If only you loved yourself, you wouldn’t mind our bigotry

I recently tried to have a discussion with some guys online about the media altering images of models – female models, always female – so their eyes are bigger, legs are longer, and they end up looking like Barbie dolls. And we know if Barbie was real, she wouldn’t be able to walk, would only have half a liver, etc.

After I shot down all their arguments, the guys latched onto a take I’ve come across before: if only we women loved ourselves, we wouldn’t be influenced or bothered by this stuff. I tried to explain from first hand experience that loving yourself doesn’t prevent others from bullying you, abusing you, denying you employment, etc., but they were pretty desperate, so they held onto these slogans that boiled down to if only you screwed up little darlins just had a smidgen of self-esteem, we men couldn’t possibly harm you in any way.

This is the biggest bullshit copout in the world. Healthy self-esteem does not stop bullets, for goodness’ sake. It doesn’t change the fact that some of us would have to completely stop speaking to anyone in our family to get away from the soul-draining “You’re so cute, if only you’d wear a little makeup/lose a little weight/gain a little weight/wear a skirt…” chats. Healthy self-esteem doesn’t force employers to hire you. It doesn’t keep rapists and abusers from targeting you. It doesn’t stop doctors, influenced unconsciously by these media images, from nagging you to lose a few pounds or telling you “You should weigh the same as you did on the day you married” (yes, some still say that).

Do you have any idea how hard it is, especially in a media-base city like Los Angeles, to find a dermatologist who understands the words, “I’m not interested in anti-aging stuff. Don’t even talk to me about it”? They are just determined to convince you that you’re awesome, but you could be a little more awesome if you did something about those fine lines, that spot, that minor discoloration on your face that you’ve never even noticed.

One of the guys in the thread told me that a few years ago, he had started taking responsibility for everything that happened in his life, including stuff people did to him, and he was so much better off for it. I told him he was a victim blaming asshole, and thanked him for recognizing it was his fault I said that to him.

I’ve seen the same argument about various groups. If only people of color and poor whites thought a little better of themselves – by which of course they mean dressed a certain way, had a newer car, etc. Because of course all poor/marginalized people hate themselves… and if they stopped, money would fall from heaven so they could buy some nice stuff or look more white or something, and because that hasn’t happened you can rightly infer they still hate themselves.

This narrative is enforced rather viciously by Hollywood. Over and over, we see that all stories are about white guys, except for some comedies and some issue movies. And what are those movies about? How hilarious and/or how tragic it is not to be a white man. That, Hollywood insidiously implies, is the only story a woman or person of color could have: how much we all hate ourselves for not being a white man.

Well, no offense to all the really cool white guys I know, but I have never lost a second’s sleep wishing I was one of you. You’ve got your own problems. What I lose sleep wishing for is a world where nobody is under intense pressure to try to be something they’re not. The only pressure we should be under is to employ some ethics and compassion and try to contribute something worthwhile to the world, or at least not take more from it than we give. If the fact that someone doesn’t look a certain way keeps you from recognizing that they’re worthwhile, then you’re the one who’s got issues.


  1. Alex says

    I’m fascinated by cliches of that nature. One that always bugs me is the “if you really cared, you’d weather the harassment and sexualized environment” that gets thrown at female software developers as if they need to prove themselves to be worthy of the boys’ club. It’s kind of insidious how they can be taken as sound advice to be bold and seek personal fulfillment against adversity if you only take it at face value, which is why people don’t seem to understand they’re propagating double standards and excusing bad behavior.

    Speaking of victim blaming and deliberate misunderstanding, without going into detail on the (offensive, anti-feminist) video that prompts this question, do you know of any good resources that explains the exact difference between victim blaming and “crime prevention”? Also, some introductory-level resources that gives actual, proven advice on not being a victim of crime in general would be a nice compliment. Most of the sites I’ve seen on the topic are laden with jargon and concepts they assume the audience is already familiar with.

    Also, speaking of people that thinks basic stuff like this is somehow up for debate, what’s your opinion on Popular Science disabling comments altogether on their website? They did it because of religious nuts and climate change deniers spreading uncited misinformation right below peer-reviewed findings, but the same rationale could be applied to most feminist topics as well.

  2. says

    Alex, to anyone saying that to women in gaming, I’d suggest looking up Kathy Sierra. Geez.

    I am not aware of any resources that are quite what you want. I just wasted an hour looking, and got nothing. I’ve just emailed a librarian friend who kicks ass on finding stuff like that, and will keep you posted if she comes up with anything.

    A short answer: I would say “prevention” advice is relentlessly based in reality. While it’s a statistical reality that rapists often target women who are publicly drunk (and therefore not getting drunk in public reduces your chances of being targeted), it is also a statistical reality that being around men dramatically increases one’s chances of being raped, and therefore never being around men, or at least not alone with them, would dramatically lower your chances of being targeted. So people have to be very careful which bits they include and which they don’t – if you only include reminders that women should behave more like ladies, you’re clearly implying victim blame. If OTOH you acknowledge that keeping your kids away from Catholic priests slightly reduces their chances of being assaulted, then okay. You cannot have cultural “sacred cows” if you want me to believe you’re just giving me the facts out of concern for my well-being.

