Ashley Judd recently wrote a piece for The Daily Beast addressing speculation over why her face has appeared puffy.
(Take a second and reread that sentence. An actress appears PUFFY and it was such a major news event that the actress herself had to address it. Her face did not fall off. She did not appear with black eyes. She was PUFFY.)
Ashley addresses the puffiness in a round about way but the main point of the article is that the rampant speculation regarding her appearance (“She’s had work!”) is the result of a sexist society that objectifies women and girls.
She gets right to the point in the first sentence. “The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us.” As a former women’s studies major, it was all I could do not to stand up in the middle of my living room and shout “AMEN!”
Her feminist critique of the media’s treatment of her goes on to outline the double bind women face as they age. If you look too good, you’ve had “work” done. If you look awful, you’ve had “work” done ... just not good work. She also addresses the fact that a lot of this criticism came from women.
That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.
It is hard for me to put into words how right I think she is on that point. Listen, I am an avowed Oprah fanatic. I believe in self and the power of self-awareness and self-actualization. However, I think the downside of that mindset is sometimes we can’t see the forrest from the trees.
Sometimes how you feel about the way you look isn’t about your self-esteem. It isn’t even about you. It is about a larger societal problem. It is about patriarchy and it’s treatment of women. It’s about huge industries that stand to make billions of dollars off women and men thinking they need products to make themselves look and feel better.
And it sucks.
As a mother, it sucks even more. How can I possibly stand as David against the Goliath of media my children will consume over their lifetimes? How can I teach my boys that women are not objects when they will see hundreds of thousands of images before they even graduate high school that send the opposite message?
First, I continue to educate (and remind) myself that I am a consumer of media and what all that entails. If any of you are interested in learning further about the objectification of women and girls in the media, I HIGHLY recommend the documentary Miss Representation. It is an excellent documentary that addresses this problem and how it affects young women.
Next, I do my best to be a conscientious media consumer. I won’t lie and say I never watch media that objectifies women but I try my best to chose media that uplifts instead of degrades.
Last, I tap my village. As the mother of boys, I look at men who don’t objectify, men who respect women, men who are critical of the media and I try to figure out what their mothers did right. If I can, I straight up ASK their mothers. Often, the advice I get is the same. Talk. Talk.Talk. Talk to your boys about anything and everything, including what they see in the media.
It’s not a cure but it’s a start.