The Good News
It has been pointed out time and time again by pro-woman sources that the media has handed us a low blow in their portrayal of women’s bodies. There are many articles and sources decrying over-sexualization in the media and the Photoshopped models who plaster the fronts of our magazines and ads. This is great! I think many people are finally realizing that Victoria’s Secret and their ilk aren’t companies who stand for women but who exploit them. We are finally outraged at catalog and magazine producers who chop out portions of women’s legs and waistlines to hold us up to an impossible ideal and more than upset when we hear about girls starving themselves to be like the models on TV. Many women are taking a stand to proclaim that shapes of all sizes are beautiful–the key is to know and believe you are beautiful and then fearlessly own it. We spend time looking up stars without makeup. We enjoy YouTube videos that show us that we are more beautiful than we think, such as the Dove Real Beauty Sketches. It is becoming popular and praised to hear public figures such as Jennifer Lawrence taking a stand against poor body image. I am glad! One thing is clear–women are tired of being told we aren’t good enough.
One of the main topics in this “taking back beauty” discussion is sexual objectification. And no wonder–it is almost impossible to walk through a mall or store without seeing large posters of women in their underwear, or aisles lined with shapely Barbie or Bratz dolls in sexy outfits. And again, several groups and individuals are expressing their discontent with the messages that are being sent to women and young girls about their worth. Again, I am glad. More and more, we are tired of being looked at as objects instead of people!
The War of the Naked Women
However, the point of my article is this: In conglomerating body image/objectification problems all together, our methods of fighting back sometimes fight fire with fire. And I would like to point out the phenomenon of what I would like to call the War of the Naked Women. Here is what I notice:
- Women who want to take back body image will tell us, “My body is beautiful just the way it is!” and will create images and ads celebrating supposedly real naked women.
- Moms who are justly upset with the over-sexualization of breasts and the shaming of breastfeeding proclaim, “Breastfeed in public without a blanket! Your breasts are natural, so people need to stop being bothered by seeing them!”
- Women who are tired of being told that they have to get their post-baby body back to “normal” are posting naked or near naked photos of their bodies, proclaiming, “I love my big thighs and stretch marks and sagging skin! Enjoy it with me! This is what real women look like!”
- And when reading sites which are meant to “redefine” beauty, we are still inundated with glossy, sexual images of women, if only to point out how bad these are!
Let me caption this by saying that if the only problem was that we are inundated with fake images of women, this would be a lovely way to fight back–showing what real women look like. But this isn’t the main problem that I see, and I am not buying the idea that showing pictures of real naked women is going to end objectification. Are you saying that the best way we can promote our dignity as women is to strip down and bare all? Again? That in order to understand real beauty we need to post more images of naked women? Really? To me, that just sounds like a bowl of the same crapolla packaged in a different way to fight a different fight.
Enough of Selling Women’s Bodies
See, there are 3 related problems I can see coming from the media. In reverse order of importance:
3. Women’s beauty ideals are often unattainable and shallow.
2. Women are constantly being portrayed as valuable or attractive only if they are sexy.
1. We can’t get past the need to put women’s naked bodies on display!
I don’t want to use women’s naked bodies to sell the idea that women should be skinny and well-toned at all times, I don’t want to use them to satisfy people’s desires to look at sexy women, and I don’t want to use them to sell the idea that women are okay just the way they are! In posting these images of real women, are we saying that real women are not tempting or sexual, and that it is not at all objectifying to post pictures of real women naked? What an insult that would be! Our bodies ARE lovely and exciting, and these facets of us should be reserved for spousal union. We should be able to see women for more than just their bodies, and the only way to fight (and really win) this fight is to bring back modesty. Not prudishness, not frumpiness, but a modesty that allows us to primarily seek to know women’s talents, dreams, and inner character while also celebrating women’s unique styles and physical beauty.
