By Maria Mellor
When I was an impressionable young teenager, I read an article in a magazine that said if you stand with your toes pointing inward, you would look more demure and therefore boys would find you more attractive. I did exactly that, training myself to nonchalantly turn my legs inwards just in case someone was watching.
As an adult, and as a feminist, I now want to say ‘who cares what boys think?!’ I want to stand Wonder Woman-style, flying my freak flag for all to see.
But, still, there’s that niggling feeling in the back of a my mind: what if I look stupid? What if people find my insecurities and judge me for it? I know it’s not just me thinking this, subconsciously or not. It’s not just boys you have to worry about judging you – it’s society.
Last week the internet went crazy (as it does) about Charlotte Crosby of Geordie Shore fame. She posted a picture on her Instagram of her having a nap with her co-star Stephen Bear that quickly got picked up on and pointed at for being photoshopped as her phone on the sofa looks warped. So many people have laughed at it and commented on it, but what it says to me is that she has an insecurity she is trying to hide.
Photoshopping is a measure Charlotte Crosby has taken, as have many others, in order to form her body into a better version. Much like young pigeon-toed me, she has put herself out for the sake of beauty. I don’t even blame her for it.
When you see something about yourself that you don’t like, you want to hide it. You’ll cut your hair in a certain way, avoid wearing certain clothes, put makeup on your insecurities.
At school, girls like me were self-conscious about our arm hair. Girls aren’t supposed to have hairy arms (or so we thought) and so we shaved that hair off. For a few months even I would take a razor to my forearms to get rid of that dark hair I hated about my Indian heritage. Not only was this only giving in to social pressures and self-hate, it was incredibly uncomfortable having prickly cactus arms that needed constant maintenance.
Similarly with any kind of hair removal there’s pain, discomfort and anxiety when it grows back for god forbid someone notices. We women are subject to a multitude of social pressures that we internalise and add to our own negativity.
If you have ever worn a pair of high heels you’ll know what I’m talking about. It took me until I was 19 to realise that there is no such thing as a pair of comfortable stilettos. Yet countless women parade around in these shows that make asses and legs look better. Some events even demand that women cannot wear flats as part of the dress code. Never mind that they cause blisters, callouses and bunions.
Beauty backfires. Charlotte Crosby gets ridiculed for something she worked at to perfect. Shaved arms rub up against the person you’re sitting next to, causing them to shuffle away. Stilettos make what could have been a great night just that extra bit shorter as you sit down in a corner or go home when it gets too much.
Could we just give these things up? For a start, it would bring ridicule from the opposite end of the spectrum: ‘doesn’t she WANT to look good? Why doesn’t she take care of herself?’ You see these kind of messages plastered all over websites like the Daily Mail which even mocks women for their appearance when leaving the gym as if every female should get dolled up for a simple sweat session.
Even if dress codes allowed it, I doubt swathes of women will be ditching their heels and growing out their leg hair for the sake of comfort. There’s the argument that it makes us feel better about ourselves, and of course it does, but that’s because we have an inbuilt system of comparing ourselves to cultural standards.
There is a phenomenon present in our society called ‘body monitoring’ – the process of checking how you might look from an outsider’s perspective. It might be checking that your posture is okay, or that your hair is smoothed back in the way you like, or again, like young me making sure my feet are slightly angled so that supposedly I looked more modest and approachable.
According to research, women habitually monitor their bodies every 30 seconds on average. This seems a little excessive a number to me, but the point is that it happens. The male gaze is trained to look at the woman and the female gaze is trained to look at herself.
We talk about objectification all the time but I’m not sure a lot of people know what it means. This whole process of body modification is a symptom of societies problems with treating women like a sculpture to be critiqued.
Therefore in order to not be subject to negative criticism, or the criticism we internally monitor ourselves with, we pluck and plump and preen.
Women do so much for the sake of beauty. It makes the feeling of being beautiful that little bit harder to obtain.