Navigating Double-Standard Dress Code Dilemmas

Between the viral tweets about girls at summer camp being required to wear T-shirts over their swimsuits (while the boys go shirtless) and the dozens of messages we receive weekly about how to handle double-standard dress codes for girls, we decided to share a brief guide.

As you see double-standard dress code rules being enforced against girls and women, keep in mind that we live in a world that sees girls and women as bodies first and people second. When you see someone as a body first, you are likely tempted to try and regulate and monitor that person’s body, which often happens at their expense. The more we teach girls that they are here to be looked at, the more we keep them at a disadvantage. The more we value and devalue other women based on how they look and what they’re wearing — too fat, too thin, too covered up, not covered up enough — the more we keep them, and ourselves, at a disadvantage.

Here are some guiding questions and a script you can modify for your own use:

So, you feel uncomfortable at the dress code provided by your kid’s summer camp, school, or outdoor activity. Ask yourself why. What about the clothing rules raises a red flag for you?

  • Do you feel like the guidelines are sexually objectifying your daughter — treating her as parts to be covered? 
  • Do they position her body as a threat to onlookers? 
  • Do they make the girls uncomfortable (T-shirts while swimming, long pants in summer heat) to prioritize the boys’ or male leaders’ comfort? 
  • Do they require girls to cover up parts that the boys can expose? Is it the double-standard of it all?

Then say that. Use your knowledge of your child and your status as their parent to relate to the leaders as a peer and caregiver. Try saying:

  • I want my child’s safety and comfort — not their appearance — to be prioritized in this activity. She will be wearing a swimsuit approved by me that she can be comfortable in and move freely in and out of the water. She will not be required to wear a T-shirt over it because this is a safety hazard, a discomfort, and a distraction to her.
  • I want my child to understand her body is an instrument for her use, not an ornament to be looked at, including while swimming or playing. Long pants in the heat, extra clothing over swimsuits, and other rules that position her body as a sexual object to be shielded from others’ view is in opposition to the instrumental value I am working to instill in her understanding of her body.

  • I want my child treated equally with all the other children regardless of gender or appearance, including their dress code requirements. Just like boys, girls’ stomachs, backs, shoulders, and legs are not sexual and are not threats to anyone.

  • I want my child to know that they and everyone else are accountable for their own thoughts and actions, regardless of how anyone presents themselves. If anyone in proximity to my child has trouble seeing my child as a human and controlling their own thoughts and actions, that person’s misguided beliefs should be dealt with, not my child’s clothing. And kids should be taught it’s perfectly natural to be attracted to other people — no need to feel shame about that — but those people are not to blame for our thoughts and behaviors.

Please let me know if these expectations can be met, and if they can’t, please help me understand why not. I would love for my child to attend this activity, but excessively detailed dress codes for girls and not for boys sends the message that girls’ bodies are sexualized and threatening while boys’ bodies aren’t. This prioritizes heterosexual boys’ and men’s potentially objectifying views of girls’ bodies over the girls’ comfort, safety, and healthy body image.

I am prioritizing my child’s well-being and self-worth by helping her develop a healthy relationship with her body from the inside out, rather than the outside in. I hope this camp/activity will be aligned with our family’s values in this respect, but if not, I will seek other opportunities for my child.

If you’d like to learn more, I’d be glad to share my copy of More Than a Body by Lindsay and Lexie Kite, PhD, which has been a great resource for helping me better understand the importance of positive body image for everyone and how to break down some of the invisible barriers girls are up against in seeing themselves as more than a body.

Thank you!


Our Book: More Than a Body

Our first book, More Than a Body, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is available everywhere!

Get your copy today! Find it anywhere books are sold, including every retailer linked below:

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Book Description:

Positive body image isn’t believing your body looks good; it is knowing your body is good, regardless of how it looks.

  • How do you feel about your body?
  • Have you ever stayed home from a social activity or other opportunity because of concern about how you looked?
  • Have you ever passed judgment on someone because of how they looked or dressed?
  • Have you ever had difficulty concentrating on a task because you were self-conscious about your appearance?

Our beauty-obsessed world perpetuates the idea that happiness, health, and ability to be loved are dependent on how we look, but authors Lindsay and Lexie Kite offer an alternative vision. With insights drawn from their extensive body image research, Lindsay and Lexie—PhDs and founders of the nonprofit Beauty Redefined (and also twin sisters!)—lay out an action plan that arms you with the skills you need to reconnect with your whole self and free yourself from the constraints of self-objectification.

From media consumption to health and fitness to self-reflection and self-compassion, Lindsay and Lexie share powerful and practical advice that goes beyond “body positivity” to help readers develop body image resilience—all while cutting through the empty promises sold by media, advertisers, and the beauty and weight-loss industries. In the process, they show how facing your feelings of body shame or embarrassment can become a catalyst for personal growth.


