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Chiara / May 5, 2015 , Tue / feminism, films & music

Being a woman in the modern age can suck – royally. We have unrealistic expectations thrust upon us every day. And they’re not whispering-in-the-background expectations, either. They’re in-your-damn-face expectations. On the TV, in the magazines, on the ad by the bus-stop, on the ad on the side of the bus – these expectations are everywhere.

These expectations to be “beautiful”. The kind of beautiful that does not exist. The kind of beautiful that involves never aging, never growing old, never putting on fat, and keeping a body that – realistically – only exists for the precious few. Big boobs, tiny waist, nice butt, and absolutely no fat seen anywhere. And of course, no blemishes, either.

Growing up an entire life (that sounds weird, but whatever) seeing these expectations, I can ignore them most days. I mean, when I was eight years old, I wrote a “song” about how I could lose weight and get a tan (back when tans were cool and not widely considered the precursor to sun cancer) if the elusive “you” asked me to. Friends called me fat. Girls commented on my fat ass. For as long as I can remember I have been 100% unhappy with my body. The only time I can recall being confident in my body was when I was about 17 years old, and I didn’t eat for a month, and went down to an Australian size six.

I can ignore these expectations most of the time, because if I didn’t, I would be overcome with anger and self doubt even more than I already am. I still look at these “perfect” women and wish I could look like them – heck, I’ve all but been programmed to think that, but because the media and entertainment industry will never change, I sigh in discontent and push my feelings down.

The other day I was watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. If you don’t know what it’s about, here’s a quick synopsis: man is born a baby but the age of about an 85 year old man. When he’s five he looks 70, when he’s twenty he looks 65. So by the time he’s 50, he looks about 35. In other words: he gets hotter as he gets older. Now, when he’s about seven years old (and looking about 80), he meets a seven year old girl who looks seven (as most seven year olds do). Cue love story.

Now, the aging process for Benjamin (Brad Pitt) is realistic. You can see him getting progressively younger as he ages.

However, the girl he loves – Daisy (Cate Blanchett) deosn’t age from when she’s supposed to be about seventeen years old. We don’t see a wrinkle on her face until forty three (and that’s only after she admits she’s forty three). When she’s fifty six, she looks no different to when she proclaimed she was forty three. She just does not age in this movie, even though Benjamin’s character is getting younger in every scene change.

Why the fuck did she not age along with him? Why did she not look a day over freaking seventeen until after she admitted her age of forty three? Why was she not allowed to look any older, but the aging process in Benjamin’s character was so pronounced it was unmissable? Why are women not allowed to age? Why are we not allowed to have wrinkles, or – god forbid – breasts that don’t stand to freaking attention? Why do we have to look young forever? Why the hell do we have these completely screwed up and unrealistic expectations thrust upon us before we can even begin to understand how horrific they are?

Why do we have expectations that made me, when I was eight years old, think I should lose weight? That led me to be happy with my body only when I hadn’t eaten food. When, even now, I look older than people years ahead of me in the media and entertainment industry. That when I look at the bodies plastered everywhere I cannot find one that matches my own.

Why on earth are we subjected to these expectations, and why are they continuing? Why are they present in a movie about aging?

I don’t know. I don’t know why it started to being with, and I have no idea why it still continues today. But I know that I wish I had grown up in a society that embraces the female form, and supports every body shape and size, that sees the beauty of growing old and seeing that passage of time make itself known on our bodies. I wish I had, and I wish – that if I ever have children – they don’t have to see these unrealistic expectations everywhere they turn.

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6 Responses to female expectation + benjamin button

  1. Beth W says:

    We don’t have to have any of these pressures- they’re placed upon us. Because if we feel dissatisfied with our looks and lives on a fundamental level, we’re more likely to spend money on things that “fix”, “cure”, or “solve” it (like weight loss programs and gyms, but also clothing, health foods, diet books, pills, etc.) It’s marketing, plain and simple, and in our face all the time from birth until death. Ignoring it is impossible- but managing to lead a happy, fulfilled life DESPITE it is heroism, and an act of defiant bravery.

