Self-esteem and sense of self-worth are certainly affected by the way in which you are seen and thus treated within society. This notion particularly governs young women, as we are conditioned to place a vast amount of importance on our outward appearance because of the booming beauty industry.
These observations are based upon personal experience as a young woman born shortly after the millennium. I, alongside my friends and peers, have been greatly influenced by this phenomenon and have found that one tends to embrace the attributes that society decides you have. Just as, if a person is short, they often play into being sweet or adopt the antithesis of overcompensating and demanding space that they lack physically.
In the absence of physical attributes, people adopt drastic personality extremes or overly play into the role they have been given. Women who develop early or display more sexual attributes, such as large breasts, are viewed as a sexual object in society and therefore associate this as being important, thus often playing into this image. This is also a product of beauty standards, which are set by high profile celebrities such as the Kardashians and are further emphasised by social media.
A recent line from BBC’s hit drama ‘Fleabag’ spoke on this concept of a woman’s appearance changing her opinions and actions within society. The protagonist confesses, as she breaks the fourth wall, as though guiltily confiding in the audience, “I sometimes worry that I wouldn’t be such a feminist if I had bigger tits”. This describes the concept of pretty privilege in terms of the male gaze. Fleabag is convinced that if she fell more into the patriarchal mould of femininity that she would not feel oppressed because she would receive more male attention. While this is extremely interesting and conveys her ‘Dissociative Feminist’ state, it could be argued that it is not the case, as women who are sexualised are even more trapped within the vicious cycle.
There is a rightful stigma around the idea of enjoying the Male Gaze, which is understandable in a society full of objectification and over-sexualisation. However, it is interesting to explore the discourse surrounding the conscious feeling that so many women relate to, of guiltily enjoying being sexualised. Although I must make it clear that this regards a specific type of woman, one who is usually privileged and can therefore be critical of her place in society. Through being viewed as sexual, one feels as if they have achieved the archetypal feminine ideal, as set by society. This is where the concept of being a ‘Bad Feminist’- at once renouncing the patriarchy, yet simultaneously contributing to it- comes from.
These sociological observations are not newfound, but the indoctrination of the beauty industry, which is estimated to be worth $571.1 billion in 2023 (by Statista), profits solely from female insecurities. This complex network of Feminism when physically applied to real life is another depressing manifestation of life under late capitalism, wherein conglomerates feed upon human vulnerabilities and the patriarchy remains.