confidence

Dove’s “Real Beauty Campaign”

Last week a certain Dove ad gained wide popularity throughout the media.

Many of my own friends posted about it on Facebook, citing how it brought them to tears.

Feministing.com had this to say about Dove’s latest addition to the “Real Beauty Campaign.”

Naturally, with a few fellow feminist friends talking about it, saying how moving or significant it is, I had to see what all the fuss was about.

I felt…nothing. It was lackluster, contrived, and a bit patronizing, in my opinion.

This is what I had to say on the MFB Facebook page (taken from a thread in which I shared the feministing.com article)

“glad you each read, and appreciated, this article. i watched that video and just thought, “seriously…?” You know what, So what if one of them actually did look like the first sketch more? OH DEAR GOD NO, NOT THAT! There is still, at the center of this ad, underpinning it all, this abstract ideal of beauty… And I do feel that a demonstration of confidence would have been more powerful than a showcase of insecurity. We need more examples of strong, confident women of all shapes and sizes and colors in the media. But what am I saying… Consumerism is consumerism. Looking for meaning in the consumer marketplace is like looking for love in the red light district.

of course, “looking for love in the red light district” works… if you’re “Pretty Woman”….”

The bottom line, for me, is that this ad still rests on a social standard of superficial physical beauty, and, to quote the feministing article, “This version of the message–that you’re thinner than you think you are–reinforces the assumption that thinness is valuable. The take-away might be immediately gratifying. But by accepting the worship of slenderness within a supposed challenge to mainstream standards, the video entrenches fat-shaming further.”

Furthermore, as previously mentioned, I find it a bit patronizing in its almost exploitative demonstration of female insecurity. Yes, lots of women are insecure. So are lots of men. I’m not inspired by this and I feel a slight discomfort that so many women were. I suppose its in the relatable aspect of it, but still, are we not all already aware of the universal human frailty that is insecurity? Once again, I find demonstrations of strength, confidence, and self-actualization much more inspirational. I find inspiration in Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Judith Butler, Cherie Moraga, and James Baldwin, who taught me that I must accept the inherent value that is placed upon me as a human being.

As a matter of fact, I think this is a way more “feminist,” awesome, and inspiring ad, so there. Enjoy.

“I want to be bright!”

During a study group session one day with two classmates (both black women who had children), our discussion turned to white aesthetics. Not unusual as we were all essentially Sociology majors within our interdisciplinary department.

My one friend tells me how her daughter, after the first day of kindergarten, came home and said to her, “Mommy, I want to be bright!”

Naturally she said, “Baby, of course you are going to be bright. You’re already so bright. I’m sure you’ll be the smartest girl in class.” Then her daughter corrected her, “Nooooo mommyyyyy… I want to be BRIGHT. Like the pretty girls at school with the light skin and the smooth hair!”

How would you feel hearing your five or six-year old daughter say something like this?

This is the world we live in. History and law books were established and written by privileged white men, and therefore standards of female beauty set by the pure and virtuous white woman- the object of the privileged white man’s affection. Think Lillian Gish (ahem, The Birth of a Nation!), Barbie (does it get any more normalizing/indoctrinating than Barbie?!), Marilyn Monroe, Pamela Anderson, Gisele Bundchen, etc.

[Hence, why Bill Maher says something to the effect of, “That’s why you didn’t get that lead role in Titanic!,” to Kerry Washington at the end of this clip, though it’s cut off]

I may not be a black woman, but I am “other,” and I’ve fought my own battles against the overwhelmingly “white” standard of beauty. Growing up I was often called “exotic.” Not pretty, not ugly, but “exotic;” In other words, different, unusual, “other.”

Do you know about the growing popularity of the eye surgery to make Asian women look more “Western“? Do you know about Renee Rogers, an American Airlines employee who wasn’t permitted to wear her hair in braids while at work? (they asked her to pull it back in a bun and wear a “hairpiece” over it….) This also brings to mind the Chris Rock movie, Good Hair, a documentary set into motion by his daughter asking him, “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair…?”

I will now refer you to this awesome critique and compilation of images via “beautyredefined.net.”

*Editor’s note: This article now contains [an addendum]

Survival of the Most Confident

Virginia Woolf knew it. Maria from The Sound of Music knew it.

