Ep #106: As Women Together

Ep #106: As Women Together

Weight Loss Success with Natalie Brown | As Women Together

I recently finished listening to Naomi Wolf’s book, The Beauty Myth, and this week, I’m sharing some of the most impactful quotes and concepts from it because it has invited me to shift the way I see myself and other women, and I’m extending this invitation to you too. 

Two decades out from when this book was first published, with the advent of social media and its inescapable influence, there is a whole new generation of women who are fighting a new war with beauty, objectivity, and crippling insecurity. We’ve been sold the beauty myth that our value lies in our body size, facial features, fitness… and that we’re also somehow all alone in this.

And it got me thinking, why do we feel threatened by each other, often defaulting to judgment and scrutiny, when we could be looking for the radiant light within each of us as women together? 

 

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What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • 2 themes that have stuck with me from Naomi Wolf’s book, The Beauty Myth. 
  • The beauty myth we’ve been sold as women in our society.
  • Why we see other women as rivals or competition. 
  • How I’m using this book to be my guide as I shift the way I see myself and other women. 
  • The power of seeing other women as allies.

 

 

Listen to the Full Episode:

 

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  • The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

 

Full Episode Transcript:

This is Weight Loss Success, with Natalie Brown, episode 106.

Welcome to Weight Loss Success with Natalie Brown. If you’re a successful woman who is ready to stop struggling with your weight, you’re in the right place. You’ll learn everything you need to know to lose weight for the last time in bitesize pieces. Here’s your host, certified life and weight coach Natalie Brown.

Hello everybody, I just finished reading The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. I have had this book on my shelf for gosh, maybe 12 years, I think. I moved it with me to my current house, which I’ve lived in for 11, so a hot minute. I definitely bought it in a phase where I was voraciously reading books about loving myself and how to do that, but for whatever reason, I had a block to picking it up and reading it then, and every time I have gone to do it since then.

I have purged and donated unread books or books I was just done with, probably 5 or 6 times over the years, and yet it has remained on the shelf. I couldn’t get rid of it. It just wasn’t time, yet my soul knew there was something there for me. And wow, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. Ironically, I didn’t actually read that book that has been on my shelves for a decade. I listened to it on audible, so there you go.

Either way, I digested the material, and it has been percolating. I’m going to share with you some impactful quotes and passages because I think her writing and her way of articulating her point of view is really quite poetic and lovely. One of the interesting things about reading/listening to this book is that it was originally published in 1991, only a decade out from the huge social changes of the second wave of feminism in the 70s.

The shifting views of women’s rights and women’s roles were still pretty new in 1991. Since it was pre-internet, much of the book’s focus was on print media, especially women’s magazines and on TV commercials and ads for beauty products, fashion, cosmetics, all of those things which were really where we got all of them our information about beauty standards back then. I was born in the 70s, and I grew up in the 80s and 90s, so this really spoke to my early development, and I could see how all of that had really informed how I see myself, my own relationship to beauty and value, and dieting and all of it.

Sadly, even though there has been a lot of progress in awareness in many ways in the 30 years since then with the internet and the widespread access to and use of pornography and the advent of social media and its prevalence and its inescapable influence, especially on young girls. There’s a whole new generation of women who are fighting a new war with beauty, objectivity, and crippling insecurity.

So, a couple of things stuck with me. First of all, thinking about all of the women who had come before me and fought and struggled paved the way for me to have access to the life that I have. The women who made it possible for me to be educated and to participate in the democratic process and to own property and vote for government leaders and have the opportunity to be a government leader if I choose to, and have a career of my choosing, and the right to decide for myself if I want to have children or not and when and how many, and have a bank account, and the list goes on and on.

It’s so easy to forget about that and to just live my life and not remember those women heroes and all of the things I enjoy as normal and acceptable and available that they only dreamt about. It really inspires me to fight for freedom for my girls and for women that will come after me. Freedom in our minds and in our bodies, different freedoms in some ways than they fought for. As Wolf says, the more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us.

Women breached the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially, and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing medical specialty. More women have more money, power, scope, and legal recognition than we have before. Still, in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers. It’s so interesting.

I also love this quote from the book; a generation ago, Jermaine Greer wondered about women. What will you do? What women did brought about a quarter of a century of cataclysmic social revolution? The next phase of our movement forward as individual women, as women together, and as tenants of our bodies and this planet depends now on what we decide to see when we look in the mirror. What will we see?

What we currently see in the mirror is what we have absorbed from so many overt and covert messages. From people, we see depicted in and by the media from the beauty and fashion industries, from social media. All of which benefit from women feeling inadequate and isolated and in competition with one another. When women doubt themselves, we spend more. When women feel less than, we speak up less. We ask for less. We expect less.

