Samantha Brick + the perils of pretty girl syndrome ( + Ashley Judd bitch-slaps the media)

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When I read the “women hate me because I’m beautiful” article by Samantha Brick, I rolled my eyes. I couldn’t help it. Samantha seemed a victim of what I think of as Pretty Girl Syndrome, which involves a confusion of your identity with your appearance. (“People don’t like me/my looks, thus they must be jealous of me/my looks.”)

Samantha is also buying into one of the favorite stories that our culture likes to tell itself about women: that we’re vain frivolous creatures at each others’ throats as we compete for male attention.

Pretty Girl Syndrome happens partly because of the way a girl gets used to seeing herself reflected back by the people around her. If people in general find you attractive, you tend to know, because they tell you (not all of them, but enough to get the point across). What you think of your looks can be beside the point: nobody can be beautiful to anybody all of the time, particularly ourselves to ourselves.

Beauty, including your own, isn’t static. It ranges along an octave or three. You have some great moments helped along by perfect lighting, and then there’s the rest of the time. Beauty is relative: someone who’s grown up stunning in a small, Midwestern town might barely make the grade in New York or LA. (In Los Angeles, people will distinguish between being “hot” and “LA-hot” with the tacit understanding that “LA-hot” is superior.) There’s also a difference between being what Tyra Banks once termed “street-fine” and “model-fine”. Someone who is drop-dead in real life might not transfer well to photographs – which demand a precise and technical kind of beauty — whereas models tend to look better in photographs than in reality (which is why meeting them in person can be kind of fascinating).

In her photographs, as has been widely and enthusiastically noted, Samantha Brick does not appear to be beautiful enough to justify her claims that women dislike her because she is beautiful. This doesn’t mean that, in real life, she isn’t (or wasn’t) exceptionally attractive in her own right.

It just points up how ridiculous her claims are.

Samantha believes that women hate her because this is the lesson she absorbed from a culture that loves to show women fighting, backstabbing and sniping at each other. Saying “she’s just jealous” is an easy fallback position – one which the culture encourages, not to mention sympathetic friends — instead of, say, a hard and brutal look at who you are and how you interact with others. And since nobody – but nobody – is liked by everybody all of the time (except for Oprah), there are enough opportunities over the years to practice the “she’s just jealous” mantra until it’s grooved in your brain.

But if women truly hated beautiful women, then women’s magazines wouldn’t be so populated with them. Beautiful women wouldn’t be used in the advertising – pitched to women — that those magazines depend upon for their existence. At least some beautiful women still manage to make – and keep – close girlfriends, which has a lot more to do with your ability to be interesting, trustworthy and cool to hang out with, than whether or not you look good in leather pants.

Women don’t resent beautiful women so much as the bullshit around beauty: the impossible standards fueled by retouched images of highly styled celebrities and models, the cost and effort of attaining and maintaining. Why does some loser passing you in the street have the power to “decide” if you’re hotornot – or where you rate on the scale from 1 to 10 — as if you’re supposed to care? And if you don’t care about being ‘hot’ in the conventional sense, where are the freaking alternatives? Aren’t there other ways, other options to choose from, when it comes to presenting yourself to the world?

What women want, in the end, isn’t airbrushed perfection. They want to feel comfortable in their skin, and to know that they are loved.

Two things that this culture doesn’t hand out in spades.

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To say that you’re goodlooking is to set yourself up for slaughter.

Samantha Brick’s real crime is not, as many would claim, that she’s not as gorgeous in real life as she is in her head. It’s that she had the temerity to admit she’s good-looking at all.

It’s a funny thing. Donald Trump can boast that he’s greater than Jesus and Elvis combined and aside from some eye-rolling and a few snide comments about his hair, we accept the Trumpster as part of the pop cultural landscape. Samantha says, I’m dreamy and blokes fancy me and you would think, from the vitriol this inspired, that she had gone all Hannibal Lector and made a meal out of somebody…with fava beans and a nice Chianti.

I don’t think this is just about seeming arrogant or conceited. Overall, Samantha doesn’t strike me as a particularly confident woman (I could get all armchair-psychologist on her ass and suggest that the insecurity she senses in other women is her own, projected.)

