I’ve listened to this several times now. Each time a new line strikes me to mull over and digest, but I think my favorite is when she talks about women deciding “how much space they deserve to occupy.” I am not big on labels so I don’t generally talk about being a feminist or not being a feminist but I will say this: women in this culture, myself included one hundred percent, put way too much weight in their weight. We know this, but it doesn’t seem to get better. And it degrades us and weakens us and cheapens us beyond measure. The more we obsess about inches and pounds, the more easily we are bought and sold to the media and to marketing, the more easily we are distracted from taking part in the real work of improving the world, starting with our own selves. How many of us hear the term self improvement and instantly think of diet or exercise? Almost always, right? How backwards is that?
But we feel our bodies are our bargaining chip. We feel more powerful, more valuable in our world, the smaller and tighter we get. We fight, at least in our internal dialogues, with our bodies about appetite and food and inches and stretch marks nearly daily. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve leaned over to pick something up, felt the sag of the skin on my lower belly where pregnancies have stretched it out, and been repulsed. Repulsed! And then I get so mad at myself for swallowing the airbrushed garbage on every magazine cover about “body after baby!” and thinking I’ve failed because I haven’t devoted my spare time to forcing my body back into the same shape as it was ten years ago through diet or aerobics or even surgery. But… why should I want to look like a teenager again? I’ve evolved into a woman and a mother since then, and I guarantee you I am sexier now than I was at nineteen. Yes, my hips are wider and my breasts are lower and I have stretch marks but my body is for more than being looked at, and certainly for more than being compared to another woman’s body and found wanting. Do I believe this? I want to.
So there’s aging and gravity and then of course there’s the all important weight issue. While I may look a lot different than I did pre-babies, I really only weigh five pounds more than I did when I got pregnant with Addy- and that may be more a result of age than pregnancies. But is my weight a health concern? No. I am totally healthy. But I am not thin, really, so I don’t feel like a “hot” person anymore. (My kids like to remind me of this, because apparently even at eight my daughter has figured out what the finite and clear cut standards are for a woman’s hotness. Short hair? Not hot.) I could be more fit, yes, and so exercising for that reason and for the mental charge of it is a good goal. But when I strive to exercise, is it really to take care of my body so it can continue to take care of me, or mostly just to look thinner? Do I exercise to enjoy my body or to punish it for its appetites?
This is obviously a sweeping generalization, but from what I’ve seen men are so much kinder to their aging bodies, forgiving of its softening lines and thickening waist, though they may still make attempts to care for its health simply out of respect for themselves. They are not, however, based on my observations, nearly as concerned about weight for appearance’s sake, of weight for sexiness’ sake, of weight for self worth’s sake. I admire this. This acceptance of their own selves, their own humanity. This ability to see their body as in fact just a body, to be utilized and enjoyed and to find and give pleasure, and not as a currency, not as a decoration, not as the seat of their power. Their recognition of their worth beyond what the mirror shows them, and their ability to grab their bellies and laugh and self-deprecate and then eat dessert anyways, is something that has always fascinated me. I doubt many of them go home to self-loathingly examine their bodies, pinching at the spare flesh on their hips and waists as a nightly ritual before changing into their pajamas.
I could be wrong though. And I’d also like to make very clear that I don’t see men as the driving force behind the weird, narrow Western ideal of female beauty. I see it as a problem stemming almost entirely from advertisers trying to sell stuff and cashing in on the Achilles’ heel of women’s psyche- the deep seated, historic link between our bodies and our self worth. (There’s a whole side-note tangent here that I don’t have time to fully explore, about how women have always been valued for their bodies, but in the past the emphasis was a little less on its beauty and far more on its capacity in child bearing. We live in a time in which birth rates are on the decline and women aim to look young above all else- the body of a mother is not admired. Now, I do not yearn to go back to an era when women were reduced to what their uterus happened to produce! But I do feel nostalgic for a time when a mother of many was at least respected for what her body had accomplished and not made to feel that she should apologize for bearing the marks of her labors.)
I’ll try to wrap this up by just saying that I don’t see anything wrong with enjoying physical beauty, our own and others’, or in wanting to look beautiful- but I want to define, enhance and celebrate my own beauty just as I find it, not try to conform my body, face or hair to someone else’s idea of beautiful. And, as it happens, I want to be a lot of other things besides and above just beautiful. I want to fight as intentionally as I can against selling myself so cheaply into slavery to the cosmetics, fashion or weight loss industry.