“An indispensable resource for women of all ages, this is a guide to help us better connect to ourselves, to love ourselves, and ultimately, to be ourselves. —Chelsea Clinton, author, activist, and vice chair of the Clinton Foundation

More Than a Body is a welcome salve for those who are weary of the internal war with their body. Through their groundbreaking body image resilience model, Lexie and Lindsay offer many practical ways to make peace with your body, showing how body image disruptions can be a pathway for healing, rather than provoke a descent into a shame spiral. Ultimately, readers will find real solutions to reunite with their whole, embodied selves.”
—Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, co-author of Intuitive Eating

“Loving yourself is easier said than done. I’ve been trying for years. There’s more to it than following a bunch of body-positive Instagram accounts or saying nice things to yourself in the mirror. Thankfully, Lindsay and Lexie have written a step-by-step guide on how to dismantle self-objectification and develop a positive body image. This is the perfect book for someone who wants to change their outlook but doesn’t know where to start.”
—Nikki Glaser, comedian, TV host, and host of the podcast You Up with Nikki Glaser

“As an expert immersed in this field for decades, it is rare that I come across writing that causes me to reflect differently on my own body—but More Than a Body does so powerfully. The Kite sisters’ work is not trite self-help or body positivity clichés; it is masterfully crafted research and real-life experience that represents a crucial step forward in our culture’s understanding of bodies and beauty ideals. The world needs this book.”
—Lindo Bacon, PhD, researcher and author of Radical Belonging, Body Respect, and Health at Every Size

“Lindsay and Lexie are the wise, thoughtful, patriarchy-smashing older sisters that every girl and woman needs in their life. In More Than a Body, they meticulously dissect the deluge of messaging that says we should tie our worth to our appearance—and then they blow all of it apart. They inspire us all to imagine what more we can be and what more we can do when we are able to take up all the space we need in this world.”
—Virginia Sole-Smith, author of The Eating Instinct: Food Culture, Body Image, and Guilt in America

“Lindsay and Lexie have a way of weaving you back through your own experiences, but this time, with an entirely new lens on the why. Packed with facts, science, and the truth about the distortions in media, this book brought me feelings of purpose, safety, and the good kind of desire to fight when it comes to existing in a body in today’s world. Lindsay and Lexie tell stories many of us could have written ourselves and unpack just how good and okay we are and have always been.”
—Sarah Nicole Landry, writer, The Birds Papaya

“This book could save your life. In a lively and engaging style, Lindsay and Lexie discuss the grave harm caused by self-objectification and offer remedies that encourage resilience. A most welcome addition to the literature on body image.”
—Jean Kilbourne, feminist activist, media critic, author, and creator of the film series “Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women”

“This necessary and compassionate book offers something like armor to women of all ages against the pervasive culture of objectification. We can’t escape it, but the strategies in these pages will help you develop a resistance to it and, ultimately, get back to living a life that isn’t limited by how you look.”
—Jessica Knoll, New York Times best-selling author of Luckiest Girl Alive and The Favorite Sister

Adele as a Savior or a Threat to Your Body Image

As singing icon Adele is being celebrated worldwide for her significant weight loss, the body positivity world is grappling with what it means when a “full-figured” icon no longer fits the bill. That’s a lot of responsibility, and she never asked for it. Without posting any side-by-side comparison pics or discussing her health or her strategies for undergoing a “body transformation,” Adele has become an involuntary before-and-after image in our collective consciousness.

Whether it is body positivity advocates who championed her “before” body or everyone else fawning over her “after,” both represent ways she is objectified and reduced to her body — even if one serves the good cause of normalizing and appreciating size diversity.

This represents the trap we fall into when we think that we can place women with larger bodies on a pedestal as examples of body positivity — thriving or surviving despite their less-celebrated appearances — and think we won’t get hurt when she falls or gets pushed off that pedestal (by losing weight, promoting a diet plan, or saying something negative about her larger size). When she comes crashing down from her #bopo pedestal, our feelings and hopes about our own similar bodies come crashing down along with her.

Have you found your body anxiety being triggered by seeing Adele’s smaller body, and seeing it receive so much praise and attention? Or Lizzo promoting a new diet? Or Rebel Wilson losing a dramatic amount of weight? We understand why you might be feeling that, and we want you to see it as an opportunity to rethink the ways you might view and value bodies — your own and others’.

Your body image may have taken a blow seeing the headlines about Adele’s weight loss or Lizzo promoting a juice cleanse because they are in the small group of so-called “plus size” female celebrities. With so few women of diverse body sizes represented positively throughout mainstream media, it’s easy to pedestalize women who don’t fit prescribed beauty ideals as body positive icons. But if we place women like Adele, Melissa McCarthy, Shonda Rhimes, Beanie Feldstein, Jennifer Hudson, or Mindy Kaling on pedestals as brave heroes of body positivity, we are resting our hopes and values on their bodies — other people’s dynamic human bodies that grow and shrink and change for an endless list of reasons inside and outside of our control. 

