Has anyone ever told you that women put effort into their appearances because they want to impress men? I’ve been told that many times. Usually by men. So why are problems such as anorexia and bulimia still common in girls’ schools, where there are no boys around to impress?
Sometimes we don’t even realise that we’re conforming to the pressures of those around us, because it has become so natural to us. Sometimes we don’t even realise that the pressure exists, because we don’t realise that there is an alternative. All the women around me are shaving their legs? Okay, I guess I better do that too. All the women around me are carrying handbags instead of rucksacks? Okay, guess what I’m going to buy next? All the women around me want to slim up for summer? Okay, maybe I should be following one of those fad diets (please don’t, they never work).
I’ve never had a man tell me that the sandals I’m wearing are ugly or that my make-up wasn’t applied well (which doesn’t mean that men never do point such things out). But trust me, I’ve had many women point things like that out. Often, they don’t even do it with bad intentions, they’re simply trying to help another woman fit in with the rest of the crowd. This is because a common desire is to fit in – we want to fit in, because then we avoid any awkward feelings of not belonging, of being an outsider or of embarrassment or shame. Obviously not everyone has this desire to fit in and that’s totally fine, why should they? Why should we feel like we don’t belong just because we haven’t followed what everyone else is doing?
The point of this post isn’t to say go dye your hair rainbow colours and never shave again (unless of course you want to). The point is rather to highlight the fact that women (and men) are under a lot of pressure and it’s not just from a desire to impress men, although that can factor in in some cases. If you take away that factor, pressure still exists to conform to whatever we’ve classed as ‘acceptable normality’. The funny thing is that our ‘acceptable normality’ changes over time. A commonly cited example is that 50 years ago, women were encouraged to gain weight and be more curvy – a stark contrast to today’s skinny ‘ideal’. One of my favourite videos by Buzzfeed features descriptions of what was considered a woman’s ‘ideal body’ throughout history.
One of the other issues is that us women often judge each other harshly. Why do we feel the need to condemn someone for not going with the flow? Why don’t we instead support their decisions or who they are without requiring them to conform first? I encourage you to reflect upon your life and why you made certain decisions. Were they because you wanted to make them or because they were expected of you? Did you even realise that you were making the decision?
Author: Ilona Clayton