Monday, May 24, 2010


On this, the last post before my summer break, I'm reflecting on women's freedom. It's amazing how far we've come, what with women competing for some of the highest posts in the land; in many industries, earning close, but not equal to, men's salaries; balancing work and motherhood and social engagements; traversing grounds we never thought the xx could ever go.

So, that said, why is it that every once in a while, I fantasize about wearing a burqa to work?

This piece of clothing that represents, through my Westernized lens, the epitome of women's imprisonment seems the perfect choice on days I want to be comfortable, relaxed, and to hide my body from the world. 

I went to an eating disorders/body image lecture a couple of weeks ago and the presenters noted that with each advancement in the women's movement, there has been an consequent increase in eating disorders.  They also reported that today, Asian teenagers, at 16, are being gifted eye surgery by their parents so that their eyelids look more like their Caucasian friends'.  Is this what we have to show for centuries of cultural and political advancement?  How is it that the more we plow ahead, the more we dislike ourselves?

And so, for women in America, as you celebrate Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, take a moment to wonder:  Are you really free?


Charbelle said...

We're certainly free in the sense that we can travel, go to school, choose to work in an office, school or from home. In some ways we have more opportunity than ever before. I'm not sure if I'm just noticing it more or it really is becoming more prevalent but the pressure to look "perfect". The airbrushing, the surgery, the constant focus on maintaining a certain "look".
Perhaps instead of focusing so much on an unattainable idea of perfection and instead reaching out to our families or out into the cities in which we live looking to make a postive difference. This moves the focus onto something other than ourselves.
This is my opinion but true freedom is when you get out of your own head and start looking to make a difference instead of just existing and obsessing over not being good enough.

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screaming fatgirl said...

In the sense of which you are speaking, no person is "free". We are all connected to and guided by society's expectations. That includes men. In fact, women tend to focus exclusively on the pressure to be beautiful because that's society's obvious bias when it comes to females. The extent to which they choose to embrace this, is purely personal, and, essentially, as more women embrace it, they make it that much harder for all women. As all women reject it, they make it easier for other women.

Men have just as great pressures, particularly in regards to being financially responsible for their families. Though it is less the case than it once was, men are still expected to bear the burden of being the bread winner and a man is judged by his means and his job. Men manifest their sense of feeling like failures by showing aggression, becoming depressed, or acting out in various ways. Women often develop eating disorders.

Unless you live in isolation, you are never "free" of the expectations of those around you. I suspect this is as it has been since man lived in small tribes. It's a part of how we survive, by conforming enough to meet the expectations of others such that there is group cohesion. These days, the "tribe's" norms are defined by the media as much as our acquaintances, and they inflict a continuously distorted view on us all because unhappy people buy things to make them happy, and that is what they want us to do.

I don't think hiding yourself in a burqa doesn't anything for you. You're still aware of your body and what society wants of you. You still know what is under your clothes. I think that the self-loathing or disgust that drives eating problems are still there, no matter what you wear.

drstaceyny said...


SFG--good points, esp the sociobiological comparisons for men (as providers). The burqa mention was somewhat provocative--don't loathe my body but do wish that it weren't such a focus in our world.

Wallene said...

We live in Northern Virginia and the gifting of eye surgery to young Asian women by their parents has been going on a long time, it is not something new. We had a few in our HS in the early 80's who had the surgery as a graduation present. I didn't understand it then, but the more I know, learn I start to understand it. Don't like it, but understand why it exists.


gender starch said...

This reminds me of the argument used for children wear uniforms to school - uniforms are meant to subtract any physical indicators of individuality... but do girls attending school in these uniforms ever stop focusing on their bodily shortcomings? I doubt it.

The societal standards of what constitutes a beautiful feminine body are so ingrained in our minds that we would be comparing ourselves to those standards even when we mask our bodies in uniforms or burkas. In this sense, we are absolutely not free. We are all expected to adhere to these societal standards of beauty.

iloveroses said...

This post really caught my eye. Not only have I recently struggled with an eating disorder, but I am in my final year of my university degree studying English. Women's issues have always been of an interest to me, and women's image issues even more so since I have struggled with them myself increasingly.

My direct answer to you would be yes. Every woman has an eating disorder, from the ones who severely restrict, to the ones who go to the gym every day, to the ones who eat fast food. Women seem to have a dysfunctional relationship with food and their bodies and their looks more so than men (in my experience). I have often wondered why it is that food, and looks to my boyfriend seem so inconsequential when, to me, my life seems to be punctured by moments of self-loathing, skipping meals as a teenager, binging when I started university.

I find it interesting that someone else has already mentioned 'not being good enough'. This is precisely how, I and I am sure, many others feel. Perfection seems to be a long way off, but it seems to me that it is forever unachievable.

I'm going to carry on reading- thanks so much for sharing, I have written (for the first time!) on

and would be interested to see what anyone thinks.


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ShareWIK said...

Your blog is definitely insightful. Most every woman indeed views food in the wrong light, wether clinging to it for comfort, or disposing of it to look good. I have a website,, and would love to hear from you! ShareWIK (share What I Know) is a website devoted to bringing together women from all different situations and backgrounds (as well as a few men!) to talk about their experiences and learn from each other. We are taking about Eating Disorders this week on ShareWIK, and I would love your intake. Hope to hear from you!
- Diana Keough
P.S. And keep up the great work!

WW said...

Eating disorder is not about women or men but about how people have misperception about it. And it have chemical process in our body,In people with anorexia nervosa, the concentration of oxytocin in the brain is reduced, and peripheral nervous system responses are reduced or impaired. Vasopressin, on the other hand, is elevated. In patients with bulimia, oxytocin levels are normal, but vasopressin is elevated. These reduced and elevated hormonal profiles are most likely to be the result of restricted eating and starvation rather than the cause of them. But the elevated levels of vasopressin may play a role in recovery. If vasopressin is important during the formation and retrieval of memories, it could be contributing to the difficulty many patients have in changing their old routines of restriction.

To find out about the different type of eating disorder you can follow this link:

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Michelle said...

I agree with Charbelle. In my opinion, the ultimate utilization and appreciation of freedom is when a person is completely able to do what they want and to not be trapped by norms and societal pressures and standards. As strong women, we owe it to ourselves to be strong and to take advantage of a healthy definition of freedom. Women spend too much valuable time obsessing about their image, when they could be using that time and emotion for things more productive and useful.