Portrayal of women in the media

This post is almost a follow-up of  my post from several weeks ago (which was sparked by an article asking why some older women “gave up” on their looks).

Nearly a couple of months ago, the latest Dove “Real Beauty” ad came out, portraying how some women have a very distorted view of themselves.  I watched a discussion by the Today Show with the women in the ad.  It was interesting, but what I remember what struck me most was the fact that 4 of the 5 women are literally wearing the same sleeveless dress – but in different bright colours.  Was this a coordinated effort or what exactly was going on? Had I missed something by not regularly viewing US news (apart from the Daily Show)?

Fortunately for me, Slate answered my question.  The sleeveless sheath dress is the new uniform for women in the media.  Part of me wonders if this is a Michelle Obama effect.  Her infamous (and much envied) toned arms will be her main contribution to fashion during President Obama’s years in the white house (I will never forget the rather inspiring slate wedding workout article that was inspired by those toned triceps [want even more evidence?  click here]).  Admittedly, her most recent first lady predecessors contributed very little of note to fashion.

First lady of fashion… and fitness envy

Toned arms are something very few women can actually achieve (I recall the upper arm being a “problem area” for many women – who are much more likely to hide said appendage as often as possible).  Slate would seem to suggest that toned arms are a new status symbol for women.

Regardless, this trend of “sexy” female news anchors in matching candy coloured sleeveless sheath dresses is disturbing.  These women are regularly in the public eye, and of course, reiterating the fact that a woman’s value is directly related to her appearance and/or sexuality.

How, as a feminist who doesn’t want women’s value to only be based on appearance, does one navigate what essentially comes down to life?  I must accept that appearance is important, and by acknowledging the power of appearance, I can then use it to my advantage (e.g. looking more professional to gain a better job, etc).  To pretend that appearance doesn’t matter and to try and disregard it entirely is a naive view (in my humble opinion).  As a society – particularly in the USA – there is such an enormous focus on appearance that we must accept it as part of life.  However, I do not want to become obsessed with vanity.  And I honestly feel sorry for those women who have become slaves to their appearances, and also those people who cannot look beyond.

Perhaps this just highlights once again how difficult it is to be a woman.  Particularly with home, fashion and family blogs galore, more and more women are having unreal expectations of themselves.  Not only are women expected to work full time and have a career, be mothers, wives, homemakers, and look beautiful, etc, but now they have to have Michelle Obama Arms as well.  No woman can achieve this all without some outside help, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.



4 thoughts on “Portrayal of women in the media

  1. ohh, thought-provoking. I struggle with this so much. I want to embrace being a confident woman who can be happy in her own naturally wrinkling skin, but our society makes that pretty darn difficult. Arms? Now I have to worry about my arms too? (not really, but it’s ALWAYS going to be something). Trying to find that balance between caring about our appearance (and for those of us that like to express our creativity through it), but not placing our value or worth by it…that’s the tough part. To age and physically change confidently, naturally and gracefully…we women deserve a medal at the very least. I could go on about this forever (my hubby and I are constantly getting into arguments about double standards for men and women), but I’ll stop there 😉

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one caught in this trap. I guess it’s about achieving that balance of looking good but also looking “effortless” – ugh! Haha. Add it to the list. She-must-not-only-look-good-but-also-look-as-though-she-does-not-try!

  2. Ugh I agree it’s a tough trap. On the one hand, we should embrace our own unique selves and to heck with what anyone thinks, right? But we live in a world that is extremely judgmental about appearances, and I know that for me if I look “put together” and professional that I will have a better chance of succeeding in my career. In fact, here’s a little stat I just saw in the Star Tribune:

    80 percent of executives say that clothing choices affect an employee’s chances of earning a promotion.
    93 percent of executives (in 2007) said that professional wear is tied to advancement prospects.

    So there you have it, you do need to take time to work on your appearance. But again, God forbid you look like you spent too much time primping, God forbid you wear something too sexy, too frumpy, too young, too old, too boring, too out there, too [fill in the blank].

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