You could argue that, well, Trump is obnoxious but he can back up his claims, more or less, while Samantha…?

But physical charisma is more complicated than what you might or might not see within the frozen moment of a photograph that might or might not be particularly flattering. Beauty and sex appeal are not synonymous with one another; you can have one without the other. And then there’s the eye-of-the-beholder thing. Nobody is beautiful to everybody; show me a supermodel and I’ll show you a forum in which her face and body are found decidedly lacking.

As in everything else, tastes vary.

One of my closest male friends had a longterm crush on the actress Helen Hunt. Hunt is charming, no question, but not necessarily the obvious choice for a twentysomething male to salivate over. My ex-husband has a taste for tall, thin, expensively attired blondes – but then (to my surprise and delight) developed a mild fascination with Rachael Ray, who is not these things.

Attraction comes in all shapes and sizes. Even when you think you have a ‘type’, someone can come along and surprise you. Sexual appeal is disruptive and subversive: it’s not confined to a particular class or group, it can’t be legislated, it’s not known for a considerate sense of timing, it has no respect for boundaries, it refuses to be as narrowly defined as the culture would have you think. It would have its wanton way with you and push you in any number of unexpected directions. It would hang you on the hook of your own longing.

I once saw an interview with Cher where she remarked that ‘sexy’ is a quality you have – or you don’t. If you have it, you know it. Charisma – that sense of presence that captures attention, intrigues, makes people want to come closer – requires a sense of confidence. A swagger. A coy look and an inviting grin. Sexy is a way of being in your skin: a body language, an attitude. It’s something you can turn up or turn down – or shut off.

There’s a well-known anecdote about Marilyn Monroe, in Norma Jean Baker mode, walking down a crowded street with a reporter. Nobody was paying attention to either of them. She turned to the reporter and said, “Do you want to see her…? Do you want to see Marilyn?” She walked ahead a few steps and her whole demeanor changed. She got into character. People immediately saw her, recognized her, and started flocking around her.

Marilyn was famous for being both sensual and childlike, as if she required the innocence of the latter to temper the carnal knowledge of the former. The idea that sexual appeal can be a conscious, deliberate performance cuts against the idea of the ingénue, who, as Peeta says about Katniss in the movie THE HUNGER GAMES, “has no idea of the effect she has.”

To be worldly, and aware of your seductive power, is to edge into the dangerous territory of the temptress. The femme fatale. The siren. These are characters who use their beauty and sex to exploit men and lure them to their doom, whether it’s Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden or Matty and Ned in the movie BODY HEAT (good movie). Female sexuality and morality have a history of being conflated: purity of body equals purity of mind, and to lose that purity is to risk being referred to quite literally as trash. Abstinence educators inform their students that

Your body is a wrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man, he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it.

It may feel great at the time, but, unfortunately, when he’s done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker.

You’re one step away from being a slut, or possibly a slut with ambition (ie: a golddigger). Which means you’re not even a person, just a “poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker’: garbage. Is there any group of people quite so openly despised and dismissed in this culture, as that of the so-called trophy wife? When a woman pairs up with a wealthy man, the default assumption is that it’s a transaction: her beauty for his wealth. Ergo, she’s a whore. If he’s not careful, she’ll take him for everything he’s worth. (The idea that he might be exploiting her somehow rarely comes up, even if he discards her. Boys will be boys.) The cultural belief running underneath this set of assumptions is that sexually confident women must be predatory and dangerous.

So women, particularly young women, find themselves in a tricky position in a hypersexualized, Girls Gone Wild culture that teaches them to lead with their sexuality — only to turn around and condemn them for it. The compromise seems to be that you can be sexy and goodlooking if you don’t really know that you’re sexy and goodlooking; if it’s a “who, me?” kind of accident, and you talk about how ugly you were as a child and/or how much you hate your thighs. What results is a failure to own your sexuality, to see it as an aspect of your identity that you can play up or play down as the situation warrants. You can’t control what you don’t admit to having in the first place.

