I am an admitted, sometimes-reformed, unabashed America’s Next Top Model junkie. While in certain circles I may pretend that my love for Tyra Banks is purely ironic, deep in my heart of hearts that adoration is pure and true. The list of things I wouldn’t do for the approval and praise of Tyra Banks is very, very short. So when I lazily stumble upon an ANTM marathon, it goes without saying that I will watch every superficial minute with delight, occasionally offering my own take on someone’s hair, makeup, outfit, and pose. I know what “smize” means. I called everyone I knew when I discovered that someone I know in real life knows an actual former contestant. In short, at nearly thirty years old, I found myself evilly enjoying a show that essentially perpetuates my most despised female stereotypes.
But wait—when do “stereotypes” become “honest observations”? Isn’t feminism about ownership? Empowerment? Most of the contestants on the show are sincerely nice human beings, with problems and feelings and even the occasional flesh-eating bacteria. (Really happened: Cycle 4, Episode 5, The Girl Who was Contagious)
Over the weekend, Darcy and I began discussing – per usual – common misconceptions about femininity and feminine beauty. When, we wondered, did feminism become about de-feminizing? Why are the glossy-lipped, dress-wearing, eye-lash-curling women considered sell-outs? If one must reject all things “girly” in order to officially stick it to the men, she is essentially surrendering the unique characteristics that might allow her to delight in her feminism. We don’t necessarily have to dress like men in order to prove our equality.
To watch the young women on America’s Next Top Model be so harshly judged on their physical beauty is a tough reminder of the hyper-visual world in which we live. While some might point immediately and unwaveringly at men as the cause of this superficial society, I would have to say that we ladies have undoubtedly played our part. As you luvvies know, we are always trying to untangle the knot that is intra-sexism; this seems to be a good place to introduce tolerance. We must stop interpreting someone’s worth as a woman based on preconceived notions of what a “feminist” should be. Instead, celebrate the models, the doctors, the stay-at-home-mothers, the senators, the actresses, and the nurses. I have had to learn to appreciate different avenues to gender enlightenment; I feel like all my sisters are in fact searching for the same sort of self-awareness, validation, and meaning from the world. The difficult part empathy, but isn’t that something we women should be good at?
Ok, I’m making a joke there. But in all seriousness, get off each other’s backs. I feel (from personal experience) that you can watch trashy TV shows about model competitions and still be a “good feminist.” You can cut all your hair off and still be a “good feminist.” You can stand in your kitchen in an apron with a baby on your hip and be a “good feminist.” As I mentioned before, feeling like a powerful woman relies on just that: the empowerment of your own strengths and passions.
(Is this where I say “You go, girl”?)