Confidence is everything.

Confidence is how one succeeds. Confidence is what fuels persistence and determination. Confidence is that little voice in your head that tells you that you are good enough, that you are worthy, that you will be safe, that you will survive.

It’s assurance, whether of the self or otherwise. It’s trust, whether of the self or otherwise. It is to a certain extent, in my humble opinion, one of the most indispensable tools for social survival.

Virgina Woolf once stated the following:

Life for both sexes- and I looked at them, shouldering their way along the pavement- is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself. By feeling that one has some innate superiority– it may be wealth, or rank, a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney-for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination- over other people. (A Room of One’s Own, bold added for emphasis)

According to Woolf, confidence was essential to succeeding in life, but this leads me to ask: What is confidence? What does confidence mean?

Does it mean expressing an inner essence through one’s demeanor? Or performing a certain set of actions? Is it intangible? Or is it physically recognizable? Is it secured through inner strength, yoga, plastic surgery, meditation, speech classes, a haircut? Is it still attainable for those who have gone through traumatic instances of rape and domestic violence? Or rather, what is its importance to young girls and women who must “shoulder their way along the pavement” in a world rife with sexism?

I suppose my inquiry is this:

In today’s pervasively sexist and uber-misogynistic environment, what is confidence to a young girl or woman? What does it mean in this context? Especially when, as both Woolf and I suggest, it is imperative to survival…

After all, young girls and women are barraged on a daily basis with sexism- in popular music, television, magazines, advertising, and elsewhere. Domestic violence, rape, and other forms of abuse are overwhelmingly directed at women at girls; and females young and old must deal with the consequences of sexism and sexual trauma (both direct and indirect, i.e. that which is socially accepted and therefore normalized) more often than not. This is demonstrated in statistics regarding rape as well as the high incidences of depression and eating disorders found among women.

According to 2008 CDC statistics, “20-25% of women in college reported experiencing an attempted or a completed rape in college.”

A 2010 New York Times article reported that, “40% of girls in first through fifth grades surveyed in 2003 reported they were trying to lose weight.”

And twice as many women than men experience depression (approximately one in four women).

Due to unrealistic and homogeneous representations of feminine beauty in films, fashion, and advertising, women and girls turn to anorexia, bulimia, and other methods to achieve the “ideal.” And who knows why rape occurs, especially with the frequency that it does. Perhaps a lack of respectful representations of females and female sexuality in the dominant media? Perhaps due to a subtle, yet powerfully pervasive misogynist ideology within our male/masculine culture? I cannot claim to know the real cause of this problem, but I do know that my first impulse for a solution would be to educate people-  about respecting one another as human beings, respecting one another as sexual actors, respecting multiple gender identities (*to assuage sexual violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people), and making sure that everyone knows no one ever “asks for it.”

With such an environment, I cannot help but think that it is probably hard for a lot of women and girls to find confidence. Actually, I know for a fact that it is.

That is not to say that every man is born with an intrinsic sense of confidence, but suffice it to say that in a world where women are constantly portrayed as inferior, as the helpmate, as the sexual object, as something to be won, taken, or possessed, it is much easier for men to be the confident ones, or at least to gain confidence, than it is for women. (Perhaps it should be here noted that men are just as much a part of this power structure as well- in that they, too, are subject to upholding notions of masculinity and a male ideal- only their role in this power structure is of a dominant nature, as opposed to the female’s “submissive object” role)

I suppose my point is really just to shine a light on how very vital confidence actually is to one’s existence. It is so easy for it to be shaken, or taken away, or for it to not even materialize in the first place- especially for young girls and women. And I only emphasize the female persuasion here because that is who I am, that has been my experience, and my perspective is “refracted through the prism” of gender (to borrow an apt phrase/concept from Maxine Baca Zinn, Pierette Hondagneu-Sotelo, and Michael Messner). I cannot claim to speak for all women and girls, but I know that I speak for many of them. For me, the recognition of various forms of subjugation (via studying feminist theory) has meant freedom, the ability to see through these cultural patterns and influences and actively resist them. It has meant the ability to become self-definitional, if that is even possible. It has meant finding confidence.