My Body isn’t Your News Story

I have a simple request. Can we please stop using women’s bodies as topics of news? My body isn’t your news story.

This past week, I had been traveling in Dubai for work. When I travel, in the mornings while I get ready I like to watch the news. Usually CNN or BBC. To my dismay, those channels were not available. The only channels available in English were National Geographic, Discovery, and E! Network.

As I prepared to hit the pool one early morning, and pulled on my one-piece I suddenly tuned into my chosen background chatter. The subject: Beyoncé’s post-baby diet. When I looked up to the visual, it was an extremely grainy, zoomed in paparazzi shot of Bey’s half-eaten apple. I’m guessing Golden Delicious. 

Yes. What you just heard is correct. A zoomed in shot of the apple carcass left over from the Queen B’s afternoon snack. The anchors proclaimed that Bey had revealed the secret to her weight-loss. Zero carbs, zero sugar, zero red meat, zero, zero, zero. 

INDIO, CA – APRIL 14: Beyonce Knowles performs onstage during 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival Weekend 1 at the Empire Polo Field on April 14, 2018 in Indio, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)

I shook my head and proceeded to order waffles to my room. But then I heard one of the hosts question if it was, “too much too fast?” Now, I missed exactly what it was referencing, but whatever it was… it shouldn’t have been something that the public needs to weigh in on. Were they saying she had she returned to work too fast after having her baby? In that case, we should not be promoting mommy guilt, or judging mothers for their choice to or to not go back to work.

If they were talking about her weight-loss… again, this shouldn’t be up for discussion. Nor are these hosts certified medical professionals who get to have an opinion. 

Using Women’s Bodies as News Subjects

This is definitely not the first instance of women’s bodies or appearance being the subject of media coverage and attention. Half of most awards shows are just about how “well-dressed,” actors are, and if they have “pulled off” their look. And let’s not even begin to talk about how female politicians and nobility have their outfits discussed instead of their accolades. Then there’s the history of makeover and weight loss shows that “right wrongs,” or “unhealthy behavior.” And I’ll give a final shout out to shows like America’s Next Top Model. 

Then there’s the countless editorial content in magazines and online news media about the weight-loss or gain of celebrities, the diets that they’ve used, or spreads that pit women against each other to see who “wore it best.” 

I often wonder how those in the media can talk about women’s bodies so much, when I can guess that most would not want to undergo the same scrutiny. Yet, this practice seems to be tireless.  To be perfectly honest, though I don’t often watch E! Network, I had hoped that this is something that they had grown past. E! News, I challenge you to find other things to talk about besides women’s bodies. 

Affects of Observing Anti-Fat Behavior

Recently, a group of psychologists at McGill University found that celebrity fat shaming is associated with an increase in women’s implicit negative weight-related attitudes. UK Magazine, Stylist, says the following, “Implicit attitudes are people’s split-second, instinctive reactions as to whether something – such as fatness or weight gain – is inherently good or bad. Explicit attitudes, in contrast, are those beliefs that people consciously and openly endorse. In other words, we might never say out loud that we think bigger bodies are bad. But thanks in part to celebrity fat-shaming in the media, we may also find it hard to internally shake off negative ideas about weight gain.”

Specifically, researchers found that after witnessing a celebrity fat shaming, women experience a dramatic increase in anti-fat attitudes. Further, the more notorious or critical the fat shaming, the higher the increase. 

I’m going to take you back to some research that I’ve discussed before in my blog. The Girls’ Index, a report from Columbus non-profit Ruling Our Experiences (ROX), found that by ninth grade the percentage of young girls who wish to change their appearance dramatically increases. Simultaneously, the percentage of girls who say they are confident declines sharply. 

Today, women’s bodies are not only criticized and made the topic of conversation by Magazines and TV hosts, but by everyday people through social media. The same anti-fat attitudes are translated through social media as they are through TV and print. ROX found that the more time that young girls spend on social media, they are up to 24% more likelyto want to change their appearance. They don’t think that they’re good enough or beautiful enough. And 27% will delete an Instagram post if they feel like it didn’t get enough likes.

