As someone who follows you on Facebook, sees your pictures on Instagram, and notices the things you pin on the rare occasions that I’m on Pinterest, I can say that I kind of know who you are.
You’re smart and you’re capable. You love baking and cooking and sharing good recipes. You’re young mothers, new wives, struggling college students, happily single, or fighting to get by every day. You read and you sing, you work out and you travel. You like weird music or popular TV shows. You’re rodeo queens, political think tanks, expert hairdressers, champions, outstanding photographers, and you can do things with watercolors that just enchant me. You’re the next J.K. Rowlings, Elizabeth Cady Stantons, and Clara Bartons. You’re my friends and girls I want to be friends with.
You are all of these things, and yet, as someone who follows you, sees you, and notices you, I sometimes wonder what some of you are doing.
You take lots of selfies and share them. I only mind that a little. I take selfies, too. You wear nice clothes and put on nice makeup and have nice hair, and yeah, I sometimes compare, but I don’t hold it against you. But then some of you push it further, little by little.
You stop sharing your travel experiences, your adventures, and your life with me and instead share an image of your face that fills the whole frame and has a caption that has to lay things out for me: “Spain is just beautiful this time of the year! #lovinit.” You stop sharing inspirational quote posters that you’ve found on Pinterest, ones that speak to everyone, regardless of size or color, and instead share a picture of your lips and your eyelashes with something like “Live life to the fullest! Dream big!” beneath them. You stop documenting who you’re with and what you’re doing, and instead document that you are there with them, that you are looking good. And it’s not a huge deal, but it’s very indicative of a bigger issue.
And that big issue finds fruition in the girl who pushes the line to the very edge.
This letter is for all of us, but it’s particularly for the girl who has built a virtual art museum around her anatomy. It’s for the girl who obsesses over the slope of her chest, the curve of her hips, and the size of her behind. It’s for the girl who wants attention, good, bad, or any, who treats her cleavage like it’s a Monet, who treats herself like a philanthropist by taking pictures of her butt in its workout pants and telling other women, “If you want it, work for it.” It’s for the girl who publicizes her body parts on Instagram to a chorus of losers whose handles may as well be dirtbag101, unhappilymarriedmiddleagedslimeball, and GoingNowhereInLife, all who harmonize together with comments such as:
“You’re perfect” — just your body
“In love” — with your bare skin
“Where do you live?” — because I want to have that
“That is gorgeous” — not you, your butt
“Very beautifuuuuull, my looooovvvee!!” — whose personality means nothing to me
“Can I marry you I would love you forever” — until I find someone else to lust after
“Date me” — because I want a trophy
“Yum” — because you stimulate me
“The things I would do” — everything short of actually caring about you
And those are only the comments I feel comfortable sharing.
For a moment, forget those lowlifes. This letter is not for them. Forget all the men, the nice men and good men and awful men and horrific men we keep telling to back off and control their thoughts. This letter is not for them. A lot of them need a break. Forget the corporations we keep writing angry letters to, demanding that they embrace the normal, natural woman instead of the photoshopped mirage they call beauty. This letter is not for them, either. Think about us–women–for one second.
Because it’s time to have some serious girl talk about what we are doing with our bodies. It’s time to realize that we might, in fact, be the problem.
See this picture? Of course you do.
It’s on every television, every movie, every magazine, and every book that lines the shelves of low culture — a woman whose body is a billboard and a tool. People love her and buy sandwiches, video games, and movie tickets because of her. People pay money to watch her move, as if she’s a prize race horse set to win the Triple Crown.
But people also hate her and write angry letters about her.
They tell Carl’s Jr. to please, for the sake of their kids, get rid of her. Hers is the body that has indirectly launched a thousand ships — Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, “big is beautiful,” and “I’m all about that bass, ’bout that bass, no trebble” among them. Because of how angry she makes people, the dialogue about what a woman should look like has gone from thin and fit to however a woman looks now–it does not matter. We tell girls that their bodies do not limit nor define them. We tell Hollywood that it is unrealistic to ask square pegs to fit into circular holes. We are changing the way society talks about and views women’s bodies, one step at a time, and so far, it’s been good.
The sad truth, however, is that we may already be too late. The objectified woman we’ve been force-fed all these years clings more tightly to our self-worth than we may think. She doesn’t look tan and fit and good in a bikini all the time, either.
She looks like me.
