Women obsess over the way they look: they tweeze, conceal, exfoliate, pore-minimize, moisturize and anti-age themselves – and that’s on the face alone. Some women – including actress Sarah Jessica Parker and members of the local Ophelia Project (OP) – have challenged the media’s definition of a “beautiful woman.”
Statistics support the rise in women’s self-consciousness. According to ourbodiesourselves.org, more than 360,000 women had breast augmentation surgery in 2005, a number that has nearly quadrupled since 1997, when approximately 100,000 women had the procedure.
The idea of self-acceptance is important to members of the Hillsborough County Ophelia Project, a non-profit organization that offers school-based curriculum that focuses on the importance of self-esteem, according to opheliatampa.org. The OP is so popular and the issue of self-esteem so prominent that there are schools on a waiting list for participation in the program.
Parker, the famous face of Sex and the City, had her likeness compared to the Kentucky Derby-winning horse, Barbaro, and was voted No. 1 on Maxim’s Unsexiest Woman Alive poll. Her runners-up on the shameful poll included songstress Amy Winehouse, Sandra Oh of Grey’s Anatomy, Madonna and Britney Spears.
When the guys over at Maxim held a poll last October to find the “World’s Unsexiest Woman Alive,” they should have considered this: Most women can handle not making the “Sexiest Women Alive” list – but deeming it a priority to find the least sexy females is even more counterproductive, shallow and insensitive than looking for the sexiest ones.
“Do I have big fake boobs, Botox and big lips? No,” Parker said in an interview with Grazia magazine last week. “Do I fit some ideals and standards of some men writing in a men’s magazine? Maybe not.”
The ideal Parker does fit, though, is that of a role model for any woman struggling with how she feels about her appearance. Instead of resorting to sporting silicone breasts to fit the stereotype of “attractive” or “sexy,” Parker accepts herself, as is.
The OP and the Art Institute of Tampa, in conjunction with Argosy University, joined forces to put on the Ophelia Teens Talk Back to the Media exhibit in honor of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, the first week of February. The exhibit, which ran through Friday at the Art Institute, included advertisements found in magazines that target a young female audience.
One ad dissected by the exhibit was for the CKin2U fragrance, which pictured a young couple in an overtly sexually charged situation, with the guy’s belt buckle undone and the girl’s underwear visible.
According to Creative Loafing, the girls of OP wrote a letter to designer Calvin Klein that stated: “The ad sends us, and all women, the harmful message that women need to appear overly sexy in order to be attractive to men.”
Compare the Klein ad to Parker’s for her fragrance Lovely. She’s dressed in a prom-worthy pink dress and not showing a line of cleavage. Clearly, Parker doesn’t need a man in her ad to feel “lovely.”
Another way that Parker stands up for women is by providing an affordable, yet fashionable, clothing line called Bitten. Her manifesto is: “It is every woman’s inalienable right to have a pulled-together, stylish, confident wardrobe with money left over to live,” according to bittensjp.com. Her line is made for real women, as her manifesto suggests, with real lives and real budgets, as every item is under $20.
Although Parker supports women who have more than just good looks, inner beauty is rarely portrayed as important in the media. Even though outer beauty is more photogenic and therefore considered more valuable, it’s also something one is granted through genetics or by the grace of a skilled plastic surgeon, rather than through the effort of building a stronger character. Because of the image-conscious nature of society, however, women who have inner beauty can still struggle with their self-image.
“Girls are very relationship driven, they rely on how others see them,” said Anna Abella, program director for schools for the OP, in an interview with Creative Loafing.
So, Maxim writers – and readers – if being a woman who believes confidence and self-worth is more important than male approval makes someone the “unsexiest woman alive,” good luck finding the “perfect” female with the Barbie-doll figure that your magazine promotes to call your own.