the beauty mandate

I work with two ladies– aged 58 and 63– who are constantly dieting. D lost ~60 lbs on Nutrasystem (which consists of gross, unrefrigerated single-serving meals full of preservatives) but she had to go off of it after it gave her dizzy spells for a week and made her hair fall out. She has since regained much of her weight. B tried Nutrasystem, but has since moved on to the South Beach Diet. In my office, it’s all diet talk all the time.

These women bond over their weight, as most women do. Radical feminists know that this is a waste of energy, since our bodies are just fine thank you very much, and the culture we live in (aka the p) instills in us this body insecurity from a very young age. As Germaine Greer says in _The Whole Woman_ (p 25),

As a way of inducing them to buy products of no use or value, women have been deliberately infected with BDD. [Body Dysmorphic Disorder}

The culture we live in is the problem and it, not we, need to change.

But that doesn’t mean that we can learn this fact, and thereby reverse the power of these messages overnight.
I need to be reminded that there is nothing wrong with my body at least every day, and sometimes several times a day.

Preoccupation about her appearance goes some way towards ruining some part of every woman’s day

ibid p 25

This is unfortunate, because if I could fully reject the messages that say cellulite on the ass and under eye wrinkles are not beautiful, and beauty is the best way to evaluate a woman’s worth, I could get on with other, more worthwhile projects. It is a waste of energy to hate the bump above my pelvis, and to fixate on the puffy circles under my eyes, and to be reminded of my nose moles and think, “Having them removed wouldn’t be so bad.” This is what women look like. This is what aging is. These features of mine are normal!

I’ve stopped wearing makeup, and in some ways that has helped, oddly enough. I look more plain, but also the plainness is more beautiful. It’s me! I like walking around the world looking like myself.

FCM reminds us that harm reduction strategies are not radical, but they are helpful given our current location in time, and the cultural constraints placed upon us. For me, the best harm reduction strategy for reducing internalized body hatred is to remind myself and my sisters that they and I do not share the values of our culture, and the beauty mandate can fuck right off.

About smash
Women's liberationist.

5 Responses to the beauty mandate

  1. cartographer says:

    one of the things that always astounds me is how much time effort and money it takes to fit into the patriarchal concept of woman. Even if i wanted to partake in it and even if i could do it without looking like I was in drag (I’m kind of butch) I just wouldn’t be able to afford it, make up, anti wrinkle cream, perfumes, a pair of shoes for every outfit, hair removal paraphernalia, I just couldn’t afford all that stuff.

    And apparently now I need to even have “beautiful underarms” WTF! I never in my life thought about the attractiveness or not of my underarms, they don’t have to be beautiful, they have to be functional. same as the “unsightly hard skin” on my heels! My heels are supposed to have hard skin, they have to carry my body!

    I’m so over caring whether any part of me is physically beautiful to be honest

  2. Sargassosea says:

    I like walking around the world looking like myself.

    Me too! But more importantly, I like looking at women who look like themselves because it indicates that they (you) have other *priorities* and THAT is beautiful to me. 🙂

  3. KatieS says:

    I go to the gym and consciously remember to focus on how my body feels from the inside as I work out. This makes the experience a good one for me. In times past, I went to the gym and felt self conscious about my body, though it has always been a fairly healthy body. This meant comparing myself to other women and how they looked. I fell short every time. Depressing. At some point in the past I realized how much I was looking at myself from outside, as an object. I’ve gotten over that and it’s more from the inside out that perceive myself.

    I do think that being strong is important, especially as one ages. I love my strength as it emerges.

    I don’t have a tv and don’t watch many movies. This helps quite a bit. Why subject onself to such toxic messages.

  4. smash says:

    Actually, KatieS, I had quit going to the gym for several years, due to the negative feelings I got by comparing myself to others. In the past, I did not go in order to feel my body move, but on a stringent and obsessive schedule where if I didn’t follow the “rules” and attend a certain amount of times in a week, I would consider myself “bad”. I realized how unhealthy that was, and I quit.

    I’m just now getting back into workout mode now that I think I can have a healthier attitude towards it. I’m hoping that I will be able to attend based on experiencing pleasure in movement and the sense of my body in the world rather than filling a pre-ordained recipe for “fitness”.
    I’m glad other women have been able to stop paying attention to these negative body messages. Dances With Fat’s non-scientific estimate is that we experience 386,170 negative body messages each year http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2010/03/07/386170-unhelpful-things/ and very few positive ones. But there are ways to filter out the negative messages, as you all have seemed to be able to do so to a certain degree.

    I was raised in a very appearance-based household, and as much as I try to reject those values, I still think that I have inherited my mother’s culturally-instilled insecurity, and I may never be able to permanently beat back these body image demons. Then again, just talking about this stuff makes me feel better.

    Thank you all for your comments.

  5. I should have a gym membership by the middle of next month. I’ve been saving for it so I can pay for an entire year (actually for two, since I found a deal at Costco) without giving any of my credit card information to the gym. I have never compared myself to other women when I did work out years ago. I know, I know, give me a cookie. Seriously though, I think it had to do mostly with learning from a very early age that it was impossible to ever look like women who are promoted as models. I don’t know how I learned that lesson and I don’t know what protected me from internalizing it, but, for some reason, I always knew, just knew, that my thick legs and butt were never going to be thin. I suppose going to military boot camp and getting in top shape and still having thick legs was one proof of that reality. Nevertheless, being stubborn and reluctant to actually do something over the last five or so years in the name of feminism (or in the name of proving that I don’t care) has caused me (in my opinion) some harm. I wake up from my sleep so scared sometimes that something is wrong with my hips and knees from not exercising that I have decided that I simply have to navigate around anything or anyone who may accuse me of working out for male approval. I honestly don’t care about male approval. I care about my approval, and for me personally, I need to be making/keeping my body healthy and strong and my daily routine, as it is, is not enough. I hate that the diet craze has dominated the meaning of exercising. I can tell you for sure, when I am busting my ass exercising, I will not be reducing the calories (not that I do now, anyway). I have over the past few years tried to eat “heart smart.” So, in one good thing, whenever the doctors want to whine/bully about my weight they have not been able to back up the shame with bad blood tests.

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