I ask again, why is this still happening today. A common practice in the 40s to the early 60s was listing a women’s weight and physical characteristics in newspapers. This was done even when the information was totally irrelevant to the story. History professor Michelle Moravec says, “The practice of including women’s weight — or any other physical observations — in the news has been a way, consciously or not, of “putting women into their proper place,” by giving more value to their appearances. For men, on the other hand, with the exception of athletes, characteristics like weight or attractiveness weren’t important, “Nobody’s describing like, ‘The male candidate in the gray suit got up to deliver a powerful speech,’” she adds. “That’s how you know it’s a gender dynamic: It sounds absurd when you apply it to men.”

Hell, we learned Condoleezza Rice wore a dress size between a 6 and an 8 before we could actually get into the article that talked about her security expertise in a 2000s New York Times article. What does this teach women about their worth? Why aren’t we applauding Beyoncé for her athletic prowess and commitment to her artistry? Would you want your dress size to be the headline of a story about you and your life’s work? 

I sure don’t, but to get it out of the way. I’m between a size 10 and 12, and if that changes how you feel about anything I just said, thank you for your time but kindly leave my page. 

What’s The Big Mystery?

Truth-be-told, I have been watching a lot of Sex and the City lately. And by, “a lot,” I mean that I binged about six seasons in under a month. So, I’m going to have a little Carrie Bradshaw moment here.

Let’s talk about sex, baby.

Now, if you didn’t agree with my last post – than me writing this will most definitely make you shift my name into the category of “slut.” Truth-be-told again, I don’t care.

Let’s start with the facts.

  • A 2011 study found that about 80% of women fake orgasms at least half the time
  • 25% of women fake it 90% of the time
  • Women generally orgasm 69% of the time they have sex, compared to 95% for men
  • 62% of women are not satisfied with their sex lives
  • 30% report pain during intercourse, and a “large proportion” don’t tell their partners

There is an obvious trend, and therefore an obvious problem. There is a plethora of benefits when it comes to sex. Some are incredibly un-obvious. Here’s just a few:

  • boosts your immunity
  • decreases stress levels
  • the release of oxytocin and endorphins increase relaxation, which helps fight pain and depression
  • those same feel good hormones lead to feelings of warmth and closeness

So when we talk about gender inequality in the bedroom, we are talking about real benefits that women disproportionately are not able to access.

Now let me throw a real doozy at you.

More than half of men aren’t comfortable discussing gynecological health with their female partners. (Sorry for the heteronormative example) In one study, only half of the men could identify the vagina on a diagram, and two-thirds mixed up the different parts.

Now the article I read was discussing how your partner could potentially be the first person to notice a change that could be a warning of gynecological cancer and other sexual health issues – but I think that this also bodes poorly for women’s sexual satisfaction. Especially because men in the study, aged 18-44 years old, said it was too embarrassing to talk about the vagina. Yet I’d argue over 50% are comfortable sending an unsolicited picture of their private parts – ironic.

People, ladies. Let’s talk about sex.

In my life, I have been lucky enough to have a mother that once said to me – “if you aren’t satisfied, either say something, or leave him.” (You go girl, am I right?) She never made my sexuality negative, and simply allowed for open discussion. I think that that is why I have felt comfortable engaging in discussion with partners. Full disclosure, I have felt the most satisfied in relationships in which my partner and I shared full disclosure about our sexual experiences together. We established boundaries, shared what we liked and what we didn’t, respected the word “no” when something was painful, and prioritized each other’s pleasure. Mine was equally important, and not an afterthought – as it seems it typically is. Nothing is more unattractive than a man who views the bedroom as a race to complete a task for himself. It’s objectifying, boring, and frankly, sad.

“if you aren’t satisfied, either say something, or leave him.”

