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March 19, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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Have you ever noticed just how often women check each other out, but not in a sexual way? Almost as if they were secretly competing with each other for some unspoken prize? In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf explains that there is a universal and objective quality we label ‘beauty’. Women who possess this ‘beauty’ are more reproductively successful. Therefore, for evolutionary purposes, women must want to possess it. And men must want to possess a woman who possesses it. According to Wolf, this is shit. What is considered beautiful is forever changing. It evolves even faster than we do. The beauty myth is “…actually prescribing behaviour and not appearance. Competition between women has been made part of the myth so that women will be divided from one another.” Bingo – she got it in one. Women are encouraged through socialisation and the media to derive our self-esteem from external sources. There is a constant pressure to conform. So, we check each other out – to see who is conforming, and to constantly assess how ‘well’ we are doing in comparison with others.

I went to an all-girls college, rife with females competing with one other. Always dressing to kill on mufti days and sizing up the other girls in terms of clothes, hair, make-up, height, proportion and weight. That weight thing was apparently a biggie – by the time we reached seventh form, four girls in my class had been diagnosed with anorexia. Four. There were only about twenty-eight of us! How many others must have developed their own secret eating disorders, I wonder? I can tell you how many of them I didn’t hear complaining about their weight in those five years. None.

“So, what does all this have to do with queerness?” I hear you asking. “Surely this is a women’s issue, so wouldn’t it belong in the women’s column?”

No. It turns out that the concept and practice of this competitiveness also affects queers – both men and women (and sometimes in-betweens). For one thing, straight people don’t have to compete sexually with the very people that they find attractive. At any queer event, if you look closely enough, you’ll notice that the men and women are checking each other out at the same time as they check each other out. Sometimes it can get really confusing. For example, “OMG, look at that incredibly hot girl! Oh, how I wish I could have sex with her. Or at least have her legs.” What?! What the hell does that mean? Straight people don’t do that! Straight couples have completely different bodies, with completely separate designs, which cannot be compared. Part of the reason homosexual sex is so mind-blowing is because we have the same bodies and so we understand what feels good for one another. Hoever, there is a downside to this. Just so you can fully understand, I want you to imagine yourself lying next to your gay/lesbian lover after an AMAZING bout of sex, and thinking “Do I look as fat to them, as I feel on them? Jiggle, jiggle.”

Gay men are almost as encouraged as women to attain a physical ideal (which could be some sort of punishment, for perceived subversive aspirations of ‘feminine’ aesthetics or characteristics, if I was feeling wanky enough). Gay media is similar to media aimed at women – loaded with pictures of gorgeous, muscular, tanned men, and beautiful, wide-eyed twinks. Your average gay guy does not look like that – but I bet he wishes that he does.

The good news is that queer women do not feel the female competitiveness thing as much as gay men, or straight women. This could be for a number of reasons, but my favourites are :
1) Some of us are aligned with more ‘masculine’ traits, and don’t really identify with the femininity exhibited in the media.
2) We are not all vying for the attention of men. After all, what’s the point in competing with the hyper-femme girly-girls, if you’re not even after the same thing?

There’s not really a conclusion to this; I just wanted to get you all thinking. In any case, it’s not as if every woman and queer man feels so insecure about their physical appearance that they are constantly comparing themselves to others. And, by the same token, it’s not to say that straight men never do. It ultimately depends on how much of your self-esteem is derived externally, and how much you strive to attain the ideals shoved down our throats by the media. Which is not a fun way to live, as you could spend the rest of your life searching for an ever-lasting supply of self-esteem.

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