Dr. Aric Sigman, ahead of the HMC Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, has made a recommendation that schoolboys tell schoolgirls what they find attractive about them, in a so-called effort to quell body image issues.
Yes, you read that right. Heterosexual male desires are the dominant force to be catered to, and not just in public media, advertising, and pornography – but in schools.
The idea is to calm down “neurotic” girls with the rationale of boys who “don’t have in any ways near as rigid a view on what an attractive figure should be.” This, ladies and gentlemen of all genders, is what I call missing the damn point. Whilst I feel fairly certain that Dr. Sigman had every good intention of encouraging young girls to feel better about their bodies, he is enforcing a myth of universal heterosexuality and prioritizing male desire, thereby ignorantly reducing half the male population to a single hive mind.
Men are much more than that. And women are much more than impressionable, love-consumed, and neurotic.
The preference approach is dangerous; where there is one preference, there will always be an opposite and others will fall outside of this category. The “perfect” body is an unfixed and intangible concept. As we all know, beauty standards evolve and change over time and the body parts we obsess over being bigger in one generation, we want smaller in another.
Sigman is advocating an embrace of curves, which is great for curvaceous women feeling pressure to be thin, but what message is this sending to thin girls? Rather than shift the paradigm of beauty, how about we scrap the idea that we even need beauty standards? Or perhaps we focus more on girls’ health and healthy body image and leave male sexuality out of this altogether?
A similar mistake was sent out in Meghan Trainor’s irritatingly cheesy pop hit “All About That Bass.” Yes, we applaud her for starting a conversation about body confidence, but it did so at the expense of our slimmer sisters, whom she graciously referred to as “them skinny bitches” (solidarity, eh?). In line with Sigman is the idea that women’s body confidence comes at the expense of estranging other bodies and focusing on what cisgender heterosexual men find attractive. It all enforces the idea that there is a right way to be, because men and boys like it.
An anecdote: when I was younger, my best friend was extremely slim, while I, on the other hand, developed large breasts very early on. I would painfully gaze over her shoulder as she took comfort in magazine articles stating, “men prefer small boobs”, and she in turn would have her confidence knocked as I reassured myself with articles telling me “boys don’t like skinny girls!” Where there is a top cat, there’s an underdog.
What about telling women and girls in schools that we are clever, passionate, interesting, talented, smart and that these are, if anything, more valid reasons to feel good about ourselves than our bodies?
If Sigman’s intention was solely concern for girls’ health (which it can’t be because there is more than one healthy body type), then there are ways to educate schoolchildren about health without referencing male body preferences. Dr. Sigman insists otherwise: “An increase in fat on hips, thighs and bottoms is not only natural but good for girls because itis appealing to males,” said Dr Sigman. “It protects girls from heart disease and diabetes and the great news is that men like that body fat on women.”
And there you have it: being healthy in and of itself isn’t good enough. What makes it great news is that men find it attractive, and furthermore, attractive to teenage boys. These are the same teenage boys who incessantly draw penises on everything and are perhaps the most immature demographic. Framing teenage boys as sensitive advisors to girls at a vulnerable age is an egregious mistake.
What’s more, the assumptions made by Sigman are fallacies at best. Promulgating ideas that women and girls are neurotic, aesthetic wonders and men are sensible one-dimensional species capable all of only being attractive to one type of women is dangerous thinking not just in the U.K., but for all global feminist communities.