If you don’t want to take my word for it. Listen to the research:

  • in a study of 293 married individuals, it was found that disclosing sexual information was positively linked to relationship satisfaction and closeness
  • another found that open sexual communication was a predictor of not only sexual satisfaction, but overall relationship satisfaction

We grow up with this weird myth that communicating about sex is inappropriate, and “un-ladylike.” Think about all the movies and TV shows you’ve seen where it just comes naturally to everyone, and both parties are completely fulfilled. No discussion, just background music and a couple grunts and moans. A Psychology Today article posits that the three biggest myths are: “great sex comes naturally; your partner should know intuitively what you want and like; and good sex must be spontaneous.” I love the analogy that they give following this list as well:

“In reality, more often than not, great sex, much like a great meal, does not just happen—it needs to be carried out with skill, thoughtfulness, and the right mix of selfish abandon and mutual attentiveness. People’s tastes, preferences and values with regard to sex—as with food—differ greatly. You’re better off knowing something about your partner’s tastes before you start cooking.”

Psychology Today

In reality, no one knows what they’re really doing. And all bodies are different. Communication is essential. And ladies – we work just as hard, if not harder than men, we deserve to be just as satisfied.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Ask what someone is and isn’t into before you engage in intercourse.
  2. When something hurts, SAY SOMETHING.
  3. It’s okay to do some research. Find positions that are comfortable, or techniques you want to try. (boys, I think it’s about time you go look at a diagram of the vagina)
  4. Do a recap when you’re finished. Talk about what worked and what didn’t. Give high-fives where needed.
  5. It’s okay to need a little help. Use some of your sex tech!
  6. Make it fun and flirty, or draw up a PowerPoint – whatever floats your boat.
  7. It’s okay to ask about the last time someone was tested, or if they have any Sexually Transmitted Infections. 1 in 8 people in the U.S. have herpes.
  8. If someone does have an STD or STI, learn about the risks and what you can do to protect yourself.
  9. As always, be vocal about using protection if you need to be.

I would have loved to have a number 10 to make it even, but in 2019 I’m working on letting go of a portion of my perfectionism.

Now, I love Carrie, but I’m going to leave you with a quote from Miranda to send this post home. When in doubt,

“What’s the big mystery? It’s my clitoris, not the sphinx.”

Body Talk

Aren’t shoulders just so sexually suggestive? I mean, I love a good shoulder – they really get me going.

When in the history of ever has anyone said the above? The answer is probably once or twice – to each their own. But the pinnacle of sexual appeal is definitely not shoulders.

So, answer me this: Why, in fourth grade, did the principal take me out of class to tell me that my tank top was “inappropriate?” Mind you, I was also wearing a cardigan over said tank top.

My TEN-year-old mind had far too many questions. But mostly, I was ashamed. Being the nerdy, little goody-two-shoes that I was – I had never gotten in trouble. The principal and I were pals. And for that reason, I also did not question her assertion.

I wasn’t sent home, but I could almost argue that for my self-esteem at that age – that was worse. I sat through class the rest of the day paranoid. Tugging at my sweater to make sure I didn’t have a shoulder slip out. Normally the first person to raise my hand, I held back because I didn’t want to risk jostling my clothing out of place. Really, at that point, I wanted to go home.

The media has been chalk full of stories like this in the past couple of years and the cultural consciousness has seemed to progress to understand that such shaming of young girls is wrong. But we haven’t yet evolved past the over-sexualization of women’s bodies in general.

My wonderful personal trainer shared on her social media the other day that members of her family had repeatedly confronted her regarding what she posts on her social platforms. They were concerned that she was showing too much of her body. Initially I was furious. First, she is studying within the realm health and human kinetics, and she works as a personal trainer. Secondly, her athletic prowess and her strength is a testament to that success. She should be afforded the space to be proud of her body.

When I came in for a training appointment, she told me more about it. Now to my surprise, her family was specifically calling out old pictures from parties early in college. She was frustrated at this, saying that she had been a “stupid little sorority girl.” That broke my heart even more. Outside of the slut shaming, the age old double standard surfaced. The shaming by her family is point blank wrong. In fact, they themselves are objectifying and sexualizing her by making such comments.

But, what broke my heart was that she reduced herself to a very harmful stereotype – a “stupid little sorority girl,” to agree that those photos were inappropriate. I hate that that message has been internalized by so many women – including myself at times. But I argue that that is not the case.

Would we make the same judgements about a photo of young men laughing and holding red solo cups? Yes, we might make some. But we wouldn’t (A) sexualize them and (B) demean their intelligence.

