In my time on earth, I feel like I have seen two issues begin to dominate the center stage of popular feminist dialogue. The ever-present battle for reproductive rights would be one of them, but surprisingly, the other has been body image.
Like nearly every woman, I’ve endured some very painful thoughts about my attractiveness relative to others. However, I have always considered this obsession to be something I begrudgingly played into; a trivial thing which I allow to impact me emotionally against my better judgement. I have come to discover that few women approach the issue of body image this way. What I have heard is many iterations of “(unconventionally attractive attribute) is beautiful, too!” complete with photo spreads of vamping (unconventionally attractive attribute) models whose other attributes conform to beauty standards. I’ve seen conventional standards, and the women who embody them, demonized as somehow repulsive, vaguely immoral or boring. I’ve seen women endorse various practices once considered wholly damaging, sexist and exploitative as a worthwhile means of reaffirming one’s attractiveness. All of these things are considered to be aligned with mainstream feminism– at least by those who promote them.
What I have seen very little of is women asking why we really give a shit. Why do we shake in mortal terror of being unattractive, to the point that we’re motivated to distribute persuasive advertisements for our brand of bodies, to step on other women, to give even more of ourselves to the people and ideas that ostensibly fucked us up in the first place? Where are the women that I’ve heard tales of from my mother’s generation, calling upon their sisters to undergo a great cultural deprogramming in order to reclaim our own sanity? The idea doesn’t seem to have much traction.
When you and I think about the end of our lives; how people will remember us and what we will have accomplished, where does physical attractiveness actually rank? Do people want their most valued companions to be weeping at their funeral, remembering that their sex appeal was squarely above average? Isn’t it (at best) a zero sum game, predicated on bullshit? When asked to list the important things about yourself, to introduce you to others, do you mention your attractiveness? If you wrote a book, would you want that on the back cover? Would you hope to raise a sexually attractive child, above other qualities? And surely, changing your own attitude won’t totally free you from the attitude of others who are indoctrinated, but if might bring you clarity. You may find, as many women of my mother’s generation did, that it’s time to stop fucking these people who place a premium on your looks and otherwise catering to them, because they’re pretty goddamned awful if put to the test.