Girls don’t need more information about what boys find attractive

// 18 March 2015

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Miss_War_Worker_Beauty_Contest_1942_contestants_grouped_by_employer.jpgPsychologist Dr Aric Sigman has an idea for how to combat poor body image in teenage girls. The Telegraph reports:

To fight a “neurosis” amongst school girls on body fat, teachers should get boys to tell girls what they find attractive, including other qualities beyond pure looks, said Aric Sigman, author of “The Body Wars: why body dissatisfaction is at epidemic proportions”.[…]

“Boys don’t have in any way near as rigid a view on what an attractive figure should be and they value many other physical qualities, including eyes, hair, and body language.”

I’m sure Dr Sigman’s intentions are good, but he misses a fundamental point. Girls are taught that their value lies in their attractiveness to boys. Not merely that they would be more desired if their bodies were different, but that how much they are desired is pivotal to their worth as human beings. Bestowing the power and responsibility on boys to lecture girls on what is desirable reinforces everything that we’re trying to break down.

Teenage girls already know that men have varying tastes in women, because there are plenty who are not too shy or “politically correct” to speak openly their sexual and romantic tastes. Groups of boys and men like to discuss their tastes between themselves (not always honestly; they’re under pressure too). But many boys and men also love telling girls and women all about what is and isn’t attractive. It is a tremendous exercise of power.

This is our problem. Women have fought long and hard against the idea that our purpose on Earth is to provide decoration and comfort to men. Yet the vast majority of advertising and most roles that women play in television and on film very much promote the opposite worldview. And, as Jem Bloomfield says in his excellent post on the subject, there’s little “rigid” about the ideals a girl must aspire to:

“Women aren’t all given a single standard and rewarded by how far they live up to it. They are subjected to contrasting and contradictory standards, ensuring that they can never be “in the right”. Be slim, but don’t be skinny. Take care of your looks, but don’t be vain. Remake yourself in the image we want, but don’t look “fake” or “artificial”. Wear makeup so you can look “natural”. Be sexually available, but don’t be slutty. Be caring but don’t be mumsy. Be quirky but don’t be a freak.”

Every male opinion about what makes a girl attractive represents a new pressure to be something not all of us can be. Dr Sigman falls into this trap himself:

“An increase in fat on hips, thighs and bottoms is not only natural but good for girls because it is appealing to males,” said Dr Sigman. “It’s protects girls from heart disease and diabetes and the great news is that men like that body fat on women.”

The really great news is that when it comes to most sources of happiness and fulfillment available to a women, the size of her bottom doesn’t matter. It won’t help her have good friendships or a happy family. It won’t help her pass exams or get a great job. It won’t help her contribute to her communities. It won’t help her work hard and feel good about what she has achieved. It may help just everso slightly in the bedroom if her partners, of either gender, happen to like her particular kind of butt. However, Sir Mixalot aside, most people are fairly easy going.

We need to persuade girls that their looks are not that important, not because they are not all that matters to boys, but because they are not all that matters.

[Image is a black and white photograph of a long line of women in industrial clothing, stretching out into the distance. This is apparently the Miss War Worker Beauty Contest of 1942 at the Canadian National Exhibition Grandstand. This image can be found on Wikimedia and is the public domain.]

Comments From You

Morgan // Posted 23 March 2015 at 6:27 pm

I whole heartedly agree with this post. I think another thing that should be mentioned that wasn’t in this post is that saying men like a contradictory body-type will pit women against each other. When women are told that men like thin women, they think to build themselves up they have to say things like “screw those skinny ____s!” Like Nicki Minaj and Meghan Trainor. When all that does is breed hate towards the wrong people. Or when thin girls are told men like a big butt they say things like “well that’s not healthy!” and then we have rumors going around that thick women aren’t “healthy.” It starts an internal and very harmful war within the female gender and that results in stereotypes like “women are catty.” Well we are told to be at war with ourselves! We are told to fight for men’s attention and that our worth is based on how attractive we are so we are so naturally we become jealous and upset towards the opposite body type because there is no perfect body type as this post mentioned. It’s sad and almost scary to see how damaging this mindset is and how much it affects.

Fairy // Posted 25 March 2015 at 10:14 am

Something that struck me about the article is how hetero-normative it is. Assuming that boys have a female ideal and that girls are trying to make themselves attractive to men.

Eric // Posted 25 March 2015 at 1:02 pm

I can sympathise with the majority of what this post describes. I should like to see the article ending on a more positive note. The author states..

“…the size of her bottom doesn’t matter.”, and

“We need to persuade girls that their looks are not that important, not because they are not all that matters to boys, but because they are not all that matters.”

And ends it there. Is that the sum total of feminist advice? I really need to read something about what “we” can describe does, in fact, matter. Morgan gets towards this point in the

comment above.

I know that beauty is only skin deep, and I hope that most humans do too. I try to provide positive self-image to my offspring and to encourage critical thinking and examination of many stereotypes which are constantly placed before our eyes.

I thank D H Kelly for the article as it has finally persuaded me to wade into the confusing world of contemporary feminism.

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