Last week , Jennifer Aniston penned a very powerful essay on Huffington Post about body shaming-single woman shaming and ‘childless woman’ shaming.It was beautiful, it was inspiring, and it was needed. It was needed for young women who often follow celebrity culture and gossip and end up buying into the web of lies that glossy magazines and tabloids often sell to us. It was needed for young women who look around and wonder whether they should feel inadequate and ashamed because of their status as unmarried and/ or childless. It was needed for young women who could not breathe freely for a day without someone commenting negatively about their weight, height, skin tone, or general appearance.
Jennifer Aniston has been a victim of brutal and cruel media scrutiny since she and ex-husband Brad Pitt divorced and he went on to be with Angelina Jolie. The media, and most of us , scrutinized her personal life, left it drawn and quartered, and analyzed her appearance from all angles, ignoring her fabulous acting career. In the usual fashion of pitting women against one another, we came to the conclusion that there was an eternal feud between the two women and that Jennifer Aniston was the bitter woman who had been ditched. We labelled Jen the loser and crowned Angelina the winner. As the years went by, we assumed that Jennifer was filled with vitriol at her inability to ‘find a man’ and have children, compared to the winner-Angelina, who had snagged Brad and had a brood of kids. Even when Aniston was “finally able to find herself a man” and get married, the tabloids descended on her again, to find out when she was going to finally get pregnant.
This kind of scrutiny is not something that only men do. In fact, in many societies, it is mostly women who put each other under pressure for marriage and child bearing. Jennifer Aniston spoke for so many women who are in certain situations where they feel shamed-because society is harsher on women when it comes to issues surrounding marriage and parenthood. We judge women who are not married, we judge women who are married and childless and we judge women who are single mothers. We have created a ‘perfect’ standard of womanhood which stipulates that a woman,no matter what she does in other aspects of her life,is only complete if she can have children.
Women should be free to chart their own paths, make their own choices and not be guilt-tripped in whatever choices they make, about their lives and their bodies. It is so unfortunate that we miss the stories and experiences of many women, simply because we define them by their maternal and marital status, and judge them as such. We assume that if a woman is unmarried, she must be desperate and perpetually unhappy with her life. We assume that a childless woman might not harbor as much joy and compassion, as a woman with children, therefore making her less of a woman and a failure. We assume that women who do not have the “perfect size” in whatever cultural context,are not truly and completely beautiful . It is a shame that sometimes, instead of seeking out the layered stories of women, our first inquiry is why they are not yet married or in a relationship, when are the babies arriving, and an inquisition into their diet or weight loss plan.
Some women make a choice to bear children, others adopt, others opt out, and others yearn for their own. Some women make a choice to get married and settle down, some women remain single as they wait to meet the right partner, some women have made a decision to never become a wife. And some women don’t even choose anything! They just carry on with their lives, regardless of whether they have a partner and kids in it or not. In all these situations, all such women should be regarded as complete, and one should not be perceived as inherently better than or inferior to the other. There is no need to stereotype, judge, shame or scrutinize a woman based on her choices or circumstances.
In many cases, it is actually society’s pressure to conform to a certain norm or be a certain way, that brings unhappiness and a feeling of angst to these women, than the fact that they are single, childless , or do not have “the perfect body” . The way society has either consciously or subconsciously agreed to subjugate women into what the “perfect” standards of womanhood should constitute ,is cruel ,unfair, and degrading.
As Jen rightly states,
“Here’s where I come out on this topic: we are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child. We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone. Let’s make that decision for ourselves and for the young women in this world who look to us as examples. Let’s make that decision consciously, outside of the tabloid noise. We don’t need to be married or mothers to be complete. We get to determine our own “happily ever after” for ourselves.”