Sunday, April 02, 2006

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful

I read two articles in the paper today that really had me wondering. I haven't completely decided how I feel about this so I am hoping some of you might help me sort this one out.

The first was about a 22-year-old woman preparing for the Miss USA pageant. She talked about all of the preparation and hard work that goes into being a pageant contestant and attempted to dispel the conception that beauty queens are "...all world peace, and...all just fluffy and don't have a brain." She goes onto talk about the importance of butt glue and vaseline as essential tools of any serious candidate. While I'm sure she is intelligent and successful, and I know the people in charge have worked hard to minimize the cattleshow nature of these pageants, I'm not sure the general population has completely bought in to the notion that they are more than just a beauty contest.

The second article, written by a local columnist highlighted many of the risks and dangers young people, particularly young women, face while on spring break in places such as Florida, Texas and Mexico. Although she cites myriad research detailing the drinking and sexual habits of spring break revilers, her opening premise focuses on the ever popular "Girls Gone Wild" videos which often feature said spring breakers in various stages of undress.

I am fully aware of the risks created by the sort of binge drinking and risky sexual behaviors she is addressing, so that's not my issue. Rather, I was bothered by her quote of an anonymous friend describing the reaction she would have if her daughter was caught "going wild",
"Imagine all those years you spend driving them to soccer practice and working on their self esteem and all those junior-high body issues..." she said. "Then one of them whips off her shirt on a beach somewhere, and it ends up on the Internet, and all your hard work goes right down the drain."

Is it really that simple? Does it really make sense to say that an incident such as the one she is imagining would negate everything she had ever done as a parent? Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but if she is measuring her entire success as a parent against one incident doesn't it seem as though her self-esteem is the one at risk?

The other thing I was troubled by was this whole notion of self-esteem, particularly as it pertains what women do with their bodies. Keep in mind, this isn't about defending the predatory nature of the "Girls Gone Wild" films, arguing about whether society oppresses women or what I would want for my daughter. I just struggle with the insinuation that any woman who takes her shirt off, whether for a camera of not, suffers from low self-esteem. While that may or may not be the case It comes across as intellectually and therapeutically lazy. For starters the term has been so overused that it is essentially meaningless. It is akin to a doctor simply diagnosing a patient as sick regardless of the symptoms. Blaming low self-esteem also does a disservice to women by not truly addressing either the influential nature of popular culture or what might be very real mental health issues. Either way, it's a cop-out.

My final question is this, if it really is about self-esteem and seeking gratification through the approval of others than is it possible that the Miss USA pageant and "Girls Gone Wild" are different sides of the same coin?


Rhonda said...

Sven, this was so good I need to gnash it around in my head for a while before responding.

The Boy said...

Ditto to Rhonda.

Meg said...

I think they're both the same thing. Both are demeaning. Both are unnessecary and any woman who is worth anything would know that it's not necessary to flaunt your body like that. Beauty pageants are a little more "okay," but still. Anything that causes a woman to be seen as an object (object of beauty, sex object)rather than a person is wrong.

St Jude said...

Meg; I understand what you are saying, however each woman has her own choice to make. Perhaps they do not suffer from Low self-esteem, but more a case of holding themselves and more to the point their bodies in high esteem. The most striking thing to me is the 'age' thing, youth makes us do many things that with experience and hingsight we would never dream of doing. Possibly because through our experiences we learn to respect ourselves and have the confidence and ability to express ourselves in a more meaningful way.

St Jude said...

Ooh I've just created a new word, 'hingsight'? I did of course mean hindsight.

DrKNOW said...

Just because some girl takes her top off during spring break doesn't necessarily mean she suffers from low self esteem, maybe she derives her self esteem from her fabulous tits. We all get our self esteem from different sources and beauty is no better or worse than love, intelligence, or morals. As for the mom who puts so much emphasis on the spring break nudity thing, she's a little too wrapped up in her daughter's life, especially if she thinks one boob shot is going to undo a lifetime of achievement.

Attila The Mom said...

I agree with drknow.

Great analysis! Especially this:

"My final question is this, if it really is about self-esteem and seeking gratification through the approval of others than is it possible that the Miss USA pageant and "Girls Gone Wild" are different sides of the same coin?"

