In response to my ‘the time i got real‘ post, a friend of mine almost immediately took me out for coffee to have a little chit chat about this ridiculous world in which we all live. She gave me a book to read, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters and told me to read it. She also told me to buy it so that I could continue to read it every six months or so or when I was being especially hard on myself. She convinced me, I definitely want to buy it.
This book talks a lot about how we as girls and women are socialized in our culture, and scarily, how it’s spreading across the globe. We are socialized to be seen and not heard, to strive to be stellar at everything and above all else, to be pretty. Pretty, of course, equals thin, thinking obsessively about what we are putting in our body and how we plan on working it off later, and maintaining rigid self-discipline in the face of trying to live a normal life. Pretty equals that which is completely unattainable and yet we women still try because we are socialized to be great at everything. “You can be anything” ended up being translated into “You must be everything”.
I’m trapped. I admit it. I’m of the mind that if I can’t be great at it, I don’t want to do it at all. We in the world try to label this as a positive attribute: ambition, drive, desire, competitive nature, but these words do a great disservice to us because it isn’t any of those things. It’s a compulsion to do things more for the sake of doing them than for the enjoyment of them, and then to do them at an exceptional level.
For some reason, trying our best became not good enough. Bringing home report cards ended up not being a celebration of success, but sarcastic remarks about the one ‘B’ that was on it, perpetuating the cycle of needing to try more, to do more, to be more. Maybe if I try to go to school and work 3 jobs and be involved in things on campus, it will show how well I’m really doing. The truth was, it wore me out, my grades suffered anyway, and I found myself being caught up in the rat race of trying to figure out what I have to do to fill this need to be more, to be better so that I could just look at myself in the mirror and be proud.
The thing I find most amazing, looking back now through the lens of this book, is how much I allowed my appearance to dictate my mood, my feelings, my worthiness. Feeling chubby was enough to ruin my whole day and I felt chubby a LOT in college because, in all honesty, I was. I put on weight and didn’t have the money to necessarily adjust my wardrobe to accommodate that change so I tried to squeeze into clothes that were too small, I tried eating less, eating nothing, running, exercising, taking the stairs and not the elevator – all sorts of things to try to get that darn weight to go back down not realizing that it was all the stress of school and trying to lose weight that pretty much made it impossible. This failure to control my weight made me feel like a failure. It didn’t matter that I was bright, fun, liked by others, talented, hard-working, creative, and a host of other things as well. What mattered above everything else is that I was not in control of my appearance.
How many of the rest of us have also been socialized as such? How does one finally take the first step away from that so destructive thought pattern? How do we start seeing food as necessary nourishment, worthy of eating and SAVORING, enjoying every bite for its taste? How do we learn to eat without thinking up a plan for working out?
How do we throw out the idea that we must earn sweets and other delicious foods or that we somehow must balance eating something delicious with a body beating workout that we hate or even worse, beat ourselves up about it for days?
How do we begin to achieve healthiness in a world that is SO unhealthy?
I wish I had answers to these questions. I refuse to accept that this is simply my lot in life as a girl or a woman. I refuse to let food and my appearance dictate my life above everything anymore. I refuse to eat through a reward and punishment system. I refuse to let my running become anything more than something I truly enjoy and want to do. I refuse to keep looking in the bathroom mirror and letting the reflection dictate my worth.
I don’t know if I can change the world, to help it become healthier and to try to start changing these ridiculous mores into something more achievable and healthy for everyone. What I do know is that I can start with myself and help myself stop believing these lies, stop buying into the hype.
I am more than a body. It’s time I start treating myself as such.