opinion

Why do people find it so hard to listen to what beautiful women are saying?

This week, after 17 years of walking the most famously naked catwalk in the world, Adriana Lima decided she didn’t want to take her clothes off anymore.

Posting on Instagram, the 36-year-old supermodel said the revelation came after a friend approached her and told her she wasn’t happy in her own body.

“I had received a call for the possibility of filming a sexy video of me to be posted and shared in social media,” Lima wrote on Instagram. “Even though I have done many of this type, something had changed in me, when a friend approached me to share that she was unhappy with her body, then it made me think that everyday in my life, I wake up thinking, how do I look? Was I going to be accepted in my job?

“And in that moment I realised that (the) majority of women probably wake up every morning trying to fit in a stereotype that society/social media/fashion etc imposed I thought that’s not a way of living and beyond that… that’s not physically and mentally healthy, so I decided to make that change. I will not take of my clothes anymore for a empty cause (sic).”

Before we unpack exactly what Lima is touching on, it’s helpful to firstly look at the facts.

Adriana Lima is 36 years old. She has worked and walked for Victoria’s Secret since 1999, making her the brand’s longest serving Angel. She was recently named the most valuable Victoria’s Secret Angel. In 2016, Forbes reported the model walked away with her largest pay check yet: US$10.6 million (AU$13.8 million).

Image: Getty.

Victoria's Secret is the world's most sought-after modelling contract, setting beauty standards universally. Victoria's Secret favours a certain kind of woman: The one with white teeth, long legs, tiny arms, a grin that reaches either side of her cheeks and a stomach punctuated by sharp lines and protruding muscles. And so, because Victoria's Secret favours her, the world follows suit. The message is loud, clear and wholly exclusive: This is what beautiful looks like.

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When Lima wrote on Instagram, much of what she said was correct. Every morning of every day, women far and wide wake, look in the mirror and despair. They fiddle and they poke: Perhaps if this was a little higher, this was a little flatter and this was a little tighter, then I would be okay. Then I would fit; not just into smaller clothes but into the world. Then I would see women more like myself on the billboards, on the big screens. On that Victoria's Secret catwalk.

So when Adriana Lima wakes up and decides, after 17 long years, that Victoria's Secret isn't quite her schtick anymore, that statement is certainly going to lodge itself into the throats of millions of women like a pill hard to swallow.

To be totally clear: People are allowed to change their mind. They are allowed to change their perspective, to re-direct the lens in which they see the world. Adriana Lima is allowed to look back, swear under her breath and realise the system she bought into for 17 years is one that inflicts grave amounts of damage on women across the world.

But she must consider two things.

Firstly, that people's first reaction will be to question why after earning up to US$10 million a year, for nearly 20 years, she has decided to just... stop, only as her career begins to glimpse the finish line.

And secondly? That as a multi-millionaire who has benefitted from a system that she now wants to critique, a single Instagram about body positivity isn't going to cut it. To be the warrior for women she purports to be, we want to see Adriana Lima do more. To see her actively work to help undo the damage she was a part of, even if unintentionally, would mean so much more than a social media post.

That could mean donating to organisation that work tirelessly on re-directing the narrative we have about our bodies. It could be taking an active and consistent stance on Photoshop or being an ambassador for body image. It could be anything that has true significance. Anything that enforces change.

Of course, Adriana Lima is allowed to make herself a role model. To criticise is the easier public reaction. It's not even been a week since announcing her new stance on Instagram. Lima has a profile and can absolutely be the influence she wants to be. In fact, we should be encouraging that with open arms but the smallest disclaimer: be this person, but do it with meaning.

Spaghetti queen for @thelovemagazine ???? ????

A post shared by Emily Ratajkowski (@emrata) on

Somewhere across the strange land that is social media sits Emily Ratajkowski.

Model, actress, feminist. One minute a then 22-year-old Ratajkowski was largely anonymous; the next, dancing nearly naked on the most-viewed music video of 2013.

Ratajkowski is, according to the standards set by the powers-at-be, objectively beautiful. Every part of her body plays into every generalisation we're ever taught about conventional beauty.

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And, just as capitalism allows, Emily Ratajkowski has leveraged off that. She's a savvy woman, and she has mastered the art of making a living by taking her clothes off - whether that be in Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines clip or in a recent video of the the 26-year-old in a bra pouring spaghetti over her chest.

We live in a free world and so, as a stand-alone fact, Ratajkowski is entitled to do whatever the hell she pleases.

What some people find a little harder to stomach is her resentment about how the world doesn't see her for anything other than being overtly sexualised. That she struggles to be taken seriously.

“It’s an interesting paradox. If you’re a sexy actress it’s hard to get serious roles. You get offered the same thing that they’ve seen you in,” she told Fairfax earlier this year.

“People are like sheep and they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s what she does well.’ What’s so dumb is that women are 50 per cent of the population and they want to spend money to see movies where they’re portrayed as three-dimensional characters.”

Ratajkowski is an outspoken feminist who wants to be known more for her mind than her face. She has penned essays on the intersection between sexism and being sexy. She is particularly public about her desire for us to listen, not just look. So why won't people listen?

LISTEN: The Mamamia Out Loud team discuss Adriana Lima deciding to never take her clothes off again...

Because here's the thing: When you make money off playing into every pre-conceived stereotype we have about what it means to be sexy, you can't denigrate the system that's lifted you up.

You can choose to make your body your currency, but you can't be surprised when the world follows suit. Ratajkowski has total control over her own narrative. This is the one she picked.

These women can be our role models, if that's what they want to be. They can be the people we learn from and the women who fight for us. They deserve the chance and they are so welcome to take any stance they please.

But as women who are not supermodels, right now, it can be hard to listen to what these women have to say. It can be hard to not consider their words and their actions working in direct opposition with one another. It can be hard to watch these beautiful women benefit from the very system they now choose to slander.

Perhaps it's also about us: about our inherent habit of feeling jealous of the beautiful, of the ones who can benefit from the system when the rest of us find ways to exist despite it. But perhaps it's also about them: If they want to be political, they have every right to be political.

It's just that actions speak louder than words.

LISTEN: Catch up on the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud.

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