These people didn’t choose to be our guiding star in the uncharted land of trying to love our less-celebrated body sizes and shapes — we put that on them because of how they look. They didn’t claim that status, and yet we hold them to our standards as body positive queens and pin our hopes of confidence, love, and success to their inspirational examples. Then, when they lose weight or disparage their larger bodies or promote a new diet, body positivity advocates see them as traitors to the cause while the general public champions them as weight loss success stories, testaments to the power of motivation and self-discipline as the keys to anyone’s body transformations from not to hot. In the end, whether they’re larger or smaller, we’re still talking about them as bodies first and people second. We are objectifying them.

You may have also taken a hit to your body image as you read all the “She’s never looked better!” and “Revenge body?” and “She’s unrecognizable!” commentary, which reveals how much people value thinner bodies over fatter ones — at any cost. Our culture’s fear of fat is real, and it comes to the forefront in the way we praise and shame people. We don’t know how or why Adele lost weight, and it isn’t anyone’s business, but we do know that not every weight loss story is a happy or healthy one. Many people are sick and suffering and praise for their weight loss is unwelcome and harmful. Eating disorders are rampant, dangerous diets and pills and addictions abound. (See a few examples as proof here for motivation to stop complimenting peoples’ shrinking bodies). 

How do we make ourselves more resilient in the face of the latest celebrity’s weight loss or new diet trending online and the accompanying body image blows that result from the heaping praise toward her (among the other daily disruptions to our body image)?

If we really want to ground ourselves in positive body image and rise up against objectifying ideals that hold women back in every way, we have to learn to take our attention off of bodies and appearance — for others and for ourselves. We can’t heal our own body image and reduce our self-objectification by praising and pedestalizing other bodies, even if they look like ours and we feel so grateful they do. We heal our body image by seeing and valuing ourselves and other women as more than bodies. Having positive body image isn’t believing your body *looks* good, it is believing your body *is* good, regardless of how it looks. It’s time to give women their humanity back, and reclaim our own humanity in the process.

Body positivity — or learning to value all bodies as beautiful — is a good first step, but this Adele phenomenon shows us how it can fall short when we rely on validating the appearance of someone else’s body in order to validate our own. It helps to see another body that looks like yours being validated, but what happens when it changes or stops being praised or she disparages her own body? As people who value body diversity and don’t want to be loved or hated for our size, shouldn’t we be the first to unravel someone’s value from their body — whether they are large or small? Instead of fighting for more women’s bodies to be viewed as valuable, let’s fight for women to be valued as more than bodies to view.

Let’s fight body shame at its source: the idea that the appearance of our bodies is the most important thing about us. The real problem is *not* that only certain women’s bodies are valued, it is that women’s bodies are valued more than women themselves. When we try to promote body acceptance by focusing on how beautiful women’s bodies are, we inadvertently perpetuate the idea that women are bodies first and foremost and that feeling beautiful is of utmost importance. 

Positive body image doesn’t come from believing that your body looks acceptable. While that is a good feeling, and perhaps even one step closer to healing your relationship with your body, that boost is fleeting, and when the power to determine how you feel about your body is determined by outside forces, it can be taken away as quickly as it is given. In order to really move forward individually and collectively, we need to recognize how severely the objectification of female bodies has stunted girls and women. The epidemic of self-objectification, or constant fixation on appearance (whether you like your appearance or not), has held back generations of women who could have used that mental and physical energy for much more meaningful and joyful pursuits. We can’t escape that harm by focusing on the beauty of all women’s bodies and relying on celebrity or influencer examples to convince ourselves our bodies look good too.

It’s not that your body is acceptable because Adele’s or Lizzo’s or any other larger-bodied woman’s is acceptable; it’s that your body is acceptable, period. You live inside it. You grew up inside it. Your body acceptance can’t hinge on how anyone else looks or how anyone feels about how anyone looks. It can’t hinge on other bodies looking like ours or being validated because those bodies are subject to change and so is public opinion about them. Your body acceptance can only hinge on your own choices, actions, and experiences inside your own individual body. Our popular mantra can help you re-envision what body confidence looks like in your own life: Your body is an instrument, not an ornament.

As you prioritize your experience inside your incredible body over the appearance of your body, you take your power back. Your power is internal and self-determined. What does your body allow you to do? What do you appreciate about how it works? What do you want to do, feel, experience? Take opportunities to move your body, challenge yourself, feel the rush of endorphins, step out of your comfort zone, and experience that state of flow of being fully immersed in something without your self-consciousness holding you back. Always prioritize your experience over your appearance. 

