The ‘perfect body’ is a lie.
May 9, 2016 9:04 AM   Subscribe

i adore this part :
When I look at photographs of my 22-year-old self, so convinced of her own defectiveness, I see a perfectly normal girl and I think about aliens. If an alien – a gaseous orb or a polyamorous cat person or whatever – came to Earth, it wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference between me and Angelina Jolie, let alone rank us by hotness. It’d be like: “Uh, yeah, so those ones have the under-the-face fat sacks, and the other kind has that dangly pants nose. Fuck, these things are gross. I can’t wait to get back to the omnidirectional orgy gardens of Vlaxnoid.”

The “perfect body” is a lie. I believed in it for a long time, and I let it shape my life, and shrink it – my real life, populated by my real body. Don’t let fiction tell you what to do. In the omnidirectional orgy gardens of Vlaxnoid, no one cares about your arm flab.
it's amazing to me how my hatred for my body can stay so intense in the present, but when i look back at old pictures i wish i could just tell that girl that she's fine, that her body is ok, that she doesn't need to starve herself or hide herself or keep away from things where there might be cameras. and yet, back here in the present, i shame myself for what i eat, i hide myself, i avoid fully living because my body feels like a traitor. i wish i could make my brain combine those two things - i wish i could convince myself to love all of me now so in ten years i don't have to feel sad for the woman i am today.
posted by nadawi at 9:47 AM on May 9, 2016 [81 favorites]

Just a quick note to say, don't read the comments. They're not shocking or surprising, just mostly quite depressing.

Also, nadawi - I got an awesome tip at the weekend. Give your self-critical voice the voice of Donald Trump. It's AMAZINGLY effective at showing up how crazy those thoughts are.

Negative Inner Me: you're overweight and unattractive
Conscious Me: you're right, I should diet, in the meantime where are the cakes to feel better short-term

Donald Trump: you're overweight and unattractive
Conscious Me: what?! I look fine and why should that even matter anyway, really? screw you Donald, ugh, you're so lame. *puts on sassy dress and rocks for the day*
posted by greenish at 9:51 AM on May 9, 2016 [75 favorites]

i wish i could convince myself to love all of me now so in ten years i don't have to feel sad for the woman i am today.

Yes. I look at those old pictures of me and think, "oh my god, I wish I could go back and tell you that you are fine, this is fine, it's not as terrible as you think. It's certainly nowhere near as horrible as you are now." I would like to stop that, but instead I just try not to be in pictures at all, and leave the house less, and don't do things that might make me subject to public scrutiny of any kind.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:54 AM on May 9, 2016 [14 favorites]

Give your self-critical voice the voice of Donald Trump.

Just tried it, and he promised me that not only will I lose 20 lbs per a week while eating ten burritos a day, but that Mexico would pay for the burritos. Not sure about this.
posted by Behemoth at 9:57 AM on May 9, 2016 [152 favorites]

Lindy West, American hero.
posted by purpleclover at 9:58 AM on May 9, 2016 [22 favorites]

Question: how come, when the teapot and cup turn back into humans at the end of Beauty and the Beast, Chip is a four-year-old boy, but his mother, Mrs Potts, is like 107?

Because Mrs Potts is Angela Fucking Lansbury, and she can do anything she damn well wants to.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 10:00 AM on May 9, 2016 [42 favorites]

My mother is a narcissistic monster. Mostly, this resulted in a 25 year long eating disorder. Yesterday was mother's day and I am having a spectacularly shitty morning. I would desperately like to use some of these ED coping mechanisms this morning, as the self-criticism is really fucking loud, but lucky me, I've been in recovery for 4 years. So I'm forced to just sit here and deal with the fact that I had a shitty mother.

