Judging Other Women, Judging Ourselves.

// 31 July 2010

Tags: , , ,

One of the reasons I stopped reading women’s magazines was due to the way they helped to create a mindset within me of judging other women’s appearances. And in turn, my own.

All those pap shots, or red carpet shots, with captions such as “OMG, Celebrity A wore item X with item Y. The shame!” always made me start thinking “oh, I’m not supposed to wear X with Y? Since when? What else do I not know? Do I look stupid?”

And “OMG, Celebrity B’s appalling outfit just draws attention to her problem areas, not flattering at all!” made me start seeing women’s bodies in terms of ‘problem areas’ and how we must disguise them at all costs.

For what it’s worth, I don’t even consider the parts of my body that don’t work so well as problem areas, so I hated applying that destructive judgement to my bits that are simply more bulgy than others.

But reading those hateful comments made me see similar ‘sins’ in real life, and the language of body fascism started to invade my consciousness. I was making snap judgements about other women’s appearances. As soon as I clocked each thought, I’d immediately challenge it and reassure myself that I didn’t think that really, but I hated that the snap judgements were happening at all.

And the more I judged others, the more those judgements affected my own self-esteem. If I could judge Celebrity C, even momentarily, for an unflattering top, when she is frankly at most 1/3 of my size and is conventionally beautiful, then really, what did I look like? And if the women who wrote these magazines, and other women who read them, judged conventionally beautiful and improbably slim women so badly, what on earth would they think of me?

So I stopped reading those magazines. I stopped reading reactionary statements about the supposed fashion sins committed by other women, and I stopped making those judgements about other women, and I began to stop making them about myself. It was one of the best things for my self-esteem and for my self-respect that I have ever done.

With this in mind, I was interested to read this blog post from polimicks.

I have been making a concerted effort to remove appearance-related insults from my vocabulary. Because honestly, if I’m pissed off at someone, it has NOTHING to do with what they LOOK like, and everything to do with what they ARE like.

This rang very true with me. Happy as I always am to argue endlessly against the politics of, say, Ann Widdecombe, I would also endlessly defend her when people criticising her resort to making fun of her appearance and weight. And they invariably do.

Firstly, there is no need. It is cruel, it is nasty, and no contribution for the advancement of women is ever made when politicians are only critiqued on their size and perceived attractiveness. Secondly, it is entirely irrelevant, and unhelpful to the argument anyway. If you want to slate Ann’s position on abortion rights, go ahead. But you only devalue your own argument if you make any reference to her never needing one because ‘she’s so fat and ugly that noone would want to impregnate her’. And yes, I’ve heard that numerous times. This undermines any valid point within the rest of your argument, as well as being needlessly shallow and hateful.

Criticising other women’s bodies goes counter to everything that feminism should stand for. It is hurtful to other women, and it is hurtful to ourselves. And it is irrelevant to any other criticisms of a person, be it their politics, their acting skills, their singing ability, their ability to read the news, or, frankly, anything at all.

Comments From You

Jess // Posted 31 July 2010 at 1:18 pm

When I stopped reading these body-negative magazines, it was such a relief.

Laura Green // Posted 31 July 2010 at 3:13 pm

You’re so right- when i swapped Heat magazine for The Big Issue my life immediately changed for the better- I stopped stressing out about my body and began appreciating how lucky I am.

earwicga // Posted 31 July 2010 at 4:13 pm

I stoped stressing about my body when I discovered what an utterly amazing thing it was when it grew two babies.

Absolutely agree with you Phillipa about criticisms of people in the media. Criticise people for what they do or don’t do – not what they look like as that is pathetic.

Sarah // Posted 31 July 2010 at 4:50 pm

I agree about the women’s magazines – I stopped reading them when I realised their whole business model was basically to make women feel bad about themselves and their bodies, and chip away at their self-esteem, in order for their sponsors/advertisers to sell them stuff to ‘fix’ their supposed inadequacies. I can do without that.

I try to avoid the ‘body-sniping’ comments too, and call people out when they make them, though I don’t always succeed, and once you start noticing that sort of thing it’s demoralising to realise just how common it is and how ingrained in our culture. And much as this is often framed as a ‘bitchy’ thing women do to other women, I notice a lot of the worst, really nasty misogynistic comments actually come from men – I don’t mean stuff like a little snide comment on unfashionable clothes or a bit of weight gain, but like calling a woman a bitch or a dog (implying that an unattractive woman doesn’t even count as human), or saying she should be grateful to be raped, yelling offensive comments from cars or spitting at her in the street etc, all of which have either happened to me or I’ve heard men say about another woman.

Jessie // Posted 31 July 2010 at 5:47 pm

As a fairly confident 18 year old (well as much as you can be when a teenager)- the ‘shock’ experience for me was when I went to Stockholm and shared a Sauna with my (female and teenage) Swedish friends.