It makes sense that body positivity advocates and everyday women adore the few highly successful women who confidently represent larger sizes in the mainstream. But the front page newsworthiness of Adele’s weight loss is a massive testament to the need for greater size diversity (and all diversity) in media, as much as it is a testament to the absolute objectification of women who are able to become stars while being fat (or fatter than the mainstream ideals). If we could see more women in media, and not just the ones with idealized body types, one musician or actor’s size wouldn’t become the number one trending news topic in the world (in the middle of a global pandemic!). And no one woman’s body would have to be our ray of hope for our own body love, or our body shame trigger when her size changes along with the public’s love for her size.

Not defining people by their body size is possible! We know that because we’ve never heard anyone talk about DJ Khaled as a body-positive icon or praise James Corden for daring to show up as a husky hero for our time. Men in media get to be valued for and defined by lots of things outside of their appearance, like their talent, humor, intellect, charm, etc. Male stars’ weight loss is newsworthy at times, but men are never celebrated as heroes for living in larger bodies or constantly defined by their ability to thrive despite their size. Their bodies aren’t the most important thing about them. Ours aren’t either.

We are all more than bodies. We have to learn to see more in ourselves in order to be more than people who self-objectify our days away, preoccupied with our looks and the looks of those around us. If your body image is founded on the truth that you are more than a body, it can’t be broken by anyone’s changing body and the accompanying praise and shame. Your body image can be unshaken in the midst of objectification because you know the truth about yourself: You are more than a body, and when we can see more in ourselves and others, we can be more. Much more.

If you want more guidance on this stuff, we worked for years to develop and test our online Body Image Resilience course that is available to individuals 14+. Through an in-depth 8-week video course (that also includes full text, graphics and audio), participants can learn how to 1) recognize harmful messages in media and culture about female bodies; 2) reflect on the ways those ideals have impacted your life; 3) redefine the ways you think about beauty, health and individual worth; and 4) develop resilience through your own path that utilizes four sources of power.

Objectification & Loving Relationships Are Not Compatible

By Lexie Kite, Ph.D.

One of the biggest barriers many women face when working to improve their body image and heal their relationship with their bodies is the judgment and rejection they fear from their romantic partners. This seems to be particularly true for women in heterosexual relationships who have grown up viewing and monitoring their bodies through a sexualized male perspective. When women are objectified and valued primarily as things to be looked at and consumed (visually or physically) in media and among people around us, it is not only men that learn to view women as parts and judge those parts according to carefully prescribed standards — we do the same to ourselves. This distances us from not only our own healthy body image, but also from our partners.

We all learn to objectify ourselves (through self-objectification, or monitoring how our bodies appear) and to objectify others from the time we are very young, from a massive variety of people and messages. If you are a fan of our work at Beauty Redefined, there’s a good chance you have undertaken the incredibly hard but rewarding work of developing body image resilience. As you work on your relationship with your body and begin to experience your body through our life-changing mantra — as an “instrument, not an ornament” — your whole life opens up. You can see the way you have held yourself back and been held back from happiness and health and confidence because you felt defined by your body and wasted years living to be looked at instead of really living.

Whether you love or hate the way your body looks, you’ve probably also realized how hard it is to thrive in your life and your relationship — and even enjoy your most intimate moments — when you are fixated on how you appear at all times. Seeing yourself and being treated as MORE THAN A BODY is essential to your own well-being and to having healthy romantic relationships. So many of us have been trained to think that having a happy, healthy sex life depends on fitting a prescribed idea of what “sexy” looks like. The truth is: You can have a healthy, happy sex life regardless of how you look or how you think you look. You can learn to take back your sexuality as your own, from the inside, because it is something to be experienced firsthand, not viewed or appraised from the outside.

Here’s the deal: Everyone wants to feel attractive. Everyone wants their partner to be attracted to them. A big deterrent to feeling confident and attractive is shame. It’s REALLY hard to take good care of yourself when you are embarrassed and disgusted by your body and/or your partner is, too. It’s really hard to want to be intimate with someone or maintain a loving bond with a partner when you are embarrassed and disgusted by your body and/or your partner is, too. That shame propels you toward unhealthy extremes, whether that be compulsive overeating or overexercise, restriction and starvation, abusing diet pills and laxatives, being totally sedentary, etc. In other words, feeling shame and disgust for your body is the quickest path to self-destructive and relationship-destructive beliefs and behaviors.

As you work to see yourself as more than a collection of parts to be viewed, fixed, ogled, and rejected, you realize how imperative it is that your partner sees and values you for more, too. In past or present relationships, you might have felt the sting of objectification in your interactions — maybe in the way you were viewed and treated by your partner, but maybe also in the ways you have viewed and treated your partner.

For many women who have reached out to us over the years, learning to see themselves as more than a body is complicated by having partners who knowingly and unknowingly see them as bodies first and people second. Here are three examples shared with us by women we will keep anonymous.