    Re: getting rid of comments. Comments can take enormous time and emotional energy to moderate. While I think well-moderated comment streams add tremendous value to websites, not every site is in a position to provide that much moderation. I have no idea how many comments they got altogether, but even a site like this one can on occasion generate quite a few, and a thread can spin rapidly out of control into some nasty place if you don’t mod every single one before they post (which is why we do it that way). It can be a really tough job, and I feel like it took me years to get even semi-competent at it. I’m sure comment moderation is the topic we’ve discussed and worried about the most behind the scenes. Because if you moderate, you’re silencing people, but if you don’t, you may be letting one toxic person (who may not be a jerk, but is toxic nonetheless) wreck the whole community.

  3. ERose says

    Yeah, I hear your frustration. Especially because of how many people I know that base their opinions on things they haven’t actually experienced on vicarious experience from the media.
    Given that if you aren’t on top of the privilege totem pole, you often *are* at the mercy of someone else’s judgments of how you measure up, it’s no small thing to fall short of their standard.
    If that standard is based on women who, in spite of hours of other people helping them prepare to look good, experts choosing and fitting their clothes with no regard to affordability, months of maintaining unhealthy eating and exercise habits and a photographer choosing the single most flattering moment of an hours-long photo shoot *still* don’t measure up themselves? It sets up a lot of people to fail who really can’t afford failure.
    It’s nice for those men that their appearance doesn’t substantially change how people with power over their lives treat them. But not every woman, or every person, has that luxury.

  4. Cheryl H. says

    I know I’m attractive, so it pisses me off that society keeps telling me I’m not because I don’t have the body of a starving thirteen-year-old with big boobs (and if that description makes no sense to you, it shouldn’t, because such a creature is the product of eating disorders, photographic tricks, and photoediting). It pisses me off that I felt obese at a size 16. It was only after shooting up to about 220 when my thyroid decided to stop working properly and I truly was obese for my height (5’3″) that I realized how fat I wasn’t at size 16. I’m down to about 180 now. I’m SICK AND F’ING TIRED of society pushing a completely unrealistic standard of beauty on me, and all other women. I’m sick and tired of women hating themselves and spewing hate on other women. It infuriates me that pregnant women get fat hate. When Kim Kardashian was pregnant and tabloids were bashing her figure, I wanted nothing more than to storm into their offices and rip into the editors. Kim Kardashian looked damn good when she was pregnant, thank you VERY much!

    Healthy self-esteem doesn’t…keep rapists…from targeting you.

    I had to laugh (sadly and a bit bitterly) when I read this because it’s too true. If healthy self-esteem stopped sexual assault, my time with a ‘friend’ on February 23, 2010 would have been a hell of a lot less traumatic for me. What healthy self-esteem did do was help me to pick up the pieces afterward, stand back up, and say, “I am not to blame for what happened, he is. I am going to keep going and put my life back together, and, with the help and support of friends, I’ll face fears and obstacles because I am NOT going to allow that S.O.B. or what he did to control me or victimize me any more!”

    Only the delusional would construe complaints from an oppressed group about how they’re portrayed as wishes that they were the privileged. No, you idiots, when people complain about how they’re portrayed (e.g., sexualization and objectification of women), those are complaints about how they’re portrayed. If they want to be part of the privileged, they’ll say exactly that. I often speak out against the way women are portrayed in society, and how objectified and overly sexualized women are. Not once when doing so have I actually meant to say, “I want to be a man”. I’ve spoken out against rape culture and victim blaming, and I definitely have never mean to say, “I want to be a man” then.

    I am a cis-gendered female and I am totally content and secure in my identity as such. I don’t want to be a man, I want the same rights and privileges as a man. I want to be taken as seriously as a man, I want the same opportunities as a man, I want my skills and qualifications to count the same as a man’s. I don’t want to be hired because the manager thought my face was attractive, I want to be hired because the manager thought my skill set was attractive. I want the same pay for the same amount of work, and I don’t give a damn if I was out with my kid for two years before coming back two months ago and my co-worker has been here for the last eight years solid, if we’re doing the same amount of work at the same level, we should be receiving the same salary/wage. I want to be encouraged to be whatever I want to be, to reach for the stars, to pursue my passions regardless of what they are. When I complain about the way women are portrayed, the existence of rape culture, about victim blaming, what you can read between the lines is, “I want to be seen as a person of worth!”.

  5. Jamie says

    I lost a good friend a few years back, someone I cared for dearly, for similar things. It was her view that offence and negativity in messaging were completely the responsibility of the listener, who had a duty (seriously, a Duty) to not take offence and if they did it was their own fault. Now she wasn’t a very offensive person at all, and was always careful about what she said, but it was an argument she trotted out regularly when someone was upset about something she or her spouses did. I eventually stopped being around them regularly because it was so frustrating to see them tell people it was their own fault for letting people bother them. So close to the ‘sticks and stones’ BS that almost killed me or people around me when I was in high school. It is NOT someone’s responsibility to not be offended by people saying horrible things. Just isn’t.

  6. SunlessNick says

    If only people of color and poor whites thought a little better of themselves – by which of course they mean dressed a certain way, had a newer car, etc.

    And not minding when it’s assumed they must have stolen them.

  7. MarilynHJ says

    A peer reviewed article addressing how comments influence reader’s perception of a scientific article found that opinions were polarized by comments both pro and con. Also that people tended to believe climate change deniers and creationists when they commented after a scientific article. In other words, comments were causing more harm than good in the distribution and belief of scientific fact.

  8. Sara says

    Even aside from the obvious fact that self-esteem is not a magic fucking bullet, it’s pretty damn hard to ‘love yourself’ when it seems like the world is dedicated to letting you and your entire social class know that you’re not good enough and you never will be.

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