Boys, Breasts and Self-Esteem

The lovely Mara @ Medicinal Marzipan is hosting Teen Week: Words that Heal, which “is an annual blog series that occurs the last week of March, where bloggers use their sites speak out about their experiences with body image, sexuality, and self-esteem during their teen years.” Please check it out to read all of the other lovely posts.

How does one talk about their teen years? With a fun anecdote? Or something apt while being deeply informative and moving?

Let’s talk about how I looked forward to being a teenage because it meant boys and breasts – something I didn’t exactly have in grade school. Most ten year old girls aren’t thinking about dating, and even fewer seem to care about their cup size. But I did; and it consumed me. I remember thinking how I’d finally date, and all those boys who were jerks to me would be sorry. With my big, bouncing breasts, I’d finally be beautiful and my childhood would just be an unpleasant dream.

But when my teen years arrived, the only thing puberty graced me with was a face full of acne and period cramps that should’ve led me to the nearest hospital. By high school, I’d pretty much come to the conclusion that boys hated me and I wasn’t dating anyone any time soon – if ever. My body remained stubborn, as I sneaked into my cousin’s room to admire my make-shift bust in her full-length mirror. “Do high school girls still stuff?” I wondered, as I layered on two sets of bras, stuffed them with socks and put on my stretchiest shirt to admire my false, new bosom. I’d look great as a C cup…

But the Universe enjoyed rubbing salt into my wounds as my younger cousin seemed to be developing at a much faster rate. She went from a string-bean to a busty teen in under a year, regaling me with stories of the boys she was dating, or kissing (or whatever). My self-confidence settled in the red when she confessed that her and her friends were making fun of how small my breasts were.

Everything came crashing down; I hated my life. Why couldn’t I be beautiful and curvy? Why did I have to be so skinny and unattractive? I thought back to my friend, someone considered very attractive by her friends, who was curvy and bubbly. I seemed to only sink deeper into my depression, wondering who (or what) I had pissed off in a past life to end up with the one I’ve got now.

The conflict with my body – and what I wanted my body to look like – marred my young adult years as everyone seemed to be blossoming and I felt stunted. How can I be sixteen and some lady is telling me that I look nine!? How can these fifteen year olds not believe that I’m only a year older than them?

Rinse, wash and repeat – and you’ve got my life.

And that’s it.

Am I in a better place now that I’m older? No, not really. Many of the patterns I’ve created or experienced in high school are still repeating themselves today; cycles I don’t know how to break. I have a lot of problems, and I need a lot of therapy. But, my understanding and emotional relationship to some of these problems are evolving, changing or at least being challenged. I have an awareness of myself that didn’t exist back then, and I’m super grateful for that.

Preferences and Prejudice: Which Is It?

Is it classist to reject someone because they don’t have a job? 

Most of us know that it’s fairly racist to reject a potential partner based on race or on the color of their skin. Many self-identified feminists mourn the perceived standards being projected onto the female gender, and there is more than enough discussion about how people feel in regards to women having short hair or natural hair. (Unfortunately, I am not as well versed about the criterium projected onto same sex/alternative couples, so if you know any – feel free to list them in the comments for added discussion!).

A great deal of people spend an inordinate amount of time trying to prove to others (and themselves) that we’re each unique individuals and aren’t required to abide by arbitrary beauty prerequisites.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the concept of beauty and whose opinion matters the most. When I was a Senior in high school, there was this guy, CJ, that I liked. He was a white boy; tall and rail-thin, and I remember chatting with him online. In my usual style, I told him I liked him and he responded with: I only date white girls.

Most people would respond with complete disgust over this – How dare he!? That’s so racist!  I lived in a racially diverse area where a myriad of people attended my high school, so you would think that most people would have a more “open” view of who they’d like to date. But -

My whole life, I’ve never really been attractive enough for anybody:

1. my skin wasn’t clear enough

2. my breasts were too small

3. I wasn’t perky enough, hood enough, outgoing enough… the list continues

Of course, our choices aren’t made in a vacuum. Do many white people reject black partners out of some racist agenda? If we had a more egalitarian media (since television and cinema influences many people’s understanding of relationships and who they’re attracted to) – would more people be interested in dating outside of their race, economic class, sex, (etc)?