In her book POWERING UP, Anne Doyle remarks on how women of the Millennial generation continue to shock their female elders by their failure to “dress for success”:

If I’ve heard that complaint once, I’ve heard it at least 100 times from mystified professional women who are astonished at the inappropriate ways legions of young women are dressing for work…[Young women] with leadership ambitions are underestimating the confusing signals they are sending, particularly to men, when they wear sexy clothing at work. [Older women] in particular, who struggled so mightily to emerge from the confining box that measured women first on their “physical assets”, are watching in stunned amazed at the way young women are boldly playing – some would say misplaying – the sex card….Women who aspire to leadership must be highly conscious about not sending mixed signals with their clothing.

If you don’t own your sexuality, the question becomes: who does? And to what end?

In a recent article in The Daily Beast, actress Ashley Judd writes:

The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.

She uses herself as an example:

When I have gained weight, going from my usual size two/four to a six/eight after a lazy six months of not exercising, and that weight gain shows in my face and arms, I am a “cow” and a “pig” and I “better watch out” because my husband “is looking for his second wife.” (Did you catch how this one engenders competition and fear between women? How it also suggests that my husband values me based only on my physical appearance? Classic sexism. We won’t even address how extraordinary it is that a size eight would be heckled as “fat.”)

But her conversation about The Conversation can just as easily apply these days to Kelly Clarkson or Jessica Simpson. The message being sent to these women is very clear. You don’t get to decide what looks good or feels good when it comes to your appearance. We do. Beauty isn’t something you generate within you; beauty has nothing to do with who you are as a person; your potential and accomplishments mean nothing. We dictate the standards. We give you beauty, and we can take it away.

Any attitude that openly conflicts with this – like, say, a profound sense of confidence in your own appeal, the declaration that “I am attractive whether or not you actually think so” – has to be shot down: not just to put the woman in her place, to “control and define” her, but as an example and a warning to others.

In her article, Ashley Judd is sharply aware of the fact that it’s often women doing this to other women:

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. 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.

Whenever a woman participates in this Conversation that denigrates someone like Ashley Judd or Jessica Simpson – or, for that matter, Samantha Brick – she is only strengthening the patriarchal frame that sets the terms for this dialogue and controls it. It doesn’t just frame the way women are discussed, but the way they are thought about and perceived, and the criteria by which all girls and women get judged. Are you hotornot. What are you on a scale of 1 to 10. You’re old, you’re a pig, watch out or you won’t keep your husband.

I, for one, would like to change the conversation.

Raise your hand or honk your horn if you agree.

Apr 10, 2012
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31 comments · Add Yours

Raising my hand high, with a step forward of confidence to boot.

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Hi Justine,

It occurs to me that those of us who believe in a woman’s right to choose must also – must FIRST – believe in a woman’s right to own her sexuality. And in a man’s right to own his. In each person’s right to own their sexuality. As long as we (usually unconsciously) buy into Patriarchy, choice all along the road will be challenged.

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@Jeff P. The amazing thing about that Foxnews article is that it isn’t even accurate. This: http://blog.zap2it.com/frominsidethebox/2012/04/client-list-jennifer-love-hewitt-gets-a-breast-reduction-in-the-ads.html is likely a more accurate telling of her reaction. Jeez – will Fox news ever get their heads out of their collective asses?

More importantly, thanks for this article (from one fellow Justine to another ;) ). Beauty and sexuality is a self-possessed quality. Body snarking and “slut” shaming is trouncing feminism! Let’s change the conversation!

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Haha Justine I am just amazed at your brazenness every time I read your posts. I wish I have the same kind of bravery, and so I could write stuff about what I really feel and not get scared of any consequences. Sorry for the weird English by the way.

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The lollipop comment is so telling about how we as a society seem to view women these days — cheap, disposable, easily replaced. And there’s a whole other conversation in here about what happens to that pretty girl as she ages. (I thought Ashley Judd’s comment about how no, dumbass, she doesn’t look the same today as she did in 1998 was wonderful.)

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Honk! Honk! Very well put, Justine. Thank you!

I do so highly respect Ashley Judd, and I am grateful that she is contributing to the dialogue by which we as women will begin to understand our own contributions to patriarchy, thereby hopefully learning to rise above it. It’s wonderful.

