From a young age, women are (unfortunately) taught to judge each other based on appearance. Starting in elementary school, social status is often determined by physical beauty and cliques are formed accordingly.
While men are also divided into different social strata based on their attributes, the criteria for determining who’s cool and who isn’t has far less to do with looks for them, and much more to do with intelligence, ability and teamwork.
While measuring a person’s worth by their external beauty might sound childish, and it very well is, these attitudes simply don’t evaporate once we grow up.
This week, musical powerhouse Beyonce walked the red carpet at the MTV Video Music Awards with her daughter Blue Ivy. Since Blue Ivy’s birth, the child has been subjected to harsh criticism about her appearance. And reactions to her recent VMA appearance on Twitter and other social media were beyond embarrassing.
“So are we all just supposed to pretend that Blue Ivy isn’t ugly as hell forever?” asked Twitter user @keltheyrich who also went on to write “...Blue Ivy is ugly as sin and there’s no way around it.”
“idgaf blue ivy is ugly,” wrote Twitter user @PhazeeWuhnn.
And it goes on and on...
What do these and thousands of other posts have in common? They were written by women. Think about that for a second. These are grown women talking about a 4 year-old girl, who will grow up to see this on the internet and be exposed to this type of attack many times over by the time she is in her teens. What are we, as a society, teaching this girl at such a young age, and every other girl who is exposed to this? That her looks are what matter. That other’s opinions of her looks, are what she should be concerned about.
She is just a girl spending an evening with her parents, having a great time, and women are at home sitting safely behind their computers spewing insults and ugliness towards a little girl. Yes, she is on TV, and her parents happen to be Beyonce and Jay Z, but that shouldn’t matter. And on the flip-side, if these adults were subject to the same types of comments, they would be feeling anything from hurt and sad to angry, or on a mission to tear down the women who made such comments. Why is it they can’t see how this would affect themselves?
While criticizing a 4-year-old’s appearance takes female cattiness to a whole other level, women have been judging each other based on appearance for centuries. This kind of behavior leads to feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, but women cling to the social norms they are taught as children and adapt this behavior as they move into adulthood. And some even mimic this behavior later in life, due to a feeling of, ‘well, women treated me that way, why should I be nice in return’, which only keeps the vicious cycle going.
In a CNN article, writer Kelly Wallace talks to Sophia Nelson, author of a new self-help book for women called “The Woman Code” about this topic.
The piece reads: “‘From the time we’re little girls, we’re taught to compete,’ said Nelson during a recent conversation at CNN. ‘I need to be prettier, taller, smarter, my hair needs to be straighter, curlier, whatever it is. I need to get the better looking guy. I need to always be better than because we’re taught to come from a place of lack as women.’”
Society teaches us that we must conform to a very specific set of standards, crafted by a patriarchal society where women are often viewed as mere objects. We must dress appealingly, but not too provocatively lest we be labeled promiscuous. We’re expected to wear makeup in order to look “professional”, but are then criticized and considered “fake.”
This balancing act leaves many women feeling like they are walking a tightrope. And it makes them wary of anyone else who isn’t doing the balancing act or anyone who is walking the tightrope better than them.
So what are some ways we can change the scrutiny girls are put under and in turn change the way women are impacted by this behavior?
In an article from women’s pop culture site Bustle.com, author Claire Warner discusses the cattiness that can emerge from feelings of inadequacy women experience as a result of constantly being judged on their appearance. Warner asserts women should be praising each other instead of competing and lists six ways feminists can deal with catty women.
“Our male-dominated world pits women against each other, and in all likelihood that’s why she feels the need to assert her dominance over you, so to speak,” Warner writes.
Another article, published by Psychology Today, writer Lisa Firestone Ph.D. relays the story of a friend who engaged in catty behavior.
“Rather than acknowledge that she felt competitive, my friend started to feel critical and angry toward her co-worker, writing her off as ‘narcissistic and slutty.’ She also noticed having more critical thoughts toward herself throughout the day. ‘I look so dumpy. This outfit was a mistake. What am I trying to attract attention to myself for? People will just notice how awkward I am.’ For the next few days, she found herself acting on these thoughts, even dressing differently in an effort to ‘cover her thighs and problem areas.’ She became less vocal in meetings, feeling unsure of herself and self-conscious,” Firestone writes.
These resources indicate that the cattiness directed at Blue Ivy, most likely comes from personal feelings of inadequacy. At just four years old, Blue Ivy is set up for a life of privilege and wealth that many covet. But instead of tearing down those we admire, we should all devote our efforts to lifting them up. Michelle Obama said it best, “we are stronger when we stand together.”