Human bodies are remarkable machines but they can also look, sound and smell funny. Men have become artisans at making comedy out of bodily functions and flaccid beer bellies, but women rarely enjoy the same humor about their own bodies. It's generally accepted that women are held to a higher standard in terms of how they look, how good they smell and how well they age. All of this may be the reason why about 40 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies [source: Dreisbach].
Another telling figure -- some pun intended -- is that around 91 percent of all cosmetic procedures are performed on women [source: Brown]. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the number of men undergoing procedures is increasing as baby boomers age, but overwhelmingly, women seek liposuction, nose jobs, face lifts and filler injections more, and more often [source: Brown]. And, these procedures don't include the array of non-surgical salon and spa treatments that many women schedule weekly or biweekly, adding up in the thousands of dollars annually for some.
All of these physical improvements only scratch the surface of what women find embarrassing about their bodies, and when cosmetic surgery isn't an option or fails to help -- as in the case of being too tall or having an extremely unhealthy self-image -- concealment, adornment and even medical or psychiatric treatment can be part of the process toward feeling better inside and out.
Men may be able to joke about things that many women find embarrassing or downright disgusting about themselves, but what happens with our bodies shouldn't consume or destroy what we feel about our "selves."
Let's look at some embarrassing women's issues and be thankful for the ones we don't have, and grateful for those we can fix.
Women are born with features that embarrass them as soon as they become aware that there's an opposite or an ideal different than what they have naturally. Tall women may wish they were shorter; pear-shaped women who are small on top and ample in the hips might want an hourglass shape, with curves on top to match those around their bottoms. Large-breasted girls sometimes want smaller attributes, while small-breasted females want triple the cup size. Heels, flats, lifting and minimizing bras, and even surgeries and implants for bottoms and breasts are just some of the ways to work with a woman's natural assets to decrease sources of embarrassment or self-consciousness.
Other features we're born with are more readily changeable but nonetheless can cause a lifetime of frustration, not to mention thousands of hours of time and hard work. Hair too curly, straight, gray, flat, frizzy or thinning? Try straightening, perming, dying, curling, flat-ironing or extending -- maybe with pieces of hair cut from someone who was born with too much.
And hair on the body where it isn't supposed to be? That can be some of the most embarrassing of all, requiring shaving, lasering and plucking and involving all manners of painful and repeat trips to de-fuzzify, bare and smooth our brows, underarms and undercover parts. Even the cost of all this hair removal can be embarrassing.
Unlike on a man, though, a mustache on a woman has never been fashionable; it just has to go.
We start to age the moment we're born, with a developmental stage starting at birth and continuing through the early years, and then a second stage, called aging, setting in in young adulthood. Not only is the body changing naturally as we age, it's also responding to how we live our lives and what kind of life changes we experience. Women who spend long hours teaching, nursing or enjoying another profession on their feet all day may have the leg veins to show it -- legs may stay under long pants even through the heat of summer due to embarrassment over these blue, green or bulging varicose vein road maps.
A joyous life passage for many women also brings a pretty common feeling: "I love you, baby, but I don't love the stretch marks, tummy junk, C-section scar and changed breasts you gave me." Having a baby causes many of the most embarrassing body issues, with everything from increased foot size to brown hyperpigmentation of the face. Sadly, many women worry most about how their partners, the very partners in making the baby, will feel about all of the marks of childbirth. It can even inhibit the comfort level and intimacy that made making a baby so much fun in the first place.
Many embarrassing changes will come with aging, whether we're sitting still for decades or are an avid athlete, and chief among these can be the "wings" women get, not for earning their wings, unfortunately, but just for coexisting with gravity. Flappy skin drapes hanging from arms keep many women in long sleeved for decades. Not to mention the gobble gobble chins that a shirt can't cover. It's just skin deep -- and skin drop.
You know those commercials and magazine ads for men about controlling the shine from oily skin? No? Because there aren't many -- if any at all. Women battle the oilies on their faces by priming, prepping, blotting and powdering away every drop of potential sebum coming from facial pores. But that's the least of their worries.
