Friday, August 25, 2006

My Body, Myself

I’ve tackled this subject a few times, but I’ve never articulated it to a point where I’m satisfied that I’ve gotten my point across. Maybe because sometimes I’m not sure what my point is. But I do feel strongly about this issue, and would like to write about it more thoroughly than I have previously.

Her Bad Mother, Girl’s Gone Child, and Weird Girl have all written thoughtful posts about the subject of body image in recent days, which are my inspiration and motivation. My opinions come from an adolescence and teenage years of feeling like crap about myself and the last few years of voraciously reading Bitch Magazine.

When I had a baby, my body changed; but pregnancy and the body changes afterwards are just the most recent stops on the changing body train of my life. When I was 12, I first noticed that I was fat and needed to lose weight. This is what my 12 year old mind said. In retrospect, which is hard to come by because I tore up most photographic evidence of my 12 year old body, I was a little pudgy. I also had bad skin, which is just the icing on the cake of adolescent angst. But I knew, I just knew that if only I was thin, everyone would like me, and all my problems would be solved. I would be happy. Thus began the life of trying to diet, getting depressed that I wasn’t losing weight, and eating a whole bag of Cheetos in one sitting. Like the giant sized bag. Things improved a little when I was around 14 and had a growth spurt. All that chub stretched out over a few more inches and, although I still carried around that feeling that I needed to be thinner, it wasn’t as excruciating. Then I became an older teen, I tried various methods of “fasting,” dieting, exercising, etc. I was never satisfied. I pored over beauty magazines hoping that some of the grace, beauty, clear skin and thinness would somehow rub off on me through osmosis. I stared at girls at school, at the mall, anywhere I saw women that fit my definition of beauty, just wishing I could figure out how to do it, how to get boys to like me, how to look good enough to be happy.

Then I had somewhat of an ugly duckling type experience. Somewhere in high school I got cuter. Maybe I finally learned how to apply eyeliner without looking like a raccoon, maybe I figured out certain styles of pants (long and low rise) looked better on me than others (high waisted and tapered ankle-shudder), or maybe my features and body just matured a little into something I thought was more acceptable. Then, you see, it went the other way. I flirted, I giggled, I kissed boys, I started dressing more provocatively, I wore more makeup, I got highlights and a better hairstyle, I went to parties, I got tipsy and silly, and the bookish little girl of years past was pretty much gone. This isn’t to say that once I got “pretty” I stopped worrying about how I looked. Nope, the opposite was true, actually. I just dealt with it differently, and any positive male attention was like confirmation that, yes, dear, you are beautiful.

Throughout these years of hating the way I looked, I also felt guilty about hating the way I looked. Am I not a feminist? Don’t I despise the singular, unrealistic image of beauty that has pervaded our society by way of the media and advertising? Why do I care what other people think of my body? But it wasn’t so much what other people thought, it was what I was afraid other people were thinking. And, it wasn’t enough to worry that I was some hideous beast. On top of that, I felt like I would have my feminist club card revoked if anyone knew I was that superficial. It wasn’t so much that I wanted the ideal of beauty, thought indeed I did want that. It was that I wanted to feel that I had achieved the ideal of beauty, because then I would be ok. Then I would be accepted, because I would be the way everybody thought you were supposed to be. The only problem was, I wasn’t that way. And for me to try to become it, I would have to go through great measures. Extreme dieting and exercising would be only the tip of the iceberg. Cosmetic surgery would surely have to follow, not to mention a new wardrobe, and a professional doing my make-up, and…oh, yes, this has escaped the realm of reality. I longed to be naturally “beautiful” without having to try, because the most striking beauty is seemingly effortless. At the same time, I longed to look absolutely different than the ideal and have my inner beauty radiate through, my wit and intelligence and humor being far more important than the way I looked on the outside. Only, I couldn’t achieve the first one, and I was too scared to try the second.

