I’ve been putting off this post for a long time. 13 or so years actually; since Midieval Day in 7th grade when someone told what felt like my whole grade that they had seen me ‘stuffing’ in the bathroom. My first documented conundrum of dealing with body image. I’m still here.
Yesterday my roommate and I were watching Undeclared, a tv show that aired in 2001. One of the first things I noticed was that the female characters looked different. They had minimal makeup on. They had hips. They wore baseball tees! How refreshing it was to see these women rather than the ever-shrinking cast of ___________.
I googled the cast and singled out one of the women, Monica Keena, to see what she was up to in this god-forsaken Undeclared-less world. This is what I found. Another search lead me to various weight-loss articles about how she shed the ‘extra’ weight soon after the first season aired. Another one bites the dust.
But of course she did. We’re not supposed to be average. We’re supposed to look like that girl. Tiny waists and toned stomachs. Our boobs should be big but not too big. Our arms should look like toothpicks and hang lifelessly from our sides as we rarely use them for lifting a fork. Our skin should be clear, un-blemished and free from any imperfections at all times. Our hair should be long and feminine, nothing too edgy or god-forbid short. No, that isn’t bullshit. This is what we see. This is what we hear. And worse, this is what some believe.
That day in 7th grade was the first time I hated my body. I yelled at my Mom for (spending a week) making me a ‘stupid’ dress and cried in the far backseat of our van on the way home. Yes, I can be dramatic, but I remember crawling into the back seat. We had tinted windows back there and I didn’t want anyone to see me. That morning when I tried it on I had hugged my Mom for finding just the right ice blue fabric I had ~needed and rode in the front seat feeling like Maid Merian. As I was growing up, I felt like I had an entirely new body that I hadn’t asked for. We don’t get to choose how we look, how we develop, what our face looks like without makeup. A false and distorted sense of ‘I myself’ based only on what we look like.
Alan Watts wrote a piece entitled ‘THE BOOK: the taboo against knowing who you are’ that quiet honestly woke me up. He introduces the idea of “the world beyond the skin” letting go of what you can’t change, first and foremost your physical self. Things are as they are. Looking out into it the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations. Easy for him to say, he never had to be a 13 year old girl. Kidding.
I get what Watts was saying and on my ‘wore this in high school’ days I agree with him, but it’s often a struggle. In all honesty, my reaction to a bad photo tagged of me on facebook is similar to when I read a nasty headline. If you still want to be friends with me after knowing that, it’s your choice. I am admitting that I give way to many f*cks about how I look, and I have a feeling I am not alone. A daily thought: whether or not there will one day be a cure for freckles. There are many others.
Yes I could eat better and exercise more but in reality my weight will never be what I think it should be. My battle lately has been deconstructing not what I think it should be, but what I want it to be. It’s harder than it sounds. Name 5 overweight female movie stars under 50. Hell, name 3. 2? Rebel Wilson and Melissa McCarthy? Yes, they could be healthier, but they represent the average woman in this country, as 65% of women are overweight….and there are two of them currently ‘making it’ in pop culture. In regards to the rest of Hollywood’s ladies not currently a size 2; I dare you to find an article involving Christina Hendricks or Lena Dunham that doesn’t mention the word ‘curvy’. I’ll get back to this in a moment, but first name 5 overweight successful actors under 50. Now name 10, 20, ….(alright you get it). Did anyone give a shit when Adam Sandler got fat? Jack Nicholson? Val Kilmer? Bueler? Were there headlines viciously scolding them for gaining all of 20 pounds? Click those links, read the headlines, and know that there is much more where that came from. Daily. Well, I don’t read trashy magazines so I avoid that bs and you should too. I applaud anyone who restrains from mindless gossip, but body image pressure can’t be avoided by simply avoiding the magazine aisle. We’re immersed in it, and soon, like it or not, we’re going to drown it.
Why is it that reporters feel the need to comment on Lena Dunam’s weight every time she attends an awards benefit for being an accomplished writer, producer, actress, and director? Google her name, the weight comments vastly outweigh the other four 10 to 1. She is often called plain ‘fat’ but even the toned and lovely Christina Hendricks can hardly go one headline without someone commenting on her weight as well. Most women would prefer ‘curvy’ to ‘fat’, but sadly even that can be taken as anything but a compliment. When did curvy become a four letter word? No idea, but if we can find the origin of this and deconstruct it we can rule the world. There was a time when Marilyn Monroe roamed the earth ruling in her size 10 pants until she ultimately succumbed to her own demons. I am sure her sex symbol status wasn’t tough to live up to. Essentially, this is why I am writing this blog in the first place. This body image issue isn’t hearsay or a passing phase, it’s an epidemic. The number of women developing eating disorders has never been higher. They’re finding it in girls as young as 10. Why does it matter? Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Underneath the smoke and mirrors regarding the ideal woman, there are bodies. Although not every woman will develop anorexia, most will struggle with their body image for the greater portion of their life. For some, that struggle could be it.
When I look in the mirror in the morning, the first thing I think is usually negative; no one is forcing it be positive. That is one instance. If I added up the number of instances throughout the day where I needlessly invested energy into worrying about my physical appearance…it would probably scare me. No matter how small the thought, it chips away at me, as it has for 13 years. These insecurities extend into most areas of my life: career, relationships, gym memberships, never wearing a swimming suit since high school. The well runs deep. I consider myself a relatively happy, confident person, and yet here I am.
When I thought of my ‘I myself’ my first reaction was things I would change on the outside. That is bullshit. Your reflection is bullshit. There is no purpose in measuring your self worth with a number on your pants tag or whether or not you’re comfortable wearing shorts. When I look at pictures when I am older, I hope my superficial mind has dwindled with age. When I see that same picture that made me gasp in horror, I hope by that time, I only remember that day. Those people. How happy we were. In the end, who gives a shit whether or not I looked good doing it? I was there. I’m here now. Tomorrow is never a guarantee; who knows if I will be lucky enough to sit in a chair at old age in the first place. That’s just it. Not lookin back, down, up, sideways. From here on out, there are more important things to worry about than mirrors. Like Sons of Anarchy.