This is a picture of me tonight, eating a slice of (incredible) pizza and not wearing any makeup or styled hair and raggedy clothes. This picture is important to me, silly as it may be, because I am at a very particular moment in my life which is making me hyper-aware of the way that women look at their bodies, and one another.
I rarely leave the house (except to and from the gym) without some kind of makeup, hair, and coordinated outfit routine. I don’t feel like myself if I don’t, because I love doing those things and especially given that I work at home, leaving the house is always a nice occasion to make myself nice and spiffy. I find myself constantly having to justify that to people, to explain that it doesn’t make me “fake” or attention-digging or narcissistic or “afraid” of what I really look like. I am natural all the time, and this is one of them. Neither state is weird or unusual, and I have a hard time getting people to grasp that.
But getting in better shape and taking care of my body has helped me a lot with those feelings. I’m more in touch with myself in general. However, in addition to feeling better and having more energy and noticing that I have muscles where I once had only expanses of vague skin, it is making me hyper-aware of certain things. I am aware of other people’s bodies at the gym. I am aware of what people will think if I post a photo of my change in size (like I did the other day). I am aware of constantly keeping the appearance of being healthy, even when I just want to eat a pizza (like right now).
The other day I tweeted about gummi bears and a friend, meaning well of course, joked about how my “diet” lasted until the sun came out in Paris (which it did the other day). I couldn’t find it funny. I find diet a loaded word, and hate the fact that women ever have to justify what they eat or how they eat it, especially with one another. I told her that I’ve never been on a “diet,” which is true. I now eat mostly clean, but I still eat my share of junk. I still drink about two days a week. I still satisfy strange cravings.
But this need to justify ourselves to one another — to constantly criticize our own bodies and promise to be better and obsess over small changes — seems so ingrained in our culture and in our beings that it feels we will never let it go. We are all constantly striving to be that naturally perfect girl who is completely harmonious in her own skin, and when you are the girl who loves to wear makeup and eats barbecue pizza, what are you supposed to think of yourself? You are supposed to say that you know you look better with bare skin, and that you shouldn’t be eating this.
Right now, I should be eating this pizza because it feels good. I am right to do it. Earlier, when I worked out while watching trashy reality TV that is probably melting brain cells, it felt good. I was right to do it. My body (and part of that being my mind) wants me to be a person with yins and yangs, who rewards and works. But we all feel the need to justify and temper this with explanation.
I stumbled across this video of Tina Fey today, who somehow seems to get a free pass on all of the horrendous shit she says about poor women, sex workers, and women she regards as stupid. In it, she gleefully tears into Paris Hilton and says a number of terrible things about her, including the fact that she has a weird body which makes her look, and I quote, “like a tranny.”
Everywhere we go, even with women who are championed as positive and feminist and supportive of all body types, we cannot escape this sick culture of tearing one another down over our appearance. We cannot escape having to look beautiful but never trying too hard to achieve it. We cannot escape being consumed by what we look like and how we go about looking like it.
Living in a big city, especially a fashion capital like Paris, I am completely surrounded by women who hate their bodies and will always find them too big or too ugly. I hear, day in and day out, plans to get thinner, ways to work out harder, and humblebraggy exchanges about how much you’re doing to make yourself look more like the person you want to be inside. The idea that you just go to the gym to feel fit and you eat a generally-healthy mix of good stuff and junk is ludicrous. You’ll never be model-thin that way. You’ll never look good in that bikini or that backless dress. You need to try harder. You need to disparage yourself more, so as to not appear too confident. You should always be striving to work harder and relax less.
I called a woman I hardly know and only vaguely dislike “anorexic” yesterday, and I hate myself for it. She is an incredibly thin woman who has fairly open issues with food and weight and works in the fashion industry, but nothing she does could ever be justification for that kind of judgment. I have so much hate for the fashion industry and everything that it propagates, but my first reaction was to funnel that hate into a nasty slur about her body. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until it was too late.
I feel like I can’t do it anymore. I feel like the next woman who tells me that she looks so big in her jeans, or asks me what I’m doing to control my appetite (I don’t; I eat), or tells me that she hates herself for not going to the gym today, is going to be the last I can bear. I want to shake her and scream that health and the way your body looks often have nothing to do with one another, and if part of being healthy and happy for you includes getting more physically fit (as it does for me right now), that’s awesome. But that doesn’t dictate your worth, or mean that you are automatically a superior person for having achieved a certain hip-to-waist ratio.
I am sick of talking about being thin. I want us to take care of ourselves, and focus on what we put into and demand of our bodies, and be conscious of the choices we make, but not at the cost of our sanity. Not at the cost of our dignity. Not at the cost of our self-love. We are so much more than all of this petty bullshit, and there is nothing wrong with any expression of beauty or femininity that makes us feel good. If we love wearing makeup and eating pizza and being a size whatever, that is great. As long as we are taking care of ourselves, and of one another, that is what counts. As long as we are kind and compassionate and not eager to tear into every female body we encounter about how she could be doing better, that is what counts. We can’t ask any more than that.
For the record, I am not planning to work extra hard at the gym tomorrow to work off this pizza. If I have a dimple more of cellulite because of it, it’ll just always be there to remind me how awesome pizza is. Because being fit is great, but so is pizza, and a girl has to have both.