This girl is not always a model. She’s usually no superstar. No. More often than not, she’s a regular person who has somehow amassed thousands of followers on Instagram who come to watch as she dissects her body, cuts it into little square-shaped pieces, and demands, like a consumed Victor Frankenstein, that her creation be seen. She pushes the edge, fed by the hunger to have friends and family and love interests tell her three significant words: “You look beautiful.” She billboardizes herself. She is a virtual Mona Lisa with a story behind that smile that no one cares anything about because they’re too busy staring at her body. And if our Instagram accounts are any indication of how we define ourselves, hers is short and sad: she looks good.
The objectified woman has leaked onto Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. She’s the girl whose profile picture leaves little to the imagination, that woman who shares every exciting moment of her life, every new step, every new adventure, and every inspirational quote she finds with a picture of her perfectly made-up face and well-dressed body filling the frame. She hides in the girls who have built a Pinterest shrine to her called “Fitness” or “My Dream Body” or “Inspiration/Thinspiration.” They find bodies like her body–pieces like her pieces–and they collect them in the hopes that one day, they can bend the complexity of their limbs into the compact, cloned form of another stranger’s body.
This woman, the materialistic woman, has even found her way into our mirrors. We often forget that objectification isn’t just staring at a woman in a magazine and wanting her body. Objectification is as simple as staring at ourselves in the mirror and wanting to abandon our own. We pornify ourselves or we belittle ourselves. We glorify our bodies or we demean our bodies. We cease to see who we are and instead choose to obsess over the tangible, touchable things, defining our worth on how our noses look or how big our teeth are or how mousy our hair looks or how wide our waists are. We turn ourselves into objects to worship or objects to hate, and the girls in our life who are young and could still look past that are suddenly asking themselves, “Is my body what makes me worth something?”
This is what we are doing to ourselves, girls and women, and we ignore it every single day.
Now, wait, many women will say. It’s the media or men or society prompting us to act this way, not ourselves. It’s not our fault.
Well, what is our fault, then? We’re told it’s a man’s fault when he lusts after us, not how we dress. We’re told it’s a man’s fault if he takes what he sees and acts upon it. Then for crying out loud, by that argument, we are at fault for choosing to be influenced negatively, too.
Men alone don’t objectify women. Society alone does not objectify women. We are not helpless victims when we choose to obsess over the body that our athletic neighbor has, when we collect pictures of hips, thighs, and stomachs to stare at and call “inspiration,” when we post pictures of our bodies online and say, “If you got it, flaunt it.” Don’t tell me we are blameless when we don’t care how much we know about the world, how well we can write or work or how big we can dream, how kind we are to people who are not kind to us, or how brave we are and instead put all of our attention into how hot we look in photographs. When we do that, our little girls do that. And when they do that, everybody feels licensed to allow it.
So don’t tell me we are innocent, because we are objectifying ourselves, too.
We, the small and lanky and thin and curvy. We, the overweight and narrow and big-boned and emaciated. We, the girls who claim to be all about natural beauty and self-celebration and still haven’t mustered the guts to post a selfie that isn’t altered. We, the women who tell each other that our bodies are no definition of who we are, and yet, in the next second, trump showing off our body, using it as an emotional weapon, sexualizing it, proving that it is, in fact, the greatest asset we have. We, the women who tell our daughters and nieces and sisters and neighbors that they will be the next presidents, scholars, Nobel Peace Prize winners, and Olympians, and yet, don’t have the same amount of confidence in ourselves to wake up in the morning and say, in their presence, I’m happy with myself today, instead of, “Man, I look terrible.” We, the women who are trapped posting photo after photo after photo of ourselves, not because other people want to see us, but because we need other people to see us. We, the girls who know how sickening it feels to be treated like nothing more than a pretty face, and yet, can’t seem to seek anything else from ourselves.
Like the hypocrites we are, we share the good news that who we are is what makes us beautiful and then we turn around and act as though our bodies are who we are. That’s wrong of us.
No offense, but I don’t want to see your pretty face all of the time. I want to see how you’re living your life. I don’t want to see those ripped abs and tight thighs you’re wallpapering your Pinterest account with in the hopes that one day they’ll be yours. I want to see you accept yourself and work for a better version of your own body, and not because you want to show it off, but because you want to feel good. I don’t want to see your butt in yoga pants. I want to see you kicking butt on that test or that trial or that insecurity you struggle with. I don’t want to see you change the angle of your photographs. I want to see you change the world.
So please. Take that selfie. Don’t let this letter stop you. Please. Celebrate your body. Don’t think I’m asking you not to.
Just remember that no selfie can capture your actual self, something that goes far beyond surface beauty and isn’t an it but a who.
Stop trash talking your body, stop showing it off like a new Ferrari, and stop limiting the scope of your lens to what you look like.
Please stop objectifying us, girls.
Start by being satisfied with us.