The Feminine Body Essay, Research Paper
The Feminine Body
Bartky (p. ?) states that we are born male or female, but not masculine or feminine. Femininity
is an artifice, and achievement, “a mode of enacting and reenacting received gender norms which
surface as so many styles of the flesh.
In today’s society there does seem to be a significant rise in disciplinary practices that produce a
body which in gesture and appearance is recognizably feminine (p. ?). However; the female figure
has changed over time and nowadays women are striving more for the look of slimness bordering
on emanciation (p. ?). But think back to the eighteenth century when the larger woman was
considered the norm of beauty, and now this massiveness, power, and abundance in a woman’s
body is met with distaste. Thus, remaining a female preoccupation with appearance that is almost
I challenge every woman to ask themselves this question, “does having a beautiful of sexy body
really gain them any respect or social power?” Sure, they may use their bodies to attract male
attention, using this admiration to compensate for their inferior self- esteem, yet the sad irony is that
the more energy a woman expends focusing on her body as an object of admiration, the less real
contact with her body she will have.
Women’s preoccupation with appearance is psychologically damaging. But cultural ideas about
femininity make it extremely difficult to distinguish self affirming behavior from that which
contributes to our persona, or our false self. Each time we try to create a feeling of being “feminine”
we involve ourselves in the production of something artificial- a performance. In fact, when we say
to ourselves, “fix the flaw,” we only reinforce our perception of ourselves as being damaged and not
My own experiences throughout my life thus far, perpetuate this very notion of wanting and
striving for outer beauty, rather than inner strength and assurance. I remember at the tender age of
fourteen my mother came to me and said, “you’d be so pretty if you just lost some weight.” At that
point in my development being liked by my peers was my main focus, but I just didn’t fit in because
of my weight. I was not someone with good-looking legs. I was short and not well porportioned,
with breasts that were too small. My face was like a chipmunk’s. By then, though, it was too late
for any reassurance; my body image had already been formed. Thus began the rollercoaster of
crash diets, surgery, and years of bingeing and purging. All for what though, so I could fit in with
how society thinks a woman should look like? What did I really accomplish and who did I
accomplish it for? Am I any more popular because I’ve taken off the extra seventy five pounds? Sure, I get attention now and people seem to like me more, however; it still doesn’t fill the void of wanting to feel and be an equal to all humankind. Can’t I just be me and not have to consume my every thought with how I appear to others? I wish there was an easy answer but unfortunately there is not.
Self- image and femininity includes both physical and psychological qualities, and is formed as a result of internalizing how we are perceived, what we are told, and what feelings and attitudes are conveyed by our caretakers and society as a whole. If a female regards her body, her mind, her competence, and her role in life as less than that of a man, then these feelings will no doubt be communicated in various self defeating behaviors and will become the nucleus of the female’s identity. It is universal in women, this deep sense of being flawed. We cannot stop looking, picking, dieting. We cannot leave ourselves alone. Out of touch with our inner selves, we tend to rely excessively on our outer selves. We can change our outer selves, improve our outer selves, and thus secure the attention we so desperately require. In so doing, we’ve evaded a problem that must be met head- on: the fact that we don’t, in any fundamental sense, admire ourselves.
Until women discover the source of societies contempt, and work free of it, we will find ourselves unhappy in spite of the most brilliantly accomplished lives. Trying, through success, to attract the attention we so desperately require, will only keep us stuck on the performance pendulum. But admiration from others will never be enough to fulfill women. What women need is a genuine feeling of self- love. This feeling is not only permissible; it is crucial if we are ever to rise above the hidden feelings of inferiority that keep us down.