My sons just spent a week dribbling footballs. They tackled, ran, shot on goal. While I watched my own kids, out of the corner of my eye, I was also watching the girls who were there. Some were thin and lanky, all giraffe legs up to their armpits. Many were strong and wide, thighs thick with muscle. They wore pink and blue and black and neon of all shades, pony tails flying as they thundered across the artificial turf.
Like my sons, they dribbled and tackled, ran and shot on goal. What they didn’t seem to be doing was wasting any time worrying they were too flat chested or too buxom or if their thighs were too thick or GodForbidIDon’tHaveAThighGap. They were just out there, under the blazing sun, letting their bodies be bodies.
I have wasted literal years worrying about my body. I think of the glossy magazines I read as a teen and a young woman. The ones filled with advice, not about how to navigate the world, but how to give a better blow job. Nothing about how to play the stock market, but how to get the perfect brow. There were entire issues devoted to bathing suits. How to pick a suit to flatter your flat chest. Or minimize your wide hips. How to get the most ass coverage in your bikini bottom. Basically one giant how to.
How to get you to look the most like whatever body ideal was on offer that year.
They change like the wind, those ideals.
Which, I guess, is the point.
That’s the number of hours I reckon I’ve spent dieting. Conservatively. Hours spent counting calories, going hungry, denying myself, starving my cells. As if starving them is going to cajole them into forming and reforming into something different. Something unobtainable.
51,840 hours spent chasing some unicorn, only to occasionally grab an ethereal horn and be told “Hey, not that unicorn! The one over there!”
Dieting? It’s nothing more than modern day foot binding. It is wrapping ourselves in restrictions and stifling our growth until what we are left with is misshapen and unhappy and bent and ugly. Oh, the outside may be thin. Or muscular. Or curvy AND muscular, whatever the shape du jour is, but the inside? As misshapen as a foot full of gnarled toes.
How can it NOT be? How can you possibly spend all those hours chasing some intangible nonexistent and not be warped?
If I look back and take stock at the number of hours, of years, I’ve wasted?
Why are we so invested in making sure women are unhappy? Because that’s what it is. You can’t be starving and happy. You can’t be in a state of constant restriction and be satisfied. You can’t be in a forever state of denial and feel fulfilled.
Oh, trust me. I have felt the virtue of self-sacrifice, of denial, of restriction over my head like a halo, shining bright for all to see. Like a gold star pinned to my chest. As if denying myself, sometimes starving myself, is something to be proud of.
I am in my late forties. My body is changing yet again. And at times, yes, it absolutely feels like a betrayal–because it’s not the body I know or recognize. Yet rather than saying, ‘hey, this is the body I have now, let’s see what it can do!’ I still sometimes try and trick and starve and shame my body into thinking it is something else, somebody else’s.
For what? I don’t even know. It is impossible at this stage of the game to tease out what I like/want from what I’ve been told to like/want over the last forty years.
I do know all the hours we spend binding our bodies could be spent doing something else. I haven’t picked up a women’s magazine in years. Maybe nowadays they are telling girls how to stop volunteering their time and demand payment. To stop managing the emotions of everyone around them. Maybe they are telling girls that it is pointless trying to compete with boys because their achievements matter in their own right, not just in comparison to men.
Or are they still talking about how to pad out your double A cup with a chest full of ruffles and how to maximize ass coverage at the beach?
Sometime in the last year or two I watched a video of a slam poet. In one riff she spoke about how women’s bodies synch their menstrual cycles.
Our vaginas talk to one another, she said.
What wondrous witchcraft is that? No wonder why so many are afraid of women. Our bodies speak to one another, silently and profoundly. Our bodies? They confer with the moon and the tides and whisper to each other in unison.
Hell, you should be afraid.
Because if you ever needed any proof of magic, there it is right there.
Serena Williams won the Australian Open while she was pregnant. Marathon runners pace themselves through 26.2 miles with blood running down their legs. At any given time, female athletes are performing at all levels from junior varsity to professional while they have their periods. Running, scoring, tackling, slamming, sprinting, jumping. All while bleeding, cramping, and fighting blinding headaches…and pretending its not happening.
Ask any woman you know what it’s like to work, to perform, to negotiate a deal, to run up and down a field for 90 minutes while she has her period.
Don’t you dare tell me women are not strong.
Women’s bodies are magical.
We are magic.
I see that magic every day. I saw it in those girls on the pitch. I see it in the women I know.
I just keep forgetting it for myself.
I’m a smart, capable woman who studies the how and why of this. And I struggle. Because that is how ingrained it is.
All those wasted hours.
