Should write this? It now seems a little outdated, referring to Wimbledon, even the memory of which which is now fast becoming lost in the haze of summer heat. The summer heat is actually one reason for this post being a little out of date, as I have been struggling to motivate myself to move into action beyond that of joining in with the other quintessentially English sport: that of moaning about the weather. Another reason for my delay is a wonderful but very full three weeks of Canadian family visit, which has been the nicest of distractions, during which I have been taught a new vocabulary by a three year old who insisted we talk in terms of “candy,” “sidewalk” and “garbage”. And “more candy”…
Well, Wimbledon might be over, but the issues brought up by Marion Bartoli’s victory in the women’s finals and subsequent Twitter talk as discovered by a member of my Canadian family are far from over, as they are the timeless and inexhaustible topic of the image of women. My Canadian relative, Hannah, was shocked to find that the theme of the Twitter conversation seemed to be that Bartoli did not deserve her win because she was not “hot” enough. She did not win on the glamour stakes compared to some of the more attractive competitors. Hopefully, all concerned were Tweeting with more than a little tongue in cheek, but it caused me to reflect. Now I must confess that it has often been pointed out to me that as someone who is partial to a few highlights and no stranger to heels and make up I am pretty far removed from being a militant feminist. Having experimented over the years with other ways of physically presenting myself I am happy that these things work for me. As and when I do choose them,they are my own free choice. What is of great concern however is that many women feel that the ability to choose how they present themselves is beginning to feel like a privilege they are rapidly losing.
In my clinical practice I see frequently the result of a woman’s focus being all on the external world and not on her internal world. For example, for the woman who was abused as a child, or has lived with domestic violence she has been so focused and watchful for the next physical attack that she has had no time to develop her inner world, to become aware of the complex nature of her thoughts and feelings in all their wonderful, if sometime scarily powerful, subtleties, to discover what interests her and to nurture her growth as a whole, enriched being. The resulting low self esteem and poor sense of personal identity means that these women often become malleable works of art; they allow themselves to be shaped, coloured and created by whoever they are in relationship with at the time.
Recently,the UK women’s minister reported that studies have found that a significantly high proportion of women in the UK have become unhealthily and almost exclusively focused on the external for a seemingly very different reason. Studies found that more and more women have become so concerned with their physical appearance and losing their “baby weight” that they are neglecting the developmental needs of their baby to prioritize their own physical appearance. This preoccupation with the physical and chasing an elusive perfection which they never catch up with is leading also to anxiety and depression. I mentioned that for these women their preoccupation with the external is seemingly for a very different reason to the women who do so as a result of fearing physical attack, but is not their motivation still fear? Fear of an attack of a different kind? Fearing just the kind of attack that Marion Bartoli received despite all her obvious talent and skill? Being judged solely on physical attractiveness. Sadly, for a woman caught in this trap, the less time spent on developing a substantial and resilient inner self of thoughts, feelings and interests, the less confidence she has that she has anything to offer beyond the physical perfection she aspires to. The more vulnerable she is to any criticism of her being less than physically perfect, the more preoccupied she becomes with creating her protective but thin and brittle shell of physical attractiveness.
Interestingly what I hear often from men I meet with in the course of their therapy and who are ready for a committed relationship is that what they desire from such a relationship with a woman is someone with whom they can engage and relate on an emotional and psychological level. Of course, an element of physical attraction has an importance in romantic and sexual relationships. Little is more attractive however, and will sustain a relationship beyond the initial attraction stage, than a true psychological and emotional connection. We need first to recognise ourselves beyond the mirror image, to be able to reflect on what is inside, to be able to achieve this.