“I’m not a girly girl”: Why belittling beauty culture harms girls more than make-up.

In recent weeks, John Lewis and Mac Cosmetics were forced to cancel a “back to school” make up masterclass at a shopping centre in Kent. This came after parents and charities complained about the pressure placed on girls to break school rules. The incident opened up a debate about what age it becomes appropriate for girls to wear make up, as well as the impact that beauty practices have on young women. For instance, Bex Bailey, of the Young Women’s Trust stated:
If we are ever going to achieve gender equality we have to focus on the talents and skills young women can contribute, not on a prescriptive beauty ideal
Of course, concerns about young women’s body image are valid. Historically, women have been pressurised to strive for unrealistic expectations of attractiveness. As feminists have long argued, in the West, this conception of beauty has been defined through Euro-centric ideals of whiteness and thinness. In particular, as I discuss in my book, The Politics of Weight (Morris, 201…

A Rite of Passage - Bringing your Daughter to Dance Class

As I drop my two daughters off at their dance classes, I look around the studio building and see all girls. Today, the overwhelming majority of the student population engaged in dance education and training is female (HEADS 2018). Why not bring sons to dance? What is Western society trying to encourage or develop in females by exposing them to dance? What does dance teach females about their bodies and their movement? I know what I hope to develop in my daughters by bringing them to dance class. As a professional dancer, choreographer, and educator, I want them to feel the power of their bodies, experience the connection between the body and mind, to know intimately the medium they experience life through, and to tap into the lineage of the strong women who created modern dance technique. Modern dance is one of the few art forms which women have dominated as creative forces. If I had boys, I would want them to dance for the same reasons. However, I am aware of other reasons to bring you…

Men’s body dissatisfaction is serious: But we shouldn’t blame women for it

(A version of this blog was first published in The under a Creative Commons license.)

'Body dissatisfaction' is extensively reported among men and it’s harmful. The research base compellingly shows this. It is related to clinical disorders (e.g., depression) but also, and more commonly, punishing gym routines, overly strict dieting, and repetitive anxious thoughts. For example, as participants in mine and colleagues’ focus groupstold me, body dissatisfaction can mean a waste of money: “you buy it, [try it and think it’s not flattering] and then you just never wear it’ (Peter), a waste of a good time: or “I would like [not have sex] and like my girlfriend would be like ‘Why? There’s no [reason].It’s not even a big deal’ like and I’d go like ‘oh it’s just me, I feel shit about [my stomach size]”’ (Gabriel) or even a waste of a promising career: “I used to be on a swimming team and now I don’t dare go into the pool anymore” (Nathan).
Are women to blame?Effective su…

Promoting Positive Body Image in Women Who Engage in Sport and Exercise

Women who take part in sport and exercise tend to have more positive body image than other women (e.g. Hausenblas & Fallon, 2006). Positive body image in women who exercise has been linked with a number of factors including relatively greater focus on body performance rather than aesthetics, the fact that exercised bodies tend to be closer to the mainstream cultural ideal in terms of body fat levels and muscle tone, and psychosocial benefits of sport, such as autonomy and competence, that have been linked to more positive body image (e.g. Petrie & Greenleaf, 2012).
Although women who take part in sport and exercise tend to be more positive about their bodies than other women, this does not mean that they do not have body image concerns, and body image concerns have been reported in elite athletes as well as in women who exercise for recreation and general fitness. High-profile elite sportswomen women such as Rebecca Adlington have opened up discussions around women’s body imag…

Body Negativity: What’s wrong with Body Positivity?

Body positive campaigns have their hearts in the right place. Their messages are good and – you guessed it – positive:
Be resilient. Be confident. Love your body. You are beautiful. All bodies are beautiful.
These campaigns work for some. Some respond well and do feel more confident. If they work for you, go for it, fantastic and I’m all for it. I am not suggesting we shouldn’t teach resilience, we should. But we should not see it as the answer, we should recognise it is limited. Resilience can be counter-productive. If resilience is something you should do then you feel bad if you can’t quite manage it. What if you are not body confident, what if you don’t feel positive about your body?
It is hard to be resilient in the face of a dominant and powerful beauty ideal. In a visual and virtual culture, our bodies are ourselves. Feeling ashamed of our bodies really is being ashamed of our selves. If we are feeling shame, telling us we shouldn’t feel like we do can make it worse. It can make …

Culture and Context: A lifespan perspective on beauty

This month’s blog is a provocation. It is an invitation to, perhaps, imagine a different narrative about appearance and beauty…….not one that emphasizes consumerism or declares that everyone is beautiful or that attention to, or a focus on, appearance is trivial and beauty work is oppressive – an aspect of a patriarchal society. Of course, beauty work exists within the norms of a patriarchal society that, along with a consumerist edict, negatively impact notions of appearance and beauty, but that is only a partial telling of the story of human appearance. I am certainly not the first person to put forth this narrative – there are notable exceptions – Ribeiro,Hollows, Brand, Cahill, Craig, Gibson, Peiss. What follows, this blog, is based on research, interviews conducted with a diverse group of women and men from both the UK and the US. Coordinated Management of Meaning or CMM informed the interview process and grounded theory was used to analyse the data. The focus of the interviews w…