Here lies the problem. When we sexualize women, we’ve also as a society connected that to their intelligence. We say things like “they brought this upon themselves,” for any negative attention that they receive, as well as, unfortunately, things like sexual harassment and assault. The problem isn’t what they’re wearing. We make the problem their intelligence. They should know better. They should have gotten the memo that their body is inherently sexually pejorative back in fourth grade when their principal told them so. (Insert eye roll here) Further, and I can admit my own bias here, on social media we assume that those who post often, and mainly of themselves or their bodies, are self-centered and attention-seeking. Things that are also often stereotypically tied to low intelligence.

This is how I feel about slut shaming.

This sort of shaming and policing behavior in society serves to reinforce traditional gender norms. In my senior honor’s thesis in college, I discuss gender performance in women’s Greek-lettered organizations, and how those organizations often also serve to reinforce traditional views of femininity and “correct” gender performance. Sadly, something that I saw play out with a member of my own organization. A woman who was intelligent, comfortable in and proud of her body, who owned her sexuality was rejected as “inappropriate” and “bad for” the organization.  Point blank, she was slut-shamed, and I struggle with the fact that many cannot see that they policed her gender performance. She’s badass, and it’s their loss.

Continually sexualizing women’s bodies is malicious, and only serves to further bolster the geography of fear that many women experience and maintain current power structures we have in place. But, we also cannot shame those women who do embrace their sexuality. There are infinite expressions of womanhood. No one expression is wrong, and no one expression warrants violence or discrimination. But, women should be given the freedom to determine what that expression is.

If you’re interested in reading about the effects of Slut Shaming, click here!

Slut Shaming

Aren’t shoulders just so sexually suggestive? I mean, I love a good shoulder – they really get me going.

When in the history of ever has anyone said the above? The answer is probably once or twice – to each their own. But the pinnacle of sexual appeal is definitely not shoulders.

So, answer me this: Why, in fourth grade, did the principal take me out of class to tell me that my tank top was “inappropriate?” Mind you, I was also wearing a cardigan over said tank top.

My TEN-year-old mind had far too many questions. But mostly, I was ashamed. Being the nerdy, little goody-two-shoes that I was – I had never gotten in trouble. The principal and I were pals. And for that reason, I also did not question her assertion.

I wasn’t sent home, but I could almost argue that for my self-esteem at that age – that was worse. I sat through class the rest of the day paranoid. Tugging at my sweater to make sure I didn’t have a shoulder slip out. Normally the first person to raise my hand, I held back because I didn’t want to risk jostling my clothing out of place. Really, at that point, I wanted to go home.

The media has been chalk full of stories like this in the past couple of years and the cultural consciousness seems to have progressed to understand that this shaming of young girls is wrong. Yet, we haven’t evolved past the over-sexualization of women’s bodies in general.

Shame on You

My wonderful personal trainer shared on her social media the other day that members of her family had repeatedly confronted her regarding what she posts on her social platforms. They were concerned that she was showing too much of her body. Initially I was furious. First, she is studying within the realm health and human kinetics, and she works as a personal trainer. Secondly, her athletic prowess and her strength is a testament to that success. She should be afforded the space to be proud of her body.

When I came in for a training appointment, she told me more about it. Now to my surprise, her family specifically called out old pictures from parties early in college. Frustrated at this, she said that she was just a, “stupid little sorority girl.” That broke my heart even more. Outside of the slut shaming, the age old double standard surfaced. The shaming by her family is point blank wrong. In fact, they themselves are objectifying and sexualizing her by making such comments.

example of slut shaming image of girl lifting skirt. her thigh is marked at different points to connote that her skirt length makes her: flirty, cheeky, provocative, asking for it, slut, whore.

But, what broke my heart was that she reduced herself to a very harmful stereotype – a “stupid little sorority girl,” to agree that those photos were inappropriate. I hate that that message has been internalized by so many women – including myself at times. But I argue that that is not the case.

Would we make the same judgements about a photo of young men laughing and holding red solo cups? Yes, we might make some. But we wouldn’t (A) sexualize them and (B) demean their intelligence.

