‘A woman can’t feel comfortable in her body’

bodyimage1 WHYS was inundated with your comments about Lizzi Millier yesterday. Some of the comments we heard were ‘women can’t be comfortable in their bodies,’ ‘women are responsible for us being viewed as a physical object, but that’s not our fault, it’s about how we’re conditioned’ and ‘women are always going to have insecurities’. Really? Are those statements true?

Overnight, your comments have continued coming in. And a quick google search for women + body image gave me millions of results. This one suggests the problem of how women feel about their bodies is worse than ever.

Talking to a few contributors yesterday, many told me that they look at what other women are wearing and feel they can judge them – she’s too big for that dress, her legs are too skinny for leggings. Where’s the sisterhood?? Are women their own worst enemies?

latifah_203Singer and actress Queen Latifah says after years of dieting, she’s finally come to accept the way she looks and she’s now proud to be a role model.

And take a look at this blog. Are TV shows that feature women who don’t look like supermodels are making women feel worse about themselves? Why is it not possible for a woman to be comfortable with the way she looks?

39 Responses to “‘A woman can’t feel comfortable in her body’”

  1. September 3, 2009 at 19:08

    Well, is it not true, that there is a subtle but crass competition/rivalry among women?
    Most women i’ve talked to, where such a topic came up, told me that. Among them my mother and sister.

  2. 2 Ros Atkins
    September 3, 2009 at 19:11

    This is what Maria in LA sent me.

    ‘the funny part here is that Men are not nearly as hung up on our shapes as we are. So I’m inclined to believe this nonsense is entirely whipped up by women.’

  3. 3 Ros Atkins
    September 3, 2009 at 19:12

    and another one from Luz Ma in Mexico

    ‘The impossible standards that some women impose on themselves are taking a toll in their health. ‘

  4. 4 Kyle
    September 3, 2009 at 19:12

    Unfortunately, yes it’s true. Our society has deemed a great amount of a woman’s worth to be based on their body and how they present themselves. According to advertising, media, and so matter other influences if your aren’t skinny, pale, and with perfect skin your doing something wrong and need to improve.

  5. 5 steve
    September 3, 2009 at 19:17

    It’s women’s own choices that have led to this, but I think it’s too far gone now, and so yeah, today, it’s probably not possible for a woman to feel comfortable in their own skin due to their own self imposed conditions. Women are incredibly competitive by nature, and constantly compete with each other. I’ve also noticed very few women able to have genuine friendships with other women that last for any significant periods due to the competititiveness. They want to be prettier, they want a bigger house, they want their friend’s boyfriend. If you look at the recent studies, women find attached men more attractive, because it relates to the competitiveness they have for each other.


    I don’t think women will ever be happy or have self esteem so long as they view life like one big competition.

  6. 6 Julia
    September 3, 2009 at 19:32

    There is a mountain of writing on this topic…look at “Woman’s Inhumanity to Women” by Phyllis Chessler, or for a more anthropological view “Mother Nature” by Sara Balffer Hrdy, or “A Woman’s Worth” by Marianne Williamson which sites the experience of being a woman as a common one that has great untapped power in our society.

    Bullying among girls demonstrates this concept at it’s most ugly…what are we competing for? The scientist would say, at a primal level the top male. The psychologist would add that if we don’t know what we are capable of and have a low sense of self-worth we (women) can do a heck of lot of damage to each other.

    I have worked with teens for years and have said more times than I can count ‘The boys will come and go, your girlfriends however are more likely to be your friends for a very long time…be good to each other.’

    I wonder what would happen to our world in terms of leadership, if women united and affirmed the experience of being a woman as a common one…Matriarchal societies have existed before.

  7. 7 Anya
    September 3, 2009 at 19:46

    At some point I realized that images of women in advertising make me feel incredibly inadequate because I don’t have a perfect skin and I don’t spend too much time taking care of my appearance. At those times I remind myself that 1) beauty has its place, but it isn’t everything and 2)the women in the advertising don’t look as good as the photos either (because the photos have been digitally enhanced)
    It is important to mention that now I live in the US, but I did not grow up here. Growing up I was not surrounded by the images of the impossibly beautiful women, and in the environment where I grew up the emphases were on once personality, morals & education; beauty too, but only as a part of the whole. I think this type of upbringing help me be more comfortable with myself. I truly believe that my looks are not so important. And when I have the little moments of feeling inadequate, they don’t last long – 5-10 seconds and then I realize that comparing myself to models is just silly.