“My husband has said unkind things about my appearance many times. Usually, leading up to a big ‘talk’ about my weight, he would also give me the cold shoulder for days at a time. I feel like those thoughts are always in the back of his mind and I’m always self-conscious around him. It’s been the biggest issue in our marriage. I want a husband that makes me feel beautiful. Not one that makes me want to turn off the lights during sex or cringe every time he accidentally touches my stomach. Even when I’ve been thin, he will still comment on my makeup or he’s said that he would be okay spending the money for me to get a boob job. I honestly believe no matter what I looked like it wouldn’t be enough—he’d never be satisfied.”


“My husband and I have been married for more than 20 years and I was obsessed with my weight for the first half of our marriage, and was thin as well. Eventually, I reached a point emotionally where I couldn’t diet even one more time and I started gaining weight. The bigger I got, the more obsessed with his own weight and body my husband became. For the past five years he has gotten into body building a bit and has gotten increasingly restrictive with his diet. He makes little side comments to me in judgement of my food, health and fatness. I’m the only fat person in the house, so he definitely gets his point across to me through the things he says about others and the things he says to the kids around me. This makes him sound really bad but he is wonderful in many other ways. This is just a tough area for both of us as he feels very right in this area.”


“I feel like every time I get close to accepting myself as-is I remember that Dr. Laura says ‘Don’t you dare gain weight’ and that my mom taught me to keep yourself sexy for your man. Typing this out, I realize how horrible this all sounds. My husband is a great guy but he does love my skinnier body more than my larger one for sure. He still loves me and wants me and all but there is a difference in his level of praise, etc. I want him to keep wanting me for years to come but cannot keep wasting my life trying to lose twenty pounds.”

If your partner withholds intimacy, kindness, or affection because they are unhappy with your body, that is a sign that you might be in an unhealthy relationship. If they make rude comments about your body or punish you in any way because they don’t approve of your body, that is a sign that you might be in an unhealthy relationship. Objectification is at the heart of these unhealthy relationships. When someone objectifies you, whether knowingly or not, they dehumanize you. They might view and value you as parts to be used, looked at, evaluated, rejected, and fixed. They might feel entitled to your body. They might prioritize how you look over how you feel. Objectification pushes away love. It is hard to fully love and respect someone you see through such a narrow lens. It is hard to be compassionate and kind toward someone whom you expect to uphold beauty ideals that may well be hurting her health, happiness, and well-being. It is hard to fully love someone else or feel their love when you know on some level that their love might be contingent on you looking a certain way.

That doesn’t mean a relationship where objectification is present is destined to fail or can’t be fixed, but it does mean that both you and your partner have some work to do if you want to progress.

Healthy romantic relationships are founded on love and respect. If you are in a healthy relationship, then sexual appeal is much deeper than just the visual. Yes, the visual, physical sexual attraction is there, but there is also love, chemistry, bond, touch, connection, communication, shared history and experiences. It is giving as well as taking. If your partner isn’t sexually attracted to you because your body has changed, they must learn to see the objectifying ways they have dehumanized you and uproot it. You are human and human bodies change for reasons in and out of our control. We age, grow, shrink, get sick and injured, give birth, face mental and physical challenges. If you are in a relationship with someone who is only committed to your body, they aren’t actually committed to you.

If your partner objectifies you by feeling entitled to your body looking a certain way or degrading your appearance or asking you to change, please know that you can’t escape that harmful dynamic by changing your body. You can’t outrun it. Any increase in warmth, affection, care and concern you earn through “fixing” your body is guaranteed to be temporary and always at risk of being withdrawn. That is a temporary and tenuous solution to a problem that will not go away. You won’t always be able to live up to those expectations, for a huge variety of reasons you can and can’t control. In a committed partnership, love has to be bigger and deeper than that.

Seeing and valuing yourself as more than a body will allow you to identify whether your relationship is healthy and founded on love and respect. You deserve nothing less. If you feel your primary value lies in the way your body appears, every rude comment, judging glance or withheld intimacy or kindness can be blamed on you and your body. Every ounce of rejection and coldness will feel deserved, and will hold intense power over you because you might even agree with it. It reinforces the very pain and shame you have learned to feel about yourself and your appearance — never good enough, never in control, never right. We have all been trained to blame ourselves for the love we don’t receive, but we can’t turn against ourselves. We can turn against objectification.

In some circumstances, you may have unknowingly helped teach your partner how to treat you and value you in an objectifying way. You may have started out your relationship very fixated on your body and spent time asking your partner if you looked fat, how you looked, if you should change this part or that part. You may have asked for and required a significant amount of praise and attention directed toward your body just to feel OK in your relationship and assured your partner was happy. You may have been on a strict diet or workout and asked for help to stay “on track,” only to wallow in self-loathing and annoyance when you got off track. As you’ve gained weight or your breasts have changed with age or children, you might have withdrawn physically and demonstrated lower confidence and less interest in sex.