Sorry all.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:06 AM on May 9, 2016 [20 favorites]

i wasn't able to get anything like recovery for my ed until i found weed. partially it's the appetite thing, but partially it's self medicating the same thing the ed did. still, some days i miss the ed. <3 and ~~~~~ to you Sophie1.
posted by nadawi at 10:12 AM on May 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm so sad I will be away when this book comes out so I have to (probably) wait to read it.
posted by jeather at 10:17 AM on May 9, 2016

dangly pants nose

brb new account
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:32 AM on May 9, 2016 [41 favorites]

I recently had the joyous good fortune to meet Lindy West, and though I cannot say with *total* certainty, I am pretty sure it was just as good as getting to see the omnidirectional orgy gardens of Vlaxnoid.

That such an obviously and overpoweringly scintillating person would be treated poorly by anyone, especially simply by dint of her body shape, is completely ... I don't even know, because the fact of it has shorted my brain out.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:33 AM on May 9, 2016 [21 favorites]

Stern would do this thing (the thing, I think, that most non-listeners associate with the show) where hot chicks would turn up at the studio and he would look them over like a horse vet – running his hands over their withers and flanks, inspecting their bite and the sway of their back, honking their massive horse jugs – and tell them, in intricate detail, what was wrong with their bodies. There was literally always something. If they were eight stone, they could stand to be seven. If they were six, gross. (“Why did you do that to your body, sweetie?”) If they were a C cup, they’d be hotter as a DD. They should stop working out so much – those legs are too muscular. Their 29in waist was subpar – come back when it’s a 26.
...but it's okay, because he's a ~good interviewer.
posted by pxe2000 at 11:24 AM on May 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

oh yeah also definitely fuck Howard Stern forever.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:41 AM on May 9, 2016 [25 favorites]

I seeeeriously needed to read this today. Sorry, nothing more interesting to contribute than that, but thank you for this link. Would have missed it otherwise.
posted by Ziggy500 at 11:45 AM on May 9, 2016

Oh, she totally nailed my problems with Miss Piggy. Well that and the violence and the narcissism. But there are times where she embodied everything I wanted to be, too.

Lindy does Such a great job of describing the pain of being fat in our society. Every time she writes about it I recognize thoughts I hadn't even Realized I'd told myself at some point. And it's so great that she's now being her awesome self in public and showing the rest of us what it looks like to be brave and fabulous.
posted by ldthomps at 11:48 AM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

She inspires me to mobilize this army of women. :)

Who's with me!?!?!?! (grabs pitchfork)
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:56 AM on May 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

No matter how many conversations I have with people in my life about these topics (fat prejudice, body shaming, the sexism underlying these topics), no one I know seems to actually get it or be interested in engaging with me on this topic. Instead, they nod and claim to agree, but inevitably follow up with vague notions of 'health' concerns, etc. Thank god for the internet, and Lindy West.
posted by pril at 12:27 PM on May 9, 2016 [11 favorites]

I related so much to this. Though unlike West, I think there is a benefit to the idea of big in addition to the idea of fat -- as a kid I was both taller than everyone else and fat. And the two are correlated, but not the same problem. As an abnormally tall and fat girl -- it was always weird. When I was really little, strangers always thought I was older than I actually ways (and therefore thought I was an idiot, because I was at the developmental stage that I was meant to be at for the age I actually was). The bit where she talks about being off the charts really spoke to me. I remember my Mom being concerned that my feet would grow far past normal female shoe sizes and she asked gay friends where drag queens bought their shoes, in order to be prepared.

And I was a theatre kid, which made everything better and worse when I was an adolescent. It made things better because I had a group of friends that were dedicated, talented, and utterly devoted to lifting each other up. They were a fantastic support system. They were also all significantly shorter and thinner than I was (including the boys). They got to play all these ingénue roles simply because they looked the part, where if I was lucky – I could be the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet or Antonio in The Tempest*. Not that those aren’t great parts. They’re totally great parts. But it really cemented for me that I was not like my friends. Because I was fat and tall. Not really leading lady material.

