‘Am I pretty or am I ugly?’ asks 13-year-old Faye, sparking a YouTube sensation that will sweep the internet.
A quick search reveals hordes of young girls posting similar videos, all asking the same questions. There is, 13- year-old Tina who states, ‘I view myself as this ugly fat thing… I want to know the truth so I’m not confused’ whilst she obsesses over her ‘tiny teeth’ and ‘big hands’. Holly says ‘this really means a lot to me.’…please help me’ asking viewers to ‘dislike my video if you think I’m a f*****g hoe and will never find a guy’.

So how did we get here? Didn’t we burn our bras, grow out our armpit hair and somehow achieve equality?
Perhaps not.

Today, men occupy 97 per cent of the top decision-making media positions in the USA, the world’s biggest exporter of popular culture. This is worrying when US teenagers spend on average, 10 hours and 45 minutes a day engaged with some form of media outlet.

This means that the images we are shown everyday in films, music, television, magazines, advertising and computer games, overwhelmingly, represent the world through a man’s eyes. As a result, men continue to define the parameters of ‘normal’ and dictate how women should look, behave and, ultimately, what they should aspire to be.

Studies suggest, in film and television, men are more likely to be shown at work or talking about their career and significantly less likely to be concerned with romantic relationships than female characters. Between 1937 and 2011 there have been only 13 female protagonists in animated films. All but one of these characters was looking for love. Here in the UK, there is only one female editor of a daily national newspaper and not a single female political editor. Consequently, despite comprising 51 per cent of the population, women occupy only 24 per cent of news articles, 17 per cent of board directors at FTSE 100 companies, 25 per cent of MPs, and 70 per cent of those on the minimum wage. This invisibility of women in many areas of public life coupled with the prevalence of highly sexualised images of women in the media, has created a culture and popular discourse in which women are presented as little more than sex objects.

Many women now view their own bodies, and those of other females, through these misogynistic, media-induced goggles. Almost all of the girls posting ‘Am I Pretty or Ugly?’ videos consider being ‘liked by boys’ of premium importance to their self-worth and state that other girls at school had called them ‘ugly’. Modern women have learnt to ‘self-objectify’: that is to view themselves as sex objects, disregarding all other aspects of their personality. The American Psychological Association calls ‘self-objectification’ a ‘national epidemic’. The effects of this are monumental.

Women who self-objectify are more likely to experience sexual dysfunction, lower relationship satisfaction and engage in high risk-taking behaviours such as substance abuse and self-harm. They are more likely to suffer from depression, rates of which have tripled in women since 1970. Self-objectifiers have lower ‘political efficacy’, that is the belief that you can make a difference in politics. This means they are less likely to vote or run for office. Women who self-objectify experience lower cognitive functioning and frequently underperform in education. Studies suggest that young people who think they’re overweight, regardless of whether they actually are, do worse in exams.

In the US, 41 per cent of 6-9 year-olds say they want to be thinner whilst 53 per cent of 13-year-old girls say they are unhappy with their body, a figure that rises to 78 per cent by the age of 17. In adulthood, women who think they are overweight have higher rates of absenteeism and 17 per cent say they would not go to a job interview if they weren’t feeling good about their appearance.

The average US woman now spends $12 to 15,000 a year on beauty products whilst globally we spend £6.5 billion on diet pills, that’s twice the GDP of Sierra Leone. Between 1997 and 2007 cosmetic surgery on under 19’s has tripled whilst women and girls comprise 7 million of the 8 million eating disorder sufferers. The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death for females 15-24 years old.

Meanwhile, the media continues to espouse the idea that being a sex object is somehow empowering for women. In addition, it has overseen the growing social acceptability of misogyny amongst young men (commonly known as ‘lad culture’), the widespread availability of pornography and the championing of unrealistic ideals of female beauty that has led to the recent US introduction of the size 000, the equivalent of a UK XXXS or a child’s size 8-9.

Despite women being the the vast majority of television watchers and the primary consumers within a household, the media overwhelmingly appeals to men. This would not be sustainable if we, as women, hadn’t learnt to regard ourselves, and other females, as if we were a particular brand of male chauvinist.

Yet, the far-reaching impact of campaigns like ‘Everyday Sexism’, Emma Watson’s recent speech at the UN and the infiltration of feminism back into popular culture, is beginning to turn the media tide in the opposite direction. Women now litter social media with pictures, articles and videos encouraging female empowerment. Feminism appears to be trendy again or, as academics would put it, experiencing its latest ‘wave’.

By continuing to break down the ‘man-hating feminist’ stereotype, another popular media creation that has so long alienated young women, we can encourage young girls to engage positively with feminism and begin to understand the power of the media in createing thoughts and feelings we previously believed to be of our own making. If, as women, we can start to see our appearance as just one aspect of who we are and what we are worth then perhaps we can end self-objectification. Maybe then we will never have to hear another young female refer to herself, or indeed, any other woman, as a ‘f*****g hoe’.

So the modern feminist is not expected to stop washing or join a commune but simply to embrace independent thought by removing her man-made media goggles and accepting herself in her entirety.

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