Gazing at Navels and Practicing the Preached
I want to tell you a story, and it’s frankly not particularly novel. Nor, I’m sure, will my comments be particularly incisive, or even philosophically interesting. But I want to tell you this story because it reminds me just how difficult change is, even when it’s just the (supposedly simpler) task of changing yourself.
I went swimsuit shopping today. Having lived in a beach town for 5 years of my life, it was bizarre to think that this was my first swimsuit shopping experience since 2003. But it was.
It was much harder than I hoped it would be. In the car on the way home–with a new suit, I might add–I found myself in tears. This is in many ways an embarrassing thing to admit. I am a feminist. I am a philosopher. I know that the images of beauty we are bombarded with are capitalist productions, effective in transmitting the idea that we are tragically defective and unhappy in order to sell us goods and services that will, supposedly, fix the problems behind our defects and unhappiness. I know that the imperative to be beautiful is a mechanism for keeping women in our place. I know that my drive to compare myself to other women is internalized misogyny.
And yet. I give myself back pain from struggling, in vain, to hold my stomach in to make a completely flat surface. I think about returning to my old habit of sneaking diet pills when no one is looking. And I stand in front of that dressing room mirror, hating what I see.
The fact that this sort of story is not an uncommon one is more depressing than I care to think about right now. Instead, I want to share with you this picture (and wonderful post) from definatalie, who is fantastic:
This war is personal and this war is being waged on you, from within your consciousness, and it seeks to inhibit your self expression and nullify your body. This war also works to nullify whole groups of apparently odd-looking people too: fat, old, tall, short, brown, and disabled (and more!) If you’re not white, able bodied and young, the overriding message being spruiked by the beauty, health and fashion industries is that you’re not good enough and that in order to be as beautiful as you can be you have to buy clothes and make up and diet pills and encourage all your friends to consume what you’re consuming.
I want to move beyond that internalized war and self-hate. Some days I do better than others. On the days I don’t, the shame is double-edged–because, as a feminist, I know just how privileged I am. I am white, I am not fat, I am still under 30, I am cis-gendered, I am mostly able-bodied. It feels whiny and self-indulgent to spend time thinking about the ways in which the beauty industry affects my body image.
But on the other hand, I think–when we are told, in a million ways every day, not only by television and magazines, but by our mothers and sisters and friends and teachers and mentors, “We are Unacceptable as we are,” and when the process of learning to speak to ourselves and to the people around us differently is so excruciatingly difficult, even after years or decades of trying–well, then I’m not sure that it’s such a small thing.