“As soon as a woman gets to an age where she has opinions and she’s vital and she’s strong, she’s systematically shamed into hiding under a rock.” – Sarah Silverman
“Women have face-lifts in a society in which women without them appear to vanish from sight.” – Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth
The body-snark title of this blog is meant to be a bit ironic, but also truthful, I think, in the way that these kinds of messages ticker tape their way across our brains with alarming regularity. This blog is as much about body image as it is about learning to live a non-diet lifestyle, because negative body image is the kind of thing that drives the kinds of harmful, wackadoodle behaviors we engage in such as dieting and the general pursuit of perfection.
One of my very good friends asked me recently, via email, what I thought of botox and fillers and such. This was born out of conversation about not liking getting old and “old-looking.” I don’t steer clear of these conversations with my friends because I think it’s important to acknowledge insecurities when we have them, and then dissect the possible reasons we feel that way. A classic Glenys email rant followed that went something like this (edited for purposes of clarity and general sense-making):
My thought on plastic surgery, botox, fillers, etc. is that they just make a woman look insecure about who she is and getting older, because you can always tell. I’m not judging women who have these things done because we do live in a world that encourages us to hide our age.* But why must we submit to this world? It’s like throwing in the towel and saying, “Yes, yes, we admit it, our only value in society is the physical beauty and youth we have to offer.” And it’s literally ruining our lives. I’m such a better, smarter, kinder, more confident, more fun, wiser person now than I was when I was in my 20s and even my 30s but lately my initial thought (and I AM working to overcome this) when I see photos of myself is “Look at my belly! Look at my sagging face! I’m an old and hideous sea monster!” At the same time, I recognize that this is all bullshit, that no man walks around thinking anything but “I’m great!” [I know this is not true for many dudes. But I think it might be true for a lot of dudes, and I actually congratulate this kind of self-confidence, we should all walk around feeling like this. As long as you’re not a total dickhead.] Don’t get me wrong, most of the time I’m pretty happy with the way I look, when I bother to look…but this reflexive thinking still rears up and bites me in the ass often enough to be annoying.
So yeah, I sometimes don’t like the external aging process either. I wish I could say I didn’t care, but I also know I’m not alone here. I don’t think we can be blamed for this; we live in a youth-and-beauty-obsessed culture. On top of that our current culture does not support the accomplishments of women unless the accomplishments are 1. The woman is beautiful 2. The woman was “ugly,” then got beautiful (Pygmalion-style) 3. The woman is thin, and managed to remain thin into middle and old age 4. The woman was fat and got thin 5. The woman is young, thin and beautiful.
So we are steeped in this horseshit where all anyone cares about women is that they are winning on either the thin front, the beauty front or the youth front (and bonus points for all three at the same time!). I almost never hear men complain about getting older-looking, maybe because our culture celebrates the actual accomplishments of men rather than how they look doing them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bagging on men, I love men, and this is how it should be for both genders. Unfortunately, lately instead of the situation getting better for women, men are getting dragged into the malarkey of the pursuit of bodily perfection now, too. This is not progress!!
This is nothing Naomi Wolf didn’t tell us in The Beauty Myth. But that was 24 years ago and I’m left wondering, what has changed? The other night I sat across from a pretty, funny, smart woman who fretted that she had been fabulous 15 pounds lighter, but not so much now. There’s something wrong about a world in which someone thinks that 15 pounds can erase the fabulousness of her entire person.
We must fight it. When I start in on snarking myself in photos, I immediately follow it up with two thoughts: A. WHO THE FUCK CARES!? and B. I’m a human who accomplishes real things that have nothing to do with how I look. Because for the most part (trolls be damned) no one else cares what we look like except our own selves, and we need to stop making ourselves feel bad because it’s making us do a lot of extreme things in the name of trying to like ourselves better – like dieting and invasive (and potentially dangerous) surgeries.
My friend who laments getting older-looking is one of the best. She is the funniest person I know, talented, smart, strong, and the person I email first when life is getting me down. She made her way through some seriously hard times with humor and aplomb when neither were required. Looking younger would not make her more awesome. I bet she thinks similar things of me. We are both wonderful ladies who don’t need to pick apart stupid things like double chins and bulging bellies and wrinkles.
If we are lucky enough, we get older and then old, and yes, god forbid, old looking. Why we aren’t looking at those signs of change as badges of honor and saying, “Yes! We made it! Another year to do amazing things!” will be forever beyond me, but I’m going to start making it a habit right now.
*I’m not counting plastic surgeries done for medical reasons, such as breast reduction to relieve pain or breast reconstruction after mastectomies. I’m talking about cosmetic surgeries and procedures for purposes of relieving insecurities.