You've seen them at the Plaza of the Americas: Student Government-sponsored billboards, in an effort to boost self-esteem, encouraging women to love their bodies, claiming that "diets don't work" and assuring everyone that confident women who don't worry about looking like supermodels are sexier than those who do.
Self-esteem and confidence are wonderful to have, but they don't tell the whole story. The truth is, regardless of how we feel about ourselves, women are judged for our appearances, and we face material and social consequences if we don't conform to the culturally accepted standard of beauty
A 2004 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed this: Overweight and obese white women get paid less than their thinner counterparts, while white men don't face the same discrimination. No amount of self-confidence in the world will make up for getting paid less for doing the same work.
For women, maintaining our appearance to fit into a standard of beauty is like another job. It requires time spent on hair care, putting on makeup and shopping for and picking out the right clothes - and sometimes, these beauty rituals can be downright painful (bikini waxes, anyone?).
Beauty standards are often based on classist and racist ideas; in other times, heavier women were preferred because it indicated that one had access to adequate food.
Now, thin and tan are the standards because they indicate access to money and time for expensive health foods and gym memberships. If you're thin, however, it doesn't end there. Women still face pressure to have a full bust and "curves." Regardless of what kind of bodies we have, women still face pressure to conform to an impossible standard few can achieve without surgery or airbrushing. The pursuit of beauty is endless for women; cosmetics is a multi-million dollar industry, and these corporations know that playing to an audience of women who face discrimination based on their looks will help them move products.
Sexism in our society helps these industries grow into what they are today.
The problem with self-esteem campaigns is that they treat women's insecurities about their looks as individual problems, when in reality it's a collective problem oppressing women as a whole.
An individual woman can choose not to wear makeup or worry about her weight and have all the self-confidence in the world, but self-confidence won't stop her from facing discrimination in the workplace or from her family.
There's nothing wrong with working out and eating healthily or enjoying shopping and wearing makeup.
What is wrong is the expectation that women do these things, and that we face material and social consequences if we don't conform.
To explore these issues further, join UF Campus NOW tonight at 8 p.m. at the Civic Media Center for a screening of the film Killing Us Softly 3 and a discussion of beauty standards afterward.
Claire Beach, Katie Walters and Shannon Boyer are members of the UF Campus National Organization for Women.