author – activist – faculty – mom
Please don’t feel like a failure. It’s not you, it’s me.
Despite all of your hard work over the years, I still can’t seem to kick the habit of loving my body. I know I’m supposed to feel bad about myself because I’m kind of fat and out of shape, with the soft floppy tummy of a middle-aged woman who had a baby. I know that during my pregnancy I wasn’t supposed to put the baby’s well being before the maintenance of my pre-pregnancy figure. At least I should have had the decency to have a tummy tuck afterward, which I neglected to do (plus my homebirth midwife did not offer that service).
I want to apologize to all of the professionals in the beautification industry for failing you. I know you might feel like you failed, but I want to tell you, it’s not you, it’s me. You did everything you possibly could to make me feel bad about my body. You showed me images of young women, white women, thin women, women who had never had children, or who had children and invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to make it look like they never had children, and you told me that I should look like them. You told me all day, every day, thousands of times a day, for decades and decades on end. And I want you know that you weren’t a complete failure. As a younger woman, I felt very bad about my body at times. In spite of the fact that it was, in large part, conforming to your beauty standards. Ironically, when I was the most conventionally attractive, I felt the worst about myself. And I also don’t want all the oppression professionals out there to feel like you failed, either. I found this society to be extremely oppressive. I felt oppressed every single day. And you can take pride in the legions of women who are anorexic, bulimic, doing cosmetic surgery, crash dieting. Let’s face it, you’ve got some big successes going out there.
But here’s my dirty little secret: In spite of all your hard work, I’ve had the revelation that the quality of my life wouldn’t actually be any better if I had the most conventionally attractive appearance. There’s nothing that I could change in my appearance today that would make me any happier. Not that I’m perfectly happy, but I’m clear that what’s lacking in my life has absolutely nothing to do with my appearance. And in that, I must admit, you have failed completely in your quest to tie my happiness in with my appearance.
And there are things about my body that I want to change. But unfortunately those desires have absolutely nothing to do with your work anymore. Healthy eating and exercise to live long and have a powerful body actually have nothing to do with appearance. They may, coincidentally, have an effect on my appearance, such as weight loss or gaining muscle tone. We won’t know for a while, because I’ll be pursuing them in a leisurely, sustainable manner. But if my body does eventually get leaner or more toned, and you want to take credit for that, feel free to accept it as a consolation prize.
I am clear that the quality of my life, the joy of my days, the pleasure of living would not actually be improved at all by any external change. I wouldn’t be a more successful artist, a better teacher, a more effective parent. I wouldn’t have a better marriage, a cleaner house, or more money in the bank. In fact all of these things are minimally affected by my body image, in spite of your extensive efforts to link them.
So we’ll just have to agree to disagree, but I do feel moved to acknowledge the many tireless decades of work that you’ve put in. I’m giving you an “A” for effort, and I’m definitely grading on a curve.