Stop saying ‘self-love’ when you really mean ‘pay attention to me’

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Lizzo, a performer beloved by the “YAS KWEEN” social media chicks, who proclaim to be about female empowerment, but can’t seem to imagine said empowerment happening in pants, has apparently “shown the world what she’s working with.” Eff u, haters, for those who don’t know, is best conveyed through either nudity or twerking. Oddly, we never see men telling off critics by putting on a thong, or flashing their dicks.

According to People, Lizzo “set social media ablaze” after wearing an outfit that would look ridiculous on any human, regardless of their appearance or weight, to a Lakers game: a t-shirt dress with a circle cut out, revealing her ass.

The performer responds to critics by saying we should all be ourselves, and to “never let anyone stop you from being you.” This is actually a message I generally agree with. It is a real struggle to be ourselves. As a woman, it can feel like a constant fight, especially when we are younger, and feeling an incredible amount of pressure to not only behave in ways deemed appropriate for ladies, but also to have a “perfect” body and face, to sexualize ourselves in order to attract men, and also somehow also be happy and positive and not the kind of whiny, naggy, bitch that pushes men away, because we failed to fake one-dimensionality effectively. It’s always been bad and hard, but in today’s era of Instagram and Tinder, things seem ever more depressing. I suspect we are all guilty of posting phoniness online, whether it be to disguise depression or pores. The added dimension of porn culture makes the whole thing even more dark, though.

I find it incredibly sad to see what young women are doing nowadays, in order to gain male attention. The left is busily promoting prostitution as harmless and politically empowering, ignoring the massive levels of trauma and abuse women in the industry face, and regular women are offering up porn for free, in competition with those being paid for their degradation. Do we actually believe that sending porny nudes is necessary to get a dude to date you? Or that said nudes will drive a person to want to be in a relationship with you?

I can tell you that, as a once-young person myself, sexing yourself up makes literally zero difference in terms of getting a quality dude. Attraction matters a ton, of course, but it’s no more likely a man will want to date you because you show him your ass than if you do not.

I am aware I am beginning to sound like your mom, but I legit feel bad for the swaths of girls on Tinder and Instagram, desperately trying to sell themselves to men who accept these porny gifts and tell themselves it’s a woman’s “choice” and that, therefore, he is perfectly justified in participating in porn culture, at large. He’s probably helping, actually. It would be rude of him to judge, either way. These dudes do not deserve you, for the most part. I promise. And if he wants to see you naked, surely he can do that irl, after being bothered to meet you.

Which brings us back to Lizzo. Who is by far not the first to tout twerking as personal empowerment. We have modern feminism to thank for that! What I find most odd and transparent about Lizzo and the celebration of her self-objectification is that it is clear that much of that celebration is about her weight. So, people feel they have a green light, even more so than usual, to encourage and support her ass because her body isn’t that of a woman typically objectified online and in the media. In other words, her objectification is treated as political.

But it’s not political. It’s the same old boring, attention-seeking stuff so many of us do in our 20s, in order to convince the world we are very sexy, sexually liberated, up for anything, modern women. (Except that Lizzo is 31…) If we would all just admit what our motivations are, honestly I’d be less annoyed by the whole thing. Like, I’m fully capable of admitting I wear makeup because I want to look pretty. If I were living alone on an island somewhere, there is no way I would put on normal pants, never mind eyeliner and heels. Do you think all those Halloweens I went out in my underwear were about “self-love” (“self-love” sure is cold, if so!) or about wanting to be attractive to men? Can any of us really pretend that wearing a thong out in public and sucking on a champagne bottle like it’s a dick isn’t an effort to turn dudes on? And, in Lizzo’s case, to remind the world that bigger women can be porny too?

TIME named Lizzo Entertainer of the Year this week. In a profile of the singer, Samantha Irby writes that Lizzo “represents something new.” She promotes positivity, self-love, and body-positivity, Irby argues. But it’s more than that: “At a time when Instagrammers are shilling flat-tummy tea or pretending to eat a giant cheeseburger, Lizzo sells something more radical: the idea that you are already enough.” (And damn if I don’t hate those fake-ass Instagram influencers — especially the ones posting photos of themselves eating food there is no way they ever actually eat. Like, basically you’re just promoting either bulimia or obesity, and normalizing a super unhealthy diet in the process.) But it simply isn’t true that a career built on ass is about “loving ourselves.” If it were, we’d just be writhing around the floors of our apartments in red mesh catsuits instead of doing it on a table in front of the media, then posting it online for the masses.

What does it mean to say you are “already enough,” anyway? While I think it’s good to accept yourself and not be overly critical, I also reject the notion that we should all just stop with what we currently are or have. Shouldn’t we be working to improve ourselves, in mind, body, and soul? The message that we are perfect as we are is a rather immature one, considering what useless, idiotic, narcissistic, insecure people we are as teenagers to 20-somethings, which is, it seems, where this message is most popular.

“I think it’s healthy to have a relationship with your naked body, even if no one ever sees it,” Lizzo says. “But I’ve always felt the need to share it.” And gosh, why do you think that is? Couldn’t possibly have something to do with a culture that tells girls pornifying themselves online is the best way to build confidence, could it?

Like, do you. But just be honest about it. And stop telling women that sexualization is about “self-love,” when really it’s about male attention. I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to be attractive to men. If you’re heterosexual, that’s probably something you want. People like to be viewed as attractive to others. Big whoop. But the truth is that all that self-objectification doesn’t actually teach “self-love,” it teaches you to see yourself through the eyes of onlookers, who know nothing about you — the real you. It teaches you that if you aren’t objectifiable or sexualized, you are invisible and unworthy. It teaches you that “likes” are the best judge. None of which actually sounds like an empowering message to me. I can promise you that if you spend your 20s building confidence based solely on your ability to gain male attention or likes from strangers, you’ll start to feel real panicky once you reach middle age.

While clearly Lizzo has talents that extend beyond her efforts to self-sexualize, her online presence is almost wholly centred around her ass and naked body. The message simply doesn’t add up. I don’t read “self-love” in the accounts of women who spend an inordinate amount of time posing for, editing, and posting sexy photos online. I read either, “Wow, you sure have a lot of time on your hands” or “I bet you feel pretty empty inside.” I’m tired of this cycle of lies women tell each other and the world around them, and resent those selling it as “self-love.”

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.