When we are fighting against one another, we don’t have the strength to fight for causes together. The second thing that stuck with me is the idea that she shares in that quote as women together. We don’t often see each other as women together. We spend so much of our time comparing ourselves to other women to a standard of beauty that has been decided without our input and that is different from our own individual standards of beauty.

We spend so much time and energy criticizing and judging one another based on these standards. We dress for each other, not for ourselves. We feel threatened by each other’s successes and beauty or feel superior based on someone else’s lack of. We look at someone else’s “perfect life” or “perfect family” on social media, and we feel jealous and less than and insecure. We soak up reality shows about beautiful women finding love or beautiful women fighting with each other.

Or even better beautiful women finding love and fighting with each other and then losing it all. Right? This isn’t because women, by nature, are mean and catty. I don’t buy into that. This is because we have been sold the idea that beauty is an asset, beauty is value, and beauty is a threat. That beauty, no matter what aspect of it we’re talking about, is the thing we should spend our lives focusing on. That our beauty or lack of is our value, and there is a finite amount.

So, that if someone else has it, there’s less for us somehow and so she should therefore be regarded and treated as an enemy. When I say beauty here, I’m not just talking about facial features, hair color, or texture. I’m talking about beauty in all of its categories, including body shape, body size, fitness, fatness, as well as so many other things.

We’ve also somehow learned that we are alone in all of this. That everyone but us feels beautiful and has it together. So, that if we’re suffering and questioning ourselves and struggling, especially with something as trivial and unfeminist as how we look, we should keep it to ourselves because it is embarrassing. We don’t want anyone to know how we feel about it. We shouldn’t care that much, and we definitely shouldn’t let anyone know that we care that much.

As Wolf says, solidarity is hardest to find when women learn to see each other as beauties first. The beauty myth urges women to believe it’s every woman for herself. I’ve been thinking so much about this concept since I read it. I really started to notice when I find myself judging or criticizing other women. I’m admitting this with humility and self-awareness and a little bit of judgment of myself for judging others, but, anyway, I really have been paying attention to when I notice that I’m looking another woman up and down and judging her outfit or judging people on Instagram, on shows that I watch, assessing them based on how they look, on their choices of clothing or hairstyles.

I’m not a mean person. I actually think of myself as a very loving and accepting person. So, me sort of looking closer at how I was noticing and being judgmental of someone’s appearance kind of shocked me a bit. I’m not wishing them ill by any means when I say judge them. It’s things in my head like, that’s a weird hat, or I don’t like the color of those pants, stuff like that. But, the spirit of it is definitely a me vs. them situation. It’s like my mind is seeing life as a big competition with me and other women, and any time I can look at her and think that’s a weird hat. It’s like I win.

I’ve never realized this or really thought of it consciously before, but it seems like that’s what’s happening, and I don’t like it. I especially don’t like it when I think about why I do this because I’ve been taught explicitly and implicitly that the way people look is an important piece of information. The most important, and can be a threat to me in some way. I was raised with the L’Oreal, don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.

And we know what our brain hears when the sentence starts with don’t. Like, when I say don’t think of a yellow school bus, and that is precisely what pops into your head. From the book, the fact is women are not actually dangerous to one another. Outside the myth, other women look a lot like natural allies. In order for women to learn to fear one another, we have to be convinced that our sisters possess some kind of mysterious, potent secret weapon to be used against us.

The imaginary weapon being beauty. This constant comparison in which one woman’s worth fluctuates through the presence of another divides and conquers. It forces women to be acutely critical of the choices other women make about how they look. Even more disturbing to me is that the judgment that I exercised toward other women is a small fraction of what I exercise on myself in the same and even harsher ways.

In fact, that’s how I know how to judge and criticize. I have learned to judge and criticize myself based on cultural beauty ideals and standards. I do it all day long. So, no wonder I do it to other women. It’s how my brain is wired. Look for flaws, find them, call them out, feel terrible about them and inadequate about them, and then apply to every woman everywhere.

This makes me sad, and it magnifies my feeling alone because I walk around in the world othering myself, thinking of how I am separate or different or looking for how someone else is separate or different. Wolf’s take on this; though women have networks of intimate friends, the beauty myth and women’s conditions until recently have kept women from learning how to do something that makes all-male social change possible. How to identify with unknown other women in a way that is not personal.

The unknown woman the myth would like women to believe is unapproachable, under suspicion before she opens her mouth because she’s another woman, and beauty thinking urges women to approach one another as possible adversaries until they know they are friends. The look with which strange women sometimes appraise one another says it all, a quick up and down, curt and wary, it takes in the picture, but leaves out the person, the shoes, the muscle tone, the makeup, or noted accurately, but the eyes glance off one another.

