Monday, September 17, 2012

The Female Superhero

I recently stumbled across this picture on the internet. It struck a chord with me. Got me thinking.
We don't have enough of these - strong brave woman who don't need to be rescued. Who don't need a knight on a white horse, a hero on a dragon, or a prince in a fast car. Strong woman who have all those qualities inside themselves, and can take on the world all on their own.

It feels though like we're heading in the opposite direction. The feminists of the 1900s who fought so stoically for equal rights, independence, fair play in the work field and for our right to vote must be rolling over in their graves. What they must think of our current obsession with vanity, beauty and outward appearance above all else!

I've had a little bit of a scour of the internet. Where are our modern day female superheroes? Flavorwire, a cultural news and critique website, reckons that in searching for woman who have had a big impact on their lives, found that the majority of role models were fictional. They speak of the death of strong female characters in modern culture but are relieved that there 'are some wonderfully powerful, kick-ass maidens that have inspired us with their strength, self-discovery and incredible brilliance over the years'. Have a look at their top ten here.

And this obsession isn't just a Western obsession - news stories keep cropping up in the East as well, such as the one of former Miss World Aishwarya Rai Bachchan who has the public up in arms about her not losing her baby fat after being pregnant. The public opinion is that she is 'letting down the front' by not snapping back into shape post pregnancy - that she must value her looks above all else, and do whatever is necessary to keep up her appearance.

But is it a new thing? Is it something that we've only just become obsessed with or have fashion and beauty and power always been linked? Didn't queens and princesses spend just as much time playing dress-up? And maybe this obsession is planted so young now that it is beginning to become an ingrained part of our subconscious?

A while back I read an article titled, 'How To Talk To Little Girls'. Author Lisa Bloom outlines a big problem in today's society - the current trend towards only emphasising young girls' physical aspects, and not their mental ones. 

This paragraph from the article shows why it is such a problem:

"This week ABC News reported that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. In my book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, I reveal that 15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and 25 percent of young American women would rather win America's Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Even bright, successful college women say they'd rather be hot than smart. A Miami mom just died from cosmetic surgery, leaving behind two teenagers. This keeps happening, and it breaks my heart."

I know I myself am at fault here - just like the author, I also find it easier to start a conversation with a little girl by telling her how pretty her dress is, and how cute her hair bow looks on her. It's a funny thing - because it wasn't at all the way I was raised. I was more of a tomboy and a big nerd, who loved books. I wasn't allowed Barbies when I was very young (though my parents must have given in at some stage, because I remember having them when I was eight or nine); make-up was for grown-ups and reading was the coolest thing in the world.

I'm not surprised though that now these are things that little girls are just as obsessed with as us grown-up-girls are. Because we really are obsessed. Completely and utterly.

I recently was privileged enough to spend two weeks with two beautiful little girls. And wow, when I say beautiful, these girls are cherubic - delicate blond ringlets, perfect dimples and the biggest blue eyes you could imagine. It's difficult to look at such angelic faces and start a conversation about something else - to deflect away from what is staring you in the face.

But most of all, those two little girls are intelligent and confident, witty and precocious, and bright and inventive. They just want to know, more and more and more. They are not defined by their pretty ringlets, but by their sweet and sassy personalities, and their smart, questioning minds. For such small little creatures they say the coolest things.

I hope those girls grow up to be big brave superheroes. I have a funny feeling they will.

I don't really know what conclusion to draw. Sometimes I think I'm just as obsessed. You'll certainly find evidence of that on this very blog. Sometimes I just sit and type and all these words fall out and form into sentences. I can't think of some grand solution or great gesture that will solve this. I just hope that it's a pendulum, and we soon swing back to wanting to be superheroes. Granted, I'm sure this obsession will mean we'll be stylish-looking superheroes, but superheroes nonetheless. 

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

[Photo from the interweb]

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