Women & Their Bodies – What’s Up With All the Judging?

Ever since Angelina Jolie went public with her big announcement about her recent prophylactic bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction, I’ve been wondering…

Why is there this tendency for so many people to judge the decisions, especially medical ones that women make about their own bodies?

I find this phenomenon to be quite interesting, rather troubling and somewhat baffling.

I know Ms. Jolie is in the public eye, but still, what’s up with all the judging?

Since the big announcement, I’ve read more than a few articles and posts by other writers and bloggers and quite frankly, I’ve been a bit astounded by some of the comments about her choice, some of which were really “out there” and I won’t repeat them or link to them. In case you missed it, you can read my thoughts about her announcement here. (Yeah, I’ll link to that!)

Of course, women’s bodies are scrutinized, analyzed, critiqued and criticized every day.

We like to blame the media for this. We like to blame TV and movie actresses along with other celebrities, who for some reason have come to represent what true beauty “should” look like. We like to blame the love ‘em or hate ‘em beauty pageants where judging women’s bodies is actually a requirement in order to pick a winner. We like to blame the male portion of the human species. We like to blame a lot of things.

But it seems women are just as guilty of this judging. Melissa Etheridge caught a fair amount heat for her recent judgmental comment in which she called Ms. Jolie’s decision “not brave at all” but rather one based on fear.

And then there’s the judging that goes on when a woman decides to for-go reconstruction following her mastectomy. I’ve had more than one reader tell me they had to convince their doctors they truly did not want reconstruction because come on, how could a woman choose such a thing, right?


I remember the very first time I felt judged physically. It was when someone, a family friend actually, asked me this dumb seemingly innocent question about my height:

“Why are you so tall when you’re the youngest of your sisters?”

I was asked this question when I was obviously at an impressionable age since I still remember it well and exactly how I felt upon hearing it. As an already awkward feeling pre-teen, I immediately felt being shorter must be a whole lot better.

If I had been the third sibling in line and a boy, I wonder if such a thing would have been asked of me. I bet not.

Yes, this judging of the female anatomy starts early and never really ends.

Is it the same for the boys and the men?

I don’t think it is, at least not to the same extent, and I’d like to know why.

What is up with all the judging of women’s bodies and decisions they choose to make about them?

Male or female, decisions we make about our bodies are ours alone to make.

And male or female, YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Why do you think there is so much judging going on?

Do you think males are judged as harshly?

When have you felt judged based on your appearance?





27 thoughts to “Women & Their Bodies – What’s Up With All the Judging?”

  1. Great topic! I don’t think men are judged as harshly. My third son in line has been complimented that he is the tallest of the three. It’s a sign of masculinity, something that we females don’t experience. A sign of our femininity (at least in the recent past) is to be short and petite. I felt judged by my own husband for the decision to have both breasts removed, an obvious red flag that something was terribly wrong in our relationship. I think all this judging goes on due to people’s insecurities. Their own sense of inferiority is projected onto others. But I choose to slough it off, realizing that the person has his/her own problems. I get recharged by compliments and encouragement from my real friends. Thanks for bringing up this double standard. xo

    1. Jan, Yes, it’s so interesting that tallness is seen as a sign of masculinity. Way back when, I definitely didn’t feel my tallness (I’m not even tall) was a thing to value. I’m sorry you felt negatively judged by your spouse when you made the treatment decisions you did. That’s so awful for so many reasons. Thanks so much for sharing candidly. It’s wonderful to hear from you, Jan.

  2. Like Jan said, there certainly is a double standard. Men don’t get judged the same way as women do, but so many people are judgmental — men and women alike.

    I think I’m my own worst judge. Nobody tells me about how cancer has negatively affected my self-image….but me. I’m working through this, and I realize that I, like so many other women, hold myself up against this standard of beauty that’s not even realistic.

    Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to look like a supermodel (OK, maybe a little), but I think what’s pervasive in our culture is the belief that women are sexual objects.

    Just my point of view. Thank you for an excellent post.

    1. Beth, I think you’re exactly right that often times we are our own worst judge. However, this is partly because of society’s ridiculous and often unfair expectations that we know we can never live up to. Of course we all can say we don’t care about such expectations, but believing/accepting is a different story. Thanks for sharing your point of view, Beth.

  3. I really wonder how many of the women who judge their bodies so harshly and have such a difficult time with body image are actually reflecting the reaction of a spouse or romantic partner, not just how much importance society places on women’s appearance.
    My hardest thing to handle is my husband now seems completely oblivious to the fact I am a woman still. He has told so many people that my mastectomy didn’t make a difference to him, that if I say anything to anyone, I undoubtedly will hear I need to be thankful for how supportive he is. But his behavior at home says the opposite. I feel like I am demoted to cook and platonic friend. He has ignored everything from love notes to flirting to confrontations.
    My mother also had a mastectomy. My father kept complimenting her and flirting with her for the next 20 years. She died in her sleep in her 80s and dad knew it when he reached over to hug her. My husband has even moved into the guest room. If I died in my sleep, I guess he would notice when he got hungry and I hadn’t cooked anything.
    How can I ever begin to see myself as an attractive woman again, when the one person I want to be attractive for refuses to see me that way?

