Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Beauty and Alienation (a ramble)

Katja's post from today goes through a new weight-loss book endorsed by Oprah. She had a good analysis of what's going on, but the part that stuck out to me was her summary of the kinds of things that the "Not-Thin-You" in the book is:

"The letter to “Not-Thin-You” (180 pounds btw) describes her as unable to do cartwheels, doomed to wear flats, shouldn’t “rock the dance floor,” only to brag  about how now she has avocados in the fridge, dreaming of 100 sit-ups and will soon say Good-bye to NTY…"

Out of all that, the bit that got my blog juices back going (after a week and a half of serious reading loads for a winter Intensive course at my school) was "doomed to wear flats."

I've never been a very beauty-conscious person. I can't tell you why. When I was in high school, I knew that there were girls who did their hair and make-up every morning and there were people who seemed to gravitate to them. But I also knew they woke up at 5am to get it all done, and I just didn't care. I knew that I was most comfortable wearing jeans every day and t-shirts. That's stuck with me so far. I wear pendant necklaces, but usually no other jewelry, I braid my hair to keep it the hell away from my face, and that's about it. I wear sneakers every day, unless I'm not walking anywhere and I can get away without shoes at all.

So I see that the hypothetical fat girl is "doomed to wear flats", and I can only blink. That's a doom, now?

It just feels so blatant, this weight-loss book. When it talks about "rocking the dance floor" and wearing high heels when you're finally thin, it just highlights that this is about fashion, and conventional beauty and girlishness and not any real semblance of health and empowerment.

But it also brings up a tangential topic, and that's that I end up feeling kind of alienated sometimes even from fat-friendly feminist spaces. It's not anyone's fault, not by a long shot, and I don't think there's anything these kinds of things could do to make it better.

For example. For a while, I was reading the blog Beauty Schooled, written by a woman as she goes through Beauty training and learns about the industry. I found it fascinating, and there were many interesting and informative posts about beauty myths and the inherent strangeness of some practices. But there was also a lot about the money and time and effort that the average woman puts into her appearance. I don't doubt that the statistically average woman does put in a lot of work, but I don't. So post after post about how wasteful these things are just kind of went over my head. Posts about "national no-make-up day" mean nothing to me - I could do a no make-up year and never notice.

I know that those posts were useful for tons of other people and I don't begrudge it to them.  But I ended up feeling far enough away from that world to stop reading regularly. I'm just not part of that part of the Feminine Experience.

Similarly, I'll see posts about street harassment and how surely every woman has been through these things. And I don't doubt that a vast majority do. But if I've ever been cat-called, I didn't realize that someone was targeting me. I've also never had a crush on a male friend (that didn't end happily) or spent hundreds of dollars on shoes or dresses or a thousand other things that plenty of women do go through.

So I suppose seeing that flats line tapped into that sense of alienation. I know rationally that I'm still a real woman even if I just never felt the pressure to dress up pretty and wear make-up. I certainly don't WISH to be sexually harassed. I know that posts talking about things that aren't my experience just aren't talking about me. But sometimes it feels very odd to see other women talking about the female experience that I've never had.

As for the book itself, as I said, it's just so blatant in my mind. I'm a little more than the 180 pounds that the Not-Thin-You is supposed to be. And sometimes I do want to lose weight. Not that I want to diet and exercise and strain myself. But that if there were a magic pill, hell yes I'd take it. I fantasize some nights about just cutting out the parts of my thighs that press together and chafe so I can finally wear skirts and actually walk around in them, or tucking that little flap under my tummy away so it's not there anymore. It's because sometimes my fat is uncomfortable, and because sometimes I still feel like I can't be pretty at this weight, and sometimes just because no reason at all.

It's never because I feel doomed to wear flats.

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