I will tell you a story. I have recently talked with a talented young photographer who was working at social event. One of her tasks was to make portraits of all participants. One by one, the photographer invited these people into a separate room, where she asked them to pose against a white wall.
The camera is like a mirror. It captures our image, lets us look at ourselves. At the same time, it does much more than that: it saves the image (potentially, forever) for others to see. This is what makes the camera so powerful and so terrifying. What happened in this little room, as the photographer was holding the camera up? Men joked and made funny faces. They enjoyed the shooting, and did not care too much about the resulting image. Yet almost every woman, as she stood against the white wall, did the same thing: apologized for the way she looked.
Now, this is much more than sad. All these middle-aged women, talented hard-working professionals who came to the event to exchange ideas, felt painfully embarrassed. Standing in front of the camera, they did not care about their achievements, their smarts. All they could think about is that they are not beautiful anymore. And they felt the need to apologize for that!
The photographer told me that she had had similar experiences before. Appearance might be the source of fun for (at least some) of us when we are young; yet, as we age, it turns into a curse. Women feel that they are slowly becoming invisible, and they are terrified, scared and ashamed. Some accept this “natural” change and embrace their own invisibility. They almost want not to be seen. That is why so many older women hate being photographed.
I am still relatively young. I have learned to accept what I used to consider my flaws. On most days, I love the way I look. Yet, I am afraid of the changes that will come with age. I don’t want to feel inadequate again, to feel jealous of younger women who will get men’s smiles and attention. And I will fight to not let it happen. But I hate even having this concern, I hate that I am expected to see my invisibility as something inevitable, or to perceive my future “inadequacy” as my personal fault.
It is fun to be feminine. For some. For a while.
I refuse to accept this connection between femininity and feelings of inadequacy, shame, loneliness, embarrassment and sadness. I refuse to accept self-judgment, and the need to judge other women in order to feel superior. We are not free to enjoy life and to have fun with people around us if we do not stop caring about the way we look.
Partially, it is our personal responsibility. We must learn to disregard the ideal of femininity imposed on us from the day we are born. It is tough! Therefore, it is not an individual problem. It is the problem of our culture. We cannot blame anybody for not being able to win this war on her own. Eventually, this must be our collective effort. This effort must be correlated with shifts within institutions that socialize people into gender norms. For the ideal femininity to go, the ideal masculinity must disappear as well. We must start seeing connections between such things as media messages, toy industries, sexual violence, and limitations that many of us experience because of our gender.
This is a major transformation; it is something that will not happen overnight. Some may feel that it is too much to hope or to fight for. But you know what? You can do something to make it happen. Big changes begin with tiny steps. Starting from today, never apologize for the way you look. Never. You are beautiful the way you are, and you will always be. You are strong. You are smart. You are talented. And you are in my heart. Because you are amazing.
(previously published by http://www.cultnoise.com)