Why do we do this?

Here lies the problem. As a society, when we sexualize women, we’ve also connected that to their intelligence. We say things like, “they brought this upon themselves,” for any negative attention that a woman receives, as well as, unfortunately, things like sexual harassment and assault. The problem isn’t what they’re wearing. We make the problem their intelligence. They should know better. They should have gotten the memo that their body is inherently sexually pejorative back in fourth grade when their principal told them so. (Insert eye roll here)

Further, and I can admit my own bias here. On social media we assume that those who post often, and mainly of themselves or their bodies, are self-centered and attention-seeking. Things that are also often stereotypically tied to low intelligence. And this is wrong.

Image of Diana Muzina as a kid in a halloween costume giving a condescending look.
This is how I feel about slut shaming.

This sort of shaming and policing behavior in society reinforces traditional gender norms. In my senior honor’s thesis in college, I discuss gender performance in women’s Greek-lettered organizations, and how those organizations often also serve to reinforce traditional views of femininity and “correct” gender performance. Sadly, something that I watched play out with a member of my own organization. A woman who is intelligent, comfortable in and proud of her body, who owned her sexuality was rejected as, “inappropriate” and, “bad for” the organization.  Point blank, she was slut-shamed. I struggle with the fact that many cannot see that they policed her gender performance. She’s badass, and it’s their loss.

Continually sexualizing women’s bodies is malicious, and only serves to further bolster the geography of fear that many women experience. It also maintains current power structures we have in place. But, on a slightly different note, we cannot shame those women who do embrace their sexuality. There are infinite expressions of womanhood. No one expression is wrong, and no one expression warrants violence or discrimination. But, women should be given the freedom to determine what that expression is.

If you’re interested in reading about the effects of Slut Shaming, click here!

Shame About Having a Body

1. Isolation

Slut shaming has been identified as a “reputational threat,” or social identity threat.  This means that it directly threatens someone’s character and reputation. Extremely isolating, this shame about having a body often separates people from those around them. And isolation is hypothesized as one of the largest contributors to the high rates of self-harming behavior observed in those who have been slut shamed. This can also lead to depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. There are far too many reports of young women who took their own lives after being slut-shamed (particularly online).

2. Increased Cortisol Levels

Studies about shame have shown that experiencing feelings of low social status lowers an individual’s self-worth and increases cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone. Usually after a perceived threat is over, cortisol levels return to normal. But when they don’t, your health can suffer negative consequences. This includes, but is not limited to: depression, anxiety, digestive issues, headaches, sleep disturbances, weight gain, memory impairment, and heart disease.

3. Sexism & Rape Culture

Slut shaming can be nuanced, and subtle. As one HuffPost article puts it: “slut-shaming can come in the form of telling girls that they have no self respect if they wear short skirts or low shirts. It can be calling a girl attention-seeking or pathetic for having had several boyfriends, or actively seeking one out. It can be calling a girl desperate or overly-aggressive for “making the first move.”

As I talked about in my post, Slut Shaming, this phenomenon is a double standard. Many behaviors that women are shamed for, warrant applause for men. (Though men can be slut shamed too!) There can be very real consequences for women. Many of us self-police our behavior and our social media posts because we have increasingly received the message that certain imagery is considered inappropriate and unprofessional. Dominant social norms and this pervasive sexism could potentially lead to a woman being fired, or not hired, for how she presents herself on social media.

The tie to rape culture should be apparent. Rape culture is blaming the victim of a sexual assault for what happened to them, rather than blaming the perpetrator. Often this is framed to say that the victim did something to provoke the attack. I couldn’t put it better than this HuffPost article:

“Rape culture is when the victims are blamed for “asking for it” by wearing the wrong clothes, being out at night, walking alone, being flirtatious or pretty, or any number of other things. Slut-shaming contributes to the idea that girls who are more flirty or provocative deserve less respect than girls who aren’t, and that leads to the idea that something they did lead to them being raped.”

Sabrina Nelson, High School Journalist <—- you go girl

So what now?

As something that has such real consequences, it amazes me that more is not being done to combat slut shaming. As a woman, I am conscious every day of what I’m wearing, how I do my makeup, where I am walking (especially at night), where I am driving, and who is looking at me. I have been trained to be afraid.

