I am on a diet.
I am also reading Susie Orbach’s Bodies.
Anyone who has read Bodies will immediately see my dilemma. Anyone who has not read it should, right now. Orbach talks about how we are increasingly encouraged to think of our bodies not as part of ourselves but as a project that we should constantly work on with the goal of reaching some imagined perfection. She also looks at the detrimental effect this has on our physical and mental health. She talks about the dangers of homogenisation – the ideal being a westernized standard of beauty as being white, thin, tall and so on. This is why we see the boom market across Asia for skin whitening creams and plastic surgery to create a western eyelid. This is why Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o prayed to wake up with lighter skin each morning and had to fight against the homogenised images she saw to finally accept herself as beautiful.
In a previous post, I talked about how these homogenised images have even pervaded the fight against a homogenised westernized standard of beauty as being white, thin, tall and so on. Instead of coming together and saying that each body type is wonderful, each body type pits itself against the other. Women rail against thinness and thin women as though they are the reason that they feel dissatisfied with themselves. It is homogenisation that makes us feel ugly and unworthy, because a standard has been set that we do not meet. It is not thinness itself, but the fact that thinness has become one of the beauty standards.
We are not allowed to love ourselves. We are constantly being sold products that will help us to continue to work on the ‘project’ that is our body.
I remember an advert for a deodorant that really annoyed me. I don’t remember the brand and I couldn’t find the advert but it said something like ‘70% of women agree that when they have beautiful underarms they feel more confident’. What kind of world do we live in where we feel bad about whether or not our armpits are beautiful? The advert was claiming to solve a problem that I wasn’t even aware that I had – unattractive armpits.
When I was searching online for that advert I found one even more disturbing for Dove Whitening deodorant. The advert implies that if you don’t have beautiful, white underarms, you shouldn’t wear sleeveless tops.
Our bodies are amazing. They allow us to experience the world. Our eyes, that we may wish were different colours or shapes, that we may wish were framed differently, enable us to see. Our lips, that we may wish were plumper, allow us to kiss and be kissed and to feel every sensation, physical and emotional, that that act implies. Our skin, that we may hate the shade of, can feel. Have you ever just marvelled at how amazing skin is? How wonderful to brush past a soft fabric or feel the sun on your skin? When you actually think about it, it’s fantastic.
Our bodies give us so much. And yet so many of us hate them and wish they were different.
These campaigns are designed to make us feel ashamed about parts of our body that we previously had no issue with. We add this new shame to all the existing shame we have heaped upon us.
I know all of this, and yet I am on a diet.
I do not want to care that I am not thin and I know that even if I achieve the goal of thinness I will not suddenly love my body, and yet I am on a diet.
I hate my sloping shoulders. I hate the shape of my breasts. I hate the long, thin fingers I have often been teased about. I hate the scoliosis that causes my rib cage to stick out at awkward angles and my hips to be misaligned. I hate the permanent dark circles under my eyes. I hate my neck. I hate my natural hair colour. I hate my dark leg and underarm hair. I hate the way that anything I do to remove this offending hair causes my skin to go red and blotchy. In short, I do not feel beautiful.
Sometimes, I feel that I am closer. When I dress up for a special occasion, like a wedding or party, and I go all out and spend hours preparing myself and submitting to being uncomfortable in the name of beauty, I feel a little closer. Sometimes, I feel like the painful waxing, the bleaching, the make-up, hair style, control underwear, uncomfortable clothes and punishing high heels have come together to produce an admirable result. Not perfect, but better at least. I am pleased with the effect I have been able to produce, but not for long. I cannot do this every day. But for that special evening, I am pleased. And because I am pleased and have proven to myself that with effort I can get closer to beauty I continue to buy the anti-aging creams, to try out the next cellulite busting miracle product, to continue my search for a hair removal product that will solve my hair ‘problem’ without hurting my skin, I continue to diet, I continue to work on the ‘project’ that my body has become.
I know that the real solution is to learn to love my body, to make friends with it again and enjoy it and all that it offers me, but I cannot. I am an intelligent women and I know I am being tricked – the creams, the diets, they are all a con – but I want to believe. I want to believe that if I work hard enough, if I make my body a project to be worked on, perhaps I too can be the type of beautiful that is so revered.
The sad truth is, I am not self-confident enough to be comfortable in my own skin, especially when the women who publicly don’t conform to the beauty standard expected of them are so lambasted for daring to be their natural self. I still vividly remember the media coverage of Julia Roberts armpit hair in 1999. Something the Metro described as “cringe-worthy” and a “mistake” when it was repeated by singer Pixie Lott.
So is it any wonder that we worry?