If that is the case, your partner learned what you needed and validated you accordingly. He may have seen how happy and confident you seemed when you were losing weight or toning up or practicing intense restriction around food, and he also may have witnessed how depressed and self-conscious you seemed when you gained weight or lost muscle definition or stopped dieting. He may have internalized the idea that you are happiest and most confident when you are at your thinnest, when that isn’t actually the case. You have now learned the truth — you are actually happiest and most confident when you see yourself and others see you as more than a body to be looked at, judged, and fixed. When your self-worth and happiness each day isn’t dependent on how you do or don’t look or what you do or don’t eat. When your confidence and fulfillment is based on experiences, actions, and feelings, it is much more sustainable in the long run. It is self-determined and self-directed, not earned or appraised based on how others look at you.

Marriage is a commitment to and partnership with someone. It is not a contract to work forever to keep the same body you had on the day of your wedding. You don’t owe anyone your body. You really don’t. That is a degrading, dehumanizing ideal that way too many of us have grown up believing and perpetuating. It is incredibly sexist, because no one expects men to maintain their teenage bodies and faces their whole lives, and men aren’t tasked with maybe the most physically burdensome job of all time — growing and birthing babies. In our culture, men get to proudly age and embrace those outward changes, but women don’t. Men get to show signs of humanity like facial lines and wrinkles and grey hair and baldness and natural body hair without judgment or ridicule, but women don’t. Men get to live with their bodies as they are, while women are asked to implant and inject certain parts to be more plump and lipo, laser, and shrink other parts. Men get to be praised and valued and powerful for many reasons beyond how they look, while women are rarely granted the same luxury unless their looks are also deemed acceptable.

If you are in a committed relationship, having a partner who values you as more than a body is crucial to your well-being. You do not deserve to be in a relationship with anyone who attempts to diminish you and divide you against yourself, keeping you at odds with your own body. You are whole. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to remain that way. If you are in a relationship with someone who insists upon you meeting and upholding certain physical ideals, it is up to you to weigh the pros and cons of being with that person. When necessary and possible, this could lead to distance from people who aren’t supportive of your pursuit to understand your body as an instrument rather than an ornament, or who don’t care to try and understand your perspective.

If you feel safe enough to confront your partner and you believe your relationship can be healed, there are a few strategies you can use to prompt positive changes:

Be vulnerable. Share your feelings. Tell them what you’ve learned about the harms of objectification and how it has impacted the way you feel about your body and yourself. Tell them about experiences in your past when you have held yourself back, felt pain and shame, and missed out on opportunities because of judgment, embarrassment, or ridicule. Tell them about the ways feeling like an object has impacted your relationship. Has it caused you to withdraw, hold back, disconnect, hurt yourself, fixate on your appearance or food or exercise at the expense of your life, happiness, and health? Let them know that they are hurting you by doing things or saying things that feel objectifying. Give specific examples. Share how you felt in those moments and how it pushes you away from your partner and your own self-worth.

Ask for what you want. Ask them to refrain from commenting on your appearance or others’—for the sake of yourself and those in earshot. Ask them to help you stop obsessing about your weight or appearance. Ask them to support you and help you feel more confident as you are right now so you can stop being driven by shame and self-objectification in ways that hurt your well-being and your relationship. Ask them to consider the impact of their own media, entertainment, and friend choices, and how they might not only reflect harmful, narrow, sexualized ideals of women in general, but perpetuate them in your home and daily life. Inform them about the negative impact their harmful comments and actions have on your life. Ask for compassion and understanding.

Encourage them to be vulnerable. Ask them to open up about their own insecurities, whether they are body-related or not. Ask them how you can support them and build up their confidence. This will build trust and intimacy, which will strengthen your relationship. Encourage them to seek therapy to dig deep into how and when they learned to objectify people and how they can correct their thinking and heal their relationships and their own body image. Offer to work with them as you both learn healthier ways of seeing and relating to each other and your own bodies.

Reclaim your body as your own. The best thing you can do for your relationship is to not spend one more day fixated on losing weight or planning cosmetic procedures or fighting off aging to change your body for your partner’s approval. That is an unsustainable, short-term plan for what you need from what should hopefully be a lasting, loving relationship. You are more than a body, and you are doing your absolute best living inside a dynamic, growing, changing body. Your relationship with your partner, your kids, and yourself is hurt when you fixate on your body, as you ride the roller coaster of emotions and self-esteem that goes up and down by the minute depending on what you ate, how much you worked out, how you look, etc.