  8. 8 Kigen
    September 3, 2009 at 19:49

    Weight is God given and it’s beauty when fewed in certain perspective.So its about time for fat people to model without being criticised of their weight.

  9. 9 Keith- Ohio
    September 3, 2009 at 20:08

    I would also say something to the topic of “men condition us to act like this because they expect an unreasonable body image!” Well, men grow up seeing this unreasonable body image in magazines everywhere…so men are “conditioned” to expect it. Unless we can somehow completely reinvent that image, the cycle is just going to perpetuate itself.

  10. 10 Julia
    September 3, 2009 at 20:09

    After posting, I saw Steve’s response…
    It is interesting to me how men have no problem identifying the competitiveness issue between women. At times they seem resigned to it…How would men benefit from a less competitive female society?

    If we women want to change our comfort level in our own skin, If we truly want to address the way we feed into “competitive separation” from other women…we need to address the behavior early, in our girls. Girls internalize and play out what they see us do with each other, what they hear in music, what they watch on television and in movies, etc.

    How many times have parents heard the school/other parents etc. say…”Well that is just the way girls are…” Is it? Does it have to be that way? I don’t believe it does, but to change where we are in society will take the commitment of several generations to turn around.

  11. 11 Bert - USA
    September 3, 2009 at 20:28

    During the Equal Rights Amendment days, back in the mid 1970s, women tried very hard to convince themselves, and us guys, that all of their problems were caused by men. Including the notion that women’s fashions were created by men, so it’s all our fault.

    It did not take long to dispell that notion. Even self-professed liberated women soon demonstrated that they were just as much slaves to fashion as they had always been, wanted to exhibit their curves in the best possible light as they always had wanted to do. And ultimately admitted that they dress more for other women than they do for men.

    That’s my perception of this issue, starting in those ERA days.

    And now, in a similar attempt at self-deception, they are trying to redefine what “normal” body type should be.

    One thing to note: guys, non-gay guys, usually don’t focus on the clothes women wear at all. Just the way they look in them. Meaning, if you ask a guy afterwards what a particular woman was wearing, he won’t be able to tell you. Trust me on tthis.

  12. 12 Katy, Cleveland
    September 3, 2009 at 20:50

    I am relatively comfortable with my body. I have one area that I would love to get better, but after years of trying, I’ve realised that there’s not much more for me to do. I love my body and what’s more is most of the people around me feed off that energy I have. In the last year, when I have weighed the most in my life I have had multiple men call me beautiful and experienced joy at just being happy with myself.
    Maybe it’s because my mind has straightened out, but I think it’s possible for women to feel comfortable in their skin as long as they ignore what Elle and Playboy tell us we’re suppose look like.

  13. 13 beth
    September 3, 2009 at 20:55

    It’s marketing. Unfortunately, there are billion dollar industries (make up, haircare, comestic surgery, weight loss, etc.) that thrive on preying on or creating insecurities in women. Other women (including relatives) and the media just keep on reinforcing these insecurities.

    I’ve noticed that certain companies have tried to market some of these products to men (face creams, etc.) but since crows feet are distinguished on a male, and “require” fixing on a female, I don’t see them getting much traction so they spend their advertising dollars instead where they get the biggest bang for their buck.

  14. 14 anu_d
    September 3, 2009 at 21:00

    (a)Nature has designed men to crave for power which attracts women.

    (b)Nature has designed women to crave for physical beauty and looks which attracts men…….and that craving objectifies women some-what.

    Freud has proven to us…. attracting the opposite sex is the underlying driver of all humanity.

    If women get too comfortable with their bodies they don’t meet their natural designs…and lose their underlying drivers.

  15. 15 anu_d
    September 3, 2009 at 21:19

    And media plays an important role in not letting a woman get comfortable with her body….because women’s images on cover page sells ( especially if nude).

    Look at BBC….their blog started stating apologetically that they cannot put the image ( presumably because of lack of permissions).

    And 3 hours later I returned to see “the image” in the blog….seeing the hit count and interest in the woman’s body related subject…BBC decided to put the image either without permissions…or maybe somebody rushed to get an extra, prompt, persmission…to further increase the “hit-count”


  16. 17 Ros Atkins
    September 3, 2009 at 21:49

    Deary me Anu D – you’d see us shining a light in a pitch black room. At the start of the day we didn’t even know we were doing the story on air and so we didn’t have the rights. when we decided to do it on the radio we made enquiries and got permission from Glamour to use the shot. I know the truth is boring rather than a good old conspiracy theory, but in this case you’re way off the mark.