    I do think that as our generation ages, we’re going to be more accepting of aging and the natural body. Not in some miracle no-marketing-BS way, but in a mitigated we’re-aware-it’s-BS-and-there-is-some-accurate-representation-out-there way. We’re already, with the widespread use of the internet, at least aware that our body shape is not some singular freak of nature thing, but one a vast array of body shapes (and with modern medical thought and the acceptance of non-traditional medicinal practices we’ve gotten away from the skinny or svelte = healthy misconception).

    At times like these, I like to watch those excellent Dove commercials/films, especially “Onslaught”.

    • Chiara says:

      I think it’s wonderful to live without bowing down to these images of what we “should” look like, but I think a lot of the time there’s still a comparison. I can look at these marketing campaigns and affirm to myself that yes, these are unrealistic expectations, and not everybody expects me to look this way. But at other times, it’s hard not to look and think: why don’t *I* look like that?

      But yes you’re right in the fact that we are more open-eyed in terms of what is “normal”, in the fact that there *is* no normal.

      I saw this clip one time, and it was where people looked in the mirror, and stated all the things they didn’t like about themselves, without knowing that there were people on the other side of the mirror saying all the things they LIKED about this person. And it was beautiful, because more often than not the things that the person did not like about themselves – the strangers loved. These kinds of videos are important because it’s raising that awareness, and showing that even if YOU don’t feel like you live up to expectations, there are people who think you’re beautiful (and handsome) just the way you are.

  2. Unrealistic body expectations are something that plague both genders, I think – it’s not just women, even though that is a topic that is widely (and very rightly!) focused on. It’s absolutely ridiculous that thin is the ideal standard of beauty, that women are forced to constantly step on a scale to prove their worth, that if one’s skin and hair and breasts and lips are not perfect, one is consequently not good enough.

    At the same time, men are also plagued with unrealistic expectations, and it pisses me off just as much as the women’s (possibly even more so, since they’re not nearly as widely talked about) – if one is not over six feet tall and blessed with an 8-pack, one is, and here it is again: not good enough.

    Why do we have to live in a society where the media determines whether we’re “good enough”? It’s demeaning and it’s frustrating, and I’m so glad we’re finally, finally working up the courage to start talking about it.

    • Chiara says:

      Oh, yes! Its definitely there for both males and females, but being female I only know the true depths of the expectations placed on me, and how I have felt towards them. But it’s definitely there for everybody.

      I have no idea why we’ve let ourselves allow people with photoshop to determine what is “good enough”. I’m super glad that people are talking about this, and realising how wrong it is to place these expectations on everybody.

  3. Romi says:

    I stand to attention and applause you, Chiara, because this is the truth. And it’s so hard, once you’ve felt that pressure, to ever really get rid of it. I didn’t even realise until a year *after* the fact that the reason I couldn’t eat and felt sick all the time? It was because I felt the pressure. And… it ruined me. That feeling of expectation, the way each day I felt such a need to conform to a size that would suit my career and future. And it’s ridiculous- we have plus size models who are the size of an Average. Australian. Woman.- how is that plus size, why are we made to feel like we’re a plus size at all, whatever weight we are?
    This is brilliant, though. And I’m sorry you’ve had this struggle. And I hope it gets better, every day, and one day we won’t even need to think about it because we won’t see it everywhere. Xx

    • Chiara says:

      Thank you ^.^

      I’m so sorry that these expectations affected you, Romi. And I can only say that I hope you are okay <3

      I think it's appalling that the Australian "plus size" models are the average sized woman. It just perpetuates these expectations to an awful degree. And even when there are spreads "celebrating" different sizes in bra advertisements or whatever there's just one girl that is SLIGHTLY curvy. I'm always so disappointed when I see those types of ads.

      I hope one day that we are celebrated for who we are, because that's the way it should be <3

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