I haven’t posted a feminist rant here in a really long time, so PULL UP A CHAIR. I’ve been feeling really irritated about the whole self love thing lately, and it took me awhile to articulate why to myself, but I think I’ve finally figured it out.
I am friends with a lot of feminist women and we all hate our bodies, but we all also feel like we ought to be too woke to hate our bodies. We’re aware of the social and political reasons why we hate our bodies, and we know that it is a revolutionary act to fight everything around us that is telling us to hate our bodies, and to insist on loving them, unchanged and unflagellated and unfought. But yet, we cannot stop hating our bodies and so now we just feel extra bad all the time: we feel bad about our bodies and we feel bad and stupid because we feel bad about our bodies.
But I don’t want to sit around and think about my goddamn body at all, I have a million more interesting things to think about. Imagine telling men that they need to “learn to love their bodies.” Jesus.
And so I think in this way, contemporary feminism is gaslighting us. Because it has so thoroughly confused the problem with our own personal response to the problem that it’s begun denying the problem itself actually exists.
Take, for example, the sort of slogans you often hear that are meant to be affirming but actually just make you feel like a failure for not actually buying them:
* “Looks don’t matter”: Well, of COURSE they fucking matter, that’s why we all feel like shit! We didn’t just develop some sort of mass psychosis out of nowhere about random small aspects of our physical appearance because we’re all hopelessly suffering from terrible self-esteem. We hate the way we look because it MATTERS SO MUCH, in EVERYTHING. What people mean when they say “looks don’t matter” is “looks shouldn’t matter.” So, let’s say that instead, because specificity is important and our saying “looks don’t matter” over and over has just made women feel even stupider because they spend such an outsized amount of their time obsessing over something that they’re now told “doesn’t matter.” If it didn’t matter, none of us would give a shit in the first place. This is like telling someone who’s worried about making rent that they should think about how all money is really just abstract pieces of paper that society attaches meaning to. WELL YEAH, THANKS.
* “Everyone is beautiful”: No, everyone is flat out not beautiful, not even a little bit. “Beauty” is rare by definition, almost no one is beautiful! It’s a word with an actual meaning, and everyone understands what it means, and the vast majority of people are not beautiful. What people mean when they say “everyone is beautiful” is actually “everyone has worth.” But again, words matter. Now we have people who aren’t beautiful sitting in front of their mirrors feeling worse and worse because they can’t brainwash themselves into believing that they are beautiful, when what they really ought to be thinking is “Who gives a fuck if I’m beautiful, like ten people in the world are beautiful, people aren’t supposed to be beautiful, beauty is a happy rare accident and it is not a necessary trait for a paralegal who enjoys bicycling on the weekends” or whatever. The problem isn’t that we have unrealistic standards for considering women to be beautiful; the problem is that we require women to be beautiful at all.
* “Don’t hate the way your legs look — celebrate that they are strong and healthy and how much they can do for you!” Well, this is just moronic, because when we’re worrying about how we look, we’re not worrying about our health. Those two things are completely unrelated. We don’t worry about our legs being fat because we’re afraid they might stop working. All the various ways that people encourage women to stop worrying about beauty and focus on health instead are just derailing the conversation. The new emphasis on “health” in this context is a more insidious form of misogyny than straight up beauty worship ever was, because of course health is actually not really related to physical appearance at all, so all the focus on “looking healthy” does is allow people to make the same shallow, bigoted assumptions about others that they always did without having to face that that’s what they’re doing.
So, in sum, none of this self-affirmation makes us feel better about our appearance because none of it changes society and society is the problem, not our personal feelings about society.
I think we need to stop torturing ourselves for hating the way that we look. Because we’re gaslighting ourselves: we hate the way we look because we have correctly perceived that in the society we live in, the way we look determines a GREAT DEAL for us. WE ARE NOT MAKING THIS UP. We have read the situation correctly! Our feelings are an entirely rational and understandable response to the situation we have found ourselves in!
Our appearance ought to determine almost nothing; instead, it has an enormous effect on almost everything. It determines how other people treat us, at work, at home, and socially. It determines how much money we make. It determines how much respect we get from others in basically every situation. It determines how much fun we get to have, and how much attention we get. It determines how much people listen to us, how much service we get, how seriously we’re taken. It determines which social class we’re perceived to belong to (which in turn determines everything). When it comes to receiving medical care from providers who don’t think they have to care about you unless you seem like someone who could make a lot of trouble for them, it can even determine whether we live or die.
When a woman says, “I wish my thighs were thin,” obviously what she is actually saying is “I wish other people treated me like they would if I had thin thighs.”
So, I propose that next time we find ourselves in “negative body talk,” we don’t waste a single second guiltily trying to brainwash ourselves into believing something positive about the way we look. Because really, none of us actually gives a shit about the way we look — if we lived alone on an island we’d never think about it. If money truly was just slips of paper, no one would ever worry about it. But these things are currency, and we want to get to have everything we want and more, and that is fine for us to want.
Instead, when we feel bad about ourselves, let’s figure out how to change what just happened to us that made us feel that way. People like to tell you that all you can really control is your reaction to things, but they’re just encouraging you to be docile and not make trouble for them — really, you can change any fucking thing you want to if you get mad enough.
For an example, let’s use the doctor thing, because I hear so many women complain about this: “Today, that doctor talked to me like I’m five, and refused to answer any of my questions. I think he did it because I’m a woman and I’m fat and unstylish, so he thinks I’m powerless. I want that doctor to treat me like he would a knife-thin white woman with perfect teeth dressed in unwrinkled J. Crew. But I’m never going to be a knife-thin white woman with perfect teeth dressed in unwrinkled J. Crew, so trying to become that would be would be a huge waste of my time. So, given that, how can I change how that person just treated me?”
Now it’s not about us and our feelings at all, it’s about the world we need to change.
So, how do we get that doctor to treat us like we want to be treated? Well, that’s the giant question, hell if I know. Maybe we make a shit ton of money, donate a bunch of it to the hospital where he works, and get his misogynist old ass fired. Maybe we go to med school or make sure our children go to med school. Maybe we start the medical provider equivalent of Yelp meets Hollaback. Or maybe we just go key his car.
But we sure won’t fix anything at all by sitting alone in our own separate bedrooms quietly trying to convince ourselves that we adore our cellulite. So let’s stop fucking with that nonsense.