  17. 18 Vijay Pillai
    September 3, 2009 at 21:52

    Plain daft. What do you mean by women? if you are refering to women of only western world or including poor villages in china and india struggling to earn a living working in factories, farms and cleaing toilets? Are you refering to women like Victoria, kate and Niami and the like fastion models?

    What these models wear are not necessarily their own choice but selected by their fasion gurus as part of promoting their range of cloths, handbags,high heel shoes irrespective of it would result in disfigurement later on to their legs.

    That means they are wearing for other women to buy their product ans new fasions. They may be walking models. Give crdit to them for undergoing tremedous discomort when required .If you want to know want the women really wear what they liked by their husbands and themselves satisfied emotinally and not interms of their bank balances go to these villages and produce a report.

  18. 19 T
    September 3, 2009 at 22:05

    Actually, couldn’t you this about anyone? Can you name one person that’s always happy with 100% of themselves? I can’t. Broaden the question.

  19. 20 Tom D Ford
    September 3, 2009 at 22:38

    Marketing a certain idealized type of shape for women?

    I watched a TV program a couple of years ago about a far off Himalayan area known as the basis for the idea of Shangri La (SP?) in which a woman getting married had her hair done up like ox horns because a woman there needed to be as strong as an ox for the hardworking way of life there. Clearly a waif thin model would not be valued there.

    So I wonder what is valued in other parts of the world in more primitive areas.

    We WHYsers sort of by default are in the more modern parts of the world just by the fact of the technology we have to communicate with and we all use the English language. So does anyone know about any other peoples who value womens shapes, sizes. and types differently?

    I would bet that Inuits would value more fat on a woman just to keep warm in the winters. Thin would be a dangerous condition for a cold region.

    I wonder if woman in the hot regions of the equator would be consistently more thin because of the oppressive heat they have to endure, thick women might suffer more.

  20. 21 Matthew Houston
    September 3, 2009 at 23:02

    I disagree that this is a case of women imposing these things on themselves. There’s an element of such behavior, but it’s secondary to the main issue, which, in my opinion, is that the advertising industry has developed primarily under the guidance of men – this is the source of the game. Whether or not people are competitive within the game itself seems to be a separate issue.

    One unpleasant side effect of the imposed standards is that many times the model just looks a bit lost…as if to be asking …”is this the right way?” I think that’s a shame. I prefer this photo, because at least she has a genuine smile.

  21. 22 nora
    September 3, 2009 at 23:39

    Body fashions change. When I developed sudden large breasts in 1964 I already had the tone of an athletes body that would make my shape fashionable now. Not then. The boys loved it, but skinny like Twiggy and soft bottom smiling Marilyn were ‘normal’. I had ‘bicycle legs’. Muscle definition on your arms? Horrors! So I measured myself to historical mathematical ideals and came out fine on the DaVinci scale for solace.

    Victoria’s Secret uses the same proportions favored by Vitruvius, DaVinci and Polycleitus…..

    The passion of the controversy over a little tummy flap brings up a thought about WHYS bloggers. Given the heat over an extra pound and its meaning, would the bloggers with fat phobia be able to be respectful to obese bloggers if they are in the same room? Are bloggers who want hot babes with perfect Vitruvian proportions able to treat them as minds rather than objects if they are not invisible online?

    Truth in advertising requires models who resemble buyers, The point lost to fat phobes seems to be that consumers are simply exerting power to get comfortable clothes, not clothes for an ideal future. Your simple release to show the photo worldwide because of demands will break the glass ceiling for this model and others and demonstrates my point.

  22. 23 patti in cape coral
    September 3, 2009 at 23:47

    My husband is very overweight and has a very big belly. When he was getting ready for work in the morning he would stand in front of the mirror, rub his huge belly, and say “Look at that honey, have you every seen such a wonderful sight? You just can’t buy a beautiful belly like this one.” He sure knew how to make me laugh, and a good sense of humor does a lot to improve a person’s looks, believe me! On the other hand, I would be getting ready in front of the mirror agonizing over every belly roll, wrinkle and inch of cellulite on my body. I sure wish I could think like he does.

  23. 24 Sophia
    September 4, 2009 at 00:28

    I disagree with the statements since they seem to me to be huge generalizations with regards to women and how they dress. How does one know why a woman is dressing in a certain way rather than the other? Women have diverse personalities and ideas that take part in governing what she does and doesn’t do in her life, including the way she dresses. Women who choose their own clothing styles do so based on what they think will look pretty,and make them look presentable to the society and whatever makes them feel comfortable but they don’t necessarily do so to impress other men or women around them. It is for themselves.

