Category Archives: Beauty Myth

To Pole or not to Pole, is that Objectification?

My sixth form college (16-19) has just started ‘pole fitness’ classes and put this very large banner up to advertise them. The college’s take on this is to see ‘pole-fitness’ on a level with Zumba – It’s simply a different form of exercise that young women (let’s face it – it’s primarily women who will attend either) can use to empower themselves, but the former’s just a bit more aethletic and more ‘Burlesque’ than Zumba.

However some staff have commented that it just doesn’t seem appropriate for a 16-19 college to be promoting something that is associated with the sex-industry. The sexual connotations are visible in the banner – you can ‘clearly see cheek showing’ as one member of staff recently pointed out.

Of course I had to go away and do some digging on the issue, and it comes as no surprise that there are a wide range of opinions about whether or not Pole-Fitness is empowering or oppressive to women. To summarise just two…

Clare Mohan, writing at the Varsity Blogs about Pole Fitness in Cambridge University sets out the argument against it….

‘Whatever you name it, pole fitness or pole dancing, you’re still participating in the social context of the pole. Everyone knows where it comes from, that pole dancers are to be found in strip clubs and sex establishments up and down the country, and that pole dancing (which is, a huge percentage of the time, an activity carried out by women) is a dance form specifically designed to excite the watcher (who is, a huge percentage of the time, a man). So pole dancing encourages a view of the dancer [as a] sexual object.’

For more information on the objectification of women see the ‘Object‘ website.  

The ‘Pro-Pole’ voice comes from a number of women who both ‘pole’ and identify themselves as Feminists over at the StudioVeena.

Two of the more compelling arguments for ‘poling’ being empowering include…

(From ‘Nilla’) “Maybe people feel that way because stripping as a profession is often seen as something women would only do as a last resort, and that it’s degrading for any woman who does it (It can be, but so can working in the fast food industry).  So in a way, taking pole dance out of the stripping/sex industry context and doing it for your own enjoyment is the ultimate act of feminism, kind of taking the activity back for your own control and enjoyment rather than having to do it for the enjoyment of someone else.”

(From ‘Poledanceromance’) ’”To me, the answer is very simple (sex positive feminist): feminism must be about choice. It’s about women supporting other women in our efforts to explore undiscovered parts of ourselves. If I want to explore my potential by staying at home full-time to be the best mom I can be, you’d support me in that. If you wanted to explore yourself as a sexual being by experimenting in different sexual relationships, I’d support you in that (provided everyone is being safe!)”

If you read through the arguments for poling, many of them focus on the notion that it’s good for women to be allowed the freedom to express whatever they like through dance, including their sexuality if they damn well please, and they argue that in pole-fitness this process of exploration is completely liberated from the context of male domination and objectification that may exist in stripping.

What’s interesting is that both Pro and anti-pole stances see a sexual link in the activity, which brings me back to the original question – Is it right for a 16-19 college to be promoting something that has obvious sexual connotations? Moreover, is it right to do this when we all know that it will be mainly, probably solely young women, rather than young men, engaging in this sexualised activity?

Personally I don’t feel particularly comfortable with the college’s promoting pole-fitness, but am I just showing my age here? Or maybe this is my ‘inner patriarch’ just wanting to control young women from expressing their freedom? Or my ‘inner dad’ wanting to prevent young women from growing up?

Maybe I just need to get over it and start promoting pole-fitness in tutorials? Maybe that’s the future… ‘And don’t forget… final UCAS deadlines are this Friday, next Wednesday there’s a guest speaker talking about how to break into Journalism, and any young women wishing to explore their inner sex kitten are welcome to attend our new pole-fitness classes on Tuesdays… Please undress appropriately.’

Comments more than welcome…


BBC3 – Devoted to spreading The Beauty Myth…

While the primary function of BBC1 appears to spreading neoliberal hegemony, – so BBC3 seems to be increasingly devoted to perpetuating the beauty myth – at least if Wednesday’s current schedule is anything to go by – I mean look at this appalling array of programmes in which mainly women, but also occassionally men, demonstrate to us that being more beautiful is the true path to happiness.

