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.