    Conditioning does play its part in governing how women feel about themselves and the way they dress. But lets not forget that not every woman is conditioned to care about what other women think of her or the way she dresses. Even if she does care about what other men and women think of her, have we forgotten that the woman has a mind and can make her own choices about what she will allow to affect her and what she will not permit to affect her regarding how she is perceived and the way she dresses?

    Regarding women being insecure, I believe her male counterparts have been known to be a little more insecure than they are, when it comes to their daughters growing up and commencing the dating ritual. Or perhaps their insecurities when it comes to meeting up with a former husband/boyfriend. What about the brother’s insecurities when he sees his sister going out with someone?These are examples from the west. Here in the east the examples are of a different nature but equally represent the fact that men can be insecure as well. Therefore, it is not fair to imply that it is only women who are insecure and not men.

    Also, insecurities are a natural occurrence but that doesn’t mean that they cannot be overcome. Doesn’t life go on ?

  24. 25 Roberto
    September 4, 2009 at 01:51

    RE “” ‘It’s not possible for a woman to be comfortable with her body’ “”

    ————- Not even an organization of women can speak for all women.

    As a congenital watcher of the feminine form for the whole of my life, it’s been my experience that good form doesn’t automatically confirm comfort and self confidence.

    Some of the most beautiful women I’ve seen were utterly clueless as to their attributes whereas other less feminine forms could get cocky about their attributes.

    I’ve also seen less than “perfect” natural beauties completely alter their style and makeup to poor effect which was always a mystery to me. It was like a plump rosy peach suddenly became overripe not to put too common metaphor upon the subject.

    Another interesting observation, and this could go for men as well, I’ve seen perfectly average middling youthful specimens age into strikingly beautiful or handsome examples compared to aging peers.

    Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, but more importantly, never equitable and seldom something something achievable through hard work.

  25. September 4, 2009 at 07:11

    For many women, these statements are true. But there are also some for whom these statements are false.

    The best way that women can combat how we are conditioned, insecurities, and competitiveness, is to learn how to think become independent thinkers who don’t care for competition, but care for themselves first, and not what other people think or expect of them.

    The only person whose approval matters is your own, and what is presented by many as beautiful or truthful may not be what is right for you.

    That is how to live a happy, healthy life.

  26. 27 Jennifer
    September 4, 2009 at 13:45

    It is possible for a woman to be “comfortable” in her own skin. There are some things that hinder that including men who are more interested in superficial attributes like looks than say a woman’s personality, sense of humor, or the things she knows. Don’t get me wrong, when looking for a significant other, one must be attracted, however when looks are paramount you get what you ask for. If you are superficial you can’t demand someone have depth when you aren’t prepared to judge someone bÿ the same standards.

    Women should not dress for men or other women they should dress for themselves. There is competition with women and it’s intensified when they feel inferior. As a whole, I think this works against women.

    Men are competative too, but I don’t think they go to the lengths that some women do.I think for their part, men could stop expecting perfection from women.

  27. 28 Norman from Zambia
    September 4, 2009 at 14:59

    All I know is that my wife of 25 years does not have the body that she had when we married. The boobs are bigger and closer to the ground. She has a tummy because of our kids and the caboose is not so smooth. Fully dressed however, you would never know. She is however unlikely to swim in public.

    She is stil the sexiest woman I know and I’d pay her to wander around topless at home, but I’m not rich enough.

    My six pack has turned into a keg and if I want to swim in public, I will.

    She is not easily influenced by advertising. To argue that women are capable of being brainwashed by ads is a tad condescending because apparently men are clever enough not to be tricked.

    To get to the ‘bottom’ of this we’ll need help from those who have studied our primal urges. We’ll probably find that it has to do with the urge to be attractive to men and in doing so trying to out pretty the competition. It seems however that they have no idea that men are designed to be interested in anyone who meets the most basic of criteria.

    Hats off to the effeminate hosts of the “How to look good naked” shows. Their contribution to society is appreciated.

  28. 29 steve
    September 4, 2009 at 15:40

    @ Matthew

    Blaming advertising is like me blaming rich people for tempting me to break into their house because of all their tempting stuff. It’s up for people to be responsible for their own actions.

  29. 30 Carole in OR (not OH as said yesterday)
    September 4, 2009 at 18:08

    Western society is driven to compete; what country has the greater GNP, who has the first, the best, the most successful. This all requires comparison, why would this be any different with our bodies and self image?

