Bringing Sexy Back

Last night I was having a discussion with some incredibly dynamic ladies when we happened upon the topic of women internally ranking themselves in comparison to other women based on the attention they are getting from men.  During our conversation, my genuine, intelligent and all-around-awesome friend Sunny mentioned a TED Talk she had recently watched where this very idea was being addressed.  The particular TED Talk was part of the TEDxYouth series, a series of TEDx events designed to empower and inspire young people worldwide and was presented by Caroline Heldman.  The focus is about the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence and the objectification of women.  It is called "The Sexy Lie" and you can (and should) watch it below:

I could probably take at least three days of postings to get into all of the important issues that I feel this talk brings up but since I'm still trying to maintain a semblance of this being a design blog (or rather, not a TED Talk "book report" blog), I've decided this aspect of the "Talk" may have the most impact on my "audience."  Just one more set of "quotes" for good measure.

So back to the impetus of this post.  The "talk" discusses how women establish a "pecking order" amongst themselves upon entering a situation where men are, that is directly proportional to the attention each receives from men....  And this is where I'm going to get real honest and vulnerable on here, step out on a limb, and admit that: I am a huge offender of this practice.  It's mostly subconscious and is something that I can't even pinpoint how far back it started occurring for me but I can remember feeling affected by it as early as middle school.. maybe even earlier.  It's internally-driven and even though I am embarrassed to admit it, it has caused me far too much confusion, tears and sometimes even animosity towards my female friends and female strangers, that is not productive in the slightest.  It is also something that most definitely has had a large impact on my self esteem (or lack thereof). 

To describe in a little more detail what I'm getting at, let's take the scenario of a bar.  Women (or at least this woman) have a tendency to survey the room and try to accurately assess where they fit in a ranking of the women in the bar, based on how closely they are adhering to society's standards of sexy and how much and many men seem to be responding to this adherence.  In having this happen, it produces a vibe of female competitiveness in which male attention is the prize and all other females become threats and thus our adversaries.

By engaging in this symptom we are not only cutting other women down, being mean/cold to them and cultivating a cutthroat culture, in which one cannot fully relax and enjoy themselves, but most importantly, we are weakening our strength as a gender and completely giving men power over us.  They're not taking it away from us, WE'RE GIVING IT TO THEM by allowing their opinion to be the guiding principle for how we feel about ourselves... and each other.  Additionally, we're letting superficial qualities rule the day and essentially reinforcing that looks, our bodies and how sexy/attractive we are to the opposite sex are the most important things about us.  An even more detrimental output of this is how much of an influence this behavior has on body shame.  I don't think there is a woman out there that hasn't struggled with body shame at some point during their life.  And my take on body shame is that it serves no purpose other than wasting time and energy on feeling bad about yourself.

This concept of the "pecking order" and it's direct relationship to my occasional bouts of confused, depressed, jealous and competitive feelings in a mixed gender scenario, didn't really click for me until my discussion last night.  And then IT REALLY CLICKED!  I mean... This exercise of ranking ourselves and others is the byproduct of a culture that sets women up to do this.  It has become so socially accepted that it's hard to even recognize it when it's happening.  Those who are participating are merely experiencing the "symptoms" of a culture that has bred these warped values.  BUT... I think awareness is one of the most powerful tools for change and therefore it is awareness that can help us overcome. 

So, here is my prescription for turning this petri dish of female sabotage around on a personal level.  And if you, as a woman, have found yourself a victim of this habitude and agree that it's not healthy, then perhaps we can work together and not against each other to empower our gender. 


1. Be aware in scenarios where "female competitiveness for male attention" thrives and cognizant of the potential for it happening.

2.  Use this awareness to actively reverse your instincts when you feel yourself getting sucked in to creating a pecking order and placing yourself within it (at the top or the bottom - both and everything in between is a "trap").  Recognize this trap and don't engage.  If you feel yourself starting to have jealous feelings, animosity, depression, body shame, self-hatred, etc... get outside of your head and make the decision to stop.  Try viewing the situation as if you were observing it and weren't part of it. 

3. Instead of being adversarial to other women as an attempt to "warn them off" and "gain a leg up," embrace them, support them, and even befriend them - "lean in" to the idea of women as a collective force.

4.  Accept yourself.  Don't let your ego win over your self-love.  You are beautiful inside and out exactly as you are - and that is what really matters at the end of the day.

So, there you go!   A recipe for women striving to be valued for our minds, our thoughts, our souls and our hard work and everything else that is wonderfully feminine and not related to our bodies and how closely we subscribe to and mimic what society tells us is sexy.

I'll admit, my feminism was just itching to let itself be heard today and hopefully I haven't lost any of my readership from the male variety... but if you watch the Talk above, it mentions how these negative effects of a objectification society hurt everyone, men and women alike in the long run.  So come on guys and gals, let's "demolish the paradigm in order to build a better world."

- KK

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