Rules for a modern woman:
Be sexy but not too sexy. Cover up but not too much. Be educated but don’t make men feel inadequate or stupid. Work like you don’t have children and raise your children like you don’t work. Be proud of your postpartum body, just make sure you cover up those stretch marks and extra weight. Breastfeed your children exclusively but do so only in private so that you won’t offend anyone. Don’t be a prude but don’t sleep with too many men. Have opinions but don’t offer them unless asked.
The list goes on and on. These are impossible to follow. They are misogynistic, contradicting, oppressive, and hateful. Yes, these standards are held by men, but they are dutifully enforced by other women. We refer to this today as “shaming”, or the humiliation and judgment of other women and the choices they make.
One could trace “shaming” to biological origins and contest that the celebration and/or success of another woman is a threat to the resources and therefore the very survival of the woman not being celebrated. This mindset was not without reason. In anthropological history, women have been solely dependent on the resources provided by their male counterparts. For a chance at optimum survival, a woman would have to display superior beauty and fertility in order to attract and secure a strong mate. Hierarchies, not exclusive to the human species, are created by this biological totem pole. Needless to say, beautiful women are at the top of it and have been for hundreds of thousands of years.
But society has and continues to change. Women are now autonomous. They are delaying or opting out of marriage and child bearing completely with little concern of how they are to support themselves or find purpose in their lives. The majority of college students are now female and men are no longer the only source of wealth and security as women are increasingly becoming the sole breadwinners in their families. Marriages are no longer essential for a woman’s financial or social success. Without the reliance on one’s looks for survival, “beauty” is slowly becoming a novelty rather than an requirement.
So why does society still strongly encourage the shaming of women?
Because it is in our biological nature, like our chimpanzee relatives, to create hierarchies amongst ourselves. Instinctually, we are still in the outdated mindset of scarcity with the subconscious drive to secure resources. This instinct is fostered and encouraged by the modern society we are raised in. Women are taught from a very young age to compare themselves to Barbie dolls, Disney princesses, and other young girls. Teenage girls spend almost half of their money on clothes — to assert their social dominance amongst other women. Women dress for other women. This endless pursuit of “beauty” occurs not just within the clothing industry and is not exclusive to America alone. Women in the West are shamed for being too pale. Being tan, like Pamela Anderson in Baywatch, is sexy. Cue the tanning salons that are widespread across North America and Europe. To be tan is to signal wealth because wealthy women live on the coast or frequent exotic destinations. Women in the East are shamed for being too dark. Being pale, like Aishwarya Rai (claimed to be India’s most beautiful woman), is sexy. Cue the bleaching creams that fly off the shelves at beauty parlors across the third world. To be pale is to be wealthy because wealthy Eastern women do not have to do manual labor outside in the sun. Women spend millions of dollars on these services and products while corporations laugh themselves to the bank. It is programmed into the female brain that in order to be beautiful you must spend money buying products that either conceal unflattering physical traits or enhance the attractive ones in order to be superior to other women. Women are then enlisted by these industries to enforce these beauty standards and to shame the women that don’t conform to them. This brainwashing doesn’t end with the fashion and beauty industry.
Social media giants, Instagram and Facebook, capitalize on the insecurity of women. These networks convince women to spend hours scrolling through other women’s’ lives in hopes that they will compare and contrast. Hence, the creation of “#goals”. A woman will see the post of another woman who she decides is more physically attractive than her which instantaneously prompts her to buy into whatever product that woman is wearing/consuming/using. How else would detox tea get sold? Ironically, women post photoshopped photos of themselves with captions that encourage self-love and body positivity all with the intention of getting you to buy their product. Thus, the birth of the “Instagram model” and the death of self-esteem within women, and especially young girls, everywhere.
When the world is profiting off of female shaming and insecurity, what is the way forward? When society rewards conformity and enforces an unrealistic standard of beauty, how can women succeed without adhering to these social laws? It starts with our behavior. It doesn’t mean boycotting makeup or letting your leg hair grow out. It doesn’t mean being celibate or having sex with anyone anytime. It means screaming *fuck the system* in a way that is authentic to your true self. Celebrating the success of other women. Acknowledging that the uplifting of another woman doesn’t equate to the suppression of ourselves. It means realizing that everything we ever need is already within us and that there is a piece of the pie for everyone.
The only reason these industries are profitable is because we, as female consumers, create a demand for them. We don’t need them and we certainly don’t need to purchase their products to be a better or more beautiful version of ourselves. Long gone are the times of requiring physical beauty for survival and with that needs to come the destruction of female shaming and the industries that thrive off of it.
Let us teach our daughters that they are enough. That they can wear mascara if they want to but not because they think they need it to be as pretty as Susy down the street. Let us wear what we want when we want, whether that be fishnet stockings or a burka. Let us celebrate the beauty of other women without failing to embrace our own. Post that cellulite. Speak your mind. Breastfeed your baby in the middle of f**king iHop if you please. Be. your. own. damn. #goals.
It has been said that we as women are capable of achieving extraordinary things together, just imagine what we could do if we actually started believing it.