Founder of The Sassy Show, Bethany Burgoyne, takes us on a trip down memory lane to recognise the ways in which women are brainwashed into becoming insecure.
As a passionate and provocative feminist, Burgoyne has spent the last decade working out where her self hate stemmed from and how she can take ownership of her own body image. Today, she proudly goes against society's standards of feminine beauty, defying expectations to remove her body hair, dislike her spots, or be ashamed of her natural body odor, so as to confidently set her own rules. Here, Burgoyne discusses the damaging ways media and marketing warp our sense of self-worth, and what we can do to change it.
Words by Bethany Burgoyne
Photographs by Joana Lirio
From the age of 12, I was a keen absorber of trashy magazines. Trips to the local shop would come with a thrill of walking along the aisles until I reached the newspaper section, joyfully flicking through endless pages until I decided which one I would spend my paper-round money on. It was a ritual of sorts, something which confirmed in my mind that I was finally growing up and living like a real teenager. Until the age of 20, you could find me scanning the shelves, adoring glossy covers of airbrushed women, and parting with my cash to spend hours absorbing content that today makes my blood boil.
I soaked up stories of women papped on holiday being cruelly criticised and ridiculed for their appearance
Reading about which celebs had put on weight, how my favourite Big Brother star had one boob bigger than the other, or the classic case of how Katie Price was getting another nose job felt completely justifiable. I soaked up stories of women papped on holiday being cruelly criticised and ridiculed for their appearances, being compared to their glamorously shining red carpet selves. The transformations would stick with me and I started to enjoy seeing before and after images, witnessing the ways women could be so many versions of themselves. This reality versus fairytale theme was something that seeped into many storylines of my favourite movies - Mean Girls, The Princess Diaries, Greece, even Maria from The Sound of Music goes from nun to Edelweiss sweetheart. This strange mesh of admiration versus judgement was becoming embedded in my brain, I never thought to challenge my choices.
The attention I was putting on the appearance and so-called beauty standards of women left me with a sense of urgency to see the same transformations in my own life. I must try to look stunning on the beach by having a flat stomach and a hair-free bikini line. I must stay in shape at all times rather than fluctuate between sizes because god forbid that would then result in stretch marks or “excess” skin. And I must try as hard as possible to uphold every ideal of beauty and fit in with the latest trend for hairstyles, fashion choices, and make-up looks, despite the rapid speed at which it changed.
I started to see the sexist, seeded ways in which women and their boobs were sold for daily consumption. This was my introduction to the term Sexual Objectification
Turning 21, something switched in my brain. I started paying more attention to this word feminism and a conversation with my eldest sister about Page Three Models (women who are pictured topless on the third page of daily broadsheets such as The Sun and The Mirror) led to me questioning the portrayal of women in media, advertisement, and day to day news. Initially, I was of the opinion that topless models should be supported for the thriving career they were building, seeing it as an act of female liberation to stand their topless if they wanted to. But then I started to see the sexist, seeded ways in which women and their boobs were sold for daily consumption by Joe Bloggs and his pals. This was my introduction to the term Sexual Objectification.
I started to shop these images, pulling out the pages of women’s sexualised bodies, and collaging them with male faces. The walls of my studio filled up and as I stepped back to look at what I had created, two things became clear to me - I had never seen a sexualised image of a man, and I had never seen a magazine, marketed at men, slating and shaming male celebrities for their appearance, let alone their personal lives, diet choices, and relationships. Why were women the only ones being shown, ridiculed, sexualised, critiqued, and commodified for consumption in this way?
Where was the voice saying “Stop buying this crap!”, making me aware of how it was damaging my sense of self-worth, and warping any ideas I had of female identity
I looked at my younger self absorbing the spoonfuls of trash and questioned why I had bought into this sad and pointless content? Where was the voice saying “Stop buying this crap!”. Who was making me aware of how it was damaging my sense of self-worth, and warping any ideas I had of female identity. No one. No one was, or has, stopped the creation of these magazines or prohibited the way newspapers sell women’s bodies. The Daily Mail Online is a clear example of how the internet has only facilitated more spaces for stories to mess with our minds. We all know how easy it is to peruse the endless stream of “news” about so-and-so’s latest relationship, and this person’s ex’s holiday to wherever, and *whoops* did you see her bum spill out of her bikini. Why do we care?!? And why aren’t we spending the same amount of time working out how to stop this endless cycle of female shaming and judgmental behaviour?
I am happy to say that over the last decade I have educated myself into becoming a loud, proud, and provocative feminist. I want everyone to be a feminist. That just seems like common sense. If we can all agree that Santa Claus doesn’t exist but that we’re allowed to believe in him until roughly the age of 5/6, then it seems obvious that all women would have a similar realisation that the world isn’t equal and patriarchy is oppressive at around the age menstruation starts. Because this is the moment our gender becomes a tool to silence and shame us. Female puberty brings with it an encouragement to suck on the teat of society's wheel of female-focused marketing - be it hair removal, underwear choices, or makeup brands.
Using your brain to create better opportunities for women, to spend time learning new skills, starting businesses, and engaging in productive conversation is supremely better than soaking up content that will leave you insecure
Buy this thing to make you feel better, wear this to look like her, swallow this and it’ll make you slimmer, cover yourself in this load of bullshit and you will be happy forever. We are better than this. We are cleverer than this. And more importantly, we are more responsible than this! Using your brain to create better opportunities for women, to spend time learning new skills, starting businesses, and engaging in productive conversation is supremely better than soaking up content that will leave you insecure. Using your time and money to invest in ethical, female produced products, in confidence-building platforms, in diverse and inclusive companies is good for you as well as your sisters.
We have so much control over our own choices, I urge you to wake up to it. Take it and shake it in the face of others because this damaging cycle of media and marketing provoked insecurities needs to change. And what should be shouted about on Page One of every newspaper is that we are the ones who have the power. You can tell that 12-year-old girl in the corner shop that she can put down that trashy, no good magazine and buy herself a notebook and pen instead. That she can start writing her own story, without any elements of shame, judgement or cruelty fuelling her brain's development. We can all be that voice, and act accordingly to help better our own lives, as well as the other females around us.