Have you ever been out having a good time, and suddenly get this feeling that your hair isn’t in the right position, or your make up may have gotten smeared, or maybe you feel like you need to readjust your skirt?
These are just some of the ways that we monitor our body as women, otherwise known as “habitual body monitoring”. Caroline Heldman talked about the concept of body monitoring in her TED talk “The Sexy Lie”. It’s the idea that we constantly monitor how our body looks, and to be honest I can complete relate. She says: “We think about the positioning of our legs, the positioning of our hair, where the light is falling, who’s looking at us, who’s not looking at us.”
And not only do we do this, but the average woman monitors her body every 30 seconds. That’s a lot of body monitoring throughout the day, not to mention her life. Could you imagine how much free space we’d have if we weren’t constantly concerned about how our hair looks, or our shirt, or our make up?
But habitual body monitoring also speaks to a deeper issue. It highlights the idea that women see themselves from the outside; we internalize a male gaze and then we use that gaze to monitor ourself every thirty seconds. John Berger sums it up in Ways of Seeing:
“Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only the relations of men to women, but the relation of women to themselves.”
When you’re constantly monitoring how you look in the eyes of others, you are choosing to perceive your body instead of actually being inside your body. This is a problem because it defines a woman’s relationship with herself based on the perception of herself rather than actually being and experiencing herself. If we didn’t spend so much time having critical thoughts about our body, we’d have more time to experience how amazing it feels to actually live inside our bodies.
Needless to say, the experience of disembodiment and self-objectification (seeing yourself in the eyes of a perceived observer) has negative affects. It has been shown to reduce cognitive functioning, because of all the energy focused on body thoughts. It reduces self-esteem, and overall self confidence.
If this experience feels true to you, know that it is a social phenomena not an individual one. Our society is filled with messages that objectify women and a side effect is that women in turn end up objectifying themselves. I think becoming aware of this habit is the first step to reducing its tight grip. Then, a critical understanding of the hundreds if not thousands of messages woman receive each day which end up shaping the way we see ourselves can be an empowering step as well.