Below is an article from NDSU’s Mercedes Lee on the many pressures and illogical expectations of Women’s bodies. This is evident in almost every commercial geared towards women, whether it be about tampons “empowering” women, products for hair, hygiene products for various body parts, or even clothing.
The Not-So-Subtle Sexism of High Expectations for Women’s Bodies
We live in a society that puts a lot of pressure on expecting men and women to look a certain
way. Corporations have spent billions of dollars perfecting an ideal beauty standard that
forces individuals to spend time, effort, and money trying to achieve this unachievable perfect
appearance. Although men are also plagued with the constant insecurities that accompany a
desire to attain an ideal beauty standard, it is women who have faced the harshest, most severe
criticisms regarding their bodies. Women spend countless hours maintaining an appearance
that has been prescribed by corporations whose goal is not to make women happier about their
bodies, but simply to make a profit off of women’s insecurities. This phenomenon has led to a
cultural crisis. Women are expected to dress nicely, wear makeup that accentuates their features,
and maintain a hairless body while simultaneously having a golden tan, big breasts, flawless
skin, a flat stomach, manicured nails, and professionally styled hair.
Now, not everyone buys into this ideal beauty standard, and some women do claim to partake
in cultural beauty practices for their own benefit – because they want to look good. That is
fine. I have no problem with wanting to look nice. Sometimes I get dressed up when I know
that I probably will only leave my apartment to go to the grocery store, but I do it anyways
because I feel better when I look nice. It is great to feel good in your own body, so that is not
what causes the cultural crisis to occur. No, the cultural crisis occurs when women become so
dissatisfied with their own bodies that they can no longer enjoy their life. When women are so
self-conscious about their appearance that they refrain from eating or only have sex with the
lights turned off, that is when we have to ask ourselves what demanding bodily perfection has
done to women.
I could spend hours discussing the many downfalls of maintaining an ideal beauty standard;
however, for the sake of time and space I am only going to discuss a particular aspect that I find
especially disturbing: women’s clothing.
With Fargo-Moorhead becoming a more culturally progressive area, there also seems to be an
increase in fashion awareness, which, as you may have noticed, has led to an increase in the
number of women’s boutiques popping up around town. While it is great to see growth in the F-
M area, this particular area of growth has left me curious as to what a heightened fashion sense
could mean for cultural beauty expectations in this area. Now, as much as I hate to reinforce
stereotypes regarding certain characteristics or qualities that have been gendered through societal
expectations and cultural conventions, I have to confess that I do really enjoy shopping. I
love walking around downtown Fargo and stopping in at each of the boutiques along the way.
However, I have noticed a somewhat disturbing trend among clothing carried in these stores,
and while I do not think that it is the fault of the shops themselves, it does leave me a little
disappointed after each shopping venture.
First of all, the mannequins in these stores look as though they are prepubescent teenage girls
awaiting the onset of their ‘womanly bodies’. The clothing is not made for women with butts,
or breasts, or even hips. It is true that women’s bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes,
and there are, in fact, women who are naturally thin, small-breasted, and narrow-hipped.
Criticizing women for being too skinny is just as detrimental as criticizing women for being too
big; however, because there is diversity amongst women’s bodies, I would like to see diversity
amongst clothing sizes as well. Women are faced with enough criticisms regarding their body
via media, beauty corporations, and even well-meaning family and friends – I would just like to
see fashionable clothing available in sizes meant to fit a variety of women’s bodies. If it means
ordering an XL, 2XL, or other larger sizes, then I say go for it – it only means more business for
our local women’s clothing retailers.
Questions and comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.