Body image is always a fun topic to bring up at a dinner party. Next time you’re at one just throw in how there are male ghosts and cameras watching your every move when you’re all alone in your bedroom.
The male gaze is a term coined by feminist theorist Laura Mulvey and means ”looking at the world through a heterosexual male lens.” This leads to a woman viewing herself in the way a man would, inevitably leading to self commodification.
You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.
—Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride.
The irony of the situation is many of us separated our perception of body image from patriarchy, or at least I did. Growing up I suffered from an eating disorder, like many teenage girls, yet I never once attributed this to a desire to appeal to men. I was more concerned at the time with the prospects of my “modelling career.“ I would insist that my goal to be thin had nothing to do with the patriarchy since, in all truth, I was at the stage in my life where I didn’t care for boys.
Obviously I must have missed the part where the modelling industry pushed this image because it was how women wanted to be seen by men.
If you think about the Victoria Secret angels and their idea of the impossible dream woman, you’ll see how the patriarchy affects just about everything concerning women’s brands. Ed Razeck, the man behind the Victoria Secret show explained why there are no plus size or transgender women.
“Because the show is a fantasy,” he said in an interview with Vogue; explaining that they did a show with plus size models once in 2000 and no one took any interest in it.
The idea is that they emulate properties of the ideal woman but the question is: ideal to whom? And whose fantasy is it?
Whether we realise it or not, our desire to be thin came from the media, and the media is and always has been controlled by heterosexual cis-gendered men for heterosexual cis-gendered men.
But then men started to desire something else, and with this new desire came a new image for the media to portray. Thin was out and thick was in. Women went from stuffing their faces with ice and cotton balls to popping apetamin pills. At this point we saw what looked like a battle of the beauty ideals, with the traditional modelling industry and the Instagram modelling industry not being able to agree.
Going from agent to agent, doing ad-hoc photoshoots and attending auditions did something interesting to my idea of beauty. When most people were chasing the thick beauty standard, my eyes stayed fixated on the skinny woman standard that the modelling industry had always focused on. When most girls wanted to be short with curves, I wanted to be 5′11″ and slim.
But after almost passing out from a week-long water diet in 2017, I decided modelling was a thing of the past and began to focus on internal health instead. I started living so much healthier; never skipping a meal but being conscious of the things that I put in my body. Yes, I still wanted to be stick thin but I wasn’t going to crazy lengths to achieve it. I had a goal in mind but I didn’t particularly mind if I achieved it or not.
I was happy with my body.
But not having the modelling industry to give me a standard of beauty meant that there was space for the rest of the media to do so instead. And that’s when it started. The obsession with lunges, the apetamin; my entire Pinterest board saw a shift from “thinspo” to “slim thicc.”
Though this only occurred after I had started receiving comments from the members of the opposite sex; both about me and other women.
I would have denied it until my face turned blue but in retrospect I think it was clear why I wanted to suddenly achieve these gains. It was a very subconscious thing that was happening; there was no specific man that I was doing this for. I wasn’t trying to get a boyfriend or receive male attention when I walked into a room. All I knew is I wanted to look like Kim K. I didn’t know why. If anyone had asked me why I definitely couldn’t tell you. Especially since deep down inside I was still drawn to the toned and tall look.
And now we have me today.
Look at the photos of these women:
All three of these women are gorgeous but possess very different body types.
I think most of us girls would be swayed to one body type or the other. So which one would you prefer for yourself?
When I did this I was so shocked. Look at the photos as though they are both you.
Which one are you happier with when looking in the mirror?
Now again, look at the photos as though they are both you.
Which one are you happier with when in the presence of a guy that you like?
Perhaps your answer is the same both times. Mine freaked me out a little bit.
When thinking about the body type I’d rather have when looking in the mirror, I felt a strong preference for the former. When thinking about the body type I’d rather have when with a guy, I had a preference for the latter.
See, when I look at women through the perspective of a man, I see them completely differently from when I look at them from my perspective. And the same thing happens when I look at myself.
And the worst part is, perhaps this isn’t even my internalised male gaze versus me. Perhaps this is my internalised male gaze versus the modelling industry’s gaze. Perhaps my own opinion has been taken out of the equation altogether.
When I really think about it—I mean really assess my body and all its features—I couldn’t care less if I’m skinny or thick.
This is going to sound so weird but I’m saying it anyway: I am so attracted to myself. But only when I look at myself through my eyes. Because the second I start to look at myself through someone else’s, it’s a completely different story.
So here’s to getting rid of your male gaze, or any other internalised gaze for that matter. It might take some time to unlearn what years of subliminal indoctrination has taught you, but it can begin today.
“The first thought that goes through your mind is what you have been conditioned to think. What you think next defines who you are.”
You’re the one who has to live your life in your body. You’re the one who has to walk in your shoes. So only your lens matters.