Why women hate their bodies
Show me one woman who thinks her body has zero flaws, and I'll show you a mannequin. Even the youngest, slimmest, most beautiful woman thinks her hips or thighs are too big, or her breasts are too small, her skin is too dark/porous/oily/dry, her ankles are ugly, and her toes resemble ginger.
It's kind of sad that a woman's version of self-effacement is to point out her physical imperfections. In every bathroom you will hear girls say, “I hate my chin. I gained 3 pounds. Kadiri bilbil ko! (My belly rolls are gross!)
But take a look at shirtless boys in a street basketball game. Notice their red, greasy faces and their sweat-dripping heads. Look at their shorts falling off their hips, exposing dark, unwashed areas that need more scrubbing. Yet watch them run without care for their bodies.
See them bump chests and raise their arms to expose their torsos without fear of being judged for their skin, girth, flab, body hair, odor, or facial expression. The body language of boys says a lot about the luxury of being men, but even more so about the fact that they are not women.
You're so pretty
Is it nature or nurture? One could say that boys really don't care about their bodies, and women are naturally vain. But notice that at any gathering, the sight of a young girl elicits the greeting, "You're so pretty!" or "Look at that beautiful dress!" as opposed to how we greet boys with "What are you doing?" and "You run so fast!"
There are almost no references to boys' looks, manner of dress, shoes or accessories. But with girls, we often hear, "Those shoes are cute! That's a nice bag."
It's not that we mean to, but these are the things we see. It's almost second nature for us to address little girls by their looks instead of, for example, what they like to read or what they've recently learned. Our mothers often commented on our faces and outfits, and made an even bigger fuss about their own bodies. Who hasn't heard their own mother fear being told she's fat? Who hasn't heard dieting as a tool to get a straying husband back?
As girls we all heard our elders tell us not to eat too much, and not to spend too much time in the sun because we'll get dark. Don't play sports because boys don't like muscles. Boys don't like girls who climb trees or ride bicycles. Boys don't like girls who are smarter than they are.
On the other hand, boys are never told to keep away from sun, food, sports, or activities. They are not conditioned to crave a girl's attention. Nobody ever tells a boy, "Fix your hair so that girls will like you," the way women tell each other to fix themselves up to get the attention of guys. Nobody ever tells a boy not to play on the ground because his knees are getting black.
Even in our modern world there is still an emphasis on marketing women, stressing their need to be accepted by a man. How can we blame them if a girl left at the dinner table when plates have been cleared is still told the superstition that she won't be able to marry? A boy left at the table simply has a good appetite.
A girl who is tall will be told she will have a hard time finding a boyfriend, as if height were some kind of defect. But a boy who is short is never even once told that being vertically challenged will prevent him from finding a wife.
Take a look at billboards targeting the insecurities of women so they can cater to the desires of men. Take a look at how women's magazines focus on looks, snagging dates and keeping mates, while men's magazines have cars, gadgets, and a centerfold of a barely clothed woman with a free sachet of Vaseline. This tells women: using your looks, lure a man to keep you; and to men: here's a naked woman whose image you can use to pleasure yourself.
The message we tell women is that it is their skin, their clothes, and their body shape that will help them find and keep a spouse. For men it's their charm, intelligence and wealth that will help them find a wife.
But even in semantics we show that an older single woman is still leftover goods. We call her an old maid or a spinster. We call an unmarried older man a forever bachelor. Even in his 50s, a single man could still be "taking his time."
A pubescent boy is lauded for developing a lower voice and growing muscles, and teased with, "Uy, binata na (You're becoming a man)!” followed by a naughty question about romantic prospects.
A girl growing breasts is told she's dalaga na (now a woman) but it usually comes with a warning about boys. While a developing boy stares at the mirror admiring his widening shoulders and his primordial mustache, a girl is told to be careful because bad things happen to women simply because they have breasts and pubic hair.
Nobody ever tells boys to honor their own bodies by not disrespecting others with it. But everybody insinuates that it's a girl's fault when a boy goes too far.
A man's development is outward and filled with pride, strutting around without a shirt, flexing his muscles, thumping his chest. A girl's body suddenly becomes off limits when she becomes a woman. Her breasts become secrets that should be kept under bras. They should be kept shapely and firm, and exempt from the forces of gravity. But they shouldn't be touched, not even by her own hands, lest they look like they've been handled, or nagalaw na.
The concept of the phallus is everywhere, its size revered whenever one comes across a cucumber, or an eggplant, or an obnoxious sausage. Other than its purpose in childbirth, all mention of the vagina seems to have entirely disappeared — except in jokes about its odor, its imagined looseness when shaming women, its diseases we still think we only get from foreigners.
We're kept from knowing our own bodies or caring for our sexual organs. Due attention to our nether regions implies promiscuity. For most women, the first time they see an OB/GYN is when they give birth. A normally developed vagina is definitely never a source of pride.
Neither are our bodies when women police each other about the quality of each other's skin, and the extra flesh around a bra strap or the waistband of our jeans. It's almost impossible to love your own body when all around you are images that show nothing but airbrushed perfection.
Watch an after-sex scene in a movie or on TV (or observe your own) and you'll see in bed a man with an arm under his head and his hand stroking his own chest. He is proud. The woman is hidden under sheets like a reverse-peeled bruised banana. Every woman has at least once wished her partner wouldn't stare at her flawed body, even right after she’s used it to give him love.
Weight on our shoulders
We demand the world's salvation from our women, as if everything relies on whether we keep our legs closed and our skirt hems low, and maintain bodily perfection throughout our lives. We tell ourselves that our boyfriends and husbands cheat because we've grown older and flabbier. Because nobody ever told us the worth of our hearts and minds, we are trained to hate our bodies for ruining our lives.
Meanwhile men are free to do as they please, become bald and grow bellies, which we warmly accept as a part of their aging. For men, these are not negative traits, but just facts.
Disagree? Take a closer look at your next family gathering. Watch how many women will be told or will say they gained weight, or will point out their wrinkles. Watch how no one will mention a man's hair loss. Though rarely, a man's belly could be mentioned, but it's all treated like an essential part of being a dad.
The young girl who runs around and becomes unruly is bound to be reprimanded for ruining her dress and getting dirty. The sweaty, messy boy will only be told that he must be having fun.
From the beginning we require so much of our women in appearance, in behavior, and in virtue. But we wholly accept our men, or make excuses for them, because only they are allowed to be physically imperfect and intellectually appreciated. How great would it be if we raised our women to know they would be loved as they are? - Rappler.com
Every girl and woman must watch this video.
Shakira Andrea Sison is a Palanca Award-winning essayist. She currently works in finance and spends her off-hours writing in trains. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002. Follow her on Twitter: @shakirasison and on Facebook.com/sisonshakira.