Brian and I have been talking a lot about feminism lately. I have recently become comfortable calling myself a feminist in public. I feel like I finally understand why it’s important that people do label themselves feminists, and work for women’s right to do anything they want to. I’m glad I feel that way, but I also feel like feminism has failed me. In a big way.
I’ll just admit it. I hate myself most of the time. I cringe every time I pick that size twelve off the rack, or take a bite of that poppy seed muffin, or notice the hair growing between my eyebrows. My teeth are not straight. My face is square and funny. I have a cabbage patch nose. My torso is long and my legs are short. I am in no way able to conform to the magazine ideal. Even if I could become a size 1, I would still not look like I am “supposed to.” All women are beautiful in a way of course, but those of us labeled as cute, or unique, understand what that means. It’s the nice way to say “doesn’t measure up.” I hate myself for hating myself, too. It’s a vicious cycle.
I told my mother once that I think of women loathing themselves as being an American Cultural trait. I have never met another woman who didn’t also have these feelings. From lamenting about pre-child bodies, to Spanx, to spray tan, to diets, we are all trying to be something we can’t. All of us. Some of us just hide it better than others.
Feminism has given me the knowledge that this is a socially constructed, impossible ideal. I’m not crazy, society is. That’s nice, of course, but it hasn’t helped me at all. I still loathe myself for the handful of Nerds I ate yesterday, the crepe I had Saturday morning for breakfast. I still wish I was a size 4. I still pull on Spanx beneath my dress. Feminism has not given me anything except the knowledge that I am unable separate myself from the cultural messages surrounding me. I feel trapped. I don’t know how to move forward from here. Can thirty years of self-loathing even be turned into something empowering? Is it even possible to get out? Is my inability to stop caring something new I should be hating myself for?
Brian thinks the reason I don’t know how to move forward is that there is no roadmap on how to move forward. Women’s stories aren’t told unless they are the careful version everyone expects, the unrealistic version. I know this is where my fascination with Amanda Palmer lies. She is living something else. Whether that version of something else works for me or not it is amazing to see what is possible, and that at least one person can do it. It gives me just a tiny smidgeon of hope.
I don’t have any answers. I don’t think there are any answers to this. I think we should be kinder to each other and not tell other women they can’t or that something they choose willingly and knowingly is unfeminist. I think we can all spend a little time figuring out if we do something because society tells us to or if we really like it. But at the end of the day, will that help me feel OK about my short, bitten fingernails or the stubble on my legs? I don’t really expect that it will.