Women can tend to resent each other if they look too “good” and dismiss one another if they look too “bad.” So, women rarely benefit from the experience that makes men’s clubs and organizations hold together. The solidarity of belonging to a group whose members might not be personal friends outside but are united in an interest, agenda, or world view. This really got me thinking about how I shift this way of looking at me and other women as one, united in an interest, agenda, or world view, instead of as other, as enemies, as rivals, as competition.

I just got home from a quick trip to Disneyland for my daughter’s birthday, which followed a weekend of attending a dance competition with my other daughter. I decided this was a perfect opportunity to try on a new way of looking at and relating to other women, strangers, right, with less judgment and more compassion and comradery. So, I challenged myself to really think about this consciously as I was out in public and with women kind of for 7 days straight.

So, here’s what I used as my guide from the book. All women have experienced the world treating them better or worse according to where they rate each day. While this experience wreaks havoc with women’s identity, it does mean that women have access to a far greater range of experiences than the snapshots beauty takes of us would lead us to believe. We may well discover that the way we now read appearances tells us little and that we experience no matter what we look like the same spectrum of feelings, sometimes lovely, often unlovely.

Always female in a commonality that extends across the infinite grids that beauty tries to draw among us. We have to stop reading each other’s appearances as if appearance were language, political allegiance, worthiness, or aggression. The chances are excellent that what a woman means to say to other women is far more complex and sympathetic than the garbled message that her appearance permits her.

So, I walked around the dance competition, which was basically hundreds of girls and their moms and grandmas and sisters and lots of lots of women, some dads sprinkled it, but for sure predominately women. And I walked around Disneyland, and I saw hundreds of women, and I consciously thought we’re all on the same team. All of us suffer. All of us feel.

We’ve all been subject to messages about how we appear that have us focusing on that and feeling inadequate and objectified at times. We are so much more than how we look or how we’re shaped, or what we’re wearing. I found myself asking I wonder who she is? I wonder what she’s been through and experienced? I wonder what she would teach me if she could? I wonder what she feels?

And my curiosity left no room for judgment. This is something I’ve shared with you before. Curiosity and judgment just can’t coexist. If we can wonder about what’s going on for us or why we made that choice, or why we believed that sentence, our brain can get to work finding answers that move us forward rather than evidence of how we’re wrong and bad that keep us stuck.

One of the things I challenge myself to look for is that radiance, that light that humans possess when they are just being themselves unencumbered. Wolf describes it; this light doesn’t photograph well, can’t be measured on a scale of 1-10, won’t be quantified in a lab report, a radiance can immerge from faces and bodies, making them truly beautiful. To see this light, though, it seems one has to look for it. And so I looked. I looked for women glowing as they laughed with their loved ones.

I saw women light up with pride as they watched their daughters dance. I watched grandma’s faces glow as they gazed at their grandchildren. Women radiating as they had fun and walked proudly and held hands and helped and loved. I saw women soaking in the sun, women lighting up by just being themselves. I tried rather than giving the wary head-to-toe glance that I mentioned before to meet her eyes and to smile.

And looking for this light in others, it lit me up too. Seeing women as my allies had me extending more compassion to me too. If we’re all in the same team, I’m on that team too. So, I want to extend the same challenge to you, notice where you are judging others and yourself, notice how you view other women as rivals or allies. See if you can identify some of the beliefs you have about beauty and value.

Look for the light in yourself and others. Open the door for a woman who’s struggling, meet her eyes, and smile. I’ll leave you with this from the book, how might women act beyond the myth? Perhaps we will forget to elicit admiration from strangers and find we don’t miss it. Perhaps we will await our older faces with anticipation and be unable to see our body’s as a massive imperfection since there’s nothing on us that is not precious. Maybe we won’t want to be the after anymore.

A woman-loving definition of beauty supplants desperation with play, narcissism with self-love, dismemberment with wholeness, absence with presence, stillness with animation. It admits radiance, light coming out of the face and body rather than a spotlight on the body dimming the self. We will be able to see it in others and not be frightened and able at last to see it in ourselves. A woman wins who calls herself beautiful and challenges the world around her to change to truly see her.

I see you. I am working really hard to more fully and compassionately see all women for their particular and beautiful light. I’m working just as hard to see my own. I hope, as women, we will all do the same for one another. We’re on the same team. All of us suffer. All of us feel. All of us have the radiant light inside. We just have to let it shine. Okay, everybody, I love you all. I’ll see you soon.

Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Weight Loss Success with Natalie Brown. If you want to learn more about how to lose weight for the last time, come on over to itbeginswithathought.com. We’ll see you here next week.

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I spent over 2 decades battling my weight and hating my body, before I found a solution that worked FOR GOOD. I lost 50 pounds by changing not just what I eat, but WHY. Now I help other women like me get to the root of the issue and find their own realistic, permanent weight loss success. Change is possible and you can do it. I can help you.

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