Why are girls more concerned about their appearance than boys? Is a question that has been asked by feminist and sociologist alike for a long time. The answer is not necessarily a clear one, nor is the reality of the statement, as social changes have occurred over the last few decades that blur gender identity and gender roles as well as the manner in which men and women feel about themselves and their outward appearance. One issue that could potentially still very heavily associated with girls is body image, or the manner in which one perceives that others see their bodily appearance, size, shape, symmetry and so on There was no common thread that united these women in terms of their appearance; women both young and old told me of the fear of aging; slim women and heavy ones spoke of the suffering caused by trying to meet the demands of the thin ideal; black, brown, and white women-women who looked like fashion models-admitted to knowing, from the time they could first consciously think, that the ideal was someone tall, thin, white, and blond, a face without poors, asymmetry, or flaws, someone wholly "prefect," and someone whom they felt, in one way or another, they were not. (Wolf, 1991, p. 1)
though men are increasingly more pressured by imagery to also fit a mold that is difficult if not impossible to obtain women are most assuredly united in a universal idea of fear, fear of getting fat or staying or becoming beautiful.
Known as the beauty myth many believe that if they are able to become, that which is so unattainable that everything else will be easy, and to some degree they also view those who are of the ideal as having a better, easier and more satisfying life. There is even some evidence that supports this fallacy, as countless studies have been done associating appearance and especially the appearance of women (the perception of beauty and caring about one's appearance) as constituting better treatment by people in public (Hale 30) that they get better jobs and have more satisfying social lives. The reality is that these stereotypes of a "put together" "fit" and "beautiful" women pervade the manner in which we interact with people when we simply have no other way to judge a person and this is a pervasive aspect of social interactions, especially in a world with 7 billion people and a whole lot more stranger to stranger social interaction than ever before. Some of the fear, associated with getting fat and/or not being "pretty" in a classical sense may stem from the rapid manner in which many women gain weight when their sex hormones begin to actively mature their body into adult women. (Lars 787) It could also be associated with the dual desire and repulsion associated with the male gaze, something that often occurs prior to emotional maturation that enables them to feel comfortable with such attention while at the same time they desire and seek it, and if they do not get it they feel inadequate. (Coleman) The repulsion could be associated with the fact that women perceive these male gazes as commodifying, i.e. making the woman a commodity an object of his desire that can be obtained, even when girls are simply out of reach legally and emotionally to these same men. The real association of the biggest social fear, getting fat with younger and younger girls is absolutely disturbing but is also indicative of the current obesity epidemic and the fact that we are a weight obsessed society, even if we are thin. (Carpentier 14-16)
According to body image expert Grogan, in western cultures the ideal body image for women is slim, we as a culture associate such an image with youth, happiness, social acceptability and even success, while the opposite is true of overweight as this image is seen as lazy, being out of control and having an utter lack of willpower, for men it is much the same but there is also an added expectation for a moderate amount of muscle. (6) Some contend that there is nothing wrong with this ideal, as it supports a healthy lifestyle and yet the reality is that this ideal has begun to go to an extreme that is, for the majority of women extremely unhealthy. The feminine characteristic to care about one's appearance, more than men is associated with an extreme like so many other things in this fast paced culture an extreme that is pervasive and rapid, supported by experience and even academic research.
There is also a sense that mind-body dualism is at play, where women are attributed the place as the representative of the body and men are given the place as the representative of the mind, in this analogy then women would be more concerned about the appearance of their bodies and men would be more concerned about the appearance of their mind. (Ryle 310) Though this is clearly a fallacy, as gender roles and beliefs evolve and intermingle and women and men become more likely to be judged by society on a more even playing field, in the good and bad sense of the statement.
One example that many might use to illustrate the fact that these lines of gender standard are blurring is the phenomena of the metrosexual, where a man is more concerned about his appearance than is the norm for the masculine. (Ryle 286) To some degree this stereotype demonstrates a shift where men have adopted a possibly unhealthy attribute that women have up to this point tended to dominate. While on the other hand there are also many more women today who acknowledge the trap of the mind-body dualism myth as they care a great deal more about how people perceive their intellect than if they appear beautiful and this may even be more extreme for women who do meet the classic ideal definition of beauty. For men the attribution of seeking attention based on appearance and caring a great deal about their outward appearance could be seen as a violation of the masculine rule of "no sissy stuff" which traps men in a narrow standard that eliminates their allowable expression of traditional "feminine" characteristics, showing emotion, caring about appearance, "throwing like a girl," a euphemism for physically acting feminine and so forth. The idea that women alone suffer from the mythical disease of the past hysteria, where they feel malaise, are overly emotional and are generally unsatisfied (Ryle 273) is demonstrative of this "no sissy stuff" mentality that allows women to seek out professional help for disorders like clinical depression where men are expected to "cowboy up." (297) All the things that make women and men recognizable as women or men and allow others to make gender attributions (the assigning of a gender to another individual) are wrapped up in the characteristics that are stereotypically male and stereotypically female. (309)
The psychology of the uterus, or the belief that women alone carry the attribution of inability to control their emotional selves and to feel depression is a legacy of the hysteria epidemic, that was pervasive in the history of and the development of psychology. (273) There is even a scientific practice in history that supports the idea of the perfect human in both body and mind. Eugenics, or the practice of sterilization of those who are deemed imperfect, most often women was a serious focus of science a century ago and remains a dark period of social and medical history that pervades the issue of body image and social norms. (307) Who decides what is perfect and to what end do we try to seek out the elimination of diversity? Eugenics though it has become a euphemism for a backward science, practiced mostly by the crazy Nazi doctors and philosophers was a common medical focus and is still to some degree practiced today through coercive "voluntary" sterilization of mostly women. (Roets, Adams, and Van Hove) All of these issues contribute heavily to the prevalence of a mostly female disorder body dysmorphic disorder where the individual perceives herself and variant from her actual appearance, to such an extreme that it severely challenges her self-esteem and her ability to function in everyday life. (276) This could result in self disparaging behaviors and thoughts as well as create the potential for, obsessive and excessive exercising beyond the point where it is healthy or even in the extreme, plastic surgery addiction and the like in addition to the manner in which such destructive personal thoughts pervade the psyche and belittle the individual. (Carpentier 14-16)
All of the cultural messages that individuals experience, from the very beginning of their lives have a great deal to do with gender identity. Children in particular are extremely rigid in their assignment of gender roles as from the very beginning even without trying parents and society support the expectations associated with gender identity, regardless of how truly mutable it…