A new standard of beauty is upon us. Gone are Ruben’s voluptuous women, gone are the fit athletes and soft figures of Grecian statues, in their place stands a new idol. A brand-new golden calf to worship. And people are bowing.
Eyes three times their regular size look up at you from down their noses. Parted lips with the latest color expose neon white teeth. Pointy chins perched on long, slim necks curve down to collarbones with pools of shadow, sliding down to cleavage that tantalizes and taunts.
I know it’s only paper. Slick, glossy, magazine paper. Those people are not real. I know that. But the women in those photos are judging us. Staring at us with eyes unnatural colors, lashes longer than my lifespan, they whisper words from cupid’s bows under an arrow-straight nose, whispering that we’re not good enough. That we’ll never be good enough. Not even the girls in the magazines look like the girls in the magazines.
Except with this new age cream…
The magazines that inhabit lobbies spawn into racks and racks of polished paper just waiting to be turned. Pages crease and wrinkle the way the models in the article never will. Aging secretaries who can no longer be beautiful (they have passed their age limit and expired,) sit behind wooden booths while young girls pick up the booklet and devour reams and reams of lies. They will grow up, soon. Far too quickly. They’ll find that there is no place in drill team for any girl under a 36 B. That boys are to be boyfriends, not befriended. Soon they will be the women behind the desks. And heaven help them when they are.
Floppy wrists with brittle bones hold soft-grip pens, and briefcases with very little in them. Fingers and heels click-click-tap on keyboards and floors, drumming and humming the doldrums’ song of motherhood, of employment, of womanhood. Brains filled with fluff fill desk jobs nicely. Cedar and mahogany are not for us. We belong behind the yellowing plastics of a phone receiver, the yellow legal pads only grace our manicured hands until we pass it on to the men. Men are determined, articulate, and disciplined. Women in the same position are nagging, bossy, and frazzled. The double standard is breathtaking in it’s ability to overlook individual ability.
First stumbling onto school buses with lunchboxes, now lifting heavy purses burdened with cosmetics, ankles roll as mothers and CEO’s stumble forward through a sludge of misogyny and judgment.
But harsh words are plucked from the roofs of mouths and folded neatly into linen cupboards in the back of the brain. After all, the world needs more women who adhere to good, solid values. So the condescension and the double standards continue. As a feeling of worthlessness drips into the ears and curls around the brain, a despicable emptiness is smoothed into the crevices between their legs, the creases in their eyelids, and stuffed underneath their tongues.
I sometimes wonder if there’s another woman in there, smashing herself against the pearly bricks gripped tightly behind red lips stretched thin.
Tattooed into the backs of our eyelids are skinny, emaciated ribs and collarbones with sultry lips and no pores. We sleep, in our T-shirts and underwear which are inferior because they are not Victoria’s Secret. When we wake we are bombarded with images on every side. Open up any magazine but the National Geographic, and you’ll see perfect faces with heads thrown back, hair blowing in the power of the air brush. It’s not real. Not true. But it is everywhere, and quantity is so often mistaken for quality.
I hesitate to associate myself with feminism. It has such a negative stigma. It seems to be all about dismantling the patriarchy, or dissolving misogyny. That’s all very well and good. I think my battles will have less to do with storming D.C., and more about tackling the skepticism I meet everywhere when I tell people I want to become a 3D animator. More about not having to endure the gossip that ensues from have a friend-who-is-a-boy, where the basketball team high-fives each other over their sexual conquests. Beyond that, I want to win the battle with the monster that is self-depreciation.
I stare at my face in the mirror, soft, white-knuckled hands dented by the cold porcelain as I glare into my own mud-brown, unremarkable eyes. I can see the lines in my skin, defining my lips, nose, and mouth, and call myself ugly. I can see more than the blackheads on my nose. It goes deeper than those holes filled with dirt. I am not clean. My skin is crawling with imperfection.
I sometime look at the curved slope of my hips under the sheets, and think myself fat. The very same curves that I was so excited about when I was twelve are now the physical reminders of my deficiency. Wrestling with my image is a struggle I am used to. The familiar weight of anxiety and undesirability help made me what I am today.
And I resent it.
My baby sister, the light of my life ever since I can remember her little golden halo-hair bobbing after me on our latest adventure, tells me that her friends skip dinner before a singing performance because, “this dress shows every bump.” Bumps? Bumps? The curves and breasts we grew into together, giggling about, are reduced to things that need to be slimmer. More toned. Less human.
If I want anything out of the struggle for gender equality, it’s that my sister won’t have to deal with it. No more movies with females supporting the males, nearly topless. No depressing department stores with florescent lights and jeans with too-small pockets, asking if you ‘want a betta butt.’ I want a better world.
Victoria’s Secret is useless. I need real information about how to recognize my self-worth under layers and layers of mis-represented women on billboards and in video games. To navigate this treacherous, media-saturated world I need real women to guide me through. I am so grateful for the women in my life. During and indefatigable barrage of ‘not good enoughs’ and ‘could be better ifs’, I have wonderful ladies in my corner. This battle will never be over. But I am beginning to win.