I have a superpower. I am immune to the power of media.
Yes, you heard me correctly.
Bring on your Victoria’s Secret Fashion Shows and Hardee’s ads and watch their influence fall harmlessly away from me. For as a lesbian, I “do not care about the standards of beauty created for me by society.”
A physician speaking at a meeting of doctors interested in LGBTQ health issues made the above remark and then moved on, as though it were a fact so obvious he needn’t comment on it further.
Wow. I wish someone had told me that growing up. Imagine all the time I would have saved, not worrying about how I looked in a bikini or if my stomach showed when I looked sideways at my reflection.
I find the physician’s comment ridiculous and thoughtless.
It seems I’m a bit behind the times, however. Lesbians’ supposed disinterest in society’s idea of beauty has been used as a reason for a variety of health issues in the lesbian community, most commonly obesity. It has been mentioned in media blogs as well as studied in the scientific community.
But it feels wrong. No one is immune to the media culture. Like everyone else, lesbians grow up with impossible airbrushed/Photoshopped standards of beauty created by the media, and these images work themselves deep into our minds long before we know we shouldn’t buy into them.
To be female — any kind of female — is to grow up in a media culture determined to identify your values for you, and to learn to judge yourself by their standards. And that’s hard to let go, no matter who you are or how hard you try.
So what? What does it matter if people believe that, freed from the shackles of beauty standards, lesbians are free to love themselves and others just as they are? After all, that’s a beautiful idea, isn’t it?
It is. And that is my wish for everyone — any gender, any sexual orientation. But stereotypes, even “positive” ones, are harmful. They keep us from seeing the truth about people. In this case, believing obesity is caused by a rejection of the media’s skinny-is-beautiful message may make us overlook other possible causes, such as depression or fear, in women and girls who are our friends and family. Accepting the easy answer means denying our ability to help people we care about.
Media portrayals of girls and women affect everyone — no matter their gender or identity. Sadly, the superpower of media immunity doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth working toward.
What do you do to cultivate your superpower against media? Is it possible to be completely free of their influence?
Tara is a writer and educator who has a long-standing interest in sociology and women’s issues. She is particularly interested in the way the wedding industry defines and reinforces a single, narrow definition of womanhood.