Discover more from Other Feminisms
The Internet is a Dysphoria Machine
Your stories about how you look at others and they look at you
After I shared a NYT story about a nonbinary teen who described that identity as a way of escaping how she was looked at as a woman, I asked Other Feminisms readers how they look at others and what they do to curate the images they see. Elsewhere, I helped shape the EPPC’s principles for a pro-family agenda.
Abby found that TikTok distorted her view of herself and others:
I used to be okay being “average” because that’s, by definition, what a large number of people were. But Tik Tok made me feel like an aberration because it presented an “average” totally detached from reality. Coupling this with the drastic reduction in the time Gen Z people spend with actual people compared to other generations, I think it can change the way your brain subconsciously samples of reality in pernicious ways. I really encourage all my friends to ditch Tik Tok and think the worry many people have about it’s effect on kids, especially girls, is completely justified.
I’ve gravitated to text-based social media (I miss Google Reader!). It’s strange to see others through composed images, or to only see your most photogenic friends. I’d rather see them through what they like, than see how they look.
I’ve certainly seen behavior distorted by the particular writing behaviors rewarded by twitter, and I try to set up safeguards for myself. But even there, it’s harder to see someone’s tweet as an image of what I should be.
I liked Vikki’s approach to curating what views of women she encounters:
What efforts do I make to curate the images I encounter? Okay, here I'm thinking this includes non-visual ones... I love to read novels, and I latch on to an author like an Amy Tan or Marilynne Robinson, or Naomi Novik and they are all about the inner life of the characters... so the "image" I'm forming of these women isn't usually ABOUT the physical.
This is something I love about genre fiction. When your heroine is using magic or swordfighting, I often get a strong sense of how she moves through the physical world without dwelling on her weight, her cheekbones, or her hair.
Sarah views the social media competition from the sidelines:
I'm in my early thirties but when I was in my twenties, I noticed in the 2010s that the viral makeup tutorial trends ("contouring", etc.) seemed to have an outside impact on some women I knew and seemed to increase the already awful pressures they had to look a certain way ("thinner," "lifted," etc.) Some of this is a female-gaze (enforcing the male-gaze) problem too!
I have a significant facial difference (a big blue birthmark splashed over a third of my face) which means that I've spent my young adulthood largely out of the pressure to "be pretty" on social media, because no matter what I do, hardly anyone sees my birthmark as beautiful except myself. I'm constantly judged on something that no amount of makeup or surgery will ever make go away, so why even participate? When you get taken out of "the game" as I have, through no effort of your own, you can really see how degrading a lot of it is. It's almost been a relief.
Contouring is a make-up trend I find pretty disturbing. It’s one thing to do a full face of makeup that’s bold, colorful, and makes an artistic statement. But when makeup is meant to “fix” your face or even create a trompe d’oeil of a different face to substitute for your own, I’ll say bluntly I think it’s toxic.
Marie wrote about finding a real-world reference to measure herself by, but still finding the process degrading:
As I approach 40, I find myself constantly scanning the bodies and faces of women I encounter out in the world and attempting to judge whether they are older or younger than me. It’s as if I realized that my internal age clock needed re-calibrating, and I was still equating myself to women around 30. But I see myself being extremely judgmental about it, towards both myself and to these other women. “At least I don’t look as old as her.” “Ugh I wish I looked as young/cool/sophisticated as her.” It’s like I’m in high school again. I suppose measuring myself against real life women instead of airbrushed or photoshopped models is a better scenario? But I’d rather not be judging anyone at all.... so, to the point of your subject line, how do we also escape the female gaze, including the self gaze??
For my own part, when I look at others and don’t like how I’m looking, I pray with the scripture verse from when Jesus meets the rich young man. The young man wants to follow Christ and has kept all the commandments. He wants to know what else is necessary.
And then, in Mark 10:21 is my watchword:
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him.”
Then, Jesus tells him to sell all he has and give it to the poor, which the young man is not willing to do. But the love came first, and the hard saying was an expression of that love.
Anyway, repeating this verse to myself changes how I look at people. It lets me begin with them as beloved, and everything else is built on that foundation.
I’m sure Marie would like to hear about your own strategies from breaking away from an objectifying gaze (and so would I!).