Now for yet ANOTHER subject near and dear to my heart...
This makes me want to cry. Makes me disappointed in the world I'm presenting to my daughters. It makes me want to scream and pull out my hair.
Every direction you turn, the message is loud and clear. Women are objects. Subjects if they're uppity. And they'll soon be deserving victims if they don't learn their place. Which puts us back to the woman-as-object. Vicious circle.
Growing up I wanted to be a ballerina. Yeah, me and every other little girl in the world. The difference was that most little girls outgrew the ballerina thing. They found that what they really wanted was the tiara and tulle and the attention of an audience. Ballet is sweaty and painful and tiaras are hard to come by. So most girls move on to other goals. I didn't. The biggest problem with this whole situation was that I was terribly serious about ballet, but I wasn't very good at it.
One year... I think I was fourteen or fifteen years old... I was at a dance camp at a University in Montana. I loved it! I can't think of many times in my life happier than the hours spent torturing myself with technique classes, trying new dance genres and finally flopping into bed at night, muscles cramping, my mind running through classic variations from romantic ballets. But that old problem of not being very good at the whole ballet thing kept rearing it's awkward head. If the current Me could go back in time and talk to the young Me, I'd beg myself not to take it so seriously. I would try to convince Young Me to relax and enjoy the time. But Young Me couldn't because if I wasn't the best, I shouldn't be wasting my time... or that's what I thought, anyway. I can't think of anyone else who was pushing that message. It was just my own insecurity. I wish I could tell Young Me to quit competing and just enjoy the happiness of moving.
Regardless, through each two-hour block of Classical Ballet instruction (including pointe and variations), I would torture myself. I tried to force my pigeon toes into some semblance of adequate turn-out. I tried to suck my little pot belly flat against my back. I tried to feel like I belonged there. But in the mirror-lined rooms, my reflection never matched up with my expectations. The biggest problem? I was big. Not fat (though I thought so at the time). I was 5'8" in a room where everyone else was barely 5'. I was 128 lbs. Everyone else was under 100. I was visibly muscular where everyone else was just... tiny. And - for some reason - I had absorbed the ideal of femininity as being small.
And not just physically small. But I digress.
At one point I overheard my teachers from home (who were attending with us, a few girls from their school) talking about The Prodigy who was performing in the student show, that night. She was only 10, and so technically precise - she was going somewhere! And the crucial detail that caught my attention - her mother only fed her ONE apple at lunch, even though we were dancing at least nine hours per day. So somehow my adolescent brain twisted that around and I seized upon THAT as the difference between her and me. Genetic body type, training and physical discipline? Not so much. Regimented eating to stay super thin? That had to be it!
So I quit eating as best I could, eliminating one food at a time, and eating as little as I could of the few foods I would eat. It became obsessive. 3/4 of one slice of dry toast for breakfast. NO lunch. I would watch what my little sister ate at dinner and try to eat less than half of that. I decided that my little sister was beautiful (with the assumption being that I was huge and hideous) and I resented her for naturally (or so I thought, anyway) being what I thought I was supposed to be. Cute. Petite. Smart. Social. Strong. Girlie.
My weight went down. And down some more. Compliments came more plentifully as did more general social approval. I became a cheerleader. I became mean and increasingly emotionally unbalanced. Until it all fell apart when I was 16. Before I attempted suicide it had gotten to the point where I was genuinely scared of eating at all. I remember one specific occassion when my boyfriend at the time took me to McDonalds for some dinner before ballet. I wouldn't order anything, claiming (as usual) that I wasn't hungry. He bought me a salad. Again I insisted I wasn't hungry. He said he wouldn't take me to ballet until I ate something. I was so embarrassed. But I just couldn't do it. Finally he took me to ballet, but I think he was pretty disgusted.
What really stands out to me from that time is that my focus on controlling my weight - and that the number on the scale determined whether or not I was worthy to have some measure of happiness - ruined what could have been golden years. And what really pisses me off is how much power that number still has over my view of self.
For instance, today I'm feelin like a hottie. Why? Because I'm a pound less than I was yesterday. Granted, I'm still appalled by my belly and the feel of my thighs rubbing together. But I can handle it because at least the weight is going down. I still avoid mirrors and cameras, but I'll go out in public today. I can live with being ugly. I just can't handle being fat.
That's sick. My logical, feminist side wants to scream in the face of my ego-centric insecure side, "What the hell are you thinking?" I don't want to care. I don't want to buy into some weird standard of beauty being sold by men who ultimately like women to look like pre-adolescent boys. I really don't want to be bullied into feeling inferior by all the other women who have bought into this and need other women to feel that crappy too (so they'll feel validated for torturing themselves).
And yet I have bought into it at a price I can't afford.
I would give anything to prevent my girls from succumbing to this ridiculous misogynistic view of beauty. But my eight-year-old is already trying on some other misogynistic views, spread by her mainstream friends (if I ever get around to it, I'll have to blog about that). It is impossible to protect her from this sickness. All I can hope is that I can raise her to like herself enough to not let it consume her.
I can't fight off demons for my children when I haven't conquered my own.
