Thursday, January 24, 2008


An RSS feed on my Google sidebar came up with an article that linked to this blog post about prettiness . It's a subject I've thought about for a long time. I love the way she puts it--'Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked "female".' And she says the opposite, too--"You don't owe UN-prettiness to feminism..."

She's talking about the idea that as a woman, we're "expected to" or "supposed to" be pretty. I remember reading comments in fashion or similar types of articles where men said things like, "I felt cheated when I saw a woman with long hair and a good body, but when I saw her face, she was old." Or one who was offended by fat women who wear shorts. I never could express my anger at the idea that I was somehow shirking my duty if I didn't conform to their expectations. I've rebelled against that idea my whole life. I've never liked the idea that I was on display, just because I'm female. I don't think it's my duty to fuel some random stranger's sexual fantasies. It's my duty to be happy with myself and how I look.

Yet, thanks to my shallow, vain mother and a shallow, vain culture, it's really hard to get past that idea. Although, in my last paragraph, I mentioned men, I think it's the women in our lives that make the "rule" most personal. I sometimes wonder if part of the reason I've had issues with my weight aren't related to that rebellion against being defined by how I look. But being fat dosen't prevent me from being defined that way. It exacerbates it. I've known people who think I'm not "good enough" to be friends with because of my weight. Their loss, not mine. It doesn't bother me because they weren't people I have enough in common with to want to socialize with anyway, but it does bother me that people think it's a valid way to choose friends.

I'm not sure that there's a solution to this problem, since it's in part inborn. We're drawn to more attractive people in order to keep the human race going. We all want healthy babies and our biology goes for the most healthy people, which we assume attractive people are.

But I also think that the technology we have has skewed our perspective. It allows us to see people from all over the world, to be able to compare ourselves (usually negatively) with the few who look "right", even if those looks are the result of makeup, dress, hairstyling and a lot of Photoshopping. We see the ideal, and don't see the parade of normal people around us. For an eye-opening experience, look at the portfolio from a professional retoucher: Glen Ferron. Roll your mouse over the ads to see what the models looked like before the retouching. And remmember, the "after" pictures are the ones held up as being "ideal", even though they're complete fakes. The actual models don't even look like that.

I've often thought that we fool ourselves when we talk about losing weight "for our health". It's the "acceptable" reason to want to lose weight because, while our culture puts its stock in appearance, we all know that's a shallow value. And so we pretend not to care so much about it. Yet, even though our health may be affected by our weight, we don't usually look to health improvement as a measure of our success. We look at numbers on the scale, measuring tape around our middles, clothes sizes and what we see in the mirror. When our health does improve, we often think we're still failing because we haven't "lost enough" weight, which is usually defined by how we look.

This post rambles a bit, because it's kind of my random thoughts on various aspects of the subject. I've been facing issues that may or may not be weight-related, so I've been exploring in my mind my attitudes towards food, weight, appearance, health and all of that stuff. I really don't have any conclusions, but it's important to me to figure this out. I was just told that my favorite aunt died last night. She had complications of diabetes and she's the one I seem to take after the most, genetically. I don't have symptoms, but she didn't either--until she was in her 60s. I see a potentially ticking time bomb, even though I've lived a generally healthier lifestyle than she did. And the diabetes is not in a direct line (parent or sibling) to me, but my grandfather had it, so the possibility is there.

Lest this seem like my aunt's death is about me, it's not. I don't grieve in public. And my grief isn't the topic of this post. I will miss her very much. She was the one I talked cooking with. And she was the musical one. We had a lot in common. But I don't want to follow her into an early grave. I hope that doesn't make me seem cold. It's just that I'm not done with life, yet.