My early university social life was characterized – really, terrorized – by this toxic habit of skipping out on things I wanted to participate in because of how I looked (A la Dove Campaign For Real Beauty, which in one of its commercials mentions some super high statistic of girls who opt out of activities they’re interested in because they feel like shit about their appearance, which I’m frankly too lazy to look up and include but I assure you it was high.) I actually hesitate to refer to it as a habit, but more like a spectre, as it was a mode of thinking and being that completely haunted and controlled my life.
It started out as just plain “finding clothing to fit this atrocious body is too hard/time-consuming/emotionally draining and I just can’t deal right now”, but quickly turned into some weird sort of self-punishment for being fat. Even if I wasn’t in a hysterical, teary panic, and was actually able to actually compose myself enough to assemble some sort of presentable exterior, I just forbade myself from going out. I didn’t deserve to be seen or have fun given the way I looked, in my mind. And the longer I was MIA, the harder it became to make an appearance somewhere, which I guess was the point: “I’ll show my face when I lose some weight.” Unfortunately, though this mantra was designed to serve as some sort of motivation to in fact lose weight, that of course never happened, as I quite predictably ended up spending my nights alone working out like a fiend and alternately eating mass amounts of shitty food and throwing it up. Repeat nine times in the span of a few hours and you’ve got a recipe for feeling like absolute shit, physically and mentally.
As a self-declared feminist, I’m putting it lightly when I say I’m conflicted in instances like these that concern body image and how I “should” look as a female. I’m quite a bad feminist, to employ Roxane Gay’s term, because I vocally battle against the physical and behavioural ideals society holds women to, and yet battle with myself every second of every day for not adhering to them. I still want to adhere to them, in the end, and I guess that’s the reason I’m so against them in the first place… the fact that I’ve been socialized to want myself to be something unattainable and realistically, unimportant to my existence as a person. And yet for most of my life, it’s been THE most important thing to me. Being intelligent, well-read, well-informed, and well-spoken have been givens that I’ve never credited myself for because they weren’t what mattered about me and they came naturally. How I looked was that all-important part of myself that was so changeable and yet so impossibly so; somehow what was the only determination of my worth as a person. And yet I fought, and still fight, against this concept because I know men are taught their ideas and what they have to say and otherwise offer as people are what’s valuable about them, not just their weight/face/hair/sex appeal/whatever.
I can blame my parents for constantly telling me how “pretty” I was, and how great it was that I was, or for teaching me girls are quiet and polite and don’t act out and aren’t loud. But it’s not all their fault. And I can blame the gendered toy industry for making goal-oriented action games for boys while producing Dream Phone, Barbies with untenable body types and 10,000 items of clothing, and play makeup for girls. But again, it’s not all their fault. I can blame media – along with all of the males in my life – for constantly assessing me and every female in the world solely on their looks and rating as a sexual object. But it’s not all their fault either. Instead of complaining how I was a victim of all of these things, which I’m not going to deny that I am, I just focused on the one thing I could change: lame but true, myself and my paradigm.
Maybe unhealthy, but I permitted myself only seconds of mirror time before leaving the house. Maybe embarrassingly stupid, but I created a list in my head of “fallback outfits” that I knew I looked okay in and felt somewhat comfortable in, so I couldn’t spend hours picking myself apart and feeling like I wanted to don a snowsuit. I guess the most realistic change of all was just distracting myself from the looming cloud of body-focused thoughts that normally completely imposed on my consciousness. Instead of indulging in them, which I apparently loved to do (and which I really think the media, etc. wants me to do), I mustered my most strong-willed effort to think of literally anything else and just make myself get the fuck out of the house before I gave myself any other option. Feel like my face looks like garbage? Who cares. Feel like I’m 300 pounds? Too bad. I didn’t know any other thought process and yet here I was, whisking myself out of my own mind and into the real world. It sounds like I’m naturally inclined to be a narcissist obsessed with my own appearance, and I know a lot of people will read this and think it’s goddamn dumb, but this is the sad reality for a lot of women, and it’s a horrible mental prison of a place to be. It’s too easy to box yourself in a whiny, tragic mess of thoughts about how unfair everything is and how ugly you are and how you’ll never be hot or worth anything and how frustrating it is that you are made to feel this way. But it’s also pretty easy, in time, to give yourself a moment to acknowledge these thoughts and just move on with your evening. Screw your body ideals or whatever and just make yourself get out and live your life. Keep in mind the rest of us are out and about and probably feeling just as self-loathing and uncomfortable as you. But a good time, though seemingly just an unreachable mirage on the horizon of someone else’s life, can still happen and is arguably the best remedy to trump those negative feelings.