I don’t know what to write about, is the honest to God truth.
I spent most of last week running around, and yesterday had the kids home for the President’s Day holiday, and while I am somewhat abreast of the news, all of it is just so… exhausting. More of the same. So being creative when too busy to breathe and sick to tears of the same-old — well, it’s rough out here for a blogger, is all I’m saying.
And of course, I haven’t had the quiet of mind to get back to Martin Luther King yet, either. This week it should happen, but I don’t want to do it until I’m really there.
But today over at Ta-Nehisi’s place, he and the commenters are talking about women and body image, in particular as regards the supremely talented and apparently sick-of-talking-about-her-body Christina Hendricks. I’m all over the thread (ellaesther, c’est moi!), but part of what makes the issue so frustrating for me is that god damn I’d like to quit thinking about it. Or, as I said in the comments, “I wish to hell that I could have the hours and mental energy that I’ve invested in reminding myself that I am, as the Psalmist says, ‘beautifully, wonderfully made,’ back.”
I thought about writing about all that here, but then got wise, realizing that, well hell: If you’re sick of thinking about it, don’t re-write what you’ve already written elsewhere! I decided to post a piece I ran in the Dallas Morning News about just these issues a while back — and in looking for it, discovered that it was nearly four years ago. Lord, lord, but this is one hell of a dead horse.
Anyway, here it is:
Our unhealthy obsession
The idea that my baby’s value is determined by her size rips me up.
July 16, 2006
EMILY L. HAUSER, Special Contributor
DALLAS MORNING NEWS
Section: LIFESTYLES – SUNDAY LIFE
This being summer, we’re all showing a lot more skin, babies included. Recently, as I chatted with a stranger about our diaper-and-bathing-suit-clad toddlers, he noted that the two girls were startlingly identical. I said, “Yes, all round and chubby.” And he said, without missing a beat: “Healthy.”
I felt I might weep.
My little Maya, now nearly 3 years old, came out 9 pounds and 3 ounces, and hasn’t slowed since. She’s tall and strong and heavy to carry upstairs when her silky arms drape over my shoulders in sleep, sweet breath on my neck. We call her Maya Warrior Princess.
We call her this because it’s cute and suits her regal personality, and because for her whole life we’ve had to push back the forces that would have us see her perfect little body with the distorted vision of a Vogue-obsessed society. From infancy, Maya’s size has inspired endless versions of, “Oh, I love fat babies,” followed by, without pause, “Don’t worry, she’ll slim down.” What? Worry?
I understand that cultures develop ideas of beauty; I also understand that some of this is sheer biology. Big breasts and wide hips (Jennifer Lopez) broadcast a woman’s reproductive abilities; a certain shoulder-to-hip ratio (Taye Diggs) translates to a man’s ability to kill bears.
I also know that there are economic and political issues: If you can afford to treat yourself with Manolos, for instance, you’re less likely to do it with Ho Hos – and we generally believe it’s better to be in the Manolo set, if only by virtue of looking like you don’t know what a Ho Ho is.
Yada yada. I don’t want my baby to hate herself.
In the course of my 41 years, I’m not sure I’ve met a single woman who didn’t have to defeat (or doesn’t still harbor) some self-loathing.
I, for one, have no idea how I look. I mean, I’d recognize myself on the street, but I can’t gauge the general perception of my appearance. I’m not thin and not built to be; I don’t believe my weight is unhealthy.
Yet, I think I’m worried, in some vague way, that I’m ridiculously unaware of how truly unattractive I am – and thus, how unworthy. Of what, I’m not sure.
For a long time, I couldn’t understand it. I was raised by a strong mother who never talked about calories. My husband loves my body. I gently tell friends to stop badmouthing their essential beauty, including the naturally skinny one accused by strangers of being anorexic. Yet I cannot truly, deeply incorporate the message myself, and I see that many of the women I love haven’t either.
Now, I begin to wonder: If intelligent, equality-minded adults can look at my beautiful daughter and see a potential flaw, is our collective thinking – and not just that among misogynists and Hooters customers – fundamentally warped?
Without (I believe) conspiracy or conscious effort, we seem to have achieved unspoken agreement that a body that doesn’t match society’s current ideal is shameful, its owner a lesser human. And when a woman’s value is primarily determined by her looks, how can any flesh-and-blood female not fight an ever-losing battle?
The idea that my baby may do this battle, that she could ever doubt her value as a person because of the shape God gave her, rips me up. But isn’t that where all this “she’ll slim down” twaddle is headed?
Watching the Oscars this year, I was struck by the parade of exquisite women who looked tired and skeletal. Gossipmongers tell us the formerly shapely Nicole Richie is now too small for a size 0; she, in fact, recently copped to eating issues. Lindsay Lohan, having previously admitted to bulimia, now says it’s not so.
These are people with so much natural beauty that they’re paid for it, and yet they willingly damage themselves in a struggle to achieve anti-reality.
And these people, whether we like it or not, are held up as ideals. They decorate our public space, they illustrate our shared readings, they inform our social discourse. I don’t blame them, but I can’t help but see these women as both victims and perpetrators of a real social ill. A deeply damaging social ill from which I would shield my little girl.
Am I fighting my own battle on her back? Possibly. But when I heard that one word, “healthy,” echo in its singularity, I could only feel that, no, this is going to be her battle, too. Starting with people who warmly reassure her parents that she will, someday, be skinny.
Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer in Oak Park, Ill.