It’s weird. I primarily identify as an asexual in terms of sexual orientation, but in a lot of ways, one of my deepest desires is to be desirable. To be pretty. To be able to be able to play those roles. To be a romantic lead in my own damn life.

However, not being leading lady material led me to writing plays and arts administration – which I adore. As with West, most of my friends who did get to play the ingénue, who “grew slender and beautiful,” did get picked by the wrong people. And I watched that lead to the world of hurt that I wished they hadn’t gone through. (Yet the negative voice in my head says, “You weren’t even worth that.”)

Part of me wonders if I make too much of this. It is part of my story of growing up, but aren’t I more than my own (lack of) desirability? Shouldn’t I just be at the complete place of self-acceptance? And as someone who is grey-ace – isn’t my lack of desirability an asset in terms of my actual life? Why do I want something that doesn’t make very much sense to want?

*I was basically raised by a Shakespeare company that did programming with teenagers in addition to plays with adults. It was the best upbringing a girl could have, except for this.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 12:48 PM on May 9, 2016 [34 favorites]

We each get just a few years to be perfect. To be young and smooth and decorative and collectible. That’s what I’d been sold. I was missing my window, I could feel it pulling at my navel (my obsessively hidden, hated navel), and I scrabbled, desperate and frantic.

OMG, this. People laugh when I say it, but the greatest betrayal in my life was puberty. I was a standard sized kid, and very unaware of my appearance or my body (although I had received plenty of messages that I was Bad At Sports already.)

And then puberty hit and I basically exploded into a woman's body with stretch marks on my arms, breasts, stomach and thighs. Growing pains in the night. So sweaty and hairy and with breasts in 6th grade large enough that waitresses offered me the drink menu, and men followed me in the street. My mother, never much on discretion or sparing me humiliation, told me she was taking me to buy a bra, because she as "tired of the neighbors asking when I would start wearing one."

So I was 14 and had this bust, and these hips and thighs and I had already missed my moment! My time to be perfect. I was fat by 1980s standard, with dumpy saddlebags (I could write a whole essay about how my image of my body was not an integrated whole, but a collection of flaws with cruel pop culture names) and always struggled to find the cutest outfits in the largest size.

I started dieting at 14 . I believed all women weighed 115 pounds - that's the only number ever given as a woman's weight in the media. I believed I should weight 115 pounds - a number I had left behind in 5th grade. I struggled for years and years to become smaller, to diminish, to take up less room.

In my 20s, I finally reached my lowest point - 140. I wore a size 8, rather than an embarrassing 12 or fatty 14. I was pleased but mostly I still knew that I wasn't small enough, slender enough, that I still had the silvered scars of puberty and thick thighs, that I would never, ever achieve that young, smooth, perfection.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:03 PM on May 9, 2016 [37 favorites]

Shouldn’t I just be at the complete place of self-acceptance?

Criticizing yourself for not accepting yourself enough is a dizzying, never-ending spiral of doom. There's no statute of limitations on the pain of being treated like shit.
posted by praemunire at 1:16 PM on May 9, 2016 [9 favorites]

The perfect body is SUCH a lie. My slender, leading-lady friends were never "hell, yeah, I look great". They were usually unironically telling me that they looked really fat today until I pointed out they were talking to the wrong (100 pounds heavier) person. Or that their eyes were spaced funny or their chin too big or... Lindy is right that being fat is especially awful in our society AND that it's a side-growth of pernicious patriarchy. The older I get the more I see self-acceptance (if not self-celebration) as radical feminism. And Lindy's KILLING it.
posted by ldthomps at 1:27 PM on May 9, 2016 [17 favorites]

> I think there is a benefit to the idea of big in addition to the idea of fat -- as a kid I was both taller than everyone else and fat. And the two are correlated, but not the same problem

I sort of agree, as a tall woman with big feet (how can my feet still be growing at age 45? I do not know, but it's either that or my shoes all shrank). But while my being tall and broad shoulders may stop me from ever being carried out of a factory while everyone cheers like at the end of An Officer and a Gentleman, I don't feel like my height is seen as a moral failing on my part -- just a tragic one.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:45 PM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

No, but being tall means it's even harder to fit into that size 6 or be 115 pounds (I was a not-especially-curvy 135 in a size 12 with 9.5 shoes when I was 14; my similarly-tall mother dropped to 120 when her parents were dying, you could see all her bones and her doctor threatened to put her in the hospital if it went any lower).

