I was stalking one of my favourite Facebook pages, New Wave Feminists. It’s been a hot October long weekend down here in Sydney, and this particular post hit me with a memory that I thought was long ago dealt with.
I was buying a new bikini, my absolutely perfect old one had finally deteriorated beyond usefulness and I sadly said good bye to it. Here I was in Seafolly, trying on what I thought would be a fantastic new one. It was my favourite colour, royal, sapphire blue, supportive and snug. Then I stepped out of the change room.
I think many women will relate to that horrible sinking feeling you get. You feel entirely vulnerable, afraid and ashamed. Since the last time I went bikini shopping, (5 or 6 years ago) I had gained 15 kilograms (thats about 30 pounds to you Imperial thinkers). The last two years had taken their toll as I moved into a full-time desk job. I looked in the mirror and all I saw was jiggles and pudge.
I looked in the mirror everyday and up until that point have never had any issue with the way I look. The odd times that any imperfections in my shape or weight have darkened my thoughts, were quickly driven out by a distraction or by adding something sparkly to the ensemble. I pretty much left behind a negative body image after a lovely experience with a ‘friend’ in high school who made it her mission to make me an ‘it girl’ whatever the hell that meant (that was the mid 2000s and I still have no idea what such a girl is). I was blessed with a carefree attitude to my body, which was honed by my martial arts training. I was fit, strong and agile and capable of beating the boys twice my weight.
Then I stopped training. I was finding it difficult to get traction through the higher levels and I was under pressure to drop my extra-curricular activities to focus on my final HSC exams. I maintained a good base-level of fitness buy running, getting public transport and sweating over my Uni assignments.
I tell you all this because up until this fateful day of buying a bikini, I thought I was immune to the ridiculous standards of acceptable womanly figures. Oh how pride comes before the fall… and the fall was hard. It hit me: “Oh my God, how does one endure this every. single. day?” I just wanted to cry. Not just because I felt bad, fat and ugly, because I did. I wanted to cry because I was so damn arrogant! I would get frustrated with my friends when they felt like this and I would be desperately and quite often callously dismiss their dejection and inadequacies.
I finally got it. Oh how I got it.
Women, and more dangerously, girls in America [and everywhere else] are given a very specific set of instructions to live by:
1.) You should constantly be working to become perfect.
2.) Odds are you will never be good enough though, no matter how hard you try.
3.) Any love and attention you do get is charity, so don’t be picky or bother with standards.
4.) Finally, the saving grace: if you’re good enough in bed, maybe he won’t realize how fat and disgusting you are.
It turns out, my problem was, actually, in my haste I had grabbed a size 8 instead of a 10. The bigger size fit perfectly. None the less, to this day, that beautiful bikini is tainted with that shitty feeling. I have only worn it a couple of times at home. It serves as a constant reminder to me to never take my confidence for granted, to remember how hard women battle that sick feeling everyday.
We are constantly battling the nasty, little, vocal, bug called Jimmy ‘You’re a Worthless Piece of Dirt’ Cricket (he’s the uglier, nastier cousin of Jiminy Cricket), purely so that pornographers can exploit our deeply ingrained question “am I enough?” to sell more crap we don’t need. Did I say pornographers? I meant advertisers. It’s just so darn hard to tell the difference sometimes! It makes me angry that those bastards have wormed their way in despite my best efforts and vigilance to thwart it.
But you know what hurts me all the more? It hurts every time I hear my little sister say, “You know the problem is… (Insert any random ridiculous physical ‘flaw’).” It makes me angry that people exploit my little sister’s precious time of self-discovery and development to make her want to buy whatever crap they are selling.
…young women as a whole are subjected to these same pressures every day. We live in a society that tells them their bodies and sexuality are where all of their value lies. They cannot escape these messages being constantly beaten into their heads, even if they want to ignore them. Billboards proclaim it, movies celebrate it, music demands it, television normalizes it, and magazines tell them how to become it.
What do we do? How do you fight this? I’ve been trying for years. I do all the right things. I don’t read Cosmo or any of it’s ilk. I do my homework on eating disorders, the effects of pornography and sexualised advertising. I make a point of finding something beautiful in the mirror everyday or something to be grateful for. I try to be gentle with myself when my fitness goals fall off the wayside. But Jimmy Cricket is still there and he gets very loud sometimes.
I am at a loss and so this is one of those “I see the problem…” posts. But if any of you have any ideas. Do not hesitate to share. Lives are at stake here. That is not a figure of speech.