Many women (and perhaps men too) spend a lot of time looking at how they’re not represented in the media, and how this somehow suggests they’re not attractive by conventional standards. I’m not exempt from this; I spent a few minutes on Twitter yesterday lamenting how small breasts are rarely touted as being signifiers of attractiveness. Essentially, large breasts are considered more “womanly” and “feminine” than having a “boyish figure”.

This is a complex problem: on one hand, the world is giant mirror, reflecting back to us what we believe about ourselves and the world at large. On the other hand, I see this as a type of Second-Hander rhetoric – where I long for other people to give me validation about myself in some capacity. It’s almost like I don’t exist until someone else decides I exist. All of this pertains to self-esteem, and the value being placed in one’s own ideas and opinions.

I don’t want to be a Second-Hander, and have other people’s prejudices and preferences dictate Who I Am.

 

What About You? What are some of your preferences or prejudcies? 

As anyone said you weren’t enough because of the way you look?

If I Were A Boy

Today, Gender Across Borders is having a guest blog series about masculinity. Since I had forgotten to submit my own story, I figured I could talk about it here. Which is really perfect since last night I saw How to Train Your Dragon for the first time.  I had heard about the hype, so when it came on close to midnight, I decided that it wouldn’t be so bad to give it a look.

And.. it was pretty amazing. Which isn’t atypical since I have a track record of preferring media aimed at young boys. Or just boys in general.

But why do I like (most) stuff for males?

Because the range for males is significantly larger. This isn’t to suggest that it is without (white or straight) privilege, but the emotional and personality range of boys tends to be different than it is for girls. Hiccup, in How to Train Your Dragon, is a non-violent, curious, and social outcast who doesn’t fit into the hyper masculine Viking culture. Then you have Astrid, who seems to be the embodiment of female masculinity. She’s physically violent, short tempered and egoistical.

This is rather similar to the scenario created in the film Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief. We have Percy, who while hesitant at first, comes into his own in order to save his mother and Annabeth who brags about being the daughter of Athena (Goddess of wisdom and warfare). Despite all her talk, I never once found her helpful when it came to actually fighting, assessing a situation or coming up with useful strategies.

The stuff that is made for boys tends to focus on characterization – growing as a person, achieving previously unconquerable tasks, coming into one’s own. Even movies like The Hangover and Due Date (as horrific as they both are) focused on male bonding and overall themes regarding friendship. This isn’t to suggest that all movies targeted toward males is good or high quality, or that they’re all about brotherly love – but in comparison to movies for women, it definitely seems that way.

Cinema for females seems to be the exact opposite. In fact, 90% of the movies made for women is centered around romantic struggles. Even Waiting to Exhale, an excellent film about sisterhood/friendship is about romantic shortcomings. Women are typically defined within the context of their relationship to men; it’s this idea that without a man, women have no identity while men can and do flourish and come together without the presence of a woman.

And I wonder why female media focuses so heavily on sex and love. It’s not even an issue of heterosexual love being glamorized or the never ending fixated of white women (or any other privilege for that matter).

It’s an issue because women never seem to love one another, whether or not the outlet in question is created by a woman. Why do women only seem to exist in contrast to men? This mentality can be seen in the futile attempts to create “strong, female” characters. The females in question (ie: Astrid and Annabeth) have blatant, stereotypical male characteristics in an effort to make them seem more independent and capable. Women, it would seem, try to apply male gendered attributes to girls in order to capture a piece of the elusive male privilege.

But what women need to focus on is that, in some ways, masculinity is about the brotherhood. Maybe we should shift our focus to creating a sisterhood.

 

What about you? Do your experiences or preferences differ or are they similar?

Aside from male privilege, why is it that men like each other more in movies and on TV?

* Of course I do want to offer a disclaimer: the movies in question focus on white, heterosexual males of a specific age. Privilege ignores the stories of people who don’t embody certain characteristics. So, my case sample is really small in terms of who it includes. But I wanted to talk about it since it seems to be a recurring issue whenever I watch movies or television.