If men want women to have better body image, maybe they should stop focusing so much on our bodies

As Susan Cox brought to our attention yesterday, a man has single-handedly resolved the problem of women’s and girls’ body image issues.

Dr Aric Sigman, author of Body Wars, has professed that women will stop trying to starve themselves thin if boys tell girls they are actually willing to touch and/or look at the “hated female pear-shaped body.” He told The Telegraph that boys should tell girls “that there are women who appear model-perfect visually but are just not sexy and there are girls who do not seem model material but are very attractive.” In essence, Sigman is trying to convince us that women and girls will stop obsessing over and hating their bodies if men approve of them and their bodies, failing to realize that a large part of the problem is that girls are told the most important thing in life is to be approved of (and found “sexy” and “attractive”) by men…

In a speech at a teachers’ conference in London this week, he addressed eating disorders, saying that “Men are an untapped army … Knowing what men think can serve as an antidote to the prevailing assumptions that feed body dissatisfaction.” Sigman seems to believe that if men can manage to find us fuckable even if we don’t look like extremely thin models, we will feel better about our bodies.

The Telegraph also reports that Sigman has “found evidence that female dissatisfaction over their body shapes has grown over the last three decades or so as body shapes in the media become smaller” and also that “social media and the internet have only just exacerbated girls’ discontent over how their body looks.”

Wait, I'm confused now... Which will make me a better fuck object?
Wait, I’m confused now… Which will make me a better fuck object?

Now, agree that social media has taught young women and girls to obsess over their fuckability and to self-objectify even more than before, but with the year of the ass behind us, it’s clear that women aren’t just vying to be as thin as possible. There is always some new body part we are meant to obsess over and hate — sometimes it’s that our thighs are too much like thighs and not enough like bones, sometimes it’s that our hips and butts aren’t big and juicy enough, and sometimes it’s that our bodies are female and, therefore, always wrong and bad.

I will admit to worrying, often, about “getting fat.” I will also admit to never having been truly happy or satisfied with my body. When I was a teenager I was constantly insecure about my lack of curves, wearing leggings under my jeans to bulk up, refusing to wear t-shirts because my arms were “too bony,” and shorts — HA. Not with those pointy knees! My sister told me I looked like a boy for lack of hips and ass (we both freely insulted one another, lest you become concerned these were one-way sisterly put-downs). Even during my “I’m 19-years-old and have boobs and male attention therefore I am the shit” phase I think many young women misguidedly go through, I still felt insecure about my non-washboardey stomach and pale skin. This is to say that women will always find flaws. We will always find things to hate about ourselves, whether we’re too thin or too fat or too old or too hairy or too human. Because the message is that we are our bodies and our bodies are not for us.

I am fully aware that we live in a culture that abhors “fat” women and that imposes dieting on girls from a very young age. I remember telling my mother I was going on a diet when I was, like, nine or something. I don’t think I even thought I was fat (I was, in fact, an extremely skinny, bony, child) — I think I just thought that’s what girls did, so I put on my mom’s Jane Fonda workout record and went at it for maybe a day or two till that got boring. (For the record, my mother did not support my “dieting” endeavour in any way and was like, you don’t need to go on a diet, crazy.) So I’m not going to pretend like “thin-shaming” holds the same weight in our culture as “fat-shaming” does — the enthusiasm with which movies and television make non-skinny women the butt of the joke is grotesque and we tend to treat larger women as if they are slovenly and out of control somehow, certainly less-worthy of love and respect than thin women… But, in the end, no woman is free from the male gaze, and obsessing over whether or not men approve of us is the problem — even if those men tell us they like some male-approved level of body fat.

“Talking to women is key, as well,” Sigman says. “Often body insecurities are passed down from mother to daughter and have little, if anything, to do with men.” Oh really?? So you mean to tell me that the self-hatred women pass on to their daughters has nothing to do with misogyny or male-owned industries like advertising, porn, and media? I suppose this is one of those “women wear high heels and shave their vaginas and get breast implants for themselves” kinda arguments, huh.

He goes on to explain that “Men are often surprised to discover how even the most intelligent, capable, rational and empowered women can be laid low by body dissatisfaction. Many of us just don’t get it.” Yeah, we know you don’t get it. You want us to be “confident” and never express any of our insecurities to you despite putting us on display and forcing us to perform femininity day in and day out. You don’t want us to worry about dieting or wrinkles but treat us as invisible and irrelevant and gross if we gain weight or age. You want us to not obsess over our flaws yet you point out how “pretty” or “hot” women are above all else, failing to realize that the first thing you comment on when you describe men is not their appearances. You want us to be “natural” but also hairless. I’ve heard this old song and dance a million times and it is a load of shit.

If you don’t understand what it’s like to live in this world as a woman, ask a woman (there’s one thing Sigman is right on: talking to women). If you think it’s so unattractive for women to have insecurities or to worry about their bodies and appearances, stop focusing first and foremost on women’s bodies and appearances. Stop watching porn, stop objectifying women on the street, stop describing women’s physical traits as though they speak to her personhood. “She has a cute ass,” is not relevant to anything, ever.

The way that patriarchy works is that it tells men that they are the default human and that women, therefore, exist only in relation to men. And this is precisely what Sigman’s theory reinforces. Stop making our existence about you. There. Problem solved.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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