Reading for Pleasure: The Beauty Myth (and how its not a myth at all…)


I sometimes take a break from my 8-5pm desk job and head down the street to Starbucks where I enjoy a grande iced caramel Machiatto. My fave. Sometimes I bring a book and sometimes I just play on my phone.

In a significant effort to address my body image issues that seem to encompass all aspects of my life, right down to fidgeting in a chair because I am concerned about the profile of my body looks in a chair with jeans and a t-shirt on, I’ve tried to read more about why women feel this way. Why I feel this way. It’s an obsession – to near psychosis that if I am not looked at as “thin” or “pretty” or “beautiful” by people who are potentially more attractive than myself, I feel as though I am clearly not doing something right.

This is a piece of my life that I have yet to be able to get past. With thyroid disease controlling a lot of my life, I gain weight twice as easily as most people – and it takes twice as much for me to lose it. I also have a tendency to gain in very undesirable sections of my body that are nearly impossible to lose. I have put on about 7 solid pounds in the last year or so that I have been unable to lose. They simply will NOT go away. I got discouraged. I stopped running. I stopped going to the gym. Yes, you read that. “What!? Alyssa!? The girl who used to get up and run at ungodly hours of the morning??? The girl who spent into the triple digits on workout gear and running gadgets??? The girl who eats clean and low carb and pisses us off with info about it and pictures of her stupid food on social media?! No….. it can’t be!”

In Naomi Wolf’s ‘The Beauty Myth’ – my eyes began to open within the first few chapters about how women’s own bodies and what they SHOULD be, according to society, are used against them in a very unsubtle way to keep us under control. The beauty myth keeps us from building lasting bonds with other women who are “prettier than us” … or competition in any way to us. If they are competition – we either succumb to the depression that we will never “be like her”…”if I could just add a sixth day to my work out I could look like that”…”maybe if I skipped a meal…” and then we do nothing because the depression takes us over because we can not ever be someone else, we can only be us. Or… you slip into the other end of the spectrum where you drastically cut calories, carbs, and spend more time in the gym than is humanly necessary — to be “more like her” because of course you are bombarded with her gym selfies on Facebook… pictures of her abs on Facebook. Make no mistake – these are not progress photos to promote yourself for weight loss – these are a virtual preoccupation measuring contests done between women to make sure you know, they can do it, and you can’t and if you do, they are going to one up you even if it means anorexia, starvation, or death-by-gym.

I can only be Alyssa in my 5’4 frame. I will probably NEVER get into a size 0 or size 2… I am going to have to be OK with a 4 and 6, otherwise I might be doomed to be stuck ‘here’ for life. I am going to have to learn to be OK that I will never be taller and I will never “be like her” (general). I am 100% certain there will be women who will read this who perhaps wear a couple sizes larger than me who will openly judge this kind of thought process… who would LOVE to be a size 4… but its a never ending cycle that you cannot get out of once you are in it. The thrill of losing weight. The ability to buy a pants size smaller giving you an intense rush. The ability to walk by a mirror and say “Hey! You’re looking svelte and thin!” – it’s an addiction that is kind of like a substance abuse – its a high that when you start at over 100lbs to lose and watch it melt off… you cannot easily give that ‘high’ up without some VERY damaging consequences to your psyche, your emotional maturity, or in some cases, your so desperately earned figure.

Anyway, I sat down in Starbucks today and cracked open the book, feeling self conscious about being in a t-shirt and jeans and flip flops and worrying about how I looked slouching in a chair. I felt like I was succumbing to exactly what I was reading in the book. I felt like instead of being an intellectual woman, reading a smart feminist intellectual book, in a coffee shop. I was a spectacle. Perhaps, only to myself. Other coffee drinkers and passersby didn’t seem to notice, since I was watching them to see if they were looking at me.