I found myself looking at their bodies with such a critical eye and it made me realise that although I see naked female bodies every single day. (Mostly through lads mags in every single shop, but also porn on my boyfreinds computer, porn on late night telly, porn on facebook….)

I NEVER see the women I know naked. To the extent that I was slightly disgusted when I did, and found my internal discourse saying things like ‘but that’s not what womens bodies look like…’

It’s made me really think and make a concious effort to be more aware of that the image I see so reguarly is not actually representative or particually attractive.

Rant over!

Jessica // Posted 31 July 2010 at 6:50 pm

I find it a bit odd that everyone is so uptight about naked bodies. I never really read those magazines, probably partly because my parents didn’t read magazines and partly because they cost so much.

But while I think I got off lightly, I see the effect of body image in sports centres and swimming pools. Almost no one under the age of thirty gets changed in the main changing area — they all run back to the cubicles. It’s just me (mid-20s), much older women and very young children. I think it’s really interesting to see other people’s bodies and realise that actually, some breasts look one way and some look another way, and some people have slim thighs and a big waist and others have a tiny waist with large thighs, and it’s all perfectly normal. I also quite like being able to see what I’m likely to look like when I grow older. And it’s a real shame that so many women my age choose not to change in the communal area. I think it could really help women to realise that all those perfect bodies in magazines aren’t the norm after all.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 31 July 2010 at 7:27 pm

Given that beauty is culturally specific -learned not innate-, you can retrain your views on beauty, just like on anything else. So, look around more; check out nudes in the art gallery from past generations where women were more voluptuous than today or even look at models from the 70s who had very small breasts and much more body hair. Start to think about what makes each woman (or man) unique, the shapes that make up her body, her curves, her bumps, cellulite, scars, birth-marks, roles of fat, tight skin and muscle- appreciate how amazing it is that each body takes form in unique ways, its texture, the way the light reflects off the body; think about what made the body that way- was it wrinkles around the eyes caused by too much smiling, or creases on the brow caused by squinting at books, a deep scar caused by an accident, or a heavy breasts caused by breast-feeding and aging- and you come to see that each human body is a canvas of life-experience and has such beauty, even in difference. If fact, for me, it is the difference that opens up beauty.

The need for women to homogenise their bodies, to conform to a particular images, removes their humanity through destroying that difference and through destroying the marks of their movement through this world. Variety and imperfection are at the heart of humanity and at the centre of beauty- if you just know how to see it.

Cazz Blase // Posted 31 July 2010 at 10:38 pm

I never grew up reading girls/womens magazines really – I dabbled in Bunty briefly I think, then swapped it for The Beano (there was a boy across the road who read The Dandy, we swapped after we’d read them), then I graduated to poor imitations of Smash Hits, Smash Hits proper, NME, Q… I could go on…

I don’t think reading the music press was really much better though – especially NME and ESPECIALLy Q (which really does have a dubious view of women) – it just fucks you up in other ways, though NME did enhance my vocabulary of swear words, obscure cultural references, and opaque reviews terminology, so I suppose it wasn’t all bad… I mean, such things are a big help in the playground at high school.

Elmo // Posted 1 August 2010 at 9:51 am

I gave up buying magazines ages ago (the last one I bought was history today), but unfortuantly, i havnt stopped reading them, because my mum, sister and friends all still buy them. I tell myself it doesnt really count becasue its not my magazine, but of course it does. Although heat and similar are disgusting, i think its cosmo i hate the most, because it pretends to be grownup and feminist. I have seen so many articles in cosmo (and similar glossies) about how we should embrace our bodies, whatever size, in a horribly patronising way. And then you turn the page and its full of uber thin models, not a size 8 or above in sight, and THEN you look at the back pages and see its full of adverts for plastic surgery. I mean, the writers must think absolutly NOTHING of us-they must think we are thicker than elephant magarine.

And thats what they want, you should never be fooled by that. However much the magazine claims to be all for feminism and body positivity and progress in sexual liberation, it still wants to keep us feeling scared, and ashamed and bloated so that we keep buying their magazine.

The other thing cosmo is guilty of is its bogus science articles-its chock full of them, all with discussions with doctors, all explainging just how different men and women are. “what to know how your boyfriends brain works?” well why dont you talk to him then?!?

My sister bought the american version on holiday, and it had an article about somone being stalked. At the bottom, in a little box came these words or therabouts “many stalkers progress to becoming rapists and serial killers”. That was it, just that statment, no hotline, or disscusion. Why would they print that alarming lone statement? To keep us scared, and therefore keep us buying the magazine.