Your relationship with others and yourself will deepen and grow as you heal your relationship with your body. As you learn to see yourself as more than a body, you can be more present, confident, and fulfilled in your relationships because you will have the security of knowing your worthiness to be truly loved is not dependent on how you appear. You won’t blame yourself for anyone else’s perception of you or their unrealistic and exhausting expectations of your body. You can take better care of yourself because you value yourself as more than a decoration. You can experience more connection and pleasure during sex and intimacy, which is not possible if you are monitoring and evaluating your appearance from the outside. You can live each day knowing that you are worthy of love and respect and kindness no matter how you look. Once you know that truth, you won’t accept anything less.

If you want more guidance on this stuff, we worked for years to develop and test our online Body Image Resilience course that is available to individuals 14+. Through an in-depth 8-week video course (that also includes full text, graphics and audio), participants can learn how to 1) recognize harmful messages in media and culture about female bodies; 2) reflect on the ways those ideals have impacted your life; 3) redefine the ways you think about beauty, health and individual worth; and 4) develop resilience through your own path that utilizes four sources of power.

J-Lo and Shakira’s Halftime Performance Was Both Empowering and Objectifying

By Lindsay and Lexie Kite, PhD

So many people have been writing and asking us to weigh in on the Super Bowl halftime headline about whether the performances were empowering or objectifying. (You know that question is generally our forte!) But our input here is more nuanced than some might expect. In summary: Shakira’s and J-Lo’s performance wasn’t either empowering or objectifying — it was both. It had to be both, and it has always been both. It’s the nature of the game.

Zoom in to this weekend’s performance and you’ll see two women — Jennifer Lopez and Shakira — who are extraordinarily powerful, talented professionals in both singing and dancing who have earned their accolades and that prized opportunity through decades of hard work. They are bucking stereotypes about women “of a certain age” and what they are allowed to wear and how they are allowed to move. They are also proudly representing cultures and people who have been marginalized and underrepresented in mainstream US media. They are using their voices and platforms to shed light on social and political issues they care about and that many people were grateful to see in the spotlight.

Zoom out and you’ll see that in the past 20 years of Super Bowl halftime shows, all of the performers were chosen for their incredible talent, but *only* the women are also required to fit an extremely narrow standard of beauty and sex appeal. (With very few exceptions — full list in comments). With this expanded view, you’ll see the very different rules rules for men and women that determine who qualifies to perform at the biggest television event of the year. It’s the same rules women have to play by in all of entertainment media (and too many other areas of life), but it is especially obvious in this ultra-hyped venue.

In addition to being ultra-talented, you must follow thee three rules:

#1. Be young, very young. And if you aren’t young, you better look like you are. (J-Lo and Shakira have mastered this, and the world absolutely can not stop talking about it. Don’t get it twisted that the only reason they let a 50-year-old woman be the lead performer is because she looks like that, regardless of how talented she is.) Madonna was the oldest female performer of the last 20 years of halftime shows at age 53, while Mick Jagger was the oldest male at 70. Before this year, since 2000, the average age of the female halftime performers was 32, while the male halftime performers’ average age is 42 — a 10-YEAR AGE GAP. That’s out of 17 female performers and 27 males (only including bands’ lead singers or else these numbers would be outrageously higher for men).

#2. Be beautiful. And by that, we mean: be young, be skinny AND be curvaceous, but with no visible cellulite or stretch marks, have long, flowing hair and full eyelashes but NO other body hair, have a full face of makeup, and just be straight-up stunning. All of it. For men, go ahead and look however you happen to look. Look your age, be whatever size and shape you are, have hair or be bald, dance or mostly just stand there, wear a tophat if you want! Truly, anything goes.

#3. Be sexy. But to be clear, this is not about what truly makes *you* feel good or helps *you* experience sexual pleasure. More specifically, it’s about fitting a stereotypical, old-school male fantasy version of how sexy should appear. That’s absolutely the most important rule here for women. This requires you to wear high heels no matter how much you’re running and dancing. You also need to wear extremely body-baring clothing, which almost always means no pants of any sort. Leotards, yes. Pants, no. Men — wear whatever you want. Absolutely whatever you want, but pants are mandatory. Sex appeal can play a role if you get the urge to take your shirt off and show your tattoos or something, but that’s not why we chose you for this job and no one is expecting you to arouse the audience. To be a sexy woman, writhe around a lot, spread your legs a lot, arch your back a lot, shake your butt a lot (maybe even have a fully dressed male performer slap it), and touch your body a lot. Anything you’ve seen in media that is intended to arouse an audience — do that.

The obvious double-standards about mens’ and women’s appearances in the rulebook are so normal and unquestioned that they are invisible until you zoom out and look at the big picture. Jennifer Lopez and Shakira have had to live up to sexist, ageist, racist, nearly unreachable double standards now and throughout their entire careers in order to attract the spotlight they shared this weekend. Their unquestioned beauty and sex appeal don’t minimize or take away from their incredible talent, but they are a non-negotiable counterpart to it. We wish women could achieve this level of fame and acceptance on talent alone, but that is very rarely the case — especially for Latinas over 40.

