Women’s aesthetics weighed unequally
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 07:09
You know the best way to strip away a woman’s intellect? Strip away her clothing. When I read a Scientific American article titled, “Our Brains See Men as Whole and Women as Parts,” I felt it should have been more aptly titled “Our Brains See Men as Whole and Unclothed Women as Parts.” The article references a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology.
When you eliminate the need to confront a woman based on her intellect, and instead serve up her body, you give more value to the body than the woman. What can that body do for me? How can I use it as a tool or a means to an end?
I found it relevant that a Princeton University study, conducted by Susan Fiske, showed that when men were shown images of bikini-clad women, the part of the brain associated with tool use lit up.
Christine Dell’Amore of National Geographic explained that men tend to associate bikini-clad women with first-person action verbs. Fiske gave examples such as “I push, I handle and I grab,” instead of third-person forms such as she pushes, handles and grabs. Men associated fully clothed women, on the other hand, with the third-person forms, indicating these women were perceived as in control of their own actions.”
When I idly stare at the magazines lining the rack at Publix and glance at the array of women offered up from the glossy covers, I rarely think about their hopes and dreams, successes or failures. I automatically look at their airbrushed bodies and how they compare to my own. Then I look at what the ladies are selling, whether it is 10 pounds of weight loss or my “best smile ever.”
In the psychology journal’s study, men were shown pictures of women, and then close-ups of certain body parts. They were able to recognize a woman better based on body parts alone. The study assumes that the now-accepted state of a woman is one in which she wears clothing (or doesn’t) that reveals her figure, as the image accompanying an article about the study implies. The study blames the media for inculcating this standard. The media are made up of women, too. We’re applying a body standard to ourselves, in lieu of an intellectual one.
Out of curiosity, I Googled, “value of a woman in how she looks” and found a hit on the first page called, “Dating Market Value Test for Women.” Some of the questions pertain to the shape of one’s derriere, age (you get less points the older you are), breast cup size and how important makeup is to your life. There’s one for men, too, but it had to do with boring stuff, such as occupation and how much money one earns.
I find it intriguing when I am asked why Muslim women cover up, as if to cover up the body is to cover up the woman altogether. It is as if we have been conditioned into believing a woman is no more than the worth of her body and to cover her up is to erase her from societal relevance.
Even though I embrace the ideology of hijab, I’m not immune to wanting to look cute, as is expected in my society from women, and the symptoms of waking up and “not feeling pretty.” I’ve heard this statement from my own mouth and the mouths of other women. I’ve never heard a woman complain to another, nor have I myself complained from the bottom of my heart that “I don’t feel smart today.” On some level, I put more direct value into how good I look than what I’m contributing to society.
On a college campus as large as UCF’s, I find it astonishing to occasionally see women tottering around in 6-inch heels, their faces looking as tortured as their feet. They’re virtually shackling themselves to appeal to an expectation that a good-looking woman wears heels. Then again, every morning for me begins with which hijab I want to wear, and “Should I line my top lash line with kohl, or not?”
I’m not a scholar who can pinpoint exactly when we started putting a woman’s body and looks on a pedestal, but I know I am not immune to it. As much as the media drive this point home, I’m caving in just as readily.