Evidence from Kat Banyard (2010) The equality illusion– the truth about women and men today, Faber and Faber.
Today it is normal for women to worry about their looks. Girls have starkly different relationships to their bodies than boys – they put greater emphasis on how attractive their bodies are to others – for boys physical prowess – what he can actually achieve is more important than looks. Banyard cites the following evidence to support her view that women are more concerned about their looks than men –
1. 1.5 million people in the UK have an eating disorder – 90% of them women and girls
2. A survey conducted by Dove of 3000 women found that 90% of them wanted to change some aspect of their body with body weight and shape being the main concern.
3. One in four women has considered plastic surgery.
4. An analysis of animated cartoons shows that female characters are far more likely to be portrayed as physically attractive than male characters and those who are attractive are far more likely to be portrayed as intelligent, employed, happy, loving and involved in kissing and hugging.
5. In 2007 a survey of Brownies aged 7-10 were asked to describe ‘planet sad’ they spoke of it being inhabited by girls who were fat and bullied about their appearance.
6. A survey conducted in 2009 found that a quarter of girls thought it was more important to be beautiful than clever. – Youngpoll.com
7. The more mainstream media high school students watch, the more they believe beauty is important according to the American Psychological Association.
8. The media furore over Susan Boyle was mainly because she didn’t conform to the female stereotype of beauty.
9. In 2009 the Bank of England held a seminar for its female employees called ‘dress for success’ – where they were informed, amongst other things, to ‘always wear make up’, there was no such equivalent for men
10. Some studies have shown that the more a girl monitors her appearance, the less satisfied she will be with her appearance.
11. Two thirds of women report having avoided activities such as going swimming or going to a party because they feel bad about their appearance while 16% of 15 -17 year olds have avoided going to school for the same reason.
12. One experiment found that female students performed worse in maths tests when wearing a swim suit compared to regular clothes while boy’s performance doesn’t decrease under the same conditions
Analysis – what Banyard actually thinks is wrong/ harmful about this situation…
‘The existence of a suffocating ideal of beauty has persisted and it has remained a gendered phenomenon. Women are judged on their ability to conform to a beauty ideal – there is a cultural pressure to manipulate their bodies to fit into a pre-existing ideal – to treat your body as an object that will be consumed by an observing public (This is known as objectification)
While some Feminists argue that the Feminine pursuit of beauty is simply a matter of choice – women freely choose to do it (Baumgardner) others (Jefferys) argue that the practise of beautification reflect and perpetuate gender inequalities – women put effort into displaying their femininity/ sexuality because they are relatively powerless – and those women that do engage in the practise of beautification perpetuate the idea that a woman’s value is in her beauty.
Millions of girls and women begin their days with beautification rituals because their sense of self hinges on the gaze of others. If your sense of self esteem depends on what you think others think of your appearance, can you really be said to have freedom of choice? Also, can you really say women are equal to men in this respect?
One of the reasons for the persistent problems of body image faced by females is that girls are taught from a very young age that their physical appearance is a reflection of their worth and value, and treated accordingly.