November 18th, 2013

Don’t judge women’s worth on physical beauty

By Sumedha Jalote, Communications Executive, AWARE

The recent charges against two doctors involved in the death of a liposuction patient highlight the health risks of aesthetic surgery (“First liposuction death: Docs and clinic charged”; last Thursday).

With the growing popularity of cosmetic and weight loss treatments, we question the social attitudes that fuel the demand for such procedures despite their inherent risks.

Beauty is a booming industry, worth an estimated $200 million in 2008. It is boosted by a media culture that gives women (and men) no respite from burdensome expectations of beauty.

magazinesFrom advertisements in print and public spaces to the constant dissection of the appearances of public figures, women are continually told to prioritise looking “attractive” – a standard often defined by impossible criteria.

A woman’s worth is frequently judged based on physical appearance, overshadowing her work or personality.

Photoshopped images, movies and television shape the standards set for all women, but seldom depict an average woman accurately. This has strong repercussions for women’s health.

Around the world, a large number of women and girls are unhappy with their bodies, which they compare with airbrushed images.

Many experience eating disorders and psychological difficulties. Last year, the number of anorexia cases received by Singapore General Hospital crossed 120, compared with 34 in 2003.

People turn to weight loss pills, slimming treatments and aesthetic surgery to achieve the “ideal look”. The number of teenagers going for plastic surgery in Singapore has increased by 30 per cent over five years since 2006.

Such treatments are of dubious effectiveness and are sometimes performed in unsafe conditions. Few cases result in as dramatic a consequence as death, but there is a significant toll on women and girls in terms of time, money and emotional energy.

For the physical and mental well-being of all, society must stop insisting that women’s worth is based on matching these arbitrary and extreme standards.

We can start early. The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) offers body image and media literacy training, teaching students to critically analyse the images that are sold to them.

Parents and schools can look out for and address eating disorders and bullying.

And all of us must show more kindness – to recognise all women as full, complex human beings who look fine just as they are, and have so much more than beauty to offer.

This letter was first published in the Straits Times Forum on 18 November 2013.

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