Running from Self-Objectification
At Beauty Redefined, we know there is a war being waged against females from all sides. We’re not being overly dramatic when we tell you this – it is at the heart of why we do what we do. We know how capable and powerful females are, and we also know many big industries depend on us forgetting that truth and believing our primary value comes from their physical appearance. As that appearance is perfected, females earn the right to be loved, successful, happy, and to love ourselves. Billions of dollars are invested in us believing we are a collection of parts in need of repair, from the tops of our heads to the bottom of our feet and everywhere in between (eyelashes, fingernails, teeth, lips, armpits, breasts, etc.).
When we grow up surrounded by profit-driven media’s “Weigh Less, Smile More!!” and “Perfect Your Parts, Perfect Your Life!!” headlines plastered across the globe, those messages rake in billions and get us nowhere closer to real health and happiness. Instead, these messages become so normal – SO unquestioned – that we believe and act as we’re told. The point here is not to villainize makeup or hair care or any industry, but to understand the ways these ever-present messages ask us to view ourselves. That view: An outsider’s gaze – from the outside looking in on ourselves. It’s called self-objectification and it’s a normal part of most females’ lives whether we know it or not. Years ago, this cool scholar, de Beauvoir, understood this point. She pointed out that as girl grows up, “she is doubled; instead of coinciding exactly with herself, she also exists outside” (1952). Foucalt, another pretty cool scholar, talked about self-objectification as a way we imprison ourselves: “There is no need for arms, physical violence, material constraints. Just a gaze. An inspecting gaze, a gaze which each individual under its weight will end by [internalizing] to the point that [she] is [her] own overseer, each individual thus exercising surveillance over, and against [her]self” (1977).
What research and real-life experience make very clear is that when we can begin to see ourselves for more than our parts and respect our bodies as beautiful gifts that can do amazing things for us and for those around us, we find health, fitness and happiness. But in the meantime, millions of us cannot break through the constant messages telling us to survey ourselves at all times and spend all the time, money, and energy necessary to perfect the parts of us in need of perfection.
Can you even fathom what that is doing to females everywhere? It stunts our progress in every way that really matters - it keeps us from getting awesome grades, reaching for the coolest possible jobs, being active because we respect our bodies, running for political offices, loving each other and loving ourselves. And that’s not just Beauty Redefined’s take on things. Research shows us that when we live “to be looked at” instead of living to LIVE, we are left with fewer mental and physical resources to do what can really bring happiness. We perform worse on math tests, logical reasoning tests, athletic performance, we have lower sexual assertiveness (the ability to say “no” when needed), and we are left so unhappy.*
And the reason Lindsay and I do what we do with Beauty Redefined is because there is so much power in understanding these truths! All hope is not lost! Actually, there is SO MUCH hope to be had. We know the power and potential of females everywhere to break free from lies that constrain us and move on to happiness and light and love and success. We know this as scholars, as activists, and on a very personal level. Have you read our post on this years’ theme: Body Hate Apocalypse 2012: The End of Body Hating as We Know It! The first resolution we highly suggest is there for a reason – I’ve been testing it out and I swear on everything important to me that it works! Resolution #1: Set a true fitness goal: If you’ve held yourself back from running, biking, swimming, etc., because you felt self-conscious about what to wear, how red your face gets from the workout, sweating in public, (the list goes on), it’s time to set a goal and fight to achieve it! Make this goal about your abilities and you’ll be much less inclined to care about what you look like doing it.
Here’s how I know it works:
In the three years since Lindsay and I founded Beauty Redefined when we graduated with our master’s degrees, my body confidence has improved by leaps and bounds, but I recently realized one way I was letting self-objectification hold me back from awesomeness. You see, I’ve never loved running. Before September, the most I’d ever run outside was one mile. Somehow, in October (and again this month) I got talked in to running a half marathon. If you’d have told me a few months ago that I’d run 13.1 MILES outside, I’d have laughed in your face. But when I signed up for that Halloween half marathon with a few amazing friends, I knew I had to begin training. I was terrified – not only is running really hard on both a physical and mental level, but I realized I was possibly more terrified of being looked at while running. I spent the first few weeks of training on a treadmill at my gym, hoping no one was on the stair climber right behind me to stare straight at me. I felt self-conscious that my face got really red from hard workouts. I felt self-conscious that I wasn’t wearing the right outfits for running. (Is spandex a necessity?!?!) I felt self-conscious that the runners next to me were going faster and further and they were thinking I was lame. When I forced myself to step off the treadmill and run outside, my fears only escalated. Now I was stressed about all the people that were watching me run past their cars, and I chose parks that weren’t heavily populated instead of busy roads. But as I trained and built up my endurance, something inside me changed. Instead of picturing myself running, I started just running. I stopped worrying about being a good vision of me and I gave myself all of me. Before, I used to do cardio in an effort to burn fat and fit into those jeans I’ve been keeping in the back of my closet. Now, I do cardio to build up my endurance, get my heart rate up, and prove to myself I can do it. I used to do weight workouts and sit-ups to tone up the parts of me I thought were just awful to look at. Now I do strength training to build muscle I use to carry myself through long runs and workouts – and it really helps. Running now makes me feel really happy because I can set a goal and get there, and working toward that goal allows me to release all those happy endorphins, feel more energy and motivation, and see what my body is capable of. I have quite literally begun to run away from self-objectification.
And research backs up my own experience. A U.S. National Physical Activity and Weight Loss Survey found that body size satisfaction had a significant effect on whether a person performed regular physical activity, regardless of the individual’s actual weight (Kruger, Lee, Ainsworth, & Macera, 2008). So, those who were satisfied with the way their body looked were more likely to engage in physical activity than those less satisfied. The problem is, research also shows us MOST females are unhappy with their bodies – even disgusted with their bodies. The “I feel too fat or too ugly to work out” mentality is rampant and it keeps us from moving, living, doing, and being. But guess what?! When we push ourselves to break free from that prison of being looked at and just move, something miraculous happens. Just like my experience of learning to run from self-objectification, studies show us that when females engage in physical activity, increased self-efficacy, or confidence in your abilities and your body, is the beautiful outcome.
So our Resolution #1 is there for good reason – it can lead you to real health, happiness, and confidence in a way that working toward a number on the scale or a clothing size never, ever will. My New Years’ resolutions used to revolve around clothing sizes, measurements or numbers on the scale, and I don’t think I’m alone in realizing that even if the number got smaller, it had little to do with my actual health or happiness. I can look back in old journals and see that sometimes I resorted to extremes in eating and exercising to get to that random number I thought would bring with it all the joy I could imagine: “If I can just lose this much weight, I’ll be SO happy!” or “I’ll love myself if I can just lose this many inches.” But personal experience, academic research and body image advocacy have taught me something very different: An arbitrary number is never the key to happiness, confidence or even health and fitness. A fitness goal focusing on achievements is key!
So here’s the goal: RUN. or swim. or bike. or dance. or jump rope. or climb stairs. or do sit-ups. or push-ups. or play basketball. or soccer. or volleyball. Just MOVE and LIVE and BE and step outside the prison of watching yourself being looked at. You’ll be so happy. You’ll also be blessed with the opportunity to share this truth with those you know and love that need it. Are you with me? You’re sooo with me. And if you need to remind others in your life of these happy truths, we’d love if you clicked here to purchase our sticky notes and cards!
*Fredrickson et al. 1998; Fredrickson & Harrison, 2004; Gapinski, Brownell, & LaFrance, 2003; Hebl, King, & Lin, 2004