This is not to say that I have surpassed these adolescent longing and fears. I’ve just learned to deal with them a little differently. I know that I look the way I’m supposed to look. I know that if I don’t want people to judge me by my appearance, I can’t use it as the only measuring stick for my own self worth; I also can’t judge others by the way they look. I can’t think, “oh, she should not be wearing that,” or, “look at those fake boobies, what a tramp!” when I pass women on the street, because how can I expect to be fully happy with myself if I judge you? By judging you, I’m saying I am closer to the ideal standard of beauty than you are, Miss Panty Line, I should be loved more than you because my breasts do not contain silicone. I cannot expect to be treated differently than I treat others.

Why do women feel the need to meet a specific standard of beauty that does not exist? We are shown images every day of what we’re “supposed” to be like. We are shown singularity, fantasy, and illusion in the pages of magazines, on billboards, on television screens, and it pervades our society and our hearts and makes us doubt our own beauty; our own beauty being whatever we are just as we are.

Beauty must be defined as what we are, or else the concept itself is our enemy.

Why languish in the shadow of a standard we cannot personify, an ideal we cannot live?


At 3:03 PM, Blogger Jenni said...

Wow, powerful post.

I am also constantly afraid of having my feminist card revoked, both because I can't exist without concealer under my eyes, and because I've gotten a degree only to end up a soon-to-be "stay-at-home Mom" instead of NOT marrying and making my womanly mark across the face of the world. I was not going to marry OR have kids! I had it all planned out. I never considered myself the type. Even my family was shocked about my... "domestic" choices.

Weight is also a hard issue for me, especially now that I've gotten the "you've got such a pretty face" bit a couple of times now that I've gained weight the past few years. I'm loving the amazing things that my body is accomplishing right now, and trying to love it completely. It's especiall difficult for girls like us who have always felt fat, even when we probably weren't.

I really love that quote, "beauty must be defined as what we are, or else the concept itself is our enemy." I'm going to add it to my collection.

I mean, isn't being a mother in itself a beautiful thing? Now if I could only internalize it.

Thanks for writing this.

At 10:35 AM, Blogger Mom101 said...

Soooo many great issues you bring up here, I hardly know where to begin. Let me just say that even Gloria Steinem was attractive and it was perhaps her beauty that got people to listen to her in the first place. She worked the system instead of fighting it in that regard.

I think however that being "woman" and being "feminist woman" are not mutually exclusive even if they are sometimes contradictory. The best example of that is the tee shirt that reads this is what a feminist looks like. The point being: anyone can wear it. It doesn't matter if you glob on the mascara like Tammy Faye, or if you feel inferior to thinner women. Legislating equality in the workforce is doable; legislating equality in our hearts will take a little longer.

Bravo. Great post.

At 4:03 PM, Anonymous Jenny said...

Beauty must be defined as what we that my dear? Was profound.

Beautifully written.

At 8:31 AM, Blogger Hippie Mama said...

Thanks for the nice words...I don't want to take credit for the "beauty must be defined as what we are..." quote though. That came from this interesting anarchist feminist site. Yes, anarchist feminist-very interesting. Last year my husband was at a concert where lots of activist groups had tables set up, and he brought me home a poster like the picture at the beginning of this post. The girls told him they were on the no-fly list because they were considered terrorists. After poking around their site, I don't find that hard to believe.

At 8:35 AM, Blogger Hippie Mama said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7:32 PM, Blogger GIRL'S GONE CHILD said...

Beautful post.

At 3:59 AM, Anonymous emma said...

I know what you're saying. I used to say the same thing to my friends at College who were always on diets - and weren't fat. I'd say, it doesn't matter how much you want to look like Kate Moss, you never will look like her, so stop dieting. I was slim and tall and loved my figure and everything was fine until I turned thirty and started piling on the pounds. And while I agree that inner beauty is important, I just felt not only depressed when I was fat, but negative, had no energy etc.

I suppose my problem is that when I am slim I really have what I consider an ideal figure, so when I'm overweight I feel ugly. Now that I've lost weight, not by a fad diet but just by cutting down, I can't tell you how much better I feel. What I'm trying to say is, if you are fit and not overweight and still don't like the way you look you have a problem. Otherwise, I don't think there's anything wrong in slimming down, not to fit society's image of women, but for yourself.


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