Yes, there is a But in there…

But we have a long way to go. Case in point, Judd writes:

When I have gained weight, going from my usual size two/four to a six/eight after a lazy six months of not exercising, and that weight gain shows in my face and arms, I am a “cow” and a “pig” and I “better watch out” because my husband “is looking for his second wife.” (Did you catch how this one engenders competition and fear between women? How it also suggests that my husband values me based only on my physical appearance? Classic sexism. We won’t even address how extraordinary it is that a size eight would be heckled as “fat.”)

Could this point not have been made without listing sizes? Each time yet another celebrity suffers this brand of bullying and says her peace, she inevitably defends herself by pointing out that she is actually a size 2 (or 4 or 6 or anything less than 10). Why not instead cite her doctor’s assurance that her weight is healthy, or simply state that she feels well? Why revert to the numbers that will make us stop and think “Well, I haven’t fit into a size 8 since high school, so…” It takes attention away from the point at hand. And worse, it reeks of perpetuation.

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Sorry, but I find the word patriarchal to be very misleading. Misogynist, yes. Patriarchal? Not IMHO. Why? Because it is women who largely promote these ideas, this competition between each other, and they have done it for centuries and centuries. This is part of the human psyche. To categorize and define according to visual aesthetics is in our very nature, and it isn’t just promoted by men only, and it won’t go away (or hasn’t if history is a clue) in matriarchal societies. Black, white, young, old, short, tall, pretty, ugly. We constantly categorize and sift people according to judgements we make in an instant, before we even have time to formulate them. It takes conscious effort NOT to do it.

Hypersexualization of girls and woemn doesn’t just stem from men and a society that caters to the fantasies of men. In fact, patriarchal societies tend to cherish women playing DOWN their looks, not up. They tend to praise a chaste appearance, no or little makeup, modest clothing. As a former christian from a church with a very patriarchal stance, I was encouraged to be asexual, lest I be a temptress. Women who deign to try to lose weight, wear makeup and attractive clothes, etc…are deemed sluts or home wreckers.

What bothered me about Judd’s piece (which I somewhat agreed with, but not totally) is how she let the media get away with insinuating that getting plastic surgery or botox is somehow wrong–a desperate measure to be mocked–a legitimate insult. As a woman who gets work done (and talks about it on facebook so I’m the one starting the gossip) I hate the backlash against plastic surgery and anti aging efforts. There is outright hatred directed at women who dare to get work done and be forthright about it.

I read one comment that said, “Death and aging are inevitable, why can’t we just embrace them?” Death is inevitable, but it is against our very being to “embrace it”. It’s not a welcome entity. And age? I embrace the wisdom I have achieved. I embrace the modern medicine that allows me to live a good quality of life far longer than was possible in the past. And in realizing that I also embrace being able to keep my looks matching my quality of life. It’s simple. It makes me happy to look my best, and there isn’t a damned thing wrong with that. I’m not desperate, and I see it as no different than makeup. Take Tammy Fae. She wasn’t mocked for wearing makeup, she was mocked for making such a mess of it.

When somebody makes a negative assessment of a botched plastic surgery (or balloon lips, inability to smile due to over botoxing, etc…) it isn’t misogynist to make a judgement call (“look at her lips…that’s too far IMO”). It isn’t misogynist to use examples to define your own course of action (“I would never do botox–too many bad examples”). It is misogynist to insinuate that getting any work done at all hints at desperation, and is a clear indication that the woman in question is obviously “too far gone”. And especially hypocritical in an industry where 25 year olds do botox.

I am slated to appear in an article about the hottest writers in the US. It is for a male publication. I am really nervous that some very negative comments will come my way due to backlash from this “Ashley Judd” opinion piece. I imagine that me and the writer of the article may well be accused of misogyny for daring to point out accomplished women who are also beautiful. And call me jaded, but I almost guarantee that most negative comments won’t be from men, but from women. And not because they are jealous of my looks, but because for some reason certain people think that me admitting I look good in any way is beneath an “intelligent woman”. But most of my friends and colleagues will be ecstatic for me–and offer sincere congrats.

As was stated, women just can’t seem to win. But that certainly isn’t a blame that we can lie solely at the feet of men. Interesting article. I enjoyed much of it. I just think the word patriarchal may lead women to see themselves as the victims of men, when in reality I think they are the victims of human nature.

