Yesterday someone tweeted a link to a New York Post article that was clearly designed to get a lot of clicks. With a headline like “You’re not as kinky as you think,” and a sub-hed like “Massive Internet study finds that we’re all sexual deviants,” what other outcome could have possibly been expected and hoped for? I mean, it’s the New York Post. All their headlines scream bloody murder for you to click on them so there’s nothing new there.
Well, they got me. I clicked on the story and I read it.
By now many, many people on Twitter know which part of the story obsessed me and drove me insane. I went on a bit of a rampage about it this morning and by the way, for those used to a bit more deocrum and useful information from me there, I’m sorry. We will shortly return back to our usual programming.
Anyhow… the story mentioned several preferences gay and straight men and women were found to have in terms of what they see as sexually attractive. One of them was that straight men prefer heavier women over thin ones. Come again? I did a double take when I read that? Really? Can it be true? I felt like a kid who had been told there’s no Santa Claus. NO, was my reaction. I don’t believe it.
So I started thinking about it. Obviously I can tell from looking around that heavier women often seem just as able as thin women to attract and keep a mate. But is that really a measure of what most men prefer in an ideal world? I then started asking people on Twitter what they thought. I got a lot of responses, too many to list here and of course this is as un-scientific a sample as it gets (however, someone did point me to a book which is supposed to be a scientific study of sexual preferences and they said it also asserted that men prefer heavier women).
Back to all the replies I received… with a scant few exceptions, not a single man said they prefer thin women over more curvy ones. Some said weight doesn’t matter. At the very least, they said that appearance gets them interested of course, but if a woman carries herself well, is intelligent, has a good personality overall, etc., those things become more important in the end. Now, they could all be bullshitting me, sure. But I’d like to believe that the relative anonymity of the Internet (even when using one’s real name) often breeds more honesty than face-to-face conversations. Besides, I don’t believe anyone had a reason to lie about this, particularly to me. What would be the motivation?
So now I am righteously angry.
If this is all true, if men really prefer more healthy-looking, heavier, curvier women, whatever you want to call it, then we women have been lied to on a daily basis from a very early age. What I mean of course are the images of women we see in the media. The women on TV newscasts, sitcoms and reality shows. The women in movies. The women in magazines. The women in the ads in those magazines, on billboards, TV and all the rest. I could go on and on.
This is, of course, not a new concept. A Google search for “images of women in the media” yields about 227,000,000 results and you can trust me when I say that none of these will tell you that the way women are portrayed is just fine, that it’s not at all damaging or problematic.
These images we see in the media are a huge part of why girls and women hate their bodies, why they feel fat and unattractive, why they think men aren’t interested in them (when really it might just be, say, the extremely strong low self-esteem vibe they’re giving off). If you’re on the higher side of the scale or have struggled with weight, you know what I mean. You know how persistent these feelings are. You know that even when a man tells you he loves you and loves how you look, you tend not to believe him. He loves me because I’m funny or smart, you think to yourself. And because I have such a great personality, he’s able to overlook the physical shortcomings. He doesn’t really love my body, you think to yourself. He just puts up with it.
These feelings and thoughts persist even when you hopefully one day reach a point of being totally comfortable in your skin and maybe even liking yourself just the way you are. They persist no matter how many men ask you out. They persist no matter how many girlfriends tell you you’re beautiful. Such is the power of those lifelong bombardments of what it supposedly means for a woman to be beautiful.
This is what I would say in response to what seems like a perfectly good question someone posed on Twitter after the discussion had somewhat died down:
So you have guys telling you they like “average sized women & empirical research to back it up. What else do you want?
Except it is a bad question. It’s a bad question because it presupposes that empirical reality is enough to assuage millions’ of women’s fears and insecurities. Seriously, when has empirical reality ever convinced anyone of anything? Facts and figures matter very, very little to most people.
So… what do I want? Just one thing really. I want women not to have to go their entire lives in some cases thinking they are ugly and unlovable.
In order for that to happen, we cannot continue to bombard girls and women with unrealistic images of female beauty. Why do we all accept this fiction if it’s apparently not even what most men want? Why is the perpetuation of this insane fantasy acceptable to us?
Imagine if, say, ads for restaurants showed really gross-looking and unappetizing food. Would we all accept it because we knew that when we actually go the restaurant, the food would look great and taste good? What if car ads showed old, beat up, rusty cars but when you get to the dealership you’d see that they were all shiny and new? What if ads for airlines only showed the planes crashing? I realize some of these examples are not extremely apt, but I think you see where I’m going with this. The point is, why do we accept such a gross inversion of reality as it pertains to female beauty; an inversion we would be unlikely to tolerate anywhere else?
Think about this for a moment. To draw a parallel, African-Americans, Asians, gay people, people with disabilities and many other groups represent minorities of Americans. And yet there is often a persistent and admirable effort to secure representation for them in TV shows, movies, ads, etc. The reason many people would probably cite is that it would be nice if what we see on TV or in the theater more closely reflected the reality of our day to day lives. There is a social good in that, most people would probably say. Also, they would say, if we see more images of minority groups, we might come to see them as less different, less “other” and perhaps become more tolerant if we are not already.
It all sounds very nice, right? Well, here’s the deal: a realistic portrayal of the female body is no different. It is the reality, but the media images we see rarely reflect it.
I hope you feel just as strongly as I do. If not, read this.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think needs to happen for this sad state of affairs to change? Is it changing already? What can the average person do to help?
I’m sure (or I hope) there are some organizations already doing this work. If you know of any good ones, post their info here.