With the news that Amy Winehouse died this week, of what unofficial sources are saying, an overdose, it gave me pause, thinking back to my youthful days as younger woman, in my 20s.
I don’t think women like Winehouse, Lindsay Lohan, and (gawd) Paris Hilton are much different from any young woman in her 20s. Uncertain about their looks, scared about their futures, wondering if a man will love them forever, fearing or overly desiring motherhood, even though you really have no idea what it’s all about.
The pressure on young celebrity women is multiplied by thousands because of being in the public eye.
With the news of Winehouse’s death, it made think about how I would have dealt with that kind of pressure as a young woman. When I was in my 20s, I was married and had a pretty great body (although, I didn’t realize it at the time), cute looks, and I was still paranoid that someone might see me looking sub par. (Those of you who know me now, might find that hard to believe as I am a total slob most of the time. But yes, it’s true.)
Back then, you’d never catch me without my lipstick on, my hair done, I shopped way more, to keep up with the latest styles. And yet, I still felt constantly deflated when it came to my looks, my abilities, and my desirability. If my nose was shiny, or my lips chapped, I was a monster. I remember when I gained a bit of weight, tipping the scale at 127, and I thought I was a disgusting pig. I weigh more than that now, and I only wish I could get back to that weight.
Women of all walks of life are judged by standards that men are not. I once wrote a research paper on the difference in how the media examines women and men. It is not a leap to see it drizzle down from the media into society. Research shows that the media is a mirror on our society. It is a spiral, the influence of the media on society, and the societal influence on the media. Which came first, media hype or societal mirroring? Nobody knows, but it’s reality.
I was shocked at the drastic differences in how women and men were portrayed.
Not surprisingly, women were more often shown in subservient roles, cleaning, and taking care of children. Surprisingly, women in sports and politics were judged by their looks, their age, their status as a mother, and more often called by their first name.
This wasn’t decades ago. The research was from the mid to late 90s and early 2000s.
I wondered why it was that when narrating a basketball or golf game, or discussing politics, the female player’s children might be mentioned. Or why it was the women got called by their first names, and not their last names, just like men do.
Example: Hillary and Obama.
Celebrity women are often the butt of way too many sexist jokes and pressure to hold up an ideal that even the most beautiful women cannot keep up.
Women have much higher standards for looks, behavior and couth, than men, even in everyday, run-of-the-mill life.
I’m not saying that’s why Winehouse died. I’m sure it’s way, way more complicated than that. Nor am I saying that sexist jokes were the cause of her depression.
Whatever her problems were, they were just multiplied by the pressure that women feel typically.
I’m no better than most, I like to joke about celebrities just as much as anyone. But I don’t buy the magazines (anymore) that discuss their love lives. I don’t give a shit who has more adopted babies. And I sure as shit don’t care who’s had what face surgery.
I just don’t care. And I wish that less people cared about these topics. Not because I’m concerned for the feelings of the celebrities. But because I worry about how these judgments on them affect young women in our lives.
When I was a teen and heard jokes or judgments about certain female celebrities. I’d think, “Well, if she’s not beautiful enough, I sure as hell am not.”
I came to realize eventually that most of that stuff didn’t really matter. But it controlled areas of my life for years.
Now, I have a daughter. She’s a lovely child and I hope she will be a lovely woman. But I really hope that she realizes early on in her young life that looks don’t define you.
It’s a lesson that will be hard to teach, given the nature of our society.
Perhaps if Amy Winehouse felt less pressure in other areas of her life, she would have been able to simply concentrate on her music. Perhaps if Lindsay Lohan didn’t feel the pressure to be a certain way, she could just be an actress. Perhaps Paris Hilton would stop caring so much about what kind of bag she was carrying and just run a dog shelter for miniature dogs.
That’s all I want for my daughter. The freedom to concentrate on what she’s good at, instead of worrying about if her hair looks great. Collectively, men have that freedom. Why don’t women?