Sexual Objectification 4: Daily Rituals to Start

The fourth and last in a series about how girls and women can navigate a culture that treats them like sex objects. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). This post details some daily rituals that women can start doing to interrupt damaging beauty culture scripts.

 

1) Start enjoying your body as a physical instrument. Girls are raised to view their bodies as a project they have to constantly work on and perfect for the adoration of others, while boys are raised to think of their bodies as tools to master their surroundings. Women need to flip the script and enjoy our bodies as the physical marvels they are. We should be thinking of our bodies as vehicles that move us through the world; as sites of physical power; as the physical extension of our being in the world. We should be climbing things, leaping over things, pushing and pulling things, shaking things, dancing frantically, even if people are looking. Daily rituals of spontaneous physical activity are a sure way of bringing about a personal paradigm shift, from viewing our bodies as objects to viewing our bodies as tools to enact our subjectivity.

Suggested activity: parkour,”the physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within one’s path by adapting one’s movements to the environment,” can be done any time, anywhere. I especially enjoy jumping off bike racks between classes while I’m dressed in a suit.

2) Do at least one “embarrassing” action a day. Another healthy daily ritual that reinforces the idea that we don’t exist to only please others is to purposefully do at least one action that violates “ladylike” social norms. Discuss your period in public. Swing your arms a little too much when you walk. Open doors for everyone. Offer to help men carry things. Skip a lot. Galloping also works. Get comfortable with making others uncomfortable.

3) Focus on personal development that isn’t related to beauty culture. Since you’ve read Part 3 of this series and given up habitual body monitoring, body hatred and meaningless beauty rituals, you’ll have more time to develop yourself in meaningful ways. This means more time for education, reading, working out to build muscle and agility, dancing, etc. You’ll become a much more interesting person on the inside if you spend less time worrying about the outside.

4) Actively forgive yourself. A lifetime of body hatred and self-objectification is difficult to let go of, and if you find yourself falling into old habits of playing self-hating tapes, seeking male attention, or beating yourself up for not being pleasing, forgive yourself. It’s impossible to fully transcend the beauty culture game, since it’s so pervasive and part of our social DNA. When we fall into old traps, it’s important to recognize that, but then quickly move on through self forgiveness. We need all the cognitive space we can get for the next beauty culture assault on our mental health.

Photos from Flickr user Marco Gomes via Creative Commons 3.0

Comments

  1. Gabriella says:

    Just wanted to point out that the language used in #1 can sound pretty ableist. Not everyone is physically capable of some of the activities you suggest – just reminding you not to forget these women and individuals when giving advice for self-care!

  2. For number 2, I sometimes “sit like a man” when I take public transportation. I notice that many guys who ride trains and buses tend to take up more space. Their legs are spread, knees stick out, sometimes so much that if they’re next to me they start to butt into my side of the seat or bench. If I’m wearing pants, shorts or even shorts under my skirt, I’ll do the same thing right alongside them.

    • Julie (nice name, btw), I agree with you but I also do my best to fill up my portion of the seat (NYC subway) when the person next to me seems to be encroaching on my turf (not easy when you’re only 4’11″). Or I ask him to move over and give me some room. Really depends on the aura of the guy. If he seems decent but clueless, I’ll ask nicely. If he reeks of rage and hostility, I might just let it be although then I’m the one seething inside. Or I’ll give up my seat b/c in such situations I’d actually rather stand.

    • I’m a cellist, so that’s become my natural posture; knees spread when I sit. It was pointed out as unladylike so many times I made a conscious decision to ditch other learned ladylike behaviors as well. I’ve been so much happier ever since!

    • That is so awesome! I feel so silly for never having thought to do that. Will definitely be doing soon!!

  3. Number four–not all women are straight.

    • ‘Tis true, but are hetero women the only ones seeking attention and acceptance strongly based on appearance, from men or anyone for that matter? How about having to look a certain way for chauvinistic bosses regardless of sexual orientation?

  4. +1 to the commenter who picked up on the ableism of this article. I’m actually pretty disturbed by it, as an older woman who is actively using my body as an instrument by cycling, bushwalking and playing with the dogs while living with Polymyalgia Rheumatica. With PMR you’re still ambulant, but plenty of women have difficulty just in walking. Sucks to be them, I suppose.