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Thanks for sharing some intriguing and provocative perspectives on a complex issue. I had not thought about sex appeal being disruptive and subversive before, and the question of who owns one’s sexuality – especially if that one is a woman – seems to hit the nail on the head.

I wanted to mention two additional sources that may be of interest in this conversation. One is the March 23 article in The Globe and Mail about Why Men Can’t – and Shouldn’t – Stop Staring at Women, which has provoked over 1300+ comments thus far.

I encountered – and blogged about – a term related to Pretty Girl Syndrome a while back. I heard an interview on NPR with Stanford law professor Deborah Rhode, who was talking about her book “The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law”, in which she referred to the “Boopsie effect”, alluding to the attractive female character in the Doonesbury comic strip who is often portrayed (or judged) as not very intelligent.

I can tell your post here is already affecting my perspective because I’m now uncomfortably conscious of having ascribed “attractiveness” to the Boopsie character … and realizing the subjectivity of this objectifying attribution.

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@K Wilson Interesting comments. I agree that appreciation of beauty is innate to human nature; I think women are fascinated by beautiful women just as much, in their own way, as men are. And I wouldn’t want to live in a society that didn’t value aesthetics, beauty, cool visuals, the so-called ‘feminine’ values that create comfort, order and serenity.

I recommend you read DANCE OF THE DISSIDENT DAUGHTER by Sue Monk Kidd, who writes about being a good Christian woman who finally couldn’t take the wounding effects of patriarchy and went in search of the ‘sacred feminine’. Very smart, well written, deeply informed book.

And hey, I love men. Running down patriarchy isn’t the same as running down men themselves. Nor does it automatically mean referring to women as victims (I’m sorry, but I have to roll my eyes a little). That is hardly what feminism is about. At the same time, there’s something to be said for acknowledging and deconstructing the powers that be, especially when we take for granted belief systems that are just that — belief systems, not laws of nature.

And finally, I’m not even against being objectified now and then — so long as that’s not all I am, so long as I have other options, so long as I’m free to change or exit the experience whenever I want. I like the little black dress and the high heels.

Observing a botched plastic surgery job is very different from viciously attacking the woman who got it. What I’m talking about has less to do with visuals and more with the vitriol that happens when people gleefully tear another person down, when they forget that the person even has a personhood worthy of respect and dignity in and of its very self. In a culture that dehumanizes and objectifies women, it doesn’t surprise me that the people who get massacred in the press, whom we love to mock and hate, are women, whether it’s a Real Housewife or Britney Spears or the Internet’s own Julia Allison. That’s misogyny. And of course patriarchy — a system in which women are largely excluded from real power, which is still very much the case in this culture — contributes to this. We only bully the weak, after all. Go after someone with *real* power and he might just come roaring right back at you.

Also, if it truly was largely women who “promoted these ideas, this competition”, then the lesbian community would have a very different overall aesthetic. (Meanwhile the male gay community puts an even greater emphasis on physical perfection than does the heterosexual community, and there’s even *more* pressure for a man to be young, chiseled, beautiful.) Of course women would still fight and be competitive with one another — we’re not angels — but you have to look at where that competition is coming from and why it’s happening. For hundreds of years, a woman’s very survival depended upon catching and keeping the eye of a good male provider because they were banned (by men) from the work world once the industrial revolution divided the world into public and private spheres. When your very survival is at stake (not to mention your offspring), you fight like hell. And we’re barely two or three generations removed from that.

Also, keep in mind that wanting women to downplay their sexuality is just the flipside to wanting them to play up their sexuality; it’s the angel/whore dichotomy. In both cases the woman is defined by her sexuality (god forbid she be a ‘temptress’, so evil and trashy) and not by her intellect + character. Wanting to keep women chaste is about controlling their sexuality so that other men aren’t tempted by it; it’s about owning the woman (and also about making her responsible for male sexuality, along the lines of the she-was-asking-for-it mentality which blames the rape victim and exonerates the rapist). And you’re seriously going to tell me that it’s women who control and enable the porn industry, that those are female desires being catered to? (Again, I’m not against porn or sex work per se, so long as it’s safe and freely chosen.) To say that patriarchy doesn’t impact the way women present themselves — that women aren’t playing specifically to male desires — strikes me as a bit naive. After all, it’s when you remove men from the equation that the sweat pants come out and the lipstick gets tossed aside.