Now this is too much. Word verification for the day: yrurgly

The Poodle's Friend said...

I agree with you that 'boob-baring' has little to do with self-esteem. I'd blame it completely on getting insanely drunk/high/both. With that in mind, I can see why the mother would think a lifetime of parenting wasted. If your daughter is enough of an 'idiot' to get drunk enough to take her shirt off on Girls Gone Wild, I wouldn't say she was raised all that well. The mother's self esteem is indeed at risk; seeing her daughter naked on tv/the internet might be an indication of poor parenting skills.
But maybe I'm being too harsh. I'm not a parent after all.

frankengirl said...

Sven - What excellent questions - :)

I particularly like how you pull out the quote: “all your hard work goes right down the drain."

As you note so well, why does one incident negate all others?

You also highlight how absurdly overused and confused the word “self-esteem” can be!

In Revolution from Within : A Book of Self-Esteem
by Gloria Steinem, she writes about how she questioned her own self-esteem despite all her accomplishments - because in her feminist fight for women, she wondered if she had ignored/deprived her own personal needs. Is it easier to find for others than for ourselves, if we do not have high “self-esteem”?

In respect to Girls-Gone-Wild, I guess I’d ask:

Do we value our selves if we put our bodies at unnecessary risk? Do we care enough about ourselves if we do not protect ourselves from potential harm? (I believe incidents of rape are not uncommon in GGW?) And if we flaunt our bodies before an “uncivilized” audience, what kind of attention are we seeking for ourselves?

But I think you’re right not to make quick judgments. Everyone seeks attention and desires recognition, and I suspect most of us have done something silly in our lives for a moment of notice!

(Okay, at a quick glance at some of the comments, I see some interesting and alternative angles here...)

frankengirl said...

Oops! In respect to Gloria S, I meant to write:

Is it easier to FIGHT for others than for ourselves...?

Sophia said...

"Then one of them whips off her shirt on a beach somewhere, and it ends up on the Internet..."

I wonder, is it the fact that she took her shirt off, or is it the fact that it ended up on the Internet that's really bothering this mother?

To your final question, I think pageants and "Girls Gone Wild" are both looking for "love", if you will, in all the wrong places.

Sven said...

Meg: Who gets to decide what is demeaning?

St. Jude: Perhaps the flip side would be that age prevents us from doing things we otherwise might enjoy.

Dr. Know: "beauty is no better or worse than love, intelligence, or morals." Clearly society feels differently.

TPF: "I'd blame it completely on getting insanely drunk/high/both." That seems to be the greater risk on these spring break trips the columnist is talking about.

FG: It is an all too common that people will focus on helping others at the expense of helping themselves. That is what drive many people to the counseling field in the first place.

Sophia: "Is it the fact that she took her shirt off, or is it the fact that it ended up on the Internet that's really bothering this mother?" Great question!

Golgotha_Tramp said...

See this is where I pull myself in two.

On the one hand I can see why a beautiful girl would want to cash in on a "god given gift"* of beauty, the same way as a naturally good singer would want to make a living singing. I feel sorry for women who are attacked (usually by a fellow woman, I call her Miss Bitter) just for being born pretty. It angers me, the girl can't help looking the way she does. But some seem to think that attractive women should be ashamed of themselves, that they are the reason that Miss Bitter's boyfriend cheats, or looks at porn, or wants her to loose a stone. It's ridiculous!

On the other hand I think that women pandering to the demands of men by posing nude or topless is detrimental to women as a whole. I think that a lot of Beautiful women forget that being pretty is a gift, they did not work hard to get nice eyes, they didn't train for 18 years to have full lips, these things were given to them on a plate and they did nothing to earn them or to gain them.

The problem is that so much pressure is put on women to uphold there virtue. I woman if seen drunk is tutted and looked at, a drunken man not so. If a group of men were to expose there behinds to a group of girls a few eye's may be rolled but it's all in jest, boys will be boys eh? A woman on the other hand does not have this "get out of jail free card" should she retaliate and expose her bum, or her breasts she is a tart, a slapper, a whore. There are no jokes and rolled eyes for the fallen woman only disrepute and disgust.

*obviously more genetically given gift

Sven said...

