I was over the moon when I was able to attend the Women in the World Summit this year, thanks to my best friend generously giving me her ticket. It was was awe-inspiring and powerful day. I felt like I was watching history being made while sitting in Lincoln Center with so many women who had, and are, making history. The entire day was constructed in a way that highlighted so many accomplishments, and I felt like I could achieve anything; I was ready to leave that conference and change the world. But this all came to a screeching halt when the discussion turned to the sexualization of women in the media.
Here are a couple quotes from the panel that sent my head spinning:
"I don't understand why girls are taking pictures of themselves with their tongues out. Boys don't want to see that!"
"Maybe they should go to girls school to 'focus'?"
"Instead of doing their math homework, girls are sending nudies!"
"Don't they realize what they are seeing isn't real?"
I wanted to jump on the stage and scream into the microphone, "DO YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU ARE DOING RIGHT NOW?!" How, at the convention that is supposed to elevate and inspire women, could panelists justify blaming girls and women for emulating what they see in the media? I could not comprehend how this incredible event could have mistreated the topic so. But then I realized that this is not specific to this panel: this is how sexualization of women in the media is constantly treated. And, quite frankly, I am tired of girls and women being blamed for it. This victim blaming prevents everyone from talking about the topic productively.
The media's sexualization of women is inescapable. You turn on your computer, you walk down the street, you ride the bus, you turn on the TV -- the images bombard you. In this day and age, hyper-sexualized beauty standards for women are set by the media: white, thin, long legs, toned abs, cleavage, and big hair. Sex sells.
I did not describe myself as "smart" until about six months ago. If you had asked 17-year-old Paulina to describe herself, she would have given you a description of her body and what needed to change about it. When I would see a distant relative or a family friend, they'd be quick to tell me something about my body that was "right." Everyone's focus was on my body, and what it did or it did not have. This is a common experience for women, and the media exploits this pervasive form of objectification. So if the media is projecting hyper-sexualized images of women's bodies, women are going to emulate them in order to keep up with freshly promoted beauty standards.
The problem is not only women copying the standard, but the media itself. The media doesn't create these standards from thin air, but perpetuates them by sensationalizing them in the same way they do with celebrities or news story. Even if everyone can achieve "media literacy" and realize that what they see in the media is not real, that understanding won't invalidate the root, the already existing standard the media maintains and promotes.
More than anything, this cycle should cause us to question the power of the media and what we are consuming. If we stopped consuming hyper-sexualized images of women, they would cease to exist. Women's bodies are grounds for exploitation inside and outside of the media because such exploitation leads to various economic bottom lines: objectifying women makes certain people money. This isn't an issue of girls being "stupid" and the solution can't be found in women monitoring themselves at the tail end of this system. This is an issue of how much power the media has over all of us and how it's one part of a destructive, systemic cycle in which certain people profit from women's bodies.
This piece was originally posted on thefbomb.org