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 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 were 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.