Other secretions are less in your face, but far more embarrassing, namely those involving the pits, soles and "feminine places" mentioned so delicately in advertising. Many, many women battle excessive perspiration and the stains and aromas that come with it. Deodorants to mask smells and antiperspirants to control wetness help some, but they don't always last all day or provide much help at all when things are hot and heavy in the gym, during menopause or in the heat of the moment.
Foot odor is perhaps more common or more uncommonly bad in males, but females have embarrassing issues, not just with the scent of feet, but also with moisture that makes it hard to keep on cute, slick sandals or to want to take off fashion-forward knee boots that allow the aroma to simmer undercover until exposed to open air.
Other scents of a woman are of such a personal nature that they're too embarrassing to even talk about. So we won't.
Women don't have to take all of the blame for their body weight, but they do have to bear the full weight of embarrassment when they feel too thin or too fat. Some women work hard to take in enough calories so they don't appear skin-and-bones while others have to count each grape and grain to keep from packing it on; both sides of the metabolism coin toss we're born into and work with through puberty, childbearing and aging.
Being out of shape is more within control, but a majority of women on any given day of any given year will say that they are out of shape and not at their best -- or optimum -- in terms of body image. Mass is just part of this equation, too, because where the weight settles determines which part of the body is embarrassing and covered. Cellulite dimpling the legs and buttocks, saddlebags protruding off of the thighs and hips, and the cute sounding, but so not cute muffin top -- that squishy band of extra fat squishing out of the tops of waistbands -- whether in jeans, skirts or bathing suits, all of them embarrassing to so many women.
All of these weighty issues keep the female body covered and spandexed by day and artfully posed and draped by night.
How often do you see women talking while covering their mouths with their hands or trying to keep smiles closed-lipped and restrained? Maybe this was a social peculiarity of reserved femininity centuries ago, but today it continues among women who are embarrassed by crooked, pointy, too small or too large, or less-than-perfect white teeth. Others suffer from bad breath, or halitosis, and keep a distance or put up a hand to block the air flow.
All around the mouth are even more potential sources of embarrassment: acne, red skin or rosacea, freckles, wrinkles, discoloration and skin tone. Some women go through most of young adulthood and to their graves never venturing outside without makeup. Many have a standard set of products in the "I would never go out without my [fill in the blank here]." So many women just aren't comfortable in their own skin, literally.
One reminder about all of these areas of embarrassment -- from the follicles that formed in the womb to the toenails with their bi-weekly pedicure -- almost all women can look back at pictures from a year to decades earlier and acknowledge inside and even out loud that they looked good "then." Before they were married, before they "got fat," had babies or started a stressful job. How beautiful all of them are now as they wait to look at last year's picture next year. Self-image is usually not very reliable; rarely do we look as bad as we thought, and often, we are working it way better than we remember, unibrow or not.
Links to bikinis, lingerie and short-shorts follow (not really, but we recommend them).
Scientists grew human blood vessels in a Petri dish. HowStuffWorks looks at what the innovation could mean for treating diseases like diabetes.
More Great Links
- Brown, Eryn. "Face-lifts: Men Get More Plastic Surgeries, but Women Still Get the Most." LATimes.com. Mar. 21, 2011. (Jan. 28, 2012) http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/21/news/la-heb-plastic-surgery-men-facelift-20110321
- Burton, Marti A. and Ludwig, Linda J. May. Fundamentals of Nursing Care: Concepts, Connections and Skills. F.A. Davis Company. 2011.
- Cleveland Clinic Foundation. "Emotional Well-Being: Fostering a Positive Self-Image." ClevelandClinic.org. 2009. (Jan. 27, 2012). http://my.clevelandclinic.org/healthy_living/mental_health/hic_fostering_a_positive_self-image.aspx
- Dreisbach, Shaun. "Exclusive Body-Image Survey: 16,000 Women Tell Their Body Confidence Secrets." Glamour.com. Mar. 23, 2009. (Jan. 28, 2012) http://www.glamour.com/health-fitness/2009/03/women-tell-their-body-confidence-secrets
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Body Image." WomenHealth.gov. Sept. 22, 2009. (Jan. 26, 2012) http://womenshealth.gov/body-image/about-body-image/