Female empowerment, more than skin deep

(Graphic by Autumn Mariano)
(Graphic by Autumn Mariano)

In January, BuzzFeed released the video “Women’s Ideal Body Types Throughout History.” The current “postmodern” beauty standard was described as a woman who is “healthy” skinny with large breasts, large buttocks, a flat stomach and a thigh gap. This video is educational and interesting throughout, but it does not leave the viewer with a positive message. It simply leaves them realizing, once again, that they don’t live up to the postmodern standard of beauty.

The media seems to be trying harder than ever before to promote positive body image and showcase diverse bodies and types of beauty. Ad campaigns like the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty and Aerie Real use unretouched models of all shapes, sizes and races in their advertisements. Photographer Mihaela Noroc’s “21 Portraits of Beauty around the World” was featured in the February issue of ELLE Magazine, displaying gorgeous, glossy photos of women from Myanmar to London.

These projects are unarguably positive, however, they all revolve around physical appearance and are presented through mediums and products specifically aimed at females. By restricting these empowering messages to mediums deemed female by society, the creators are preventing a huge percent of the population from ever viewing them.

I’m not simply talking about men, because there are plenty of men who might use Dove products or read ELLE, I’m talking about any person of any gender who does not care about beauty products, bathing suits, lingerie or fashion. Although the photo spread in ELLE is not actually about fashion, because it’s in a “female” fashion magazine, millions of people will never look at it.

Contemporary female musicians are also creating content to empower women. Artists like Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and Meghan Trainor all have songs about accepting yourself and being proud of the body you have. Beyonce’s song “Flawless” conveys the message that women should feel confident and powerful not only in their beauty, but in their education and careers as well. It even includes snippets from a TEDx Talk called “We should all be feminists” by writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

While Minaj and Trainor’s popular songs “Anaconda” and “All About that Bass” both include positive messages about body image, they each have significant faults. Trainor’s song is catchy and empowering, until she says “don’t worry about your size” because men find curves sexually attractive. Minaj’s song is the same; it’s all about her curvaceous body being desirable for men. This isn’t empowering, it’s just reducing women to objects in the same way that contemporary music has done for years.

Each song also has a line, or several lines, where they insult thin women, which is something that doesn’t happen often in our society. Women who are not thin are normally the brunt of insults and jokes, but this doesn’t give them the excuse to criticize another body type. To truly become empowered, women need to stop tearing each other down, and the criticism of physical appearance needs to stop altogether.

Our media needs to shift focus when it comes to messages of empowerment. Women are not only insecure about their appearances, but about academics, careers, social situations, sexuality, relationships and even their own safety.

Instead of repeatedly focusing on beauty and body image, we deserve to see more images of women crushing gender stereotypes by taking control of their lives and creating their own successes without fear. Female empowerment is about strength, equality and confidence. It is not, and should never be, about the way a woman looks.