Advice Column, Health, Tween & Teen Advice

Picture Perfect: The Pressure On Girls & Woman To Look Perfect

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I recently saw a movie clip of Dustin Hoffman getting emotional during an interview about the movie “Tootsie”, in which he had to dress up and act like a woman. He said he thought that the character he played was an interesting woman – one that he (as a man) would’ve enjoyed meeting. However, because she was unattractive (in the eyes of society), in all honesty he probably wouldn’t have looked twice at her. He said that he felt terrible when he thought of all the potentially fascinating, interesting women out there who could’ve enriched his life if he’d only been able to look past their physical appearance.

This got me thinking: Why do we place so much value on looks, especially when it comes to girls and women? Yes, we do with boys and men too, but they seem to have a bit more leeway – “He’s not great looking BUT he has such a lovely sense of humour!” or “He may not be gorgeous, BUT he’s really intelligent and hard working.” I don’t believe it’s only men who judge women by their appearance either – we’re even more critical of ourselves and of each other! I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been with a group of women and one has exclaimed: “Wow, what a gorgeous woman!” and someone else has said: “Yes, but… look at her shoes OR those boobs are definitely not real OR I really don’t like those pants!…” Why this need to tear each other down? It’s almost an inherent insecurity we’ve bought into because few of us fit into that image of perfection society tells us we should live up to.

In a Forbes magazine article entitled: “Why most women will never become CEO”, the male writer says: “Guys are still checking out the girls in the office.  I see their body language noticeably change whenever a pretty female employee enters the room. Words, thoughts and important points are missed because of a new perfume or a low cut blouse. It works the other way too.  The less attractive female employees are also frequently ignored…for the opposite reason.  Men are still trying to take women seriously in the workplace. But most haven’t progressed beyond the maturity level of my teenage son and his friends. But that’s just the beginning.  Women also have more personal and social pressures than men.  And this affects their ability to further their careers and get the experience they need to become good managers.”

The media fixation on gorgeous female fashion models, actresses, singers and other celebrities doesn’t help matters. We compare ourselves to them and usually fall short. Even if we’re told we’re attractive, we find it hard to believe because we aren’t as skinny, successful, or as perfect as them. We do this despite the fact that some of these celebrities are hopeless role models, shallow and narcissistic, often displaying inane and pathetic behaviour. It starts when we’re little girls – the pretty ones get most of the attention, and continues through our painful teenage years when so many young girls develop eating disorders, start cutting, or begin other unhealthy habits trying so desperately to be accepted and fit into society’s norm.

Statistics from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery from 2012 corroborate this desperate need by women to be perceived as attractive: 90% of all cosmetic procedures were performed on women. Of those, the most common surgical cosmetic procedure was breast augmentation (330 631 procedures) and the most common non-surgical procedure was botox injections (3 257 913 procedures).

I think it’s all totally ridiculous and the buck stops with US – with women! We aren’t going to be taken seriously by men until we show them that WE value each other’s strength, intelligence, kindness, nurturing spirit and emotional expression more than we value a perfect size 8 with C cup boobs and a cellulite-free bod! Let’s celebrate our uniqueness and individuality rather than buying into this ridiculous “Stepford Wives” ideal.

We should be looking up to women who have made or are making a difference in this world – like the late Audrey Hepburn (who worked tirelessly for UNICEF), Oprah Winfrey (not just because of her enormous success but because of what she had to overcome to achieve it), Rosa Parks (who exemplified courage), Marie Curie (Nobel Prize winner), Katharine Hepburn, Eleanor Roosevelt and how about our very own icons like Helen Zille and Redi Thlabi. These are beautiful women not just because of their physical appearance but because of what they have inside and what they stand for – women with the confidence to be themselves – women with gumption!

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