Golgotha: Welcome, thanks for stopping by. You are right about the double standard between men and women. Unfotunately, as you point out, it seems that women are just a responsible as men for perpetuating that double standard.

As for GGW (and perhaps the pageants too), I'd be willing to be that many of the "assests" on display aren't "God given" but rather the results of someone's hard work. Given to them on a plate indeed ;-)

frankengirl said...

Oh, Golgotha, I love the “Miss Bitter” Rant! And you're so right about the "virtue" double-standard. And then there's how our eyes are "trained" to view nudity.

Naked men are funny. Naked women are sexy.

One of my favorite nude scenes is in A Room with a View when a bunch of the men undress, leap into the pond and romp around. It’s hilarious - :) I’m not sure women can do the same without immediately being perceived as sex objects (or as Golgotha says, flaunting tramps…)

Sophia said...

OK. There is a double standard. But I think there's a simple explanation for it.

Naked men are funny because they are naked. Naked women are sexy because men can't stop thinking about sex.

frankengirl said...

Hi, Sophia! Yes, I guess I’ll just add the obvious: naked men can be more comedic than naked women because they're less physically vulnerable.

In a movie shot: we see a naked guy running through park and maybe we think he’s a wacky weirdo! We see a naked gal running through the park and maybe we think she’s being chased…(or is she just “asking” for trouble?).

A professor of mine once told me she was jealous of her husband because, when they were strolling through the wood one steamy hot day, he just flung of his shirt, but she couldn’t do the same…

Sven said...

I don't know if Sophia was saying that naked men are comedic as much as funny looking. The funniest naked-man-in-a-movie sequence I can remember was Will Farrell in Old School "streaking through the Quad".

"he just flung of his shirt, but she couldn’t do the same…"

Well, she could, but there would probably have been a camera crew hiding behind a tree and then we'd be right back where we started.

mabel said...

Wow! Great post. I would be horrified if my daughter ended up on a GGW tape, but just because it is so permanent. It would be horrible to have that following you around. I also wouldn't be happy if she wanted to do beauty pageants because I don't think they are much better. (my husband once dated miss sandbass - I swear it! I tease him to this day...) I will be pondering this post for days...maybe years. Thanks!

frankengirl said...

Hello, Sven. Yes, I take full responsibility for suggesting Naked Men are Comedic as I alone started that notion with A Room with a View. Alas. I shall return to my own blog now to confuse people! :)

Sophia said...

Hi, FrankenGirl! Regarding your professor, I've often envied men for being able to pee whenever and wherever they want, in a real "emergency". I mean, we can of course, but it's a lot more difficult.

The times I don't envy men are in the hot summer when they have to wear suits or long pants to work, and for not being able to carry purses! Ah well, I guess nobody has it perfekt.

Kippa Herring said...

A parent who'd say something like, "One pic on the internet and all my hard work's gone down the drain" is all about HER, and wouldn't be likely to recognise self-esteem in another person if it was shoved right in front of her face. Boobs and all.

Anyway, self-esteem and self-respect often get confused with each other.

Michelle said...

I want girls to flash their breasts and make out with each other if they really want to. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how you gauge that.

For me, I think the only real measure is money. If I were paid enough (you know, royalties from the videos), I'd do it, but not just for a cap and the knowledge of "having done it."

OneEar said...

The title "Girls Gone Wild" always invokes for me the mental image of a tribe of feral women. I've always been disappointed thereafter.

Nikki said...

This is such a complex question.

Sure, I'll agree with you and say that they possibly could be different sides of the same coin. But we can't ignore the fact that there is a big difference in covering your nipples and letting them all hang out for the world to drool on. Of course then there comes the arguement that you can still "see" them depending on what you are wearing, even if you are covered up to your neck. Depends on what you wear and how you wear it.

In so far as the mother goes who freaks out because she sees her daughter on a Girls Gone Wild video. Why wouldn't she freak out? She is looking at the creature she held to her breast to give nurishment and love and comfort. Who she sang lullabyes to and took to the store to buy her first bra and prom dress and whatever else. This person, whom she loves, whose knees she doctored when they were bleeding and whose head she kissed and pressed cool cloths while she was sick, is shaking her tits on a video that the creepy old man down the street and the college guys in the dorms are jacking off to. Why can't mom freak out. Cut mom a break.