My musings earlier this week about my insecurities about my aging body seemed to resonate with other women. I was delighted to read the thoughts of people who took the time to write back, and happy that I am not alone in my thinking. Here are some thoughts from friends (hope they don’t mind that I am quoting them!):
Julia Britt: I never realized how often we think alike, you and I. I would never use s— in a title even though my grandmother always claimed it to be the most expressive word in the English language. However careful I have to be with what I say to my daughter, I agree with you totally on the pussy hats! She did find the March exciting, inspiring, and healing and was glad she went.
Tekla Howachyn: There is a sense of loss that is not addressed. All women go through it. Some days I feel free of it and other days not so. Losing my hair through cancer was the least of my concerns and I like that freedom. I want to hold on to that freedom from thinking I must retain “youthful beauty”. No rebellious hippy flower wearing chic here. Topless with scars, too! Yes be proud! We made it this far. Strip and go naked in Mexico.
Janine Thoma: Re : beauty. Look at Isabelle Huppert who just won some award for her part in ELLE. She is over 60 and beautiful. A bit cold but so gifted. No plastic surgery ever.
Did you see Trump at the CIA pointing at a woman at the end of his stupid speech and saying something like « Hello Beautiful » !!!!!!!
Rebecca Williams: We are socialized from a young age to gain our self-worth through appearance. Child beauty pageants are the pinnacle of this socialization process, but it’s disturbingly persistent. In our culture a woman’s value is so equated with her attractiveness, and obviously our new Prez obviously believes this too.
I recognize that men have body issues as well. Men are “supposed to be “ tall, strong, rugged, and have a full head of hair, and if they are not, they can feel insecure too. But for some reason, women bear the brunt of body shaming.
Years ago when I was teaching in Charlotte a group of boys were sitting on a wall on the quad on the first day of school. They had made numbered signs to hold up as the ninth grade girls walked by, hunched over their arm-loads of books, scoring them from one to ten. I dragged them off the wall when I saw this display of misogyny, and was shocked at how oblivious these boys were to the damage they were doing. They weren’t bad kids, and they were all smart, but this beauty pageant idea was so deeply ingrained that they thought it would be fine.
Feminists call this process The Male Gaze. Any woman who has walked by a construction site and heard the catcalls knows what this feels like, but watching Trump get away with his comments about women is even more dangerous. When the President says hateful things about women and is forgiven, then bad behavior from men and boys is sanctioned.
One would think that there would be the opposite kind of gazing going on, women looking at men’s bodies and judging them. I’m sure some of this goes on at the most dreadful of all stages, the beach, but I don’t think it is as widespread or powerful. Women tend to look deeper for value in men, but as I said last time, women do look at other women and judge like crazy.
We measure ourselves constantly against other women. I find myself judging other women’s clothes, their hair, their skin, and their bodies, mentally measuring myself against them. Or I question my own appearance as I judge theirs. “Does my butt look that big in my jeans? Is my hair as garishly red as hers? At least my skin is not as wrinkled as hers…”
I wish I had a solution to this problem, but it has been going on forever, and it is constantly reinforced by the media. I read an article this week about images of women in comic books. The report said that certain stereotypes are pervasive: the smart girl is always unattractive and wears glasses, and the heroine is beautiful and very sexy. Think Wonder Woman, bursting out of her skimpy costume. Female cartoonists attribute this trend to the preponderance of male cartoonists, and these women are working to address this problem.
All I can say is that we all must be aware of what is going on. I’m not sure we have the power to change sexism in society as a whole, but we can watch ourselves when we are scared to wear a bathing suit or when we are worried that our lovers are disgusted by the rolls of fat around our middles. And stop it!