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'Shrinking Women'

Sometimes I feel smaller than you'd think.

This particular video really spoke to me on multiple levels. In order to fully unpack the meaning of this video, and to not do a disservice to the woman who wrote it, I feel the need to discuss it with respect to both the literal and figurative meanings behind this video and connect it to my experiences.

For starters, the literal meaning of the Shrinking Women video would be the fact that society forces women to be less. Women are continually photo-shopped on the cover of magazines to hide any imperfections, especially related to weight. We are considered to be “plus-size” if our dress sizes are in the double digits, yet the national average is considered to be a size 16. I have personally struggled for years with my weight and body image. I have forced myself to diet and exercise because I feel fat. I would never look at another person, whether they were objectively larger than me or not, and view them as fat, but whenever I looked at myself, I would just see something gross or hideous. I have constantly compared myself to the various celebrities and models that were praised by the media and I never measured up. It was not until this year that I finally saw that as problematic. It caused me to take a hard look at myself and discover when I had started to view myself as fat and why. As I looked back, I remembered the time that I was at a neighborhood water fight in a bathing suit back in middle school where a child told me I was fat. Then, I looked at the various times in gym class where my BMI was in the “overweight” category. I was never considered “obese,” but I was never in the “healthy” range either. I looked at the times that I couldn’t fit into the clothes that I thought were pretty because I was too big. It caused me to change my personal style to fit what my body could fit, because they rarely make pretty clothes for people who are above the nation’s ideal body. These are not things that any child, any adolescent with fragile self-esteem, or any adult trying to figure out their lives should have to do. The times that I have been told I was fat are few and far between when compared to the times that I have been told that I was pretty, but they have always stuck, because they were punctuated with society’s idealistic views of what I should look like. However, everyone is built differently, and some people can never match up to what society wants them to be. This idea, which is discussed literally in the video is something that has to change for the mental health of our children, to make it so that no girl grows up hating herself. These ideas are passed from generation to generation even though the idea of beauty is constantly evolving.

The ideal body for women has changed drastically over time. The idea that a woman should have to bow herself down to the current version of perfection is ludicrous. If I had lived centuries ago, I would have been considered to be beautiful, but now, even though statistically I am almost the average weight—or even a little bit under the national average—I am considered to not be pretty. Or, if a woman is not exactly the picture of beauty, her features are picked apart. Thus, I may be fat, but at least I have a nice face. I should not need a qualifier in order for me to be considered pretty. Different magazines name men the “sexiest man of the year” and that is a “positive” title, but women are constantly shamed: smut magazines run stories about women in show business who have gained weight; female celebrities are used as spokespeople for weight loss systems; if someone does not lose their baby weight within a certain amount of time then they are criticized. Shrinking Women does a beautiful job of showing the literal struggles women face as they are forced to shrink themselves to fit the perfect size society has currently set, but it also speaks volumes about the problems they face figuratively.

Women still face sexism every day. The author of Shrinking Women discusses how she says that she is sorry before she asks a question. This is something that I have done on countless occasions. It is a remnant of the times when women were to be seen and not heard, a time when our opinions did not matter. Women have always had opinions, and even though we have since gained the right to voice them, I still feel the need to apologize for mine. It is almost as if I were apologizing not only for voicing my thoughts, but for also taking up the other person’s time with something as inconsequential as my own ideas. It is this problem that is deeply rooted in the idea that women are the lesser sex, that no matter what they do they will never be as smart, as strong, or as competent as a man. On various occasions, I have felt the need to be modest or hide my grades from my male friends because I did not want to make them feel bad that I had done better than them. Instead of sharing my own successes, I would reassure them of their own brilliance and tell them that they would do better next time. I have no doubt that they would be happy for me, but I did not want them to feel inadequate if they compared themselves to me. Yet, all I ever do is compare myself to others and find myself lacking. It is almost as if society has made women feel guilty for succeeding, because it is as if they were taking that success away from a man. I was the valedictorian of my high school class. It is not lost on me that if I had done a little bit worse, then the male salutatorian would have had my place.

Overall, I was never able to put into words how I felt about myself until viewing this video. To see someone else who felt the same ways I have on various occasions made me realize that I was not alone in feeling like this, and that my experiences are more universal than I thought. I think it is important that society takes a good hard look at the message that it is sending to women. Society should be teaching women to grow and nurture themselves to be the best that they can be, not telling us to limit ourselves so that we will not take the spotlight from men.

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