The strangely ironic thing about all of this is that I am one of the most outgoing people that I personally know… but what goes on with this is solely inside my head. We have been trained from a very young age to value ourselves only if spectators find us “beautiful” or “attractive”. We are only worth something if we are “thin”, if we lift weights, if we go tanning, if we are “pretty”, or if we don’t ever let a drop of sugar touch our lips. I’ve been brainwashed, too, and the terribly sad part is that I cannot simply shut it off. One does not simply wake up and say “I am beautiful even if I have little roll in the front when I sit down in a chair and slouch a bit.” No. Not at all. We spend all of our time counting carbs, figuring out if we are in ketosis, figuring out how many calories we burned on that run or on the elliptical, looking in the mirror – front, back, sides, fussing over cellulite (even though that is skin structure, not fat deposits), and getting on the scale every day.

I am getting married in less than four months and my focus is not on the fact that I am marrying the most amazing, caring, affectionate, individual on the planet — my focus is on the fact that my dress won’t lend well to fat arms and from a lower-upward angle it will make me look like a short stout stuffed sausage with chubby arms (which don’t go away no matter if I am at my thinnest).

We are having our engagement photos taken on Monday – and instead of being excited that these are the first professional photos we will have together — all I can think, no, obsess about is that I don’t have anything that is going to help hide these 7 pounds and look like I felt 7 pounds ago. I don’t have any clothing that is going to prevent my arms from looking “flabby” like they have my entire life (redundant self-deprecation). I am instead bargaining with historically how much I have lost in a week by eating 100% clean and knowing, I won’t lose enough in enough time.

When we were on vacation in Florida this previous week – I decided to eat what I wanted to eat, within reason, because “food tourism” is something I enjoy. Legitimately enjoy, but what I do to myself after enjoying food is a cycle of looking at my profile in the mirror, crying, or berating myself into believing that I am “fat”. And when we took pictures together as a family, I strategically placed the middle of my body behind one of my family members… generally a small child – because I couldn’t bare to look at this ‘setback’ in progress. Oh, you don’t believe me? Let me show you.

Destin1

There’s me behind girl child standing on the dock of the Oyster place in Destin! We look so happy! (But…I’m plotting to keep my body out of the shot.)

Destin2

Oh, Hi! Here is us again on a gorgeous beach in Destin! We were so happy to be out of the hotel… (But…I placed myself half behind girl child AND kept my dress on until after pictures were over…)

Florida1

Well, would you look at this! A strategically placed purse so you cannot make out the silhouette of my arm.

Florida2

Almost COMPLETELY behind girl child. Where did Alyssa go!? Its like hide and seek!
Florida3

Boy child used as a blockade for my midsection and strategically wearing black in this dreadful summer heat and humidity of Florida. Smart…right?

And it occurred to me, that I am the person in the book that Naomi Wolf is talking about. I am the girl who isn’t using my power for bigger and better things in the world – I am stuck right down here where society has raised women to stay because I am focused on all of the wrong things. I am trapped in a mortal body that the world has convinced me is just ‘average’ because I don’t have abs… or it is just ‘average’ because I don’t have tiny thin little arms…or it is just ‘average’ because I don’t have a thigh gap… or it is just ‘average’ because I am only 5’4 and will NEVER be a single centimeter taller. It isn’t a myth (it is – but it is not…) it is a very real world that I live in every day and I think other women do too, but they are not going to say it out loud – they aren’t going to post it on a blog or put their dress size, or the size of their jeans or what they weigh out in public. I think there are more of us than we care to admit, because as soon as we show weakness that is when it opens the door for someone to step in and exploit that weakness. The truth is, I know it is not just me… it is an entire society of automatons wagering guilt as they raise their forks to their mouth and hearing other women they know saying “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips, my dear!” (I have heard it) when they are looking at the menu at a restaurant or buying groceries for their home.

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

I would encourage other women like me to read the book. Really. Read it now. And don’t put it down when it starts to sound like they are talking about you… if you get to that point definitely don’t stop reading it.

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