I think you’re right to stress that patriarchy and misogyny are not the same things. There is, however, a deep relationship between the two. It’s the very inequality of patriarchy, the pronounced imbalance of power, that even makes misogyny — which is basically an abusive relationship writ large — possible in the first place.

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Yes! I was just going to suggest Dance of the Dissident Daughter! I’m reading it right now. Our language has framed the way we view the world, and that has been reenforce into our language for so long that stepping out of the roles really requires an entire new frame of mind.
This is not to say change has to come _against_ men. We don’t need a gender clash. But we _do_ need a change of thinking from both genders.
I’m raising my hand, and honking. But I’m not driving, so it’s OK. :)

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Love this post!
So much good stuff in it, but in a nutshell… as I continue to process all kinds of crap from my childhood (Amish Mennonite) life and my past (conservative evangelical) life… I’ve been trying to find a way to put into words how I feel about the fact that “Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate.”

Thanks for giving me words for my views… you can trust I’ll be quoting (and giving you credit) you as I speak to audiences about living well.

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The porn industry? No, of course I wouldn’t argue that’s driven by women. I was more referring to the Cosmo/Glamour industry. That is more driven by women IMHO. And that is also the industry driving the catty gossip rags, the nasty enquirer speculation, etc… Numerous studies show that men don’t prefer the sticky, thin, non-voluptuous look of the modern runway model. Look at models is Maxim and compare them to runway/fashion models. Women buy and large read/promote/write for/and edit those women oriented magazines, and create a market with an unrealistic ideal, and it doesn’t match what men themselves say they want. (No, I am not saying the perfect male ideal of a woman is healthier than the cosmo version, though maybe a healthier weight….lol).

Funny you should bring up the gay and lesbian community. I think there is actually a patriarchal influence in the lesbian community and look….I have read blogs about lesbians peer pressure to look more masculine because being “butch” is equated with being masculine.

My take on this is probably a little jaded. I grew up with a single mother and not one father influence in my life. Growing up in a very matriarchal family I feel pretty confident that a lot of this has nothing to do with patriarchal (and some does) and everything to do with being human! About the “victim” comment–maybe I should put it this way–the word patriarchal insinuates this is a problem resulting from male power in society, and I think if only women were alive on the planet, and not one man, we would figure out someway to marginalize and discriminate based on looks. Shrug.

Thanks for the interesting discussion.

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@K Wilson If lesbian women feel the pressure to be more butch, that’s because the women they love/are attracted to happen to like the assertive dominating type. I don’t think that’s patriarchy; I think that’s just nature, and the power dance of sexuality. (Power in and of itself isn’t good or bad, just neutral. It’s the abuse of power that’s the problem.)

And I’m sure we would (discriminate and marginalize). But for different reasons and different circumstances. I am by no means saying that women are perfect or that women should be in control of the world. I’m after “equal but different”. Any system that is built on the oppression of one group by another group is wrong — and, yes, it does lead to the oppressed group policing itself by the oppressor’s standards, which is what women do when they accuse each other of being sluts and whores, etc. When it’s a belief system that you’re born into and grow up internalizing, I think it’s very difficult to say that anything *isn’t* the result of or influenced by patriarchy in one form or another. It’s a man’s world (which doesn’t mean it’s easy for other men, or that men and boys don’t suffer in it). Re: the superskinny fashion ideal — true, that’s hardly what men prefer sexually, but that’s also not the point of the ideal — go up the chain of power in the fashion, beauty, magazine industries, and who do you find? Women? Enough women to make a difference (the tipping point is one third representation)? Don’t think so. I’m not saying that women don’t contribute to this — of course we do — or wouldn’t make similar decisions on their own. What I am saying is that you can’t divorce these things from a world we’re living right in the middle of, if you know what I mean, so to say that this *isn’t* a problem resulting from or at least influenced by male power in society is, well, problematic at best, especially when men are still running things.

