show skin and be bald on 95% of the surface area of that skin – and, for example, you happen to be very pale with dark, thick hair – where does that leave you? I’ve been teased for being “too pale”, about “blending into the walls”, but beyond the supposedly-lighthearted teasing, guess what – I was still left with a very obvious “canvas” upon which any stray hair would be noticed: oh, shit. This “problem” may seem incredibly petty to most mature adults, but when you’re an 11-year-old girl who is already self-conscious about every aspect of her inner and outer self – as most children, teens and many adults, no matter their gender, are wont to do – you are left with an insecurity upon which to fixate, and upon which others judge with small, but still-cutting comments. “You don’t shave yet?”; “Wow, you have so much hair on your arms”; or, when you eventually do give in to some of the pressure and first attempt to shave: “You missed a spot.” Where do such experiences leave someone, who – beyond school – has nothing to worry about beyond being socially accepted – a concern which happens to kick-in to high-gear in the developmental stage during which puberty typically starts?
I HATE that I and most Western women waste their time and energy on sh*t like this. If I were to ever have a daughter, I wouldn’t want her to grow up worrying about such seemingly-shallow, external things to the point of near-obsession, nor would I want her to feel this way about herself and her body and what she is supposedly lacking. Relative to the entire population of Earth, I realize that I am in a position of huge privilege, and I really do have so much time and effort that I could be offering to those with less, and so it is a huge shame that privileged society robs people of the positive mental health and perspective needed to help those in less privileged societies.
Whether or not women eventually come to enjoy or resent such grooming customs as shaving their legs, please don’t attempt to address a related complaint or “solve” a related problem by asking why they don’t just stop. Just as no one can ever fully understand why another person feels the way they do as they move through their life, don’t attempt to minimize a lifetime’s worth of pressure with a question like that; it’s condescending, insulting and solves nothing. If women do choose to discontinue their participation in such customs, please don’t treat them with judgement, be it by looks or remarks. What would a display of such judgement achieve for you? Nothing, beyond contributing to the societal pressure that you would otherwise minimize.