Sometimes I imagine, just for a moment, what I would do if I could get back the hours I’ve spent dieting. Or the hours of shaving, plucking, applying make up, drying, curling, straightening, cutting my hair. The money spent on creams and lotions meant to tan, tighten, remove, cover, conceal. What I would do if I got all of that back?
An embarrassment of riches–the hours, the dollars, the space in my head, the room to breathe.
It’s a neat trick, right? Convince half the world’s population to spend untold woman hours on something unachievable. It’s one way to stop them from achieving greatness. Get them in on the act, they start policing themselves, and their own bodies.
Jedi mind trick shit.
Women have been achieving greatness and great things, of course, in spite of all this. But imagine the potential we could unlock if we got all that time and money back.
Just imagine what we could do if we unwound that cloth that is binding us as surely as any foot, and let ourselves breathe out.
Those girls playing football? They are magic. I am magic. You are magic.
Ideals come and go. But magic lasts forever.
13 Comments Add yours
this is eye-opening and i love this post
Thanks, Beth–imagine what we could do if we were free from all of that? Well, and if FaceBook wasn’t a thing too ;-).
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Dina, I have often said that “It’s just much easier being a guy.’ In reality, however, it’s not that much easier.
If we believe in evolution, don’t both sexes look for the best mate they can to perpetuate the species with? Isn’t that part of the reason we have so many gyms and health clubs? Now, I’ve never been a gym rat, but I gotta think that both sexes use them to look better for a potential mate, actually look for a potential mate, or even maybe to find a better mate than you have now.
So while we may wish “that women could be free from all of that”, we probably should note that many strong, successful women were also in the wheelhouse perpetuating the myth of perfection.
So, I’ve rambled a bit, but simply wanted to say that we can’t change millions of years of evolution, but if we can’t change the facts, we can always try to change the attitude.
I’m 58 and I sometimes wonder what happened to my 40-year-old marathon running, tennis playing body and why some guys still have theirs and I don’t. It’s taken a while, but I’ve gotten used to the new me. . . the older and wiser version.
The token white, conservative, Christian male on your follower’s list.
I probably don’t tell you enough that it is appreciated having a token, conservative voice on the list….so thank you.
I absolutely believe that much, if not most of this is perpetuated by women, and we buy into it under the guise of “I do it for myself.” But how do you sort out what it means for yourself if you’ve only been exposed to those things through trends pushed through a media narrative.
Who pushes the narrative? Is it women? Is it a male dominated media and women picked it up? Those making decisions at an editorial level, until recently, have been almost exclusively male and white. It’s a question not with one easy answer, but a thousand complicated ones which spread out in a thousand different directions.
The weight loss industry in the US is a 60 BILLION dollar a year industry. They’re making money off both men and women hating their bodies (and I should make clear I’m not talking about losing weight or exercising for health reasons). Much of it is, and always has been, targeted at women. There’s a lot of money to be made in women’s unhappiness with their bodies. A lot. Billions a lot.
I do think it’s changing–I think more women are accepting their bodies and oddly, conversely, I think more men are struggling with their ideas of their bodies. But just as an aside, look at the “Dad Bod” trend a few years ago, hyping the average, everyday, male body as attractive and normal. And it is! The average male body IS attractive and normal. My point is that you will never, ever see the equivalent on the other side. There is no trend to accept the Mom Bod as normal and attractive. Instead you get the Mom who worked her baby weight off after 3 days held up as the unattainable ideal. And so the average Mom bod finds herself lacking and spends hours and dollars trying to achieve something unachievable for most.
Evolution is a funny thing. Because it actually does change–albeit slowly. Social attitudes, as you mention, absolutely can be changed. And we should change them.
Part of this for me was baring my own struggles for those I know that also struggle with this. Women and their bodies–if they were a FB relationship? It’s complicated ;-).
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Indeed it is.
I love what you’ve written here, Dina. Not only the content, but also the structure/style of it.
I am way overweight. A significant part of that has to do with chronic disease and the medications for it, but a big part of it is a love affair with food. There were many years I spent too much time and money on body shape, dieting, hair, and image. In the brief foray into beauty pageants I was winning but still convinced my thighs were huge. It wasn’t until my grandfather took me aside and quietly said, “You’re getting so thin. Are you okay?” that I realized the dieting had gone too far. At the same time, others were telling me how good I looked. I look at pictures from that time and see a girl flirting with anorexia. I’m glad I did not go down that rabbit hole, but I still tried every fad diet for the next 20 years.
