Sunday, February 19, 2006

Feminism and Me

Growing up, I constantly heard how unappealing I was. The traits I had were deemed unattractive: brown hair, glasses, small breasts, large hips, bubble butt, and a loud laugh. My sister had the opposite traits and so was considered worthy. I desperately wanted to be worthy.

I tried to fit the beauty standard, but it just wouldn't happen. Fortunately, I went to college. I discovered womens studies, and learned to question many basic assumptions. As I learned and grew, I rejected those childhood notions about what was beautiful. I renounced high-heel shoes. At 5'2", heels could be beneficial, but every time I wore them, my back locked up. I'd take a step forward, and be frozen in place. Once the pain eased, I could continue walking. My high heels went into the trash.

I quit wearing makeup. My sister lived by the "never appear in public" without makeup principle. Even at 10 years of age, this idea seemed ridiculous to me. Feeling so ugly that you couldn't be around others without makeup seemed to be such a sad idea that I refused to follow it. So I only wore makeup occasionally. I wish I could say that I quit wearing makeup to make a political statement, but the real reason is that if I don't do something everyday, I forget to do it at all. After dressing up and forgetting to wear makeup a few times, I threw my makeup in the trash.

I also rejected clothes that were uncomfortable, but "looked good". I was on a roll: my decisions were being shaped by comfort and convenience, not by patriarchal standards of beauty. For the first time in my life, I was developing healthy self esteem. But then, I got fat. Then I got thin, and then got fat again, and so on. I am now considered obese, and my body image is terrible. All the feminist theory I've read and thought about over the years is still with me. On an intellectual level, I believe that my body is as good as and as beautiful as anyone else's. On an emotional level, it's a different story. I don't like going out into public anymore. I never sought attention when I was thin, but I dread any attention now. If only I could become invisible.

My 37th birthday is rapidly approaching. Yet my body image matches the way I felt about myself at age 5, 10, 15, and 20. As at age 5, I feel ugly and unacceptable. I've grown so much as woman; I've come so far. I reject societal pressure for women to fit one physical model. But I still feel ugly, and it still matters to me. I'm furious that I feel this way. I'm enraged that it still matters to me.

I hate the patriarchy.


Sara E Anderson said...

I can totally identify with the intellectual knowlege that you look just fine, and the feeling that you're a hideous monster. It only dawned on me lately (with the help of therapy) that I could live without a poor body image. I guess I thought poor body image and accompanying misery would be enough to motivate me to become what I idealized. And if I didn't feel bad about my nonideal self, I was somehow lazy or remiss.

Anyway, I find it always helpful to remind myself that my status as hottie or not may distress me, but there is only so much control I can exercise over my looks and only so much effort I'm willing to devote to improving them. After a point, it's just throwing my energy at something that doesn't really matter. Even if you happen to be ugly - and some people are - you're still an okay person. Warts can be yucky, but the strength to not let them define you is beautiful in itself.

spotted elephant said...

Excellent points Sara. The struggle to not let your "flaws" define you is truly important. I tend to spend too much time just being angry about it.

I appreciate your feedback-thank you.

brenda said...

I agree that society places enormous pressure on women to fit into an ideal form. It is so detrimental that we forget what normal is and think perfection is beautiful and everything else is ugly. Luckily, we learn how to love people for their inner qualities, and can actually find a beautiful person unattractive if they are not good to us. Also, don't forget that there is some insecurity out of our control when you think about the biological underpinnings of beauty in the case for natural selection.

jennyappleseed said...

Thanks for your honesty. I linked here from the Carnival of Feminists and what you've shared reminds me of something a feminist friend told me once. She said that you can strive for the ideal and when you think you've gotten there, patriarchy will just move the marker anyway. You can't "win" because you're not supposed to. If women are kept looking at ourselves and each other, men go out of focus, and the patriarchy survives.

spotted elephant said...

Rachel-you're right, we completely lose any reasonable idea of beauty. When perfection is all we can stand, there's going to be a lot of suffering involved.

jennyappleseed-It's a brilliant (if horrific) tactic. Get women to compete against each other instead of working together, and male privilege continues unchallenged.

Thanks for stopping by.

Ann Bartow said...

I think you have articulated feelings we all harbor sometimes. I'll bet your friends think you are very pretty, they just don't think to tell you.