Do you ever feel crazy about your body? Like sometimes you can’t think a clear thought about it? Like deep down you might be an irredeemable freak and it’s only a matter of time till everyone finds out?
If you are anything like every woman I know, the answer is yes. A quiet, I-can’t-even-believe-I-am-admitting-this yes.
The reason we don’t like to admit it is that in our minds we are kick-ass 21st-century feminists who have evolved past all that superficial Betty Draper bullshit. We know that our value comes not from what we look like, but from the fact that we are capable, intelligent, and unique human beings. We liberated women of the modern world are brand new creatures in the stream of history, with powers and options that our midcentury moms and grandmas couldn’t even dream of.
All of which is true! (Hooray!!!!) But we also need to remember that Betty Draper was the ideal woman only 50 years ago. One or maybe two generations. Subtract out showers and sleeping, and that was practically last week. Our freedoms have flowered in a breathtakingly short amount of time.
Meanwhile, the culture that tells women our primary value is in our physical bodies is older than dirt. Centuries and centuries old. So it’s not like it just went poof as soon as we got The Pill. It’s all still in us … it just went underground, and its best protection lies in the fact that we don’t want to cop to it. We don’t want to think that way anymore. But we still kinda do.
How do I know this? I use my eyes! To look around! And I see children with descriptors like “hot” and “juicy” emblazoned on their butts. Young women taking part in a sad, unfulfilling hookup culture even though it doesn’t seem at all fun. More and more completely fine-looking people opting to cut into their flesh in a mad grasp at perfection that generally falls grotesquely short.
All of this is fueled by a strange mixture of narcissism and self-hatred, forged by a media culture whose inherent message is You are what you look like. Before we even know what’s going on, we learn to disembody our perspectives. We start looking at ourselves from the outside in. We begin to evaluate ourselves based on how we think others will respond.
I remember being 7 or 8 years old and wondering why no one had tried to molest me yet. Was it because I was fat? My tiny brain toiled to figure it out. I didn’t even know what molesting WAS, but I already knew that my body was supposed to elicit some kind of reaction in other people — that’s what it was FOR — and if that didn’t happen, there must be something wrong with it. And me.
Some variation of this happens to all of us. As soon as we’re cognitively able, we start learning the rules of what we are supposed to be. Which are, incidentally, impossible for any one human body to follow.
As Tina Fey so hilariously/depressingly put it in Bossypants: “Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits.” Blergh.
To me, the saddest part of all this is the way we get used to looking at people — including ourselves — not as human beings with intrinsic agency and value, but as walking lists of attributes to be leveraged or de-emphasized.
We even learn to bond with each other through poor body image: Ugh, my belly is so gross. Whatever, at least you don’t have these bingo wings! Girls, girls, don’t fight — you’re both revolting!
Obviously, none of this is rational or evolved. Obviously it is just plain crazy. And we feel like we should be beyond this already, so it’s shameful, too. Which means that black humor is the closest we get to talking about it.
We don’t WANT to be like this, and we certainly don’t want to pass it on to our kids. And yet, we do.
Why? Because we’ve been infiltrated. The patriarchy is coming from inside our heads.
For instance: one afternoon not too long ago, I was hanging out with my friend and her super adorable, totally nommable sweet little baby, who was maybe 6 weeks old. We got a little wistful, as ladies sometimes will when small babies are present, and my friend began to share her hopes for the little one's future. Happiness ... fulfillment ... the chance to figure out what she wants and the courage to go get it. All good stuff.
And then: "I know one thing for sure ... I'm never going to let her get fat."
And, oh! My heart, how it shattered! Not only for the wee one, but also for her mom, and for all of us. Because, sweet merciful Jesus, this world has made us ALL SO EFFING CRAZY!!
And it’s not like my friend is dumb or vapid or living in the past. She is smart and awesome! And yet, this pernicious craziness persists. Her baby was six weeks old and already it was revving up!
Poor all of us! We’ve been soaking in it forever.
This particular moment is frozen in my mind because I realized I was witnessing with my own eyes in real time the very mechanism by which our insanity is passed along to the next generation: Pure osmosis. Our own craziness leaks into their little souls day by day, moment by moment, comment by unintentionally awful comment.
As sure as the sun rises every morning, whatever lives inside our brains will take up residence in theirs. Just like our parents’ craziness lives on in us.
And let me say right now that I don’t blame our parents for this. Also, I don’t blame US for being crazy, and I don’t blame hot air for rising while cold air descends. This is just how things work — it’s science! Whatever we are, that’s what will flow out of us; that’s what we will create. Which means the only way to have a less crazy world is to be less crazy!
Isn't it terrifying to realize that?
And, once you regain the ability to breathe, isn't it also super empowering? Because it means that we have the power to eradicate body insanity in our species forevermore! All we have to do is become more sane!
Haha so easy right? DONE.
OK, no. There is a bit more to it, like recognizing the crazy B in your head and understanding that what she says is not gospel. Standing a little stronger on your feet so that the winds of nastiness don’t blow you around so much. Training your eyes on a prize more meaningful than mere societally sanctioned hotness.
Because, seriously, how much more of our precious lives are we going to waste being upset about made up things like cankles? Are you as tired of it as I am? Don't we have vastly more important things to worry about?
Imagine the IMMENSE energy and power that would be released in the world if we all stopped pouring our juice down the body image black hole. Cancer, hunger, climate change, and the economy would all be sorted by the end of the day!
Joking, sure, yes. But also not. We have more pressing concerns, my loves! It is time to get over it! Not just for ourselves, but for all the wee nippers coming up, trying to learn to stand on their own two feet in a wobbly world.
Let me ask you this: 40 years from now, when you and I are rad old ladies cruising around the solar system in extravagant glowy caftans, do you want to hear girls asking Does this jetpack make me look fat? I swear to Mars, I will fucking lose it. I will flip over a table and terrify everyone with my freakish oldster strength. Hold me back!
Enough is enough! I want better for the girls of the future! I want them to live in the clear light of glorious, radiant sanity. To be free to do what they want, unencumbered by the craziness of the past. To experience their bodies as nothing more or less than what they truly are: mind-blowingly cool vehicles for creating and drinking up awesomeness in this world.
In fact, I want all of that for ALL of us. Right now! Limitless possibility made possible by our amazing bodies! For us and for all forthcoming babies!
Do you want that, too? Really? I am so glad. Because I believe we can work together to get it.
THE SANITY BEGINS TODAY.
Be Less Crazy About Your Body is a website, and a 50-page, $2.99 book. Do you ever feel kind of crazy about something and you know it's crazy and you want to stop but you're not sure how? Ask Megan anything.