Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Feminism didn't save me from the culture

When I was in my early 20s, I read a lot of feminist literature, including Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. I became angry at the patriarchy in many ways. At home, my father had pressured my mother to give up the job she loved at the junior high library because she wasn't home when he needed her there (which was rarely). More potent was his need to provide for her in the eyes of his peers and that overrode her need to have something to do with her considerable intelligence. I stayed angry with my father over that for a long time, though of course my mother could have insisted. But the acculturated mother I had couldn't have insisted. She hadn't wanted to marry in the first place. She hadn't wanted children. She had wanted a career and to put her college education to good use. But she succumbed to social and cultural pressure and married and had 5 kids and worried about ring around the collar and waxy build-up in her kitchen corners.

I was determined to have a different life and so I have never married, I've not had kids, I've had two different careers and a slew of jobs and been well paid and respected for my mind and my abilities. I have had many lovers, traveled alone, lived alone, created my own business in a field that was long dominated by men. But in one essential thing, feminism did not save me from the culture. And that is in how I view my body.

No matter what I believe rationally and intellectually, I have bought hook, line, and sinker into thin is beautiful, fat is not. While I've been able to fully embrace the fact that alcoholism is a disease, not a matter of will power, I can't get there with my own obesity. I want to. I really do. I want to love my body no matter its size or shape. I want to feel strong and healthy and proud.

But I feel ashamed. I know that feeling comes from absorbing thousands of images of what men (and women) have been selling in advertising since the 1950s. When I was young, I had one of those lovely bodies. For the last 20 years, I have not. And I have suffered because I have not. Self-induced suffering?
Perhaps. But I think it is more culturally induced.

I find it very sad that women's liberation has not extended to freedom from cultural pressure on one of the most precious parts of our existence. And I feel quite baffled as to how I can liberate myself.  

2 comments:

Bridget B. said...

Wow. That hits home. In my 20's, I had a business making batiked and silkscreened clothing. I made clothes that featured images of women of different sizes, and I made clothes in sizes XS-10X. I sold at women's festivals, womyn's festivals, queer pride events, mainstream craft fairs and even at fat activism events. I was thin, but I identified as a fat advocate. I still do. I truly believe that each persons' body is their own business, and that no one should tell you what size your body should be. I believe that you can be healthy or unhealthy at a variety of weights. I believe you can be active and eat great food and simultaneously be fat and healthy and happy and beautiful. I regularly see women that society calls "fat" and think, "Damn! She's totally hot!!"

And yet, I'm on Weight Watchers, hoping to lose the 15 pounds that have crept on in the intervening 15 years. Tell me, where does that come from?

nisi said...

Hi Jill,

Though I don't have much weight I have been struggling with body image most of my life as well. And a few extra pounds, anytime they crop up, can be as debilitating to a thin woman as a heavier woman. We are enculturated to believe that anything heavier than Twiggy thin (wow, that dates me :) ) is not okay. And if our weight is not okay, then we are not okay. I used to weigh myself numerous times a day. If my weight was up I would curse myself. If my weight was down I would be afraid that it would go up again. This is a zero-sum game with No Winner. It has taken years of meditation practice with focus on my body, and an aortic dissection to put me on the path of loving myself, accepting myself AND noticing those critical voices when they arise. Good luck to you my friend. Feminism has paved the way for our awareness to grow and our bodies/psyche to heal, even though the road may not be an easy one :) Nisi