    The assumption that women need to be reminded to take up non beauty related interests is pretty gobsmacking, too. (Point 3)

    Lastly, what’s with the woman who appears to be falling head first into a ravine? Parkour is intense enough, must we follow a policy of active suicide or head injuries and lacerations at the very least in order to avoid beauty culture? Is there no middle way?

    • “The assumption that women need to be reminded to take up non beauty related interests is pretty gobsmacking, too. (Point 3)”

      Yes, it’s gobsmacking because for many women, it’s true. This isn’t an insult towards women, it’s an insult towards our culture.

  5. Lindsey says:

    I love how articulately the author argues that a woman’s body is a vehicle for subjectivity in #1, although I agree with the commentors who noticed the ableism that as the paragraph becomes more concrete it would have to be broader to apply to all women. I also noticed about the same section that it specifically recommends physical activity of a spontaneous nature. Why is that? Let me first of all say that I do understand that a deliberate fitness plan and goal can serve body monitoring and body hatred. But for myself, looking forward to a sport I enjoy (and, importantly, that is good for my body, too) and being able to train for it so that I can get better at it,–all for the sheer joy of doing it well–that is the best way I know to experience my body as a “physical instrument”, a site of various weaknesses as well as a “site of power”.

  6. Thank you! All excellent advice!

  7. And give yourself permission to feel how really uncomfortable it is to watch a lowlife like Tosh, no matter how funny your friends may find him.

    Melissa Harris-Perry had a great discussion about this on her MSNBC show this morning.

    • Fallen_Star says:

      I cannot understand how people find Tosh funny, he’s just a douchebag. I can be a douchebag without having to waste my time watch somebody pretend to be funny.

  8. When you walk down a hallway, walk right in the middle, and let your arms swing. Dominate that space. Women tend to walk near the wall, subconciously allowing the men to hog the middle, tacitly proclaiming, “I’m important!” and “This is my space, get out of my way!”

  9. This is all great – be your own person – be of substance, be healthy, be strong, climb rocks, dance crazy, play beautiful music. Speak up, keep learning. I do that, I always have, and I love the person that I am. But, we’re not islands, and society won’t reward you for it. When you want to find a partner with whom to share in your joys and experiences and to share their own, all that substance is still secondary to your superficial appearance. The few really smart interesting men there are out there *still* go for the vapid sex objects. I don’t even want to be a part of it – and objectification within a relationship is just as pernicious. I guess change is slow – I really hope that’s all it is.

    • I would have to disagree with your statement about men seeing women as “vapid sex objects.” I think this is false and believe that many men value intellect and personality over physical appearance. I don’t think that sexual objectification happens in every relationship or in every social situation. I do, however, agree with your statements about building confidence. I think that these are all really great things that will help improve and foster body confidence. I also think that society does reward women who are confident and have their own opinions. The reward comes from taking those important qualities and confidence and using them to accomplish more and become a stronger woman.

  10. I find myself holding doors open for both girls and guys, sitting “like a guy”, eating what I want in public and lastly, starting to love myself despite my imperfections. I believe if girls do more of this as opposed to worrying about how we look to others, especially males, we will become less dependent on male attention and ultimately get the love we deserve, once we’re mature enough.

  11. I feel that these are all good points to try to be yourself but if these everyday actions aren’t actions that you would typically perform then it is defeating the purpose. A woman should not have to go out of her way to get respect and act in a manner that wouldn’t be typical of her normal character. I understand that the point of these everyday tasks are to set themselves “free” from the judgement and comments that are said to women everyday, but if a woman has to go out of her way to feel good about herself because of society then society is the problem and needs to change and not her.

    • Nia, I definitely agree, but society isn’t going to change on its own. Women should not have to go out of their way to do thinks that are “not girly” but there has to be some other way we can prove to ourselves and other people are we are not in fact dependent on men.

  12. I am definitely going to be galloping down the halls at school tomorrow.

  13. I agree with this article that women should value their bodies as a physical marvel. As is such, I believe that women should feel confident to flaunt their bodies without it being viewed as trying to attract men. Some women work hard to make their bodies strong and healthy purely for their own satisfaction, and I think that it is ignoring this completely to say that risque clothing reflects only a desire to attract men.

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