    1. Dear Elizabeth J. I am so sorry you are being treated this way. I too lived with a cold and emotionally absent spouse. After 10 years of on again off again counselling & 23 years of marriage I gave up. Do what is best for your health. I did and I’ve never regretted my decision. Prayers for you and whatever you do.

    2. Elizabeth, Gosh, I’m really sorry to read about your husband’s behaviors. Actions certainly do speak louder than words don’t they? I’d suggest counseling of some type, though I realize this is sometimes difficult to do for a variety of reasons. You deserve better. You really do.

  4. A couple of studies I read come to mind about the way we view our own bodies and others’ physical selves: one concluded that women are harsher judges than men. In terms of self-concept, they found that women generally looked better than they thought of themselves and men looked worse than they thought they looked. So for better or for worse and generally speaking, women tend to be harsher critics, at least in the physical department.

  5. I have felt judged for my appearance ever since I went to school for the first time when I was six years old. I’ve never had pretty privilege.
    I became bulimic when I was twelve. I went through cycles of bulimia and yo-yo dieting until I was in my mid-forties and said “enough already!”
    If you have the TV on, every few ads are telling us that our bodies aren’t good enough, that we need to be under x number of pounds to be worthwhile, that we can’t look older than x number of years. This is particularly directed at women.
    Men in congress make decisions about what women should and should not be able to do regarding reproduction.
    In this society, our bodies don’t belong to us. They are co-opted by the very judgmental culture in which we live.

    1. The Real Cie, You make excellent points. I’m sorry you’ve struggled with this issue for so many years. Something’s certainly off here that’s for sure. Thank you for sharing so candidly about something so painful.

  6. Interesting read and perspective. Oh yes have I ever been judged. I was bean pole thin growing up (like under 50 pounds when I as nine) People, especially adolescent girls can be so not nice to each other especially over their appearance. I remember sitting on a school bus in middle school and a girl making fun of me for being a stick and asking “Doesn’t your mother feed you?” Her friend sitting with her let out a loud howl. Meanwhile the one asking me this question, well let’s just say, she was more than a little chubby. I remember thinking, you should know better than to judge someone for not being the ideal weight. That was about 40 years ago, and for some reason still sticks in my head.

  7. Nancy,

    “Point on”!!! You brought me back to a time in my adult life when an executive I worked with at the time boldly exclaimed “Oh my God … you have a lot of freckles.” Though she was just ignorant in her approach, I couldn’t help but think … geez, should I be insecure about wearing short sleeves now?

    Women clearly struggle in my opinion far more than men in the challenge of feeling adequate and content in their/our appearance. Though I was raised in an environment where praise and compliments were always present, there is always still that sense of not being satisfied with appearance, regardless of how good people say you look.

    This was a divine read, as it’s been a constant theme for me, especially during treatment … in fact I just posted a blog talking about always wanting what we don’t have.

    Why oh why? 🙂


    1. Nicole, Gosh, I never would have thought about freckles being a source of such potential appearance anxiety, but of course they can be. I think women are judged much more harshly too, and struggle more as a result. It seems pretty unfair. I’m glad you liked this post. I’ll check out yours soon. Thanks so much for commenting.

  8. It’s such a big question you are asking about judgement. Not only does it come from the outside world, sometimes I think the harshest judgements on ourselves come from ourselves. I wonder if it’s programmed into our minds from birth, or whether this critical tendency comes into play later on? I don’t’ know. But I like your image that reads “You are enough”. There’s so much relief in that. ~Catherine

    1. Catherine, I don’t think it’s programmed into our minds from birth, but that’s an interesting theory! And yes, relief comes if a person can actually believe that message! Thanks for your comments.

  9. interesting perspective indeed. men are also judged by size – penis, height (social and also work related) in particular. And I read somewhere lately that increased height makes you more vulnerable to cancer. bullshit, says my 5’3″ frame.