  30. 31 kuppler
    September 4, 2009 at 18:33

    I’m healrhy & active but have a stick figure, not an hour glass. I’m 60 yrs old & have been thin my whole life but other women I know repeatedly comment on my size & tell me to eat. I’m not socially allowed nor would i want to tell overweight women how they look or what they should eat. Women feel it is acceptable to criticize thin women. By the way, men never say anything about my weight, I don’t look like i just stepped out of a holocaust camp.

    Portland, Oregon

  31. 32 Ana Markosian
    September 4, 2009 at 19:05

    I think this is really the problem of western values being imposed on the whole world. Since in the west being a mother is no longer as valuable quality as it used to be, the broad hips and some amount of fat around belly which, indicates healthy female hormonal activity is ‘out of fashion’.
    In western societies women encouraged to be aggressive overachievers, which is the quality more characteristic for men. Consequantely their bodily image is also started to be more ‘man-like’
    Just think about it:: long legs, tight abbs, well formed upper arms – this is not an image of a mother, i is rather in image of a hunter. That is why most of the models in western fashion magazines look like well bread hound dogs rather then real women.

  32. 33 Robyn
    September 4, 2009 at 22:52

    I really think it is a western society problem. Unfortunately, it’s not always the subtle rivalry between women that generates those insecure feelings. I have a girlfriend who is drop-dead gorgeous but whose partner is considering ending the relationship because she doesn’t meet *his* standards of what a girl should weigh or whatever… and this is not a unique case, in my experience. One generally sees this more among the young, immature, “beautiful” people. Sad, really.

  33. September 5, 2009 at 04:31

    I say that any woman or man who has to worry about not feeling good about their normal bodies is really saying they care too much about how other people see them. To a woman I say if you have a man and he does not appreciate you just as you are, you deserve better. If as a woman your pleasure is another woman, and the same applies the same answer applies. Conversely the same goes for a man. There is someone right for you whether skinny,fat,ugly,pretty etc. Nobody would concern themselves with feeling bad about self unless they felt others were judging appearances. Think of being alone in a deserted island, would you worry then?

  34. 35 Colleen in US
    September 5, 2009 at 05:30

    Bull, women can feel comfortable in their own bodies; but it can’t just be about the body.
    When one is comfortable with themselves – in mind, body, and spirit; there is true peace within the individual. This is true of male and females. When the mind, body, and spirit are in harmony and the person truly likes themself; each of these aspects of being help the other aspects to maintain that balance among the three.
    The mind and spirit help keep the body in a form that the individual likes in themself through motivation and awareness for exercise or nutritional intake.
    The body and mind work together to keep each healthy. When one is unhealthy, so is the other generally speaking.
    The spirit brings awareness of ways in which they all work together yet, separately as well… for the mutual benefit of the entire being.

    I’m not a doctor; I’ve actually lived this, believe it, and feel it.
    I wouldn’t change anything about my body, mind, or spirit. Yet, I am aware that part of living is learning and that change is evitable. The more I live; the more I learn and the more I do:)
    I wish others will find this inner peace and balance:)

  35. 36 Julia
    September 5, 2009 at 09:01

    Loved the show today (9/4/09)…especially Alisia from Kenya, she talked about responsibility rather than blame. I really appreciated her willingness to engage with Ros about her beliefs.

    I worry about the little 5 year old girl and her momma…a five year old will eat less when she is engaged in something else…I hope that mom is spending time with her girl. Time spent with girls could replace the lecture on “fat.” I appreciate the mom’s concern, but it is up to her to redirect her daughter so that the focus is not just about her weight.

    I would like to see us address the connection between women’s self image and competition between women. Today we have heard many institutions blamed for these things…men, media, religions, western society, etc…However , on the show today I heard plenty of competition and none of the women were “western.” … interesting…..

    I do not believe there is an exclusive monopoly on women in the west and the competitive nature. It is my belief that this is universal amongst women. Check out Naomi Wolf “The Beauty Myth.”

  36. September 5, 2009 at 14:03

    That’s because she’s not comfortable in her mind. Unfortunately, finding her individual answer is to enter the labyrinth of the mind without a ball of string. Difficult but not impossible depending on where she is starting from. It happens to the best it happens to the rest.

  37. 38 Jim Newman
    September 7, 2009 at 21:07

    Hello again
    If a man feels happy (comfortable) in the body of a woman then that woman feels happy (comfortable) with her own body.
    And, of course, vice versa.

  38. 39 Dadedi
    February 2, 2010 at 19:44

    This subject is very sensitive and it just cost me my relationship. The only problem is that western women are so sensitive and we men are not sometimes well prepared to deal with this sensitivity. They need affirmation yes but can’t we be honest at times also?

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