Body Image Barriers

women in leadership

I know I’ve told this story before, but it has shaped my worldview so I’m gonna lay it on ya again:

A while back, a dear friend of mine told me something that stopped me cold. She said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Sally, do you know why I don’t run for political office myself? It’s because I could never handle the scrutiny and criticism I’d take for how I look. Women in politics and power are constantly under the microscope for their bodies, grooming, and style, and I just couldn’t take it.”

My friend – from what I can tell – is afraid of very little. She has told me that she truly enjoys conflict resolution and adores speaking in front of large crowds. I can quite easily imagine her fending off rabid wolves to protect her young daughter. She has also worked in politics for years and is incredibly informed about public policy and remarkably passionate about her beliefs. So I was shocked to hear her say that the prospect of dealing with press and public critiques of her looks has prevented her from campaigning.

We talked a bit more about it, and she pointed out that helping women feel confident in their looks removes barriers. We live in a world that frequently evaluates women based on our looks and, if those looks are found to be somehow lacking, dismisses us. We know this. And many of us hesitate to step up to positions of leadership, or speak out against actions we question, or put ourselves in the public eye for fear of censure and dismissal.

Another friend – a gifted musician – recently expressed similar hesitations. She has dabbled a bit in performance and stepped into the spotlight a few times, but she mainly keeps her music on the backburner. Because for every Adele there are 500 Katy Perrys, and if she were really to put her all into her dreams she, too, would risk a life under the microscope. Her style, her figure, her hair, her makeup would all be subject to examination and ridicule. And as talented as she is, the prospect of being constantly held up to the prevailing beauty standard holds virtually no appeal.

And this is valid. Only a select few of us have the drive, ambition, and talent PLUS the thick skin necessary to deal with the deluge of comparison and judgment that comes part and parcel with positions of power and prominence. No one is required to pursue elected office, an executive position, a career in the arts, or any other avenue if the accompanying scrutiny would be too much to bear. No one should sign up for a life that means constant stress and misery. Really. No one at all.

But knowing that many of us have the drive, ambition, and talent but lack that essential thick skin is why I write about style as a tool for empowerment, self-awareness, and confidence. I don’t actually care one whit what any of us looks like. I just want to help women have one less thing to worry about as they chase their dreams, rise to power, or express their creativity. I want to help women see dressing as a creative, helpful, important means of showing self-respect. Because when you’re confident in how you look, some of the appearance-focused flak that comes at you from the media, from petty rivals, from jealous strangers can bounce right off. Your self-assuredness becomes your armor. You can move through the world with a little less weight on your shoulders. You can get on with the work of your life.

If it weren’t for the very real fear of judgment, many of us would spend more time at the beach, wear bright colors, indulge in trends. Many of us would start more conversations with people we find attractive, go to more parties, pose for more photos. And many of us would run for office, demand promotions, pursue careers in the arts, put ourselves in positions of prominence and rock the world. This isn’t a stumbling block for all, but it trips up more women than you might expect. And until the world sees bodily diversity as the gift that it truly is, I’ll do my best to provide knowledge, tools, and armor to everyone who comes here.

Until my friend feels ready to run for office, there’s work to be done. Until my other friend feels confident stepping into the spotlight, there are changes to be made. Until all of you can walk through your lives confident and unselfconscious, until every woman everywhere can pursue any ambition without any hesitation, there are body image barriers that need to be broken.

Image courtesy Robert Hruzek. This is a revived and refreshed post from the Already Pretty archive.

Originally posted 2015-04-27 06:33:52.

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4 Responses to “Body Image Barriers”

  1. Anna Jensen

    i love this post, because it’s so true. to rephrase what you’re saying, essentially, the policing of women’s bodies is a medium of quite literal oppression – political, economic, and personal. one of the first things that happens to women who speak up, either in a feminist sense or just living their lives in public, is this kind of body scrutiny, this putting them in their place. even if they check all the beauty boxes the scrutiny remains and can drown out and compromise whatever achievements they actually make. it’s really, really damaging that women’s bodies are considered public property in this way, and of greater import than their other contributions.

  2. crtfly

    I am glad that Hillary is going to run for Prez, but oh, is she going to get trashed for her looks. She is, gasp, old, and will get constantly picked at because of it. How dare a regular looking old lady run for Prez? I know Hillary is tough. I hope she can take all the abuse. I would hope that people would judge her for her ideas and if she would be a good president. But instead, far too many people will judge her on if she looks good enough to be president.