This weekend I had the pleasure of looking after my 9 year old cousin and her two friends. My day consisted of 5 hours of incessant screaming, awful jokes and annoying laughter, all while reigning myself in from swearing at them. A few hours in, the girls decided they wanted to play the Sims, something I have done hundreds of times before. But this particular day was different. By watching them play the game, I saw decades of the medias fascination with the body at work.
I have been a dedicated Sims player ever since my uncle gave me an illegal bootleg of the first version back in ‘05. 10 years later, my obsession has only intensified. I own Sims 1 to 4, with probably 20 expansion packs to better my gaming experience. With the latest Sims, gamers are able to mold their Sim into what they want them to look like, with the help of the cursor. All a gamer has to do is click and drag over certain body parts to give their Sim the perfect body and face. My cousin and her friends had a lot of fun with this body modifier. They kept making a female Sim the biggest she could go, while scornfully laughing at the way she appeared. Exclamations like “Eww!”, “She looks like a man!” and “She looks so ugly” were repeated by the three of them. I was surprised by their reactions. Here sat these little girls, maintaining the harsh values we place on beauty and especially femininity.
This reaction got me thinking about how girls are largely complicit in constructing a particular form of femininity that marginalizes anyone who does not neatly fit into its image. This very same cousin of mine refused to wear black, blue and red when she was younger, because “Those are boy colours”. My cousin, at such a young age, had decided that it is not feminine to wear darker colours. She and her friends have also decided that it is unfeminine to have a larger, or muscular build. And that frightens me. It frightens me that they outright laughed at the Sim they were creating because she did not have slim thighs, a flat stomach and small shoulders. Yes, the Sims is only a game, but the smallest actions have great meaning.
Historically, there have been particular ideal body types. Take a listen to Foxes’ “Beauty Queen”(while you’re at it, listen to her album Glorious, its amazing), and Beyonce’s Pretty Hurts. These songs address societies warped fascination with external beauty and how damaging that can be. Read about the rise of eating disorders and popularity of the pro ana lifestyle, and you’ll be truly scared of the effect body image can have on a person.
In contrast to the waif thin, Kate Moss type body, there is Kim Kardashian. She has been heralded for having womanly curves, and a real woman’s body. This new ideal body type alienates women in the same way as the tall and skinny model body of the 90s did. Her body is a combination of genes and hard work in the gym. Women who do not have that body are made to feel less womanly because Kardashians body is the ultimate “real woman’s body”.
I’ve always found the term “real woman’s body” challenging because it insinuates that if you do not look like that, you are not a real woman. And that’s not true. Every woman, regardless of her body type, has a real woman’s body. There is no shame in exercising and working towards a goal, but always remember that you do not have to look a certain way to be beautiful. You do you, boo.