I want to make a confession. Or, a few of them. For selfish reasons, too: I’m hoping that airing my screwy, scary self-image feelings will help to sort of alleviate them. If this confession ends up inspiring someone else, that would make me even happier. But, in reality, we all know that the body-positive, thoughtful and inspirational words and people we encounter every day are constantly assaulted by the barrage of backwards, unhealthy, dangerous this-is-what-perfect-looks-like stories, photos, blogs and ads.
For women (and men, in some cases), every day is a war zone. If we turn right, we’re faced with an explosion that could take us limb by limb. If we turn left, we’re left seeing images of carnage that won’t leave us. And while the enemy is always approaching, we see ourselves in our opponents—we create our own war scenes. We can and do and continue to dig our own graves. While it’s not our fault—because we, as humans, have big old brains that process and store copious amount of information—we have to be accountable. We have to use those big, crazy, smart brains to our benefit. We have to say, I’m going to look at that magazine cover and re-route my thinking. I’m going to stop hating myself right now and train myself out of these thoughts. It’s all about muscle memory.
Today I read an excellent story by Kate Conway at xoJane. Her idea was—get ready—to give up on being hot. Just give up. Just walk away. Here’s one of my confessions: I can’t. I can’t just walk away. I do use Instagram as a vehicle for posting sexy, cleavagey photos of myself at burlesque shows. I have built a sort of persona in my poetic professional life around sexuality. And while I think the act of choosing to be a subject and an object and a subject of criticism and questioning is empowering, I’m also smart enough to reduce my behavior to this: I want to be hot too. But I want to be hot my own terms. It’s not about taking photos of myself looking skinny or having thigh gaps (um, I don’t even know how to take a photo of that), but wearing my favorite lipstick (Mac’s Ruby Woo) or, yes, with great cleavage. More about why I might be doing that below.
When I was a teenager, I remember seeing ana/mia blogs and thinking, what the hell? And over the years they haven’t really disappeared. Now thinsporation and thigh gaps are, like, things, and while to me they sound like Crazy People Talk (I always like to imagine aliens visiting and saying to one another, these earthlings like a smallish gap between their thighs) these are issues that have a veritable place in culture.These issues deteriorate the fiber of who we are as Human Beings and strike at the very agency of women. Being told every day that beauty is X, Y and Z makes it hard for us to celebrate individualism and power. Suddenly, there are two groupings: US (the every day woman) and THEM (i.e., the socially-dubbed “beautiful” ones, models). I’m sick of it, and the more blog posts and stories and social media blasts that question it, the closer we are to informing the society in which we live and the young girls and boys growing up in today’s world.
My second confession: I grew up with a mother who always said she had a “good butt and great legs.” She did, it’s true. She said they nicknamed her mother “The Legs.” She says she’s passed these assets to me but that she was always flat-chested growing up. She also, as we both got older, talked about how we have to be careful of our hips and tummy fat.
Sometimes my mother (oddly) praises me up and down (“you have an amazing body, “you have a better version of my body!”) but she’s also said plenty of things that mixed me up as a child. I even remember a boyfriend of hers commenting that I had my mother’s body. I was 15. I was flat-chested with a bigger ass. I remember sensing a little bit of disgust that a grown man would make a comment to her young daughter, but she didn’t tell him off. Maybe she did behind closed doors. But she didn’t kick him out.I’ll always remember that, and I always shudder a little to think that I was under his gaze. It was not a polite comment (not that it ever could have been). It was a comment embedded with “this is the kind of woman you are.” It was also creepy.This separation lines us up for future comparisons and self-comparisons. You never know how you’ll traumatize someone. He validated what was “wrong” or “different” about me.
It’s important that we stick up for the women around us. I realize that it gets annoying to be the one who always has something to say. I realize I’ve been pegged as the “uber-feminist” in my boyfriend’s group of friends, but I’m not going to let people slide with ignorant, disgusting comments. I may want to be hot, and this may be totally hypocritical, but I’m going to chip at injustice in my own way.
Photo by Alyssa Morhardt-Goldstein