Even when I wasn't fat I never looked like the other girls because I was 5'10" and when you are that tall, even on an average build, you have wider shoulders and broader hips and bigger thighs than the girls who were 5'2 or 5'6. Nobody treated it like a moral failing but you were still considered "big", which is unfortunate.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:41 PM on May 9, 2016 [7 favorites]

but when i look back at old pictures i wish i could just tell that girl that she's fine, that her body is ok, that she doesn't need to starve herself or hide herself or keep away from things where there might be cameras

Oh man, when #TBT first really became A Thing on Facebook, I had to spend a lot of time processing my feelings when suddenly pictures of, say, 16 year-old me cropped up. And I looked AMAZING. And yet... all I heard day in and day out back then, from my mother, from the assholes at school, from randos on the street, from my coaches in a sport where I was otherwise excelling, was how damned fat I was and what a pity that was.

I try to be cool with the body I have today, even as sometimes I'm so, so disappointed in the body I have today. And there are days when I think that maybe I would kill someone if it would put me back at that teenage weight... And basically I really regret that I spent my teenage years hating myself, because goddamn that was a waste of time and a rockin' body.
posted by TwoStride at 2:57 PM on May 9, 2016 [13 favorites]

I cut my comment a little short because I was on the verge of writing the world's longest post, but I was also tall (for the 80s) at 5' 8", with size 10 feet, big breasts, big hands, and broad shoulders, all of which embarrassed me, made clothing difficult to buy, and vexed me in my pursuit of being a petite, slim woman who took up only a respectably lady-like amount of space.

But I know other women struggled - my 5' 4", supercute, slender roommate in college was miserable about her dark arm and facial hair, and her "double butt" (which was very real to her, but to me just looked like a cute butt cheek with a perfectly normal crease.)

I'm very very sad of generations of women who have expended so much time and energy of striving to achieve this seemly mandatory physical perfection - and for what? A life time of shame for never measuring up.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:30 PM on May 9, 2016 [7 favorites]

I don't think we'd all hate ourselves if we didn't have a chorus of other people's voices telling us we're awful in our heads all the time.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:00 PM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yes to just being tall being "bad enough." When I was really skinny and tall, I was still "too big" to be considered hot. And when I gained more weight, well, I was just shamefully large in every way. And that wouldn't stop if I starved myself back to super-skinny. I'd still be too tall, my shoulders too wide, my feet too big. I'd still lack the tiny waist or the curvy hips, cause that's not how I'm built.

Growing up, and still really, the only acceptable frames for women to have are tiny and doll-like or tall and ballerina/model-like. But women are built in so many different ways; curvy, straight, apple-ish, squarish, gawky, imposingly tall or short or in-between. Because we, just as much as men, represent the variety of human bodies. Because we're people.

But just as in every other area of human culture, we have to keep reminding ourselves and everyone else that this is the case.
posted by emjaybee at 9:00 PM on May 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

I come from a community where weight is a Huge Thing, people talk about weight constantly, it's an obsession. I mean arguably this is the case in many societies but I think it's much more out in the open here and the concepts of diversity, body positivity etc haven't really found a foothold yet. No more so than with my own female family members. I know they love me, but they can't accept my body, they feel it as a personal affront, like how dare this person be overweight, and why isn't she dieting and counting out her almonds and apologising for herself all the time? Why is she socialising and popular and wearing non-black clothes and eating in public? HOW DARE SHE? Like, literally, it's like I'm being fat AT them.