So, back to the original story. Models. Stick-thin and killing themselves to be so. That stinks.
But one issue totally neglected in that story is the youth glorification going hand-in-hand with the anorexic expectations.
How hateful is it to not only insist that 51% of the population starve themselves to the brink of death, but that it also tells them that life peaks for them at about 15.
I was once talking to a guy about some images he had on his computer of models on a Paris runway. No, he wasn't into fashion in the slightest. That season's collections were all about sheer fabrics, so even though the models were dressed... well... no one could really claim anything was covered up. So he had massive megabytes of photos on his hard drive of barely covered nipples attached to scowling, skeletal "women" in heavy makeup.
"You do know she's only 13, right?" I asked him, pointing out one scantily clad figure. He hotly denied that there could possibly be anyone under 18 working that catwalk. He didn't know any better. He had never been a self-hating pre-teen girl who scoured the teeny bopper magazines trying to discover the secrets to being pretty and popular. I remember readin YM and Teen, back when Milla Jovovich was the hottest young model. She was my age, half-dressed and pouting, oozing sex appeal at 13. I haven't hunted for statistics, but I don't think many models continue that line of work past their teen years.
That scares the crap out of me.
I don't want my girls to be all sexed up so young - and no matter what anyone says about that getting worse over the past few years, there is nothing new under the sun. Sure, the issue of the past few years has been words printed on sweat-pants butts and thongs marketed to teens, but that's no worse than the miniskirts and strategically ripped up jeans I remember.
I find it curious, though. I mean, it's the ADULTS who have the money, right? So ultimately the marketers are trying to appeal to us. American marketing is all about making a person feel insecure so that they will buy the item marketed in order to feel less inferior. And we're buying it.
We buy the fashion magazines and the exercise gear and the fad diet books and the crappy cheap "stylish" clothes (and sometimes the crappy expensive clothes too) and whatever latest, greates makeup and face creams promising to make us look like a younger airbrushed version of a woman - and they can still manage to help us hate ourselves after we've bought all that, we can spend thousands more to have someone cut us up and rearrange our features so we can look totally unlike our Selves in every way.
Why? How is this OK?
Because for centuries we've been objects.
Even the fairy tales we're spoonfed in childhood orbit around the idea that men have adventures and go out to seek their fortunes while young girls are prizes to be won. We see this replayed over and over as the template for the pinnacle of happiness. Older women? Evil hags and stepmothers. The stories end with "Happily ever after" because the young wife conveniently dies in childbirth (how romantic!) leaving the tragic figure of a rich older man to move on to the next young damsel - whether she be ingenue or beautiful evil stepmother doesn't seem to be much of an issue. As long as she's young, pretty, and disappears before she gets old.
Somehow we've managed to move away from child brides in our culture at large. But instead of that bringing us, as a society, closer to an egalitarian utopia, we just parade our girls on the catwalk and slap their faces on the covers of our magazines. Thousands of people make money. These "virgin sacrifices" are then paraded to the modern equivalent of the market square where the tabloids can finally finish them off. Sucked dry. Used up. The men who've tired of them and the women who've resented them (for being all the admired things we are not) gleefully watch them self-destruct on what passes for the evening news.
They are expendable. The machine will just churn out another.
Young girls will continue to sell their bodies, the image of their bodies, and the sexuality freely superimposed upon them and will continue to buy into the notion that this makes them tough and self-posessed. Young women will continue to believe in the fairy tale and will find themselves married with kids, either trapped in the role of wetnurse/nanny or forsaken "starter wife" while men move up, move on (having been sold the idea that the image of power and success requires barely-legal arm candy). Ultimately everyone ends up miserable. Not cool.
So how do I get off this wacked out horror house carnival ride? How do I keep my daughters from getting stuck on it with me?
The best I can come up with is to call attention to it every chance I get. And teach them about the suffrage movement and civil rights and the fight for reproductive rights. I suppose there will always be women who end up working the poles at the strip joints and the girls, desperate for attention and approval, posting provocative images in their online social networking profiles. I will point out the erroneous thinking being pushed by marketers telling them that Bratz and The Pussycat Dolls are examples of Grrrl Power. All that is easy enough.
But I have no clue how we fight the idea that the ultimate indicator of feminine beauty is emaciation. I fell for it. The majority of women in this culture would rather lose a finger than be fat. Would trade IQ points for weight loss. A significant number trade their health. There are an awful lot of people out there who would rather be dead than fat... even the kind of "fat" where a 5'9" 107 lb young woman is denied work for having fat legs. (I'm not saying that the designers don't have the right to hire whom they please - it just sucks that we keep giving them money, rewarding choices that undermine our own health and happiness.)
I'd love to be able to tell you all to give 'em all the bird and join me in my love-fest of bellies and boobs and thighs and all things curvy and womanly. But I can't. Because I cling to my scale. And my body fat %. And my fantasies of what I'll do when I'm thin enough. And the disgust I feel when I see a picture of myself or look in the mirror.
I still want to be a shiny pretty thing. A beautiful, desirable objet d'art.
Human, but pathetic.