I experience the geography of fear day-in and day-out, as do many women. And often feel anxiety regarding potential professional and personal consequences I could encounter based on what I post on social media. I struggle with shame about having a body, and for embracing my sexuality. And I experience anger that any of this has to happen to anyone.

A study conducted by Ditch The Label found that 52% of misogynistic tweets over a four year period were penned by other women. And more often than not, slut shaming happens between women. There needs to be a tremendous amount of change in how we teach young boys about masculinity. But, I also think that we as women have a huge responsibility.

The next time you see another woman on social media and start to judge her based on what she posts, stop yourself. Maybe count in a week, or a day, how many times you do that. And maybe instead, throw her a like or a comment. We need to support each other if we are going to combat such toxic, entrenched behavior.

The Effects of Slut Shaming

1 – Isolation

Slut shaming has been identified as a “reputational threat,” or social identity threat, meaning that it directly threatens someone’s character and reputation. This is isolating, and often can separate the person being shamed from those around them. This has been hypothesized as one of the largest contributors to the high rates of self-harming behavior observed in those who have experienced being slut shamed. This isolation can also lead to depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. There are way too many reports of young women who took their own lives after being slut-shamed – particularly online.

2 – Increased Cortisol Levels

Studies about shame have shown that experiencing feelings of low social status lowered an individual’s self-worth as well as increased cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone. Usually after a perceived threat is over, cortisol levels return to normal. But when they don’t, your health can suffer negative consequences, including, but not limited to: depression, anxiety, digestive issues, headaches, sleep disturbances, weight gain, memory impairment, and heart disease.

3 – Sexism & Rape Culture

Slut shaming can be nuanced, and subtle. As one HuffPost article puts it: “slut-shaming can come in the form of telling girls that they have no self respect if they wear short skirts or low shirts. It can be calling a girl attention-seeking or pathetic for having had several boyfriends, or actively seeking one out. It can be calling a girl desperate or overly-aggressive for “making the first move.”

As I talked about in my post, Body Talk, slut shaming is also a double standard. Many behaviors that women are shamed for, are often applauded in men. (Though men can be slut shamed too!) Because of this – there are very real consequences for women. Many of us begin to self-police our behavior and our social media posts because we have increasingly been given the message that certain imagery is considered inappropriate and unprofessional. Therefore the dominant social norms and pervasive sexism could potential lead to a woman being fired, or not hired, for how she presents herself on social media.

The tie to rape culture should be apparent. Rape culture is blaming the victim of a sexual assault for what happened to them, rather than blaming the perpetrator. Often this is framed to say that the victim did something to provoke the attack. I couldn’t put it better than this HuffPost article:

“Rape culture is when the victims are blamed for “asking for it” by wearing the wrong clothes, being out at night, walking alone, being flirtatious or pretty, or any number of other things. Slut-shaming contributes to the idea that girls who are more flirty or provocative deserve less respect than girls who aren’t, and that leads to the idea that something they did lead to them being raped.”

Sabrina Nelson, High School Journalist <—- you go girl

Where do we go from here?

As something that has such real consequences, it amazes me that more is not being done to combat slut shaming. I am conscious every day of what I’m wearing, how I do my makeup, where I am walking (especially at night), where I am driving, and who is looking at me – because I have been trained to be afraid. I experience the geography of fear day-in and day-out, as do many women. I experience anxiety regarding potential professional and personal consequences I could experience based on what I post on social media. I experience shame about having a body, and for embracing my sexuality. And I experience anger than any of this has to happen to anyone.

A study conducted by Ditch The Label found that 52% of misogynistic tweets over a four year period were penned by other women. And more often than not, slut shaming happens between women. Now besides the tremendous amount of change that we need to bring about in teaching young boys about masculinity – I think that we as women have a huge responsibility. The next time you see another woman on social media and start to judge her based on what she posts, stop yourself. Maybe count in a week, or a day, how many times you do that. And maybe instead, throw her a like or a comment. We need to support each other if we are going to combat such toxic, entrenched behavior.