But anyway I've figured that, these women have spent their entire lives counting out almonds. Thinness to them is a moral virtue. When I just... go about my life minding my own business, it feels like if they accept me and don't give me a hard time, they're invalidating the years they have spent in the pursuit of thinness. And when you measure your worth in terms of how hard you have worked to look a certain way, I guess it's difficult to force yourself to accept that someone who doesn't work to look a certain way has worth. I'm not talking about all thin people here, OBVIOUSLY, just certain people in my extended family who give me a hard time.

I have long gone past the point of looking at myself in the mirror and shuddering or thinking something negative everytime. I guess being told since the age of 9 by family, schoolmates and teachers that I'm hideous (I've been told some harsh things over the years but the best one was where someone said to me that I shouldn't go swimming because nobody should have to look at my body), by nurses that "I should see a psychologist because there must be something wrong with me for me to be so fat" (direct quote), and by the media that my body will never, ever be desired by anybody except fetishists... I've just kind of internalised it now and I don't actively think a lot of negative stuff about my body. I'm not going to be like, "oooh I love myself, that's why I never think anything negative about my body!" - it's more like I'm kind of past all that and through to the other side. Sometimes I go through days and days of forgetting I'm big. But then something happens, or more likely someone says something to remind me :|

What surprises me is that my average-weight friends have wayyyy more conscious angst about their weight than I ever do. They talk about it constantly. Way more often than it occurs to me to think about my weight, which I KNOW is high. I am not criticisng them, I just don't understand where they are coming from at all. When they kvetch about gaining 5 lb and stuff, I feel like they are talking an alien tongue. It makes me think that if I suddenly lost 100+ lb to become a normal weight, it would not in itself make me into a happy person if I weren't one already. Not if my friends' experiences are anything to go by.
posted by Ziggy500 at 9:20 PM on May 9, 2016 [15 favorites]

Lindy West, the most awesome .

Deep down, in my honest places, I knew it was already gone – I had stretch marks and cellulite long before 20 – but they tell you that, if you hate yourself hard enough, you can grab a tail feather or two of perfection.

This hit home. Even in high school I had the sense that I'd already jumped the shark, body-wise. I gained weight at 12 or 13, and though I'd lost it by 16, my slack abs and stretch marks seemed like a death sentence. Even though I worked hard to be a size 10. Imagine, hating your body at 16. There's no excuse for a society that will do that to your head. There's no excuse for looking at pictures of young Lindy and thinking "that girl needs to lose a few."

he would look them over like a horse vet

So this is probably something no one would associate with me, but I was a very early Stern fan in my teens, when he had just arrived on NYC radio. He was all sorts of things I liked - irreverent, monkeywrenching to commercial radio, sassy, rude, boundary breaking - all things I loved - but he came at this massive cost, and it was one that not only I internalized a bit, but everyone else who listened, women and men. What a toxic legacy. That's the trouble with growing up in a body-obsessed society; it recruits you to its own side so quickly, you don't realize it means throwing your own self under the bus.

I am deeply torn on Piggy.


My favorite aunt and I shared a love of Piggy. My aunt was tall, blond, big, somewhere between 3rd and 4th or 4th and 5th husbands, bold, brassy, and full of love and life. I've never known anyone more vivacious, loving, badass. She died much too young, of cancer. I can't imagine anyone telling her she wasn't beautiful and amazing - but when I was 12 and 13 and 14, visiting her from out of state, part of the visit was always trying to adapt to whatever strange Hollywood diet she was on - grapefruit and lemonade, or Atkins, or whatever. She never felt good enough, and yet she was always the most glamourous woman I knew. I don't feel complex about Piggy because she was a "rapist," though I get the argument - but because her whole persona was presented as a joke - that Kermit, or whomever, would only get with her if he could be brought to a position of sufficient desperation.

