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As a young woman, I have come across many instances where my image has produced feelings of shame, embarrassment, and a lack of self-confidence. This internal dilemma is often brought upon by cultural factors and the way society has set expectations for how a “woman” should look. This idea of a woman’s image often includes being tall, having a light complexion, a small waist while also having large breasts and a large bottom. Often times, we find ourselves making changes to our body starting from the way we dress to a much more dramatic change like cosmetic surgery. It’s important to note that I am in no way trying to shame people who make these changes to their body. Instead, I am trying to get to the bottom of what produces this longing to change ourselves even if it’s at the cost of our happiness. One question to ask yourself is, “What do you to your body or overall image to attain a sense of cultural power to fit in to societal expectations?” The idea that has long been embedded into our heads is that we need to fit in with the rest and anything other than what’s expected, produces an “othering effect.” I’ve also explored the role of media in the way women are portrayed and go all the way back to how the creation of the English language has paved this path for most women. I’d also like to discuss how our language relates to the theory exnomination.
The “othering effect” is very important to mention here. Not only do women have to go through a conflicting process of finding out who they are but we also experience ridicule and shame for not conforming to societal expectations. As a woman who has tried many times in the past to be who I am without that pressure society tries to impose on us, I was often judged and still am to this day. This extends to a much broader spectrum, in that society not only has ideas about how women should look, but also the way we behave and what our beliefs should be. A personal example for me is that I am the kind of person that likes to stay in on Friday nights watching movies, doing homework, cleaning, and just enjoying solitude. Often times, I get labeled as weird even by my family and close friends because I don’t go out like “normal” people my age do. In the past, I gave in many times. I tried the whole “going out” gig and it just wasn’t for me. It wasn’t that I didn’t have fun. I just preferred staying in instead. This was so difficult for people to understand and I realized that this perfectly represents how strong and inflexible societal expectations can be because of how embedded they are into our mentalities.
Another important thing to consider is where or when a “woman’s” role was decided in the first place. Many people like to point fingers at media which is a good way to start however it dates back to much further than that. I’d like you to consider the English language and how the terminology used reflects “women’s” role in society. Taking a look at documents like the US Constitution, you see nothing but the word “men.” For example, “all men are created equal.” In documents like such and even ones created at an earlier time don’t even mention women. This dates back to how the English language was created and how sexism is embedded into it in that it enhances the position of male identified individuals in our society by giving them complete cultural power. Having this kind of power has allowed males to construct society’s norms which also gives them the ability to change them without question. The fact that the English language was created based off a patriarchal society also affects the gender roles we have in place. In our society, a “woman” is expected to take up little space whereas a “man” is expected to do the opposite. This idea is reflected from the way we sit to even what we do for a living. It’s important to note that these gender roles gravely affect the ideas society has on “women” and because of this we are always expected to follow through with it’s expectations.
I’d like to mention the theory exnomination here. In simple terms, this is the idea that what society considers as the “norm,” often goes unnamed because it is already implied. This idea is very subtle in that it’s embedded in to our everyday lives down to the way we speak. One way to explain this is for example, the phrase, “I am going the basketball game.” If someone tells you this in a conversation you automatically assume that it is a male basketball game and there is no need to say that you are going to a “men’s” basketball game. On the other hand, if you were going to a women’s basketball game you would feel the need to include the word “women” to clarify that is not a “normal” or typical game. The word “women” here, is referred to as a qualifier which implies that what you are talking about is not the “norm.” As you can see this directly affects our everyday lives in the most subtle manner.
We have seen throughout history that it is very difficult to break these cultural norms because they date back to way before our grandparents were even born. However, it is important to realize that history has also showed us we can indeed break free of societal expectations. The way women are portrayed now is not where I would like us to be as a society, but we have made vast improvement in the last couple of years. I believe that if we start in one area like body image, we can work our way up and eventually reconstruct the way female identified individuals have been portrayed.