Sarah White //
When I was fifteen years old, I stared at myself in the mirror as I prepared myself for my first day of sophomore year. I wore my favorite black off-the-shoulder sweater that showed off my collarbones and accentuated my breasts. I slid on my black corduroy pants that my mother had let me borrow–the ones that sat tight against my waist, and showed my growing curves. I remember this morning clearly. I watched myself bend and trot in the mirror, preparing to exude beauty making me fall prey to the hawks and bugs that filled the high school. And when I got to school, I walked and twirled my hair just as I had in the mirror. I held my head high and stood proud when the boys watched me prance, just as I practiced.
I knew just what would make them look.
“You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman,” wrote Margaret Atwood in The Robber Bride. She explained it perfectly. The man in the back of a woman’s subconscious has always been there. No matter how hard one tries, he remains. Margaret Atwood couldn’t be more correct.
The internalized male gaze probably started years ago. Though the term was coined recently, with the growing Hollywood films sexualizing female characters. But, what about all the literature men had written years before, with a female character purely having their place as the pretty face, the girlfriend, the wife? The films just reinstated this idea, visually showing how women should be viewed.
Have you ever watched a film and studied in awe as the female character appears? Her body panned over–the hawk’s eyes moving slowly over her curvature. It ends on her face. So, what, the female is purely a body to gaze upon, nothing truly behind her eyes?
I’m sure many other young women have felt this way. Girls, rather. Growing up in an age surrounded by media showing what men view women as, and what they want them to look like. The hours spent staring in the mirror have passed me by quickly. It is quite embarrassing to recount.
I’ve even caught myself alone in my childhood room, fixing my hair and covering up my blemishes to look prettier. For who? I continue to ask myself this question. I’ve told myself, I only do it for me. I just feel better when my blemish is covered with concealer, or that I feel more comfortable with a low-cut tank top rather than an oversized sweatshirt. But honestly, I know in the back of my mind there is that haunting little hawk churning in my mind, telling me that I won’t truly be feminine without these little changes to my appearance.
Unfortunately, this is the case for many young women. We have been trained to believe this voice in the back of our minds. At the point of realization, this voice may seem easy to expel. It’s not. I’ve been aware of it from the age of fifteen, from that day in the mirror. Some believe that it can never be achieved, due to the male-dominated world that we all live in. But, the more women take back our minds, I believe we can install our own unique images of femininity.