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@Susan T. Blake I agree, and I think that’s a great point. And men shouldn’t be shamed for their sexuality either, especially when it doesn’t fit into so-called ‘normal’ monogamous structures. So long as everyone’s honest about what they want and need, and responsible about it, it’s all good.

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@JulieB / Julia Spahn Wasn’t that a great book? I still reread parts of it. And I was never anything close to anything resembling a good Christian girl. I consider myself an atheist. But the spiritual hunger, the questing, the ‘female wound’ — it was as if somebody was speaking to me in a language that I hadn’t even known I was missing.

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@liz Ohhhhh yeah. That’s a much-needed post in itself (I could only fit in so much!)

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Honk! Honk!–from what’s been called my “unmanly,” “unsexy” Prius. This post really has my mind racing (like a Tesla, not my Toyota). I’m just not sure where my destination is. Maybe this: Ultimately, humans are still bound to a lot of our primal instincts. We aspire to transcend them, but our DNA sure doesn’t make it easy. Life itself is beautiful, even if it is also frequently maddening as hell. There is an allure to the dance between and among the sexes, even when it feels more like a sticky old carnival ride than a sultry salsa. Diversity often breeds tension, but I wouldn’t want to live in a world without it. I think the challenge is to figure out how to appreciate all of humanity’s nuances while celebrating (and owning) your own place among them. Anyhow, sorry if I veered off the road. Brilliant discussions involving brilliant women will do that to a guy. Just sayin’. ;)

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I once heard a male fashion designer say that he prefers tall, stick-thin models to model his clothing because their body types are similar to mannequins. Seems to me that’s a backwards way of looking at things if he actually wants to make a business out of designing clothes, but it made me wonder just how many other designers see things that way. It’d be a shame if that ideal is forced onto us as a culture just because no one thought to change the shape of the freaking mannequins.

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So much good stuff in here, will just write a reaction blog of my own. Wish your comments did para breaks.

That said, LOVE the idea of owning your sexuality and the concept of Pretty Girl Syndrome is something i’ve instinctively noted but not consciously thought about. Now’s the time to.

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Justine- I wanted to tell you that whenever I’m feeling down, or like I just can’t move forward anymore (especially with my writing), I come by and read your blog. You really have a magical talent. I love your writing and your insight. Kent

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Raising my hand and honking…. while driving a stick.

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Interesting and insightful post. Still a lot to read and digest. Thank you for being so open and willing to discuss issues. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on “Pretty Girl Syndrome” vs. what is a real problem with girls attacking other girls from a very young age, as young as 5, and thoughts on how to combat that. If you had a daughter, what would you be teaching her?

What I am writing deals with a limited part of this post.

I can sympathize to a degree with what Samantha Brick is trying to get at (although maybe in a slightly off-putting way). Although now I’m in my 20s and know what it means to care about the important people and put out of my mind other opinions, I can remember as a child being picked on by other girls/women for my looks to the point of bullying that was very hard to deal with. I’ve had girls be very cold and mean to me. And frequently, but not always, if reconciliation occurred years, they themselves admitted to feeling “jealous” of looks and how I looked different (very curly hair that left me thinking it was normal for old ladies to stop and pull/admire it in a grocery store). And it was bad. Literally, I was being followed around the playground and shouted at for having hair that other kids thought I permed to look pretty (nope, in fact my dad just had me flip my head over while he blow-dried as best he knew how). Of course I’ve matured and outgrown giving this experience influence on my happiness. But it did impact me greatly as a middle school teen. I begged my mom to not make me go to school because I didn’t want to face a mean class of girls who had written a poem in class about my hair/looks, or the teachers who were out right mean to me over another teacher’s unwanted attention. (I learned years later from a teacher that a packaged gift they had me deliver to him was actually a condom). Like I said, I don’t let it upset me know, but it still happens. I’m now in my 20s and just months ago I made a big effort to build a relationship with a girl I knew hated me. It was important to a mutual friend. I initially welcomed her with open arms, but she made it clear she hated me. Ok, fine. But I asked her to lunch for a friend. And she thanked me for having the balls (or should I say, ovaries) to politely ask her what her problem was. She admitted to meeting me and having her first thoughts being “Great. How am I going to compete with her?” I never knew we were competing.