I now do not care a whit about that crap. I try to eat decent food but also don’t shirk from something I want. I wear the clothing and shoes that are comfortable for me, and if they look good, great; if not, oh well. It will be a different outfit tomorrow. There are days my body doesn’t want me to leave my bed. That matters far more to me. I do things—like travel—now when I can, because I see a time coming when it may not be possible.
As a high school teacher, I watch the female students deal with these issues every year. Some boys do too, they just hide it better. I admire the students who step into the starting blocks at swim meets or the girls who play volleyball in the ridiculously short “spanky” shorts they wear, determined to play their sport no matter what others may say. I buy protein drinks for the girls battling eating disorders (writing teachers learn a lot about kids’ inner demons). I wish we could develop more of an appreciation for bodies that allow us to do as we want/need (when that is taken from us, whether suddenly or gradually, is when we realize how important it was) and less about how they look. But we’re visual creatures. so I’m pretty sure that’s an uphill battle.
I wonder how much of this freedom many women feel comes with age…and experience. Once the currency of sexuality at large is gone (so for women, usually mid-40s), how many women realize that the constant battle isn’t worth it, and likely never was? That’s where I am now–lamenting all those lost days and hours.
I could have written epics in that time. I could have worked for a better world. I could have, could have, could have. But here I am.
Do I still have time to do it?
I guess time will tell.
Reblogging to sister site “Timeless Wisdoms”
Bodies are magical. Like many males, I prefer the female shape, but beauty comes in many forms, not just one stereotype promoted by fashion magazines and award shows. (I stopped watching those years ago.) Beauty like sex is mental, not physical. How you carry yourself is more important that what you’re carrying.
That said, health is important. I wrote a blog on IF816 a few days ago that you need to read. I’m losing about 3 pounds per week (down over 10 in 3 weeks) with no calorie counting and no exercise and no money. I’ve been off-and-on fighting with diets for 30 years. Hearing about this and being diagnosed as borderline diabetic was the trigger. Insulin will not be in my future.
Once in the rhythm, it’s incredibly easy to do. It’s a throwback to what our early ancestors did when hunting for food.
For me, mouth opens (to food) at noon and closes at 8PM. In the 16 hours outside that window the body goes into ketosis and burns fat cells for energy for 2 hours. Long enough to make a difference but not too long. It’s that simple. And you sleep during half of the fasting period. (Fasting period — liquids with zero calories.)
There’s ample validated medical research from UC San Diego, Washington U (St. Louis) and the UK National Health Service supporting this method. Researchers at Washington U are looking into a version of this as a treatment for autoimmune diseases like MS.
Please read. This isn’t about looks, it’s about health.
Just yesterday I read some excerpts from texts by Mary Wollstonecraft and Hannah More for an online course on Jane Austen. The teachers asked if any of the advice given is still relevant (in short both argued for better education for women to make them better equipped as wives and mothers – MW being slightly more feminist than HM) and I argued that at least in Western society the whole wive/mother argument is outdated. After reading your blog, I realised that women’s magazines are similar to the 18/19th century advice books for future wives, they only sexualised the whole argument. Instead of informing young women about the kind of education they need to be proper wives (unlike MW and HM most stated that needlepoint is more important than philosophy and that women don’t have what it takes to understand “male” studies), magazines teach them how to be more fuckable. A magazine is considered radical when it proclaims that even a 40 something woman can use the same information to continue to be fuckable or even increase her fuckableness. If you have the brains to bring home money and be entertaining during the day even better but please keep the firm butt and be entertaining and nice to look at during the night. So nothing has changed really – my own statement from yesterday was wrong.
Things have changed–too slowly, but they have. Just the fact that we’re able to recognize and dissimilate the information is a giant step forward. Recognizing that sexuality is the only currency allowed to women in any real form (another massive theme/obsession of mine of late), and that you go broke the older you get (hence the articles as to how to remain fuckable ) is a step in the right direction. So…interesting thought: if sexuality is a female currency, and women’s magazines are promoting how to maintain your sexuality–are they doing it so women stay ‘in the game’, meaning currency in their pocket? That would be a radical thought ;-).
It’s all fucked up. All of it. What online course are you studying, btw? Sounds interesting. MW was a badass, I think. Ahead of her time by about 2 centuries, and she got royally screwed over posthumously by her husband–so that instead of being known for her then radical theories, she became known as a hopeless, hysterical.
You can never win.
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Yes, one wonders who benefits from these articles. You are correct, of couse, reg change – I tend to be overly critical when having my breakfast 😉
I really enjoy reading your blog – they always give me something to think.
I like doing free online courses on FutureLearn and I currently do “Jane Austen: Myth, Reality and Global Celebrity”. Nice course – well researched and presented.