Other people try to make the case that women loathe their appearances due to comments made by men. Again, okay, I’ll sort of buy that. Men have said hurtful things to me about how I look. Decades later, I still remember their words. But mostly, I don’t think heterosexual men care about women’s appearances all that much. If their relationship with a woman is platonic, they really don’t care. If their relationship with a woman is romantic or sexual, they probably care, but only to the extent of, “Okay, so at what point do I get to touch that stuff?”
Women are weird about their bodies. And by this, I mean about each other’s bodies even more than their own.
Certainly, every woman I know has a hearty dose of bodily self-loathing:
“My belly shakes when the wind blows.”
“This arm wattle? Stand back when I stir the pasta sauce, or you may get hurt.”
“I can’t even rest my martini glass on my breasts. They’re just too small to be decorative or functional.”
Really, the litany of body gripes is endless, from our naturally-dark roots to our disgustingly-gnarled toes.
Generally, the media receives the blame for this cultural phenomenon–supposedly, we see images of young, tucked, snipped, airbrushed celebs, and this makes us feel bad about ourselves. I suppose I buy that to a certain extent. But frankly, when I look at photos of Britney Spears or Paris Hilton in magazines, a rush of relief sweeps over me, and I feel profoundly grateful that such a life and style are not mine. What’s more tragic than having every resource in the world at your feet (or at least in your Blackberry) and still being a mess?
In truth, I think the momentum of our bodily self-hatred comes from other women. Admit it, ladies: we are constantly sussing up other women’s bodies. Usually, we keep our snarky thoughts to ourselves…or at the very least limited to a circle of our three best galpals: “The thing about Barb is that she’s so short. If she were taller, she could pull off that denim patchwork skirt. It would be mod. But on her, it’s just a tablecloth.” But we do, all too often, take our opinions to the very last person who should hear them: the woman in question.
I remember walking down the hall some years ago at the university where I taught, and a student, whom I’d never seen before, came up behind me and said, “I love those pants on you. They’re so fun. Now me, I’m too thin to pull off a look like that, but you wear it perfectly.”
How quietly the claws can be unsheathed.
So we dames like to mess with each other. And we know that a cloaked attack can do wonders for our own self-esteem, strangely enough. But then there is a subcategory of Babes In Thinness Callowly Hollering Expletives in Society (BITCHES) that calls for a very different kind of behavior, which is a woman who is clearly “superior” physically (aka, a smaller size) loudly complimenting a physically “inferior” specimen (someone who is described as having a “great personality”).
I witnessed this a couple of months ago in the kitchen area at my workplace. A kind faculty member–also a city councilman (no doubt out to garner goodwill)–had bought several dozen donuts and set them out for the taking. In front of the donut box, I witnessed an instructor, we’ll call her Size 4, commenting to another woman, Size 8, who was helping herself to a raised and glazed, “I wish I could eat donuts and have a figure like yours.”
Sounds sort of like a compliment, right? But the underlying point struck me as one of moral superiority, the subtext being, “You don’t see me reaching into that box, now do you?” Even further–how ridiculous is this?–Size 4 *could* have a figure like Size 8’s, if she just ate some freaking donuts. Size 8 responded, however, with a happy chuckle, just loving that someone was loving her figure. She responded with, “Well, the only way I keep this figure is to get up bright and early every morning and walk.”
At that moment, I wanted to take two bricks and huck them at these women’s heads. The whole interchange tapped into an inner exhaustion I have; I’m plain tired of women making their bodies the center of attention. Yawn. Snore.
If you’re planning on kissing or stroking a person’s body, it becomes part of your purview. But otherwise, hesh up already.
Excuse me, now, as I stomp off to a meeting that damn well better feature a large platter of cookies.