As a woman, you may leave the house feeling great about how you look. Then you get somewhere and look around at other women in the room and suddenly feel not so great because you think they look better. The social anxiety of body image is something women have experienced for a long time, but may currently be at an all-time high.
This week on “Take Care,” Gina Barreca talks about the evolution of how body image became such a hot topic for women, and why it shouldn’t have to be. Barreca is a feminist theory and English professor at the University of Connecticut, a columnist for the Hartford Courant, and has appeared on the Today Show, CNN, NPR and Oprah to discuss gender, power, politics, and humor. She is also the author of “They Used to Call Me Snow White But I Drifted: Women’s Strategic Use of Humor” and "If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?"
It seems there has always been some sort of clothing for women to help make their bodies look better, says Barreca. First there was the corset, then there was the girdle, and now there are spanks.
“It’s like putting yourself in one of those baggies that take the air out of everything so they can go in the freezer,” Barreca said.
Constricting parts of your body that aren’t meant to be can even cause digestive problems, according to Barreca, who says she imagines women who wear spanks as rising helium balloons throughout the night.
“No bodily fluids or gases can be released,” Barreca said.
Barreca feels that sometimes women forget that the right to feel good in their own skin has to come from within—it’s not something that can be gained by approval of the outside world. She says to think of your body as different places as you age, such as a temple, an amusement park, or in Barreca’s case a terrarium, because of her age and all the probiotics she takes.
“We have to start saying thank you to all the bits that work. I think if you keep looking at your legs and telling them that they’re no good, your legs are going to start hurting,” Barreca said.
She also acknowledges the pressure women feel to be skinny.
“Women try to shape our bodies to fit something that’s on a hanger,” Barreca said.
For most women, they feel they’ve gained weight if they can’t fit into the same jeans they wore in high school. But for men, they feel they’ve gained weight if they can’t fit into a foreign car, says Barreca. There’s a different standard that applies to men and women, and Barreca says this is an issue that can improve with how mothers teach their daughters how to act.
“We need to model to our daughters and the younger women in our life that we’re not just going to be worried about how we look, but how we live … Having a louder laugh, having a smarter wisecrack, having a better comeback, and having more fun in life is really going to have a bigger pay off,” Barreca said. “You never hear a man say ‘I’m going to be a 42 short by the holiday.’”
Another thing women tend to do is make a moral judgement about the bad food they eat, says Barreca. This is something women should steer away from. Barreca says women should only be making moral judgements if they do something that’s actually bad, like sell drugs to children, compared to eating a muffin for breakfast.
“Everybody’s terrified about how she looks and if she’s not going to look good. We got to stop this ‘we should look nice, you got to take a shower, you know you should probably part your hair.’ Cleanliness is a nice thing in life, but it’s okay to wear flat shoes,” Barreca said.