I sometimes ponder what it would be like if we (or anyone) followed the editors and writers and photographers in Heat around for a day, taking pictures of their thighs and sweat patches and cellulite, then printed them for everyone to see. Im sure they couldnt complain that it was an invasion of their privacy-after all, you’re the editor of heat! You’re practically a celeb yourself, therefore its in the public interest to see what you eat and wear and do.

Im practising not using physical apperence against people Im angry at, and I think im getting better. Incidentally, it was Russell Howard who made the charming joke suggesting that nobody would want to rape Ann Widecome, so why does she bother carrying a rape alarm?

Hannah // Posted 1 August 2010 at 10:14 pm

You are so right and i totally agree. I used to read magazines like that but then i realised the impact they were having on the way i thought about other women and myself and it really does make such a difference to not have all that in your life. These days they just make me angry.

Rose // Posted 1 August 2010 at 11:14 pm

I like reading my magazine, but then again it’s the New Internationalist.

I remember the first copy I read had a little comic about womens dress in it.

A western woman, in heavy make-up, mini skirt, and all that uncomfortable sexualised clothing, saying ‘I’m not good enough for men.’

A muslim woman in full burka (spelling?), even her eyes covered, saying ‘I’m too attractive for men.’

And then, a picture of two men (in normal comfy clothing), pissing themselves with laughter looking at them! Good joke.

sianushka // Posted 2 August 2010 at 9:06 pm

completely right. i used to be terrible at judging other women’s outfits which tbh i think is something i learnt from my mum. but i have trained myself out of it and to my best to tell someone off if they criticise another woman’s outfit or body. we don’t do any good criticising each other for such superficial things.

Laura // Posted 2 August 2010 at 10:19 pm

My housemate reads a lot of women’s magazines – Grazia, Marie Claire, Glamour – and every time I pick one up I can feel my self-esteem drop through the floor.

As a happy, healthy, confident twentysomething, I know that the messages they promote are fake and wrong, but that doesn’t stop them somehow weasling their way into me for a couple of hours or so until I’ve had the time to snap out of this imposed glumness about the state of my cellulite, body weight or wardrobe.

The good thing is that the link betwen this negativity and its source is very clear in my mind, and I do my best to avoid these nasty magazines (except when I let curiosity get the better of me.)

My advice to any woman who spends a lot of time worrying about her image is: try a month without magazines – you’d be surprised by how much they dictate the way you see yourself.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 2 August 2010 at 10:23 pm

Laura, that’s so true. When I read them a lot I didn’t realise the connection, but now I only read them on very rare occasions, I see the direct link between reading them and my sudden self-consciousness.

Antigone // Posted 2 August 2010 at 11:21 pm

What I despise about this culture of bullying women about the way they look is that it also somehow translates into making a woman responsible for how she looks. If she is unattractive, it’s fine to ridicule her because somehow she’s done it to herself. She failed. The same goese for getting older – which is plain nonsensical.

Consider how much undeserved praise the ‘beautiful people’ get for something they didn’t have a hand in – the same thing in reverse and they get a sense of privilege and superiority to boot.

I don’t like Ann Widdecome at all but I would admit to admiring the fact that she will not be silenced by this pettiness. However, a lot of women will be. An individual woman may not voice her opinions for fear that a totally unrelated attack – one that others would love to join in with – will leave her feeling humiliated and unheard. Of course this depends a lot on who you are hanging round with, but I have certainly felt that sinister mood closing in around me in groups.

What I do find heartening though, is that this doesn’t seem to be just a concern for women. I know a lot of guys who despair at this ridulous behaviour and voice their anger openly. The more voices we have in countering attitudes, the better.

And just to get these people into some sort of perspective, what honestly warrants a circle of shame more. A bit of cellulite? Or a snidey comment, the sole purpose of which is to wound the feelings and confidence of someone who did nothing to invite it?

Maeve // Posted 3 August 2010 at 12:15 pm

Laura and Philippa, I agree. You just feel better not reading those magazines, their effect is insidious. And of course not buying them will save a lot of money as well as grief!

Irene Shubik // Posted 3 August 2010 at 5:57 pm

Mainstream magazines, whether aimed at women or men are not in the business of reflecting on average body types ( unless in the context of how they can be improved, changed, criticised or made fun of ). Men’s magazines promote glamour model style female beauty & idealised ( muscular, good looking ) males, so it is not simply an issue for women.

Both women & men are critical of their own & others bodies & appearance. It is the responsibility of both sexes to recognise that fact & view these publications accordingly. If you allow yourself to be negatively affected by images & language, you will be.

No one can realistically avoid these idealised images of people as they are all around us…recognise them for what they are & concetrate on living in the real world, rather than allow advertising & the media machine to effect your judgment.

No one forces us to either buy or read these magazines. Not buying them & not reading them is the most powerful “statement” against their content that anyone has.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds