Sheeesh… women and their appearance … again

by | Feb 5, 2020

Why do we still care about so much about women and their appearance

From the Super Bowl, to British politics, to Greta Thunberg, women and their appearance continues to make the headlines. Don't we have more important, less sexist matters to focus on?

Parts of the world are literally burning in places.The geo-political landscape is shifting in many regions, causing widespread anxiety and uncertainty. A pandemic threatens world health. The climate is changing. Yet, the preoccupation with women and their appearance seems to be back in the news with an increased vengeance. Or perhaps it never left. It seems no matter what is going on in the world, we can always find time to bitch up a storm. We obsess about what women are wearing, or NOT wearing, the shape their bodies are in, or the visibility of body parts. This can be in sports, politics or the workplace. In the UK it was a shoulder. I mean... seriously?

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Music, Sport and Politics

Last week after the Super Bowl, a furore around women and their appearance erupted on a cocktail of powerful metaphoric steroids. There seemed to be four categories that leapt to the media and airwaves:

 1. Righteous Jeer-Leaders

In one corner we saw the righteous jeer-leaders. They objected to scantily clad women gyrating provocatively, to titillate the male audience with full on crotch shots. To be fair this seemed to be an equal opportunity group formed of both men and women, clutching their pearls and hitting their keyboards in equal measure. This group claimed they had moved rapidly to protect the delicate sensibilities of their kids. Were they the same ones who rushed their fragile offspring to the next room when Adam Levine took off his shirt? Probably not. You get my point.

But who was taking those offensive shots? Do we know the gender of the camera person or that of the Director. I would put money on it that someone in a production gallery somewhere, was shouting "Pan in camera 6 … that's the money shot." If it was Cirque de Soleil no one would bat a false eyelash. Pole acrobatics is over 800 years old, originating from India, and is considered both a sport and an art form. It has only become part of a stripper's workplace accoutrements relatively recently. Cue a David Attenborough, sotto voce, history lesson.

2. Powerful Moms Brigade

In another corner, we find the "Powerful Moms"  brigade, venting in awe of these women. JLo and Shakira strutted their stuff in form-hugging numbers, shimmyed up poles, shook their perfectly coiffed manes AND belted a fine tune. Not only that, those perfect bodies had given birth to two and three kids respectively. Who said life was fair? And to be honest that level of physical fitness and flexibility is impressive at any age, regardless of a woman's childbearing history.

JLo and Shakira

3. Pandering to the Patriarchy

Then, you had the "selling out/reduced empowerment" camp. They suggested that bumping around on stage in figure-hugging, strategically-ventilated lycra was letting down the sisterhood and pandering to the patriarchy. This was apparently highlighted by the fact that the support male acts looked as if they were wearing full body hazmat suits. I mean have you tried wriggling up a pole in a business suit?

4. The Blamer Brigade

This is the "green with envy and feeling inadequate" group. As they watched women of a certain age bend themselves like pretzels, looking drop-dead-gorgeous, with barely a drop of perspiration, their feelings of inadequacy threaten to erupt. They maybe realised they can barely tie their shoes laces without sitting down, while a walk to the water cooler is a cardio workout. They are intimidated by the power of these women; their skills, their beauty, their athleticism, their talent. Even their kids are super cute and can sing. Sheeesh!


In the political arena first there was Greta Thunberg slated for wearing casual clothes, which actually seems highly suitable teen attire.  I mean what outfit is considered de rigeur for the modern climate change protester? Perhaps there is an environmental activist dress code she is possibly contravening. She was even compared to a Nazi because she's blonde and braided her hair. For heavens' sake.

In other news, this week in the UK parliament, a woman MP for Batley and Spen wore an off the shoulder dress. Bafflingly, it caused a "shoulder gate" crisis of national proportion. Asked unexpectedly to the dispatch-box to speak before heading to a social function, Tracy Brabin Labour MP sent social media trolls into an absolute spin. She was called among other things  a "slapper" or "tart" for baring skin. For non-Brits - don't say that to your Mom. Shouldn't we be more worried about political corruption, healthcare and affordable housing, than a glimpse of a woman's collar-bone? Is this the new shocking? As the keyboard warriors burned calories in fury, Ms Brabin auctioned her dress for charity. That's the spirit!

women and their appearance

Appearance and the gender lens

Women and their appearance is viewed differently through a gender lens. Men tend not to see another man's achievements as a benchmark for their failures or feelings of inadequacy, nor their appearance as a measure of success or aspirations. Do they worry that Adam Levine took his shirt off at the Super Bowl? Do they fret that their own six-pack, if they ever had one, is but a distant memory. Were they prompted to hit the tattoo parlour in a fit of body envy? Do they lose sleep over the colour of a politicians tie? If they see a  Brady, Levine or LeBron do they resent their good fortune?

Generally they don't. They see it for what it is. Men doing their jobs well whether in sport, music or politics. If they critique them, they will look at their music skills, political views or their sporting abilities. Or on the dark side, maybe show racist or homophobic tendencies. But appearance?

Women on the other hand regard the achievements of other women, especially those in the public eye, as a way of beating themselves up. Many don't see accomplishment. Instead, they see reminders of the successes they never had or the choices they were forced to make. Forceful, articulate, hip-shaking, and pole-shimmying are seen as reminders of our constant disappointments and regrets. They shine a light on the glasses of wine we shouldn't have had, the pizza eaten, the lack of steamed fish, the night on the sofa instead of the treadmill. They represent the resented choices we had to make between clothes for the kids or a facial, groceries or highlights.

Double standards

The overriding factor in this is that no one gives more than a passing thought to the way men look. We have to stop this obsession over women and their appearance, and the subsequent penalisation of them. It highlights deeply embedded double standards; it's tired, old and needs to stop. The attitude should be "There is nothing to see here. Move along."

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