“If women spent more time… focusing on how to use all their energy to solve some of the world’s problems, if they spent a tenth of the time thinking about those things than they do thinking about their weight, I mean, I think we’d solve all the world’s problems in a matter of months.”
~ Katie Couric, in Miss Representation
When we were 7 years old, girls and boys felt equally able to be the next head of state.
By the time we were 15, girls stopped putting their hands up.
Our culture, in subtle and not subtle ways, teach our young girls that their most valuable trait is their appearance and their body. How worthy, how popular a girl or woman is, is largely dependant on how much she conforms to the societal ideal of feminine beauty.
The rest of her humanity: her intellect, heart, spirit, skills, her voice, her talents, come second. Way second.
I’m not being esoteric, I was once a little girl. The truth of this, no matter how much I dislike it, is fully pragmatic and tangible. I didn’t see this for a long time, perhaps half naive and half in denial, but after having my own kids, I’m beginning to see how insidious it really is.
When I was little, my appearance was often the first thing any relative or grown-up commented on.
“Hi pretty little miss”
“Wow, you are growing up to be more and more beautiful”
My weight was another one: “Oh dear, you are so thin! Are you being a good girl and eating lots of food?”
Of course it’s never that simple, but what I’ve come to understand at a deep level, is that I eventually objectified myself. I saw my value as largely dependant on how I looked and how much others approved of me, and in essence I diminished my capacity to be fully human.
The media, my relatives who also had issues with their bodies – whose every other comment was based on a deep insecurity of their appearance, the gendered stereotypes we absorb from a young age… Unless we are guided and mentored, and shown alternatives to the dominant narrative, we all eventually swallow these ideas. I certainly did.
I funnelled all my energy towards losing weight, taking up less space, eating less, doing what everyone else was doing, making sure I didn’t stand out too much, getting smaller in body, getting smaller in spirit. What was I hoping for? That eventually I’d disappear?
Sometimes, I think our obsession with our looks is like a prison. Its walls are not physical, but like a hypnotic trance that hijacks the mind’s vast creative potential and closes the space down to the size of a tiny peeping hole – all of your life’s story is replaced with just a weight loss story. You’re either losing weight, or not.
When we begin to resist the trance, begin to wake up, the transition from imprisonment to freedom is not a smooth one either. It’s a gradual re-learning and remembering of our complex humanity. A gradual re-learning of who we were before the world told us who we should be. And it may make us furious.
I’m in this phase of re-learning and remembering. I probably will be for the rest of my life. It’s seldom easy and frequently frustrating. Equal parts uplifting and equal parts painstaking. But here’s the thing:
We are all born and we will all die. That is the only certainty. But how we choose to spend the time in between is open for discussion.
I have whatever energy I have in a lifetime, as do you, and I can either use it to figure out how I can use the gifts I came here with, or I can use it to endlessly lose weight. They both take up the same amount of energy, and one is not easier than the other.
I used to think I can choose both – that I can spend some time worrying about my weight and some time figuring out how I can develop my talents – but sooner or later the hypnotic trance takes over and all my energy gets sucked into looking pretty again.
Of course this is only my experience, and that doesn’t make it right or wrong, true or false, it’s just my experience. But I do invite you to pay close attention to yourself. To how you are spending your energy. To how you are talking to yourself. How you are talking to others. To what stories you believe when it comes to your sense of worth and value in society. I can guarantee that if you don’t take the wheel and get in the navigation seat, someone else will take it from you gladly.
The societal cards are stacked against empowering women and nurturing young girls to become whole human beings. The gendered stereotypes puts us into nice, neat little boxes. But we must remember that we are not objects. Boys and men included.
I was inspired to scribble this after watching Miss Representation. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it. And share it with the girls and boys in your life too.