That makes this question of “empowering vs. objectifying” a very complicated one, as it almost always is. There is no doubt that women gain power through playing by these rules — the power of fame, success, money, validation, and acceptance. For the individual women who achieve undeniable success, it is easy to see that conforming to these objectifying rules can translate into power, and even “empowerment” through self-sufficiency, social status, and opportunity. When all the superstar women we see in media fit these narrow ideals, it’s no surprise that we grow up and grow older reaching for those standards as a blueprint for our own empowerment.

The problem is, it does not work for the rest of us. Not everyone who follows the rules will attain the sought-after beauty standards, no matter how much effort they put in. Not to mention that these rules are prohibitive for so many girls and women who will never qualify to even play the game. Beauty work is endlessly expensive, time-consuming, energy-sucking, and health-compromising. The stuff that really forces faces and bodies to fit the mold is reserved for only the most wealthy and privileged among us, and even then, it isn’t a surefire fix. And for the small percentage who do actually achieve all the prescribed beauty ideals, there’s no guarantee that they will reap any of the promised rewards, whether financial, social, romantic, or otherwise.

When your empowerment is based on others’ physical appraisal of you, it can be taken away as freely as it was given. It is fleeting and fickle. He changes his mind. They find someone else. You run out of money. Genetics, health problems, injuries, pregnancies, aging, and ever-changing beauty ideals will sabotage even the most dedicated rule-followers. Lasting, sustainable empowerment is self-determined. It is based on who you are and what you know about yourself, not how you appear.

Our profit-driven culture thrives off the objectification of female bodies, and while companies, industries and even individual women might thrive, the majority of us are losing. This system fails women because it values our bodies at the expense of our humanity. Because these standards are designed to be unreachable for the vast majority of us, we are perpetually ashamed. Shame leads us to disordered eating — whether that’s starvation, bingeing, purging, compulsive overeating, or an all-consuming obsession with “healthy” eating (orthorexia). It leads us to overexercising or opting out of physical activity entirely. It breeds self-harm, addictions, and other harmful coping mechanisms. It compels us to do whatever it takes to “fix” our perceived flaws through buying endlessly promising products and services. We hide by avoiding social situations, opportunities, and any place or activity where we don’t want to be seen.

Just as we watch the women who succeed by adhering to strict standards of beauty and sex appeal, we learn to watch ourselves the same way — viewing and evaluating ourselves through the same voyeuristic perspective. We learn to monitor our bodies constantly, consciously and unconsciously working to adjust our appearances to be most appealing to onlookers. (It’s called self-objectification, and it halts our progress in every way imaginable).

Objectification is complicated. It diminishes our empowerment by distracting us, draining us, and destroying our self-worth due to a fixation on how others perceive us. It always has and it always will.

Still, there is no denying that playing by the rules of objectification can have its rewards and open up doors that are closed to those who won’t or can’t play.

So, yes. Shakira’s and J-Lo’s halftime performance was both empowering and objectifying. It had to be both. For women, it has always been both. It’s the nature of the game.

Super Bowl Halftime Performers and Ages:

2000: Phil Collins 49, Christina Aguilera 19, Enrique Iglesias 24, Toni Braxton 32
2001: Aerosmith 52, NSYNC 20, Britney Spears 19, Mary J. Blige 30
2002: U2 – Bono 42
2003: Shania Twain 37, Sting 51, No Doubt 33
2004: Jessica Simpson 25, Janet Jackson 37, P. Diddy 34, Nelly 29, Kid Rock 33, Justin Timberlake 23
2005: Paul McCartney 62
2006: The Rolling Stones – Mick Jagger 70
2007: Prince, 44
2008: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers 54
2009: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band 59
2010: The Who 64
2011: The Black Eyed Peas (Fergie 36, Will I Am 36), Usher 32, Slash 45
2012: Madonna 53, Nicki Minaj 29, MIA 36, Cee-Lo Green 36
2013: Destiny’s Child 31
2014: Bruno Mars 28, Red Hot Chili Peppers – Anthony Kiedis 51
2015: Katy Perry 30, Missy Elliott 43, Lenny Kravitz 50
2016: Coldplay 38, Beyonce 34, Bruno Mars 30
2017: Lady Gaga 30
2018: Justin Timberlake 37
2019: Adam Levine 39, Travis Scott 26
2020: Shakira 43 and J-Lo 50

Male average age: 42
Female average age: 34

If you want more guidance on this stuff, we worked for years to develop and test our online Body Image Resilience course that is available to individuals 14+. Through an in-depth 8-week video course (that also includes full text, graphics and audio), participants can learn how to 1) recognize harmful messages in media and culture about female bodies; 2) reflect on the ways those ideals have impacted your life; 3) redefine the ways you think about beauty, health and individual worth; and 4) develop resilience through your own path that utilizes four sources of power.

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