You Can Blame Me For Our Sexist Society, And Stop Calling Me Beautiful

by Katina Hubbard

Ashley Judd had a bad face day. If that’s even possible…

Ashley Judd lashed back at the media when they took her “puffy face” and turned it into a rumor frenzy

So the media did it’s usual thing and went nuts jabbing, jeering, and judging her, including alleged “obvious” plastic surgery and how her husband’s probably looking for a new wife because she’s become “fat.” The American media turned a slightly puffy face into a failed person and a failed marriage. So Ashley Judd did the uncanny, she told the media how it made her feel.

With all due respect, considering how horrible media blow-ups can be, this one is a cakewalk compared to egregious treatment other celebrities (with actual plastic surgery and verified wandering spouses) deal with. But I do feel slightly bad for Lindsay Lohan and think Ashley is right in using this incident as an indicator that we’re all suffering, every day, from a toxic atmosphere of body consciousness.

Unless you live in the woods without a tv or the internet, at any given time you’re only seconds away from an article, advertisement, or image showing you the shape of other women’s bodies, the quality of their skin or hair, and any number of speculated body enhancement procedures or bad hair days women are having. One study estimatedthat women see 400 advertisements per day showing them what their body should look like. Whether you’re Lindsay Lohan, Ashley Judd, or my mom, it’s not easy to maintain a healthy sense of self-esteem amidst the constant barrage of negative reminders that beauty is something else besides exactly what you already are.

But can I blame the media? Nope. As Ashley Judd scathingly pointed out, it is we women who are perpetuating the situation:

“That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it.”

It’s not the news outlets’ (the same news outlets, Ashley points out, that publish her op-eds about AIDS in Africa) faults. The reason editors publish these stories in droves is because we’ll read it, tweet it, and proliferate it exponentially. As Ashley continues,

“This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.”

So should we blame ourselves?

I’ve led a privileged life. I’ve got feminism in the blood. I was born to a woman who paid for her own college education by working at Kentucky Fried Chicken, then drove herself across the country to put herself through grad school. She told me I could do anything I put my mind to, so I did it all at the same time: captain of the lacrosse team, homecoming queen, acting as a cheerleader in a movie one week, a recruit at the Coast Guard Academy the next. At 18 I was in my first production of the Vagina Monologues and by 26 I started this blog.

Yet despite my positive female influences and persona, I can spew negativity about my body quite well, and oh, I do. Yes, not only do I think about how inadequate my body is compared to the ones I’m bombarded with in advertisements and media images, but I talk about it, too. Despite my empowering, loyal, and respectful boyfriend’s insistence that I’m “the most beautiful woman in the world,” I’m obsessed with some anonymous voice telling me I’m not good enough.Because that anonymous voice is my own. It’s my own mind comparing every woman’s curves to mine (or my lack thereof). It’s me repeating a lifetime’s worth of negative things about women, perpetuating the same line of thought that the media used to turn Ashley Judd’s puffy face into a headline. And if I don’t feel, deep down, that I’m beautiful from the inside out, how can anyone else’s affirmation mean anything to me?

Ashley Judd continues:

“I do not want to give my power, my self-esteem, or my autonomy, to any person, place, or thing outside myself. I thus abstain from all media about myself. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself, my personal integrity, and my relationship with my Creator.”

Well, preach, Ashley Judd, she’s on the right track and we all want on the train.

My mistake number one: not taking responsibility for my thoughts and actions perpetuating the thought that my looks are my most important trait

My mistake number two: Giving other people the power to control my self-esteem by over-valuing things they do and say to me.

As Ashley pointed out, our participation in the patriarchy can be quite subtle. I have a close family friend, who is a very successful businessman. Over the years, his wife has become more and more beautiful. You can see in pictures, and she’ll admit it herself. She’s happier, more centered, and downright more beautiful. I asked her husband, my family friend, what his trick to making his wife happy is and he told me,

“Every single day I tell my wife three things, and I mean them completely:

I love you.

I appreciate you.

And you’re the most beautiful woman in the world.”

Well, this certainly seemed to work for her, she was beaming from the inside out. I took it to heart. And…I manifest it. I hear those three things more or less every day from my boyfriend.

And yet, I’m still not happy. Deep down, there’s something more that I’m looking for. Not only do I want to be loved, appreciated, and the most beautiful woman in the world, I also want to be told:

–       That I’m a unique soul, incredibly special, with a particular important purpose for this world.

–       That I’m absolutely beautiful on the outside but it doesn’t matter at all because my inner qualities shine so brightly no one even notices what I look like

–       That I’m brilliant, that my ideas are incredible, and that I’m an asset to any team or situation

–       That I’m God’s gift to this world and just by shining, I’m doing my important part

No? You ask? How can that be that no one is telling me that? How is that possible?

Our romantic partners have the privilege of playing one of the most important roles in our self-esteem. However, waiting and hoping that my boyfriend will tell me everything I need to hear to feel good about myself is neither a) possible or b) wise. I’m perpetuating the same pattern the media is thrives on: that someone else’s opinion matters more than our own.

The secret is to keep the power to make myself feel good to myself. Because I don’t have data on this, but I’ll go out on a limb and say it: no matter how many people tell us what it is we want to hear, if we don’t tell it to ourselves, and believe it, we’ll still feel the same ache from inner sadness.

Though it often seems like the most important thing is getting the people around me to affirm the opposite of my deepest insecurities, it’s really I who have the ultimate power to bring that sense of joy from knowing who I am and how beautiful that truly is.

I’m envisioning a day when images of other women’s bodies don’t remind me of my inadequate one and when someone telling me I’m beautiful doesn’t mean anything more than them saying I have a nice bicycle. It’s okay to hear, but the bottom line is that I’m happy just the way I am with who I am, and nothing’s going to change that.

So what can we do to bring more love, light, and self-esteem into our lives?

Make a list of your grievances with people around you. What do you wish that your friends would say to make you feel better? What does your significant other say that make you feel best (or has never said that you wish they would)? When did you feel the best about yourself, and your body…what types of thoughts were you thinking about yourself back then? Or have you never told yourself what you wanted to hear?

Take the positive things and circle them. Or take any negative things that have come up, and make them positive. This is the ammunition you have against the constant barrage of the 400 images a day we see that tell us we’re not good enough. Make these your affirmations, your notes to self, you wall paper, our letters/emails/texts to each other.