From the gender pay gap to cultural stereotypes, women have historically fallen into a position of disempowerment. Recently, however, women have been rewriting this long-standing narrative.
Unfortunately, some of the approaches to women’s empowerment have been heavily contested by both sexes. It seems, at least in part, that this contention stems from negative connotations associated with feminism.
Feminists are often portrayed in the most radical sense: as women who believe men should be subservient or flat out loathe their male counterparts. Yet, in reality, feminism is often more about equality between genders then it is creating another disparity. In the case of women’s empowerment, feminism is like a political spectrum. Most people fall somewhere between the extremes.
According to a poll conducted by the Washington Post, 70% of Americans believe the feminist movement is about empowering all women. But this begs an important question: what if women have different approaches to feeling empowered? For instance, some women find nudity liberating and expressive whereas others find it offensive and objectifying.
It should be noted that this article isn’t intended to sway ethical or moral viewpoints, but rather to acknowledge both sides of the argument. To explore the dichotomy of female empowerment, let’s first look at some tried and true approaches that are almost unanimously agreed upon as positive methods of re-creating and expanding the dated-narrative of disempowerment. From here, we’ll discuss some of the more dubious forms of expression.
According to the American Psychology Association, 57% of women report that exercise makes them feel better about themselves. In conjunction with higher self-esteem, exercise is also found to relieve stress and depression as well as improve cognitive function.
Interestingly, although women reported even more benefits from daily exercise than men, they were more likely to skip a workout. Sport England completed a study that found one of the most common reasons women don’t work out is because of the fear of being judged on their appearance and ability.
Some workout facilities, such as Inner Balance Pilates, welcome new attendees—no matter the skill level—by offering one-on-one introductory sessions. These preliminary meetings are judgment-free. Through a personalized Pilates regimen, women can feel empowered by their bodies, as each movement will be based on their individualized needs.
Although, even with exercise there are differing opinions. It seems regardless of the correlation between working out and improved health and wellness, some women believe that as long as you’re happy in your own body, exercise is completely optional. The problem is, you do need to move to stay healthy.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that obesity affects about 40% of the population. In the case of empowerment, the movement towards body positivity is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, but it’s important to realize that there is some risk in supporting unhealthy lifestyles.
Embrace Body Positivity
According to recent research by the Park Nicollet Melrose Center, 80% of U.S. women aren’t happy with how they look. It’s heartbreaking statistics like this that ignited the body-positivity movement.
To this day, females largely glean their sense of what beauty is from pop culture, television, and archaic social norms. Thankfully, fashion brands have been actively shifting their image to embrace women’s empowerment by showcasing “plus-sized”—or healthy sized—models on their covers.
In 2017, the Dove Self Esteem Project found that 78% of girls think that they can look beautiful even if they don’t embody stereotypical beauty norms. Furthermore, 82% of women believe all of their female counterparts around the world have an element about them that is beautiful.
Plus-size model Tess Holliday has become a spokesperson for body positivity and how it has changed her life. With over 1.6 million followers on Instagram, her revealing photoshoots showcase a woman who is empowered by her body.
However, Tess Holliday, and other plus-sized models, frequently receive backlash for their weight. Case in point, a healthy weight for a woman of 5’3 is around 100 – 130 pounds. Tess Holliday is 5’3 and weighs approximately 280 pounds. Although many women view her as a role model, she often lacks support because of the health risks associated with her body mass index.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Tess Holliday’s BMI lands in the “extreme obesity” range which puts her at an extremely high risk of type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
Be Comfortable In Your Own Skin
Nudity is traditionally seen in a negative light. However, in recent feminist movements, a woman’s body has become a vehicle for change. Although opinions on nudity as part of the feminist movement vary drastically, the overall goal of empowering women is the same. If you believe that nudity is more objectifying than liberating, find your own method of expressing yourself.
Feminist activists often are looked down upon because of their non-traditional ways of voicing their opinions. For example, female actor Emma Watson experienced negative repercussions for her cover on Vogue that revealed “too much” cleavage. After receiving backlash, she spoke out to defend herself as a feminist.
“Feminism is about giving women choice,” Watson told Reuters in an interview. “Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom; it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it. It’s very confusing.”
Respect Yourself and Others
Many feminists question whether beauty pageants, boudoir photography, or public nudity objectifies or empowers women. Then again, activists like Watson believe it’s a women’s right to be able to do anything that empowers her.
In the past, there have been feminist protests at Miss World and Miss America pageants on the grounds that they flat out objectify women. But if a woman feels empowered, isn’t that all that matters?
Beauty pageants award women for being well-rounded individuals. Miss Universe contestants consider themselves feminists, regardless of whether or not others view such pageants as objectifying women. “We’re empowered, so we want to empower the next person, and she can empower the next person,” Miss Great Britain, Anna Burdzy said in an interview with Byrdie. “And that’s how you make change.”
Being adventurous means something different to every woman. It could mean packing a bag and taking a solo trip throughout a new country or simply participating in a new workout class. However, some adventurous approaches to empowerment such as boudoir photography can be seen as controversial.
Boudoir has been around since the 1920’s, with a main pillar of belief being that women should feel free to capture their positive feelings toward their bodies through art. If you’re unfamiliar, women take photos—which in the traditional sense may be thought of as revealing—in order to capture their natural beauty.
Often this is done as a memento of a particular time in their lives (i.e., confidence gained from working out or natural changes associated with pregnancy). Despite the meaning behind the art, many men and women look down upon boudoir photography because they believe it still objectifies women.
Some women may feel empowered by showing their skin while others may find their approach objectionable. But that’s okay. Empowerment is an individualized process, not a static product. The feminist movement is about progressing toward equality, not to judge the process that leads there.