19.00 – Hotter than my daughter – involves mothers who dress like tarts and daughters who ‘dress dowdy’ having their dress sense judged by a panel – typically resulting in the mother ‘toning it down’ and the daughter ‘glamming it up’ – in tonight’s episode, the mother was so overwhelmed with the transformation that she broke down in tears – as she said, her previously tom boy daughter who now had her hair trussed up, bright red lipstick, and checked dress – showing a few more curves – now ‘looked beautiful’ – This would have moved be to tears had I not been vomiting.


19.30 – Snog,  Marry or Avoid – this programme takes typically ugly or average looking (and normally vacuous) teens or twenty somethings who wear too much fake tan, too many lashes, and generally too little clothes, and subjects them to judgement by ‘lads on the street’ who typically report that they would avoid or snog these girls – but never marry them (samples never disclosed of course) – the subjects are then given a ‘make under’ – they tone down the make up and are dressed more conservatively, to bring out their ‘natural beauty’ and then told by their now admiring public that they would be married or snogged.

Even though we are moving away from ‘fakery’, the agenda is still very much focssed on the need for girls to look ‘beautiful’ – and all of this is made much worse by the fact that the show’s host Jenny Frost simply ooses natural beauty and viavaciousness out of every pore – so hardly a good base line against which to compare yourselves girls – the end result of the show is that the girls ‘compromise’ – so rather than being makeup disaster zones, they know tone down their fake tan and lashes to actually look ‘beautiful’    

21.00 – Hot Like Us – To be honest I’ve never watched it but I know it’s got something to do with young, attractive couples (probably shallow) who think looks matter above most other things – obviously a good basis for a long term stable relationship as we’ve all got more than enough time and money to plow into keeping ourselves looking unaturally young well into our 60s, and who wouldn’t want to end up with a Joan Collins lookalike when their 80? (I am being sarcastic btw – I’d rather be dead than end up with something looking like Joan Collins).

At the end of the day these three programmes – while presented to us as entertainment are really just reinforcing and even normalising the idea that ‘looks matter’ and that people, women especially, should spend inordinate amounts of time reflecting on and modifying their appearance. It is depressing just how many women buy into this game – reflecting the extent to which socialisation still reinforces the idea that a woman’s self-worth hinges on her appearance. It would be far better if these insidious programmes disappeared from our screens and they were replaced with a plain and simple message – women, you are more than your looks, get over them. – or something like that anyway.

That swimsuit becomes you – An experiment on the effects of objectification

That Swimsuit Becomes You – Is an interesting  body image experiment designed to test Objectification theory (B. L. Fredrickson & T. 

Objectification Theory (part of it at least) posits that culture has socialised women (men too, but more so with women) to base their self-esteem on how slim/attractive they believe they are (hence judging themselves by the way they think others perceive them) – It’s theorised that this has two effects – firstly, it leads to restrained eating habits, and secondly, it leads to reduced educational performance as resources (mental and emotional) need to be consumed to maintain one’s body image….

In the above research, Two experiments manipulated self-objectification by having participants try on a swimsuit or a sweater. – The idea being that when you’re in a swimsuit, you’re more likely to feel ‘objectified’

Of 42 women and 40 men in the experiment and found that these effects on body shame and restrained eating replicated for women only. Additionally, self-objectification diminished math performance for women only

I’ve included it here as I’m sick of hearing – always from females – that these days men are just as ‘objectified’ as women – this experiment where ‘objectification’ is tightly controlled and men and women’s responses to it compared suggests this is not the case… Although the experiment is 15 years old so things may have changed, but until someone pushes something that suggests otherwise under my nose – I’ll stick with this as proof of the fact that women are still more objectified and effected negatively by it.