I’ll be honest: this is the most personal thing I’ve ever written. I am a little, teeny, eensy bit worried about it.
But lately I’ve been thinking about these things that I’ve done and that have happened to me and thinking about them specifically in terms of an ulcer I haven’t tried to heal yet. I’ve wondered how many people will read this and think, “Ah.” I don’t think I’m alone.
So I’m going to share this story, knowing from past experience that sharing stories builds strength, and hope it’s still true.
See, when I was younger I wanted to be invisible.
“It’s easy to be considered a misandrist when men are socialized to feel entitled to women and our time. So, if you ignore them, you’re a misandrist. If you insist they leave you alone, you’re a misandrist. If you focus on building healthy female-centered relationships over relationships with men, you’re a misandrist. Misandry is basically, prioritizing your agency, autonomy and fellow women, over men in a society that teaches you that being feminine relies on giving into men’s feelings of entitlement.”
Stop telling women that we should find ourselves beautiful and that we should love ourselves when you are standing right there, judging us on how our knees look in short skirts and how prominent our boobs are in a sweater and how much makeup we are or are not wearing.
Instead of us working harder on “love your body” and “find your inner beauty”, the rest of the world should be working harder on “stop telling women their bodies are a shameful place to live but that if they’re strong enough, they will learn to embrace that shame.”
This is my body. It’s not “beautiful”. I don’t “love it”. I don’t have to. I don’t have to have any strong feelings about my body. And whatever feelings I do have are not somehow invalid if they’re not glowing reviews.”
By now it’s entirely likely you’ve seen it: Dove put out an ad where a bunch of women sit down and describe themselves to a forensic artist. Then, a stranger they just met describes them to a forensic artist. Surprise! They’re not as ugly as they think they are!
Look, here’s some real talk: I do not know a single person who doesn’t struggle with body image on a daily basis, male or female, to varying degrees. And when I first watched this ad, I was moved. Of course I was — they’re paying a lot of people a lot of money to ensure I am moved. And it is, in fact, moving to see an advertisement so clearly focused on pointing out that people are often their own harshest critics, and that being hard on yourself isn’t fair. I loved that. Let me repeat: I loved that, and was nearly in tears for a good part of the ad.
I am all for things that make people feel more beautiful. To paraphrase Margaret Cho, I’m gutted by those who don’t find most others beautiful, because they’re missing out on a lot of beauty in the world. I have no doubt that the women featured in this ad did feel shitty about themselves, and might still. Listening to them describe themselves felt like… Well, like listening to myself. Can’t be too vain, here. Gotta be “honest.” Gotta play ourselves down, all the time, as if admitting that we like something about ourselves is a cardinal sin.
God, it hurt.
And then we got to the strangers, and the first stranger says, “She was thin, so you could see her cheekbones… And her chin? It was a nice, thin chin…”
God, that hurt too.
Thin, thin, thin. The mantra I’ve been repeating to myself my whole goddamn life. No part of me is thin or ever has been. My wrists, maybe? Uh?
Of course, they show the women seeing their portraits, too — the ones they described and the ones others did. And most of them tear up. I would, too. Hell, I did, too, because when I watched this the first time I was emotionally tangled up in it in a way I didn’t expect. I wanted to like it; I wanted to be moved. I was moved.
One woman looked at the portrait of herself that she’d drawn and said, “This one looks more… closed off. Fatter. And sadder, too.”
I wanted to love this ad. I wanted so badly to believe that an advertising company is using its considerable powers for good. I wanted to feel like acceptance is a thing, like at least one ad company really is trying to expand the ideas of what beautiful is and what people want to see.
Instead, I got more of the usual: Thin good. Fat bad. It triggered serious body dysmorphia in me today that I had a lot of trouble dealing with and tried to ignore or circumnavigate instead of approaching head-on.
Why are we so validated by this dichotomy of fat versus thin? Why are we so relieved when others tell us we’re thinner than we think we are, or that we’re not fat? I ask these rhetorical questions because I have answers: we equate good traits with thinness and bad traits with fatness. Thin people are friendly, open, healthy, beautiful, and good. Fat people are lazy, stupid, gluttonous, unhygienic, ugly, and bad. When you tell someone you don’t think they’re fat, what you’re usually telling them is that you don’t associate any of the aforementioned traits with them. This has nothing to do with whether or not they are actually fat.
Ultimately, Dove is trying to sell us something, and that something is a cosmetics product. Given this, I understand that my frustration is probably a little unfair, but God, am I sick of feeling alienated by campaigns promoting “real beauty” that want nothing to do with my fat ass.
As a fat kid, I was made very aware that my body was wrong. I got it from all angles, but the adults. The adults were the worse.
I remember one of the first times I knew I was fat, and also knew that being fat was bad. I was five-years-old and going to a classmate’s pool party. I remember being dropped off and marching into the pool area, ready to get busy with some fake wave action — I was so excited to be at such a fancy pool. However, as soon as I arrived, one girl — a girl whose name I remember to this day! — told me I should “cover up” because I was “so fat”. Worst part, I remember looking to the adults — including her own mother — and thinking that someone would do something, but they all just giggled and half-heartedly told her to knock it off. I wonder where that girl learned it from. (Read: I don’t, it was clearly her shitty mom.)
I spent the rest of the party in a bathroom stall, waiting for my mom to pick me up. I was too embarrassed to tell her what happened, for fear she, too, would realize I was fat. I already knew that she thought fat was bad because of all the shit she talked about her own body.
Obviously that shit affected me in ways that are still difficult to talk about — and frankly, not all of those ways were bad. I grew tough as nails eventually, and have a well of courage and strength that’s pretty fucking deep. I also have a deep empathy for and kinship to people (and animals!) in unfair and difficult situations — and that’s served me well in lots of ways. I’m happy with who I am.”
Overidentifying with this article like a bawse.
This is not a hate post! New followers won’t know this, but old followers will: I had an ED. Still do! It’s not the kind of thing that vanishes without a trace, but they do become manageable and you can get beyond them.
I understand blogging about triumph and pain, and when I was deep into my ED, every day felt like the most intoxicating combination of the two. I wasn’t happy — not with myself and not with my habits — but I felt accomplished, in a strange way. So I get it. I really, really understand and empathize.
However, I won’t promote it. I am all for living healthily if that’s your goal, I am all for moving your body joyfully and eating the things that make you feel good and working toward loving yourself and your body more. But I firmly believe you can do all of those things at whatever weight you are right now, or whatever weight you were before. (If you’re unfamiliar with it, I recommend reading up on the Health At Every Size organization).
I’m not asking you to unfollow me. I ask only one thing (and I am asking, not demanding, because ultimately I have no control over whether or not you do this): Please don’t use my body as justification. Don’t use me as a worst case scenario. Basically, don’t use me as thinspiration. I’m a person who’s walked the same path some of you have, and I have so much empathy for you. Please allow me the dignity of being treated as a person with her own experiences and her own journey, not an object or a lesson or an example.
I try to keep this blog full of empowering and positive messages of self-love, compassion, and support. If you’re into that, please stick around; I’d love to have you.
Love and solidarity,
Yo, I don’t want part of any feminism that doesn’t allow for women to choose what the hell they wanna call themselves. You can go ahead and do that without me.
Men are not the enemy, friends. Patriarchy is. It’s important to understand the difference.
Pro tip: if you don’t shut up on occasion, you wind up talking over everyone around you, and then you don’t learn a goddamn thing.