No, I would not recommend my younger sisters or my boyfriend check out most body image sites, because what will they see? The War of the Naked Women. Those who have tried to keep their minds and hearts pure by not looking at these kinds of images would easily be scandalized by these sites which are supposedly for a good purpose. These naked bodies do not belong to us to look at. We don’t have the right. I do not want to criticize specific individuals on the sites, as they are well-meaning. Do the sites have a good message? Yes. But they have some improving to do in their means of delivery if they really want to make a strong difference for women’s dignity in my humble opinion.
You might tell me, “But Grace, posting these images of real women’s bodies has done so much good! Women feel much better about themselves now and can find that they no longer have to hide in fear. And we have to post bad images of near-naked women to point out how bad things really are and how fake these ideals are!” Alright, I am willing to admit that seeing real women has done girls some good. In fact, maybe a lot of good. Maybe it has radically changed the way some or many women see their bodies, and they can finally feel confident in their size or their post-baby body. I, myself, would say that the movement has made me less afraid of the day when my body will sag with marks of carrying the children I love. So yea, I will give you that. And yes, I understand the concept of muckraking up images of how bad things are to make a point. I really, really do.
But I must say that while we are trying to stress the point that wrinkles and cellulite and feminine wholeness are normal, we are also (maybe unintentionally?) making it normal to see women taking their clothes off in public and still looking at them as good role models for young girls. Yes, I am upset that Jennifer Lawrence was Photoshopped out of proportion, but I am also upset that in order to read this story we have to look at a picture of Jennifer Lawrence baring her bust and stomach in a revealing dress. Sooo…. no, I am not going to link to this image so you can see how bad it was, because I don’t want you to have to look at Jennifer in that outfit and absorb even more sexualization from the media. Many of her red carpet outfits and photo shoots are immodest. See why we have a ridiculous standard of beauty? We are still looking at scantily clad women as beauty heroes, as if somehow being real images of women makes this okay.
As I said in another article about the mystique of woman, “The Biblical book, Song of Songs, refers to the sexuality of woman as, ‘a garden closed,’ and a ‘fountain sealed.'” What a wonderful gift to give! How do the husbands of these real women feel to see their brides’ bodies, which they vowed to exchange only with each other, open to all to see at the click of a computer button? This is cheapening what is priceless and robbing spouses of their gift, meant to be intimate between only them. What message does this send to their little girls? That it is okay to be naked in public as long as you’re not Photoshopped? And when Christian young men look for a bride, will they look for the one who has dropped inhibitions and decided her near-naked body is “beautiful enough” for everyone to see? Rather the opposite, we would hope. It is beautiful enough to veil. They will look for someone who waits in anticipation to give the cherished gift of her body to him and him alone.
It is not as if I am afraid of women’s nakedness or think that naked bodies or sex are bad things. Far from it. If you haven’t read the article on the mystique of women, it’s all explained there. My naked body has dignity, and as such, it is not free for view to the public. Because I think it is special and wonderful, I am not going to share it with the blogosphere. All people’s nakedness is sacred, not just mine–Victoria’s Secret models, body image activists, breastfeeding moms, and the post-baby body crowd included. What do we do with the sacred and the priceless? We DON’T make it free and open to the public. THIS is the antidote–we dress it up with a mystique befitting its dignity. We treasure it, we mark it as expensive and special. We veil it with the freedom-giving veil of modesty. When we dress modestly, we protect ourselves and others from the sin of lust and create a safe atmosphere for people to live and love. Women are so precious. The best body image is one which tells us we are not too fat, not too ugly, not too cheap, but priceless.
Boxer Muhammad Ali’s Advice To His Daughter: Everything that God made valuable in the world is covered and hard to get to. Where do you find diamonds? Deep down in the ground, covered and protected. Where do you find pearls? Deep down at the bottom of the ocean, covered up and protected in a beautiful shell. Where do you find gold? Way down in the mine, covered over with layers and layers of rock. You’ve got to work hard to get to them. Your body is sacred. You’re far more precious than diamonds and pearls, and you should be covered too.