A teenage reader named Maggie left a great comment on one of these posts the other day. She was talking about how feeling bad about the way she looks is confusing, because she is growing up in a great environment where people aren’t focusing on appearances. Her attempt to lose weight disgusted her, but then she felt terrible about gaining the weight back. Why? How can those things go together?
My mom is surprised that I write about this stuff. Why would I? I was always told I was pretty as a kid. But, more importantly, I grew up in a world that wasn’t about looks. It was about learning, and developing a fulfilling skillset, and figuring out what about the world needed fixing, and then trying to help with that. I grew up reading stacks of books and playing in the forest out back and building forts with my brothers and my friends.
So why am I writing about my nose so much?
My mom is confused. I’m confused. I’m embarrassed. Maybe I should concentrate on the stuff that matters.
It’s embarrassing to be the girl who admits to feeling insecure about something that really smart girls shouldn’t be thinking about. If I was smarter, I would have already figured out that this stuff doesn’t really matter. That’s the message. It’s a lot like the message about confidence.
When Deborah Rhode wrote a piece about how damaging high heels can be in the New York Times, she received enraged responses. “This is NOT what we should be talking about!! There are real issues that women face every day! Fashion is not one of them.”
Sometimes when I tell people I write about beauty, I feel like I need a disclaimer. And then I can’t think of one.
So it’s like, “What’s your blog about?”
“Um, like, body image and beauty and…you know…life.”
“Oh. Cool! That sounds…cool.”
“Yeah, thanks. It’s pretty fun.”
“Yeah, I can see how that would be pretty fun.” *PAUSE* “So, like, does anyone pay you to do that or anything?”
I don’t know why I compare myself to other women. I don’t know why I’m affected by the eternal implied Beauty Standard. I don’t know why I look at my face so critically in the mirror and wonder why it isn’t different and fantasize for a second that if it was a little different, everything would be so much better. I don’t know why I categorize myself. I don’t know where I’m getting all of the rules.
It feels uncreative to say, “Society. You know, it’s just out there. The media.”
But the thing is– it is just out there. And somehow, gradually and persistently, I’ve picked it up. Like a virus that keeps adding to itself.
It’s in the face that models always seem to have, even when they have slightly different bodies. It’s in the body type that’s famous. It’s in the constant barrage of weight loss ads and books and articles that I can’t go three steps without running into. It’s in the family photos passed around, where people always point out the “pretty one.” Even when she’s three years old. And the casual way guys approve of girls if they’re hot enough and dismiss them if they aren’t. It’s in the air.
And none of these things are totally consistent.
But they’re all totally real.
A smart girl picks up on it.
I don’t want to have to explain why I think about this. As though, obviously, I shouldn’t. Obviously, women like me should have moved on. We have serious interests. We work hard. We have a life.
But, obviously, how can I not notice?
I just got back from Bear’s business trip. After Miami, we went to London, and then Amsterdam. Every day, he had meetings for most of the day, and I wrote and wandered. It was a little blissful. It was my first time in that part of the world. I’m not well-traveled. Or even close. I felt amazed. I tried not to gawk. I tried not to get hit by a bike. And then another bike, and then another bike. I have this weird phobia about getting hit by a bike that I was forced to overcome, then and there, before I could cross the street.
I was charmed by the different taste of the diet coke, and how the cans were smaller. I was looking for the slight differences everywhere. And everywhere I went, I saw the same images of feminine beauty. The same faces. Sometimes the same models, even, from a Victoria’s Secret campaign. I saw the same body type on the tram stops and billboards. I saw the same thing.
It wasn’t that I expected it to be different.
But a smart girl, any girl, any girl at all can’t help but notice.
* * *
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in parachute pants. I got some at the H&M in Amsterdam and they were really cheap and shockingly flattering. I’m trying not to wear them all the time, but I don’t know why. I should just wear them all the time.
Announcement: Remember when I wrote about the site My Body Gallery and then Good Morning America almost, almost interviewed me about my post? Well, GMA is still radio silent (I know they’ll come crying back to me one day!), but the awesome woman who runs My Body Gallery recently wrote to me to ask me if I wanted to be a part of a book she’s working on. And I wanted you guys to be a part of it, too. So she sent me this call for participation:
The creator of mybodygallery.com is looking for women (of all ages) with a compelling story to tell about their feelings or experiences related to body image. Chosen submissions will be published in a compilation along with a professionally taken photograph of the author of each piece. The book will be in the same spirit as the website as “an accurate reflection of what real women look like. All women.”
No more than 300 words in length.
Please include the following with your submission:
3) Contact Information,
4) A current snap shot.
Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org
I thought some of you might want to give it a shot. Since you rock. A lot. And since you’re all so unusually articulate (I lucked out in the reader department). <3