    1. Green Monkey, I don’t think men are judged nearly as harshly or as much, but yes of course they certainly are judged as well. I read that same thing about height too. And yes, sounds like pure bullshit. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  10. We are our own worst enemies. For some reason we as women tend to tear each other apart instead of being supportive to one and other especially in these kinds of situations. Angela Jolie is only one example, however due to her visibility she received so much much negative feedback for her decision Which was a personal choice. It was disturbing to read she did it for publicity Who goes through this for publicity when you have an amazing body to have your old breasts removed opt for ones that may not be as attractive. It’s as though there is a jealousy factor involved that we are so concerned someone may look better have more and do more.We really need to foster relationships with each other and stop the “Ugly Vagina Envy” as one of my friends succinctly puts it.I have gone through it. It’s not a pleasant experience to be talked about behind your back made fun of make you feel as though you are at fault. But I in my aging wisdom (lol) have come to understand so much is about self esteem issues what “THEY” think of themselves. When you are not feeling good about yourself what to do is reflect your anxiety on some one else. It is a definite form of bullying not only someone else but yourself from self loathing. We are conscious when we do it therefore you can’t misplace blame. You control your own actions. Recently a friend has been making snide comments about someone we both know mutually, they are quite well to do both professionals my friend seems to be so envious and has tried unsuccessfully to sway my opinion of her I like her .. I am a very laid back easy going person I have gone through my own trials and tribulations- some more difficult than others. Some very recently that I am still recovering from .. I tend to have more male friends than female because we are not so stringently judged…..We as women need to stop reflect on what our actions may cost others be more accountable along with kinder to each other. Unless we walk in someone else’s shoes who are we to judge… Love Alli..X

    1. Alli, Sadly, you’re right about women being their own worst enemies sometimes. Interesting insights you offer there about the bullying angle. I have not thought of things in quite that way before, but you might be on to something. And yes, for sure everyone should reflect a bit more on their own actions and attempt to treat others and themselves with a bit more kindness. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Alli.

  11. I’m a bit late to the party here, but — what a great post, Nancy!

    I’m not at all surprised that female celebrities are judged (isn’t that what Hollywood gossip magazines have always been all about?) Throw in the Red Carpet fashion-alysis (“What was she THINKING?”) and the meat market reality of beauty pageants (and worse! worse! worse! those hideously obscene junior pageants for little girls!) and NO WONDER we grow up thinking it’s open season on criticizing women’s bodies.

    When a dear friend of mine was a little girl, she made a comment one day to her mother about another friend’s lovely pony tail. Her mother quickly interrupted: “Of course, with your BIG EARS, dear, you will NEVER be able to wear a pony tail like that!”

    That little comment kick-started a lifelong self-consciousness about my friend’s “big ears” (note: there’s nothing wrong with her ears!)

    Parents, be very careful about what you say (and don’t say) about your daughter’s appearance – they will never forget.

    1. Carolyn, There’s no such thing as too late! That’s a horrible comment your friend heard and isn’t it amazing how you still remember it? Great advice you offer there to parents – well, to all of us really. We are all responsible for what comes out of our mouths and for the impact our words have on others, young and old alike. Thanks so much for weighing in on this, Carolyn.

  12. I actually am too late to the party here, but…

    There’s a lot of misconceptions from the author in this post about men. Actually men are massively judged by society, but for partially different reasons. I am speaking as a man of not godly attractiveness or height btw.

    As a man you are also judged on looks, and body (and height), but also add penis size, your social skills, your coolness, your success, your lifestyle, your level of sophistication, and your income. Probably also by your level of intelligence. Whether some of that is just my internalized rubbish or not I cannot tell you, but I have definitely felt the sting of all of those at times in my life.

    When I was young enough to care I remember being told that my butt looked big, while my upper body was thin a couple of times. That did tie into my personal insecurities at the time and went into my impressionable mind.

    The fact is though that at a certain point, once you have a couple of relationships under your belt, you get over some of that internal silliness, but then you get older and then other things stick out, like hair loss (ouch), grey hair, weight gain, and hair growth in all the wrong places, and I’d assume also sexual dysfunction would sting massively too.

    My point isn’t to say poor me, but just to highlight that it happens just as much in some men’s heads as in some women’s heads. I don’t know the stats, but I do know that anorexia is on the rise for men these days, and also the Adonis complex (to look like buff male models). I personally cultivate a pleasant relationship with my own Adonis complex.

    One saving grace for men as well as women is that you get over some of it as you age, and another one is that there is hair coloring, gyms – you can construct how you want your body to look, you can eat healthier (or diet), and if something is really a sore point like sticking out ears or hair loss or whatever, there is also reasonably priced surgery out there too. There are also plenty of youtube clips and other websites devoted to men’s grooming, which is one of the few things that you can control day to day as a man. And there’s therapy and books and life experience out there which a person could utilize and come to realize that people do come in all shapes and sizes, and that’s kind of a unique and good thing about you.

    But men aren’t judged as much or as harshly? In the media perhaps… perhaps… but some men are internalizing the “male model” expectations out there perhaps just as much as women are, and a whole raft of other expectations. Moreso sometimes. You can perhaps turn the high expectations into a strength or let it destroy you from within, or maybe dull yourself to it.

    1. RNZ, Without a doubt men are judged based on their looks too. Sad, but true. I do not think it is quite as prevalent or as harsh as it is with women though. One example is the hair. A bald man, or a man with thinning hair is not looked upon the same way as a bald woman or a woman with thinning hair. This is just a fact. Thank you for sharing your important insights.

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