I guess what I’m being long-winded getting at is…those experiences can take a toll on ones faith in people. And don’t get me wrong…it’s not a great woe to be attractive. But it is a legitimate hurt that young girls face. And the bullying that results from it most people would shrug off as an adult, but some teenage girls sadly don’t get over. You make a good statement…It would be great to change the conversation. But the seeds are planted at a very young age and continue into adulthood. Before we know about models on magazines and what “sexy” means. So what are we changing? Not telling a little girl she is pretty within ear-shot of other girls? I just wonder, can we celebrate beauty AND other positive qualities at the same time so everyone feels included?

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And by the way, while the internet is great for letting so many people communicate at once, it leaves a lot to interpretation. I just want to add that I have deep respect for your writing and nothing written above is with arrogance or disapproval of what you have said. I just want to push one point of your post a bit further. A deeper conversation on just one point of what you wrote above. I understand most of your post deals with what adult women face, but I also hope to get your insight as a parent on what can be done to face the problem earlier. Thank you for being part of a voice on this kind of problem.

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@justine Yes, it’s a great book. I’m planning to gift it to various friends. I think there are a lot of things for us to think about, and it will be required reading for may daughters. I think I’m at an age where many women come to this question – I’ve been thinking about this a lot through my 40s – but I don’t believe a reader must be this age to gain from it. I’ve been marking her references as a go, intending to read the original sources.
I was born Catholic, but our family dropped away from the church when I was in junior high. My husband and I decided (after some debate) to baptize and raise our children Catholic, and I started to go to classes a few years back to find answers about the church that I’d never actually learned. (I didn’t go to a Catholic school, and I missed a lot of CCD classes) I learned much and found that for everything I learned, I ended up with two more questions. I’ve been trying to reconcile things for the past 6 years, and this book really hits on all the same problems I’ve never been able to answer before. I know it will be close at hand and I’ll be re-reading it for a long time to come.

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Big honks coming from me. The question: What does it mean to be a WOMAN/ what does it mean to be a MAN has been at the forefront of my mind for the past several years. As a young girl I was raised with a step-sister who was deemed the beautiful one. I was not the smart one or the funny one, but the very different girl that never fit in. I feel this is a common story many of us have.

And it tore me to pieces. I wanted to be beautiful. I wanted to be attractive. I wanted to be a woman’s best friend, but I had no idea what it meant.

The point has been made that only two generations have passed where women have had legitimacy of their own. The growth point, as I see it, is that we need to take a hard look at what it means to be the feminine/ masculine embodied. I do not think that we would be served in a good way to make boxes and then stuff all of ourselves into the appropriate category, but perhaps if we striped away all the conditioning, all the thoughts and ideals placed upon us from the outside we could then see that each and every one of us has masculine and feminine qualities. Judgments of one being superior and the other being weak is what keeps the conversation divided.

I am so grateful that there are conversations taking place around the topics of women+sexuality. This is huge. This is healing. This is the place where all the bullshit begins to fall away and we are left with the realization that MOST of what we think, speak, and act out is not of our own volition. MOST of our actions are passed down to us from the cradle to the grave by our popular culture, pier group, and family rituals. As I continue to ask the question what does it mean to be a woman I also ask, where did I get this idea from? Is it my own or is it someone else thoughts that I never bothered to question for myself?

Thanks for a mind blowing+ empowering post. You knock my socks off every time.

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This really spoke to me. Thank you for your writing and putting out here on the web for all to see. So many things running through my mind after reading this. All I can say is that as a 25 year old woman who is still in college trying to get my bachelor’s degree, I can’t tell you how much I can relate to this. And being plus size just adds to the confusion.

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What a wonderful article. Loved reading it. I am a fan.

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I started reading your blog about a month ago and I love it. Your ideas are fresh and right on. I’ve been feeling a lot more badass lately thanks to you. I especially love that you are such a supporter of women and you remind us to support each other.

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I just received DANCE OF THE DISSIDENT DAUGHTER yesterday and I’m already halfway through it. Great so far! Definitely making me think.

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