Pornography objectifies human beings. They are bought (if indeed any money is paid) or available to viewers for their own gratification. They are not portrayed as people. How does this objectification affect us, and our relationship with our own bodies? Richie Francis, a support worker for homeless, long-term street drinkers and a member of the UK XXXChurch team, weighs in.
If you could change one part of your body, what would it be?
That’s a rhetorical question, but how many times have you been asked that in the past? How many times have you asked someone else that question? The truth is, I reckon most of us have some part of us that we don’t like, that we think isn’t ‘normal.’ That we would change if we could. But why?
The media has a massive influence on what we perceive as beauty. From a very young age we are exposed to material that tells us how we should look and what we should wear. Society makes a generalised call on what ‘beautiful’ is and we all just nod and agree…
Alesha Dixon filmed a documentary for the BBC called “Look But Don’t Touch.” In this, she explored how airbrushing in magazines can affect our own perceptions of our body. If we agree with society and value its opinion, and if its voice is the media, and the media portrays beauty as a woman with airbrushed features, enlarged breasts, thinned out figure, and touched up, perfect skin…then of course we will feel we are not beautiful if we don’t look the same, right? The documentary shows Alesha in a school asking girls about their appearance. When asked what they do not like about themselves, one girl replies with; “The way I look, I just don’t think I’m pretty, not like other people.”
What on earth has happened when a girl, no older than 7 decides she isn’t pretty because she doesn’t look like “other people?” What messages are we sending out?
In a report on the effect on society of lads mags and pornographic material, psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos warns that the “pornification” of society has put both girls and boys under unprecedented pressure to conform to gender stereotypes from a younger and younger age. Girls were pressured into appearing sexually available and “hot” while boys were forced to appear macho and to think about women as sexual objects.
From the time we are kids, we start to build up a profile of insecurities. We look at the guys on TV with 6-packs, and the girls in magazines with huge boobs and tiny waists and we become dissatisfied. No longer do we feel comfortable in our own skin. No longer are we happy with the way we look.
Then we add the even stronger and more explicit visual standards of porn to the mix. We see the female ‘stars’, many of whom have undergone various surgeries to ‘improve’ their appearance. Breast enlargements are seen more often than not, many of the women have had various other surgeries performed, and spend a lot of time staying in shape. The guys all have 6-packs, and are huge down there, which makes guys like me sigh, thinking “if only.” In order for porn to sell, the performers have to look a certain way. Most sites are even categorised to allow consumers to search for specific body types and parts they want to see.
We spend so much time ‘shopping’ for the perfect girl, so we can enact our fantasies, that we lose touch with reality. A porn addict may be more likely to want to go on the internet and watch pornography than sleep with an actual woman; John Mayer is a prime example as he confessed this in his article with Playboy. We put pressure on ourselves to look a certain way, and we put pressure on the opposite sex to do the same.
This could be why there is an increasing demand for plastic surgery in the UK, with operations for larger breasts and ‘designer vaginas’ soaring in numbers. For example, it is estimated that 25,000 british women a year have breast implants, and the figures are rising every year (The Guardian).
A study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 2009 revealed that there had been an almost 70% increase in the number of women having labiaplasty on the NHS on the previous year. There were 1,118 operations in 2008, compared with 669 in 2007 and 404 in 2006. Dr David Veale, a consultant psychiatrist in cognitive behaviour therapy, said he believed the surge in demand could be linked to easier access to explicit sexual imagery. “We haven’t completed the research, but there is suspicion that this is related to much greater access to porn, so it is easier for women to compare themselves to actresses who may have had it done. This is to do with the increasing sexualisation of society”
We have a problem. The problem isn’t with our bodies. It’s deeper than that. We have been, and are being, fed with lies. Lies that tell us we aren’t good enough, pretty enough, ‘big’ enough. We can’t stop the way porn represents sex. We can’t stop the way the media represents beauty. So what can we do? We can stop believing the lies, and learn to love ourselves.
I think the porn industry can have a huge effect on our self-esteem. If we allow ourselves to consume what it is offering, surely it is only a matter of time before we become more and more unhappy with ourselves. The figures for plastic surgery will continue to increase, and at the end of it, we still won’t feel any better about ourselves.
I once read a book in which a guy told a story of overhearing his kid talking to his wife. The kid asked “Mom, what does sexy mean?” After thinking about it for a while the mum replied “Sexy is when it feels good to be in your own skin. Your own body feels right. It feels comfortable. Sexy is when you love being you.” I think that’s beautiful. There is nothing more sexy than confidence.
// What do you think? Have porn or the pornification of culture affected the way you see yourself? How can we filter this to avoid being damaged? What is the antidote?//