The first time I remember someone discussing my appearance was in my early childhood. The discussion was centered around my ethnicity, and more specifically around “what I was.” This was not a traumatic experience, but it was confusing as I had not labeled myself in that way and had not actually seen that as a defining aspect of my self. Then I remember, in fifth grade, being teased about what I was wearing. And it escalated from there, both in a positive and negative way. I also participated in this labeling. I saw people who wore a lot of makeup and objectified them as shallow or frivolous. Why? I think it was pretty simple in a way: it made me feel better, more secure, less alone. At least for that moment.
When I think about how women are represented in the media, I feel very much like I did when I was a kid. But as an adult woman, I can think critically and I can choose how to take in these images or stories. I can reflect on why they affect me. I can choose to purchase only certain publications or watch certain shows. I can choose to create stories that I feel reflect my experience as a female more truly. Through my actions I can affect change. And if I am consuming product or media that is in contrast to what I say is important to me, I can seek to discover what compels me to do this and change it.
Women in the public eye are very important in this current system. Many young women and girls are very influenced by those in magazines, videos, movies or on TV. As one of those women, albeit on a much smaller scale than many, I see certain responsibilities. What kind of a world do I want to live in? What do I want to aspire toward? What would the world be like if girls grew up to be powerful, holistic women? How do the roles I choose, the photo shoots I participate in, and the stories I produce affect others? What kind of world am I promoting with these choices?
As for those of you that are in elementary, middle and high school who are being teased or bullied, it is hard to say anything to make it better. All I know are these things: your worth is not determined by your appearance, and your worth is not determined by what others think of you. I know those are easy words to say, and hard to feel. I am still working on this myself. But I am here working on it alongside you.
As Ashley Judd stated in her recent article, we must “leverage strong female-to-female alliances.” Let’s work together to change how we experience ourselves and our femaleness.