As always, Lindy West delivers some seriously astute cultural reporting from a personal perspective, bravely.
posted by Miko at 9:51 PM on May 9, 2016 [10 favorites]

Growing up, I had reasonably decent body image -- as least as much as any woman growing up in our society can have -- but in the last year or so I've been really struggling. The combination of having a career-ending injury in my sport a few years ago, and then two kids, and then a horribly stressful year which I dealt with by eating, has put me in a... not-ideal mental place regarding my body.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was talking to my three year old. He's at the stage where he loves comparisons (who is bigger? who is older? etc) and that day the topic somehow became centred on fat. During the conversation I mentioned that while I am always happy to answer any questions he has, if he sees somebody who is fat he shouldn't tell them he thinks so.

"Why not, mommy?"

I said, "I don't agree with them, but some people think that fat people are ugly. So if you tell somebody they're fat, they might feel bad because they think you're saying they're ugly."

I'll never forget the expression of sheer shock and horror that went over his face. He cried out, "But mommy! You're fat, and you're beautiful!"

It is one of the most sincere compliments I have ever received. It is obvious that I am the most beautiful person in the world to him. And it makes me realise: fucking hell, yes, THIS is my body -- a body which managed two pregnancies and played over ten years of rugby and survived a life-threatening sports injury and overcame a bout of untreated malaria and endured countless stressful late nights while getting a PhD and even more stressful sleepless times with small children. So, there are scars and lumps and probably more fat than I would like there to be. They are signs of a life well-lived.

When I look in the mirror, I see a kind of dorky, awkward schlub. When my son sees me, he sees me, and he thinks that is beautiful. So, fuck it. Yes, maybe I'm fat. But I'm beautiful.
posted by forza at 5:05 AM on May 10, 2016 [63 favorites]

A thought on what We Put Our Faith In Blast Hardcheese said here. (and I am not calling Blast Hardcheese out - this is just a common thing I see all the time, similar to "What if she was your sister or mother" kind of thinking).

"That such an obviously and overpoweringly scintillating person would be treated poorly by anyone, especially simply by dint of her body shape, is completely..."

This happens to every fat person, every day, all the time. Doesn't matter if the person is the raddest (like Lindy West) or the biggest piece of poop (we'll use Chris Christie here).

NO ONE SHOULD BE JUDGED ON WHAT THEIR BODY LOOKS LIKE. They are human beings, and should be afforded the respect of being a human, I don't care if you think their body is gross. THEY ARE A PERSON.
posted by bibliogrrl at 7:16 AM on May 10, 2016 [13 favorites]

oh man the tall thing - in my experience the tall thing wasn't treated like a moral failing but the broader shoulders, wider hips, and thicker thighs absolutely were. the stretch marks from getting tall and curvy were treated exactly like the stretch marks from being 'fat'. at my most anorexic (14yrs old), with my face gaunt and my bones poking out, i could never be a size 6.
posted by nadawi at 7:23 AM on May 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh forza, your comment made me tear up.
posted by purpleclover at 8:16 AM on May 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

a couple of minutes after I posted I realized how that sounded--it wasn't meant to be, "good people shouldn't be judged on their bodies, only bad people" but rather "it is mind boggling the way that literally no personal quality, or constellation thereof, seems capable of trumping fat hatred, especially when someone is identified as female, how is such a thing possible, humans are the worst."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:22 AM on May 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I ran across another good piece on a related subject: On 'Tough Love' and Your Fat Friend's Health.
posted by Miko at 6:05 AM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

You guys, I just finished Shrill, and it is SO, SO GOOD. I loved it. I laughed my head off and cried and I couldn't stop reading it. Highly recommended.
posted by purpleclover at 3:46 PM on May 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

West talking with Eli Sanders on the Blabbermouth podcast. It's good.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:51 PM on May 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

That was a nice a interview. Here's a Buzzfeed Q&A.
posted by bq at 12:12 PM on May 24, 2016

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