A few nights ago, my husband and I were watching Antiques Roadshow (stay with me), looking at giant, hulking pieces of turn-of-the-century furniture, an old box the owner thought was a wine storage box, but turned out to be a sugar cabinet (complete with lock), and pieces of jewelry for which I’d give choice parts of my anatomy.
While we were watching, I absently scrolled through social media, as I sometimes do, and somehow the world of ‘Oops! An entire sleeve of crackers just fell into my mouth!’ and ‘And if you turn the piece over…’ violently collided, and I had a significant revelation: Women, one hundred years ago, probably weren’t overly focused on the size of their asses.
Women, in factories, during World War II, probably weren't sitting around the break room, going, "Should I have that donut? No, I shouldn't. But I really want that donut. Do you think it would be okay if I had that donut? That donut is giving me the googly eye." And you know why? Because they were busy outfitting their sons and husbands with clothing and ammunition. They were working their gnarly fingers to the bone. They were trying to stay alive.
And then I thought back further, to colonial times. Would they have been scolded for taking two scoops of succotash? NO! Because they cooked it with their own two hands, on a rickety pothook, over an open flame. They could not have possibly been vain, all scurvied up and covered in fifty layers of wool. Plus, they were too busy focusing on the real problem: witches.
Then I thought even further back, to caveman times, and at no point do I recall seeing a cave drawing of a group of caveladies, drinking SkinnyGirl margaritas. And why wouldn’t that cavewoman want a little meat on her bones, what with all the bears, men with clubs, and babies hanging off their shoulders all the time? If I needed to run, I’d want a little momentum behind me. That’s physics, people.
It wasn’t until (and you can chew this irony over in your heads) the sexual revolution, the women’s liberation movement, in the ’60’s, that women really started becoming obsessed with their figures. Fashion, fashion magazines, and modeling became big business, and women started looking at themselves far more critically than they ever had.
Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia became most prevalent in the early seventies. The same women who fought for the right to work, the right to be seen as equal to men, were the ones essentially picking apart their own identities.
Women now have much more time (Thanks, Hot Pockets!) than when they more actively contributed to the machine, when their contributions were (dare I say) more meaningful than bringing Pinterest-inspired cookie bars to the bake sale.
They didn’t have time for self-indulgence, as they were too busy caring for themselves and others, ensuring their community’s survival. Their minds and bodies were active. They had neither the occasion nor the desire to stop long enough to compare themselves to their neighbors.
When women relax today (and it’s not from chopping wood, skinning animals, or plowing fields), the indulgence is a spa day, a pedicure, or a new pair of shoes – all things that somehow affect their outer appearances.
Women constantly receive the message, and here’s the kicker, give the message, that they’re not good enough. Every time a woman puts herself down for eating a cookie, or ‘falling off the wagon’, or buying a box of Fiber One Bars, you know, ‘to stay full’, she reinforces the message that I am not okay the way I am.
It’s an endless loop. I am insecure, therefore I will buy/eat/try something to help me feel less insecure. The companies, who feed off that insecurity, will create another item, which I will utilize when next I feel insecure. I invite you to step out of that loop. When a trail of crumbs leading to the Fountain of Youth, Beauty, Fitness, and Eternal Happiness, is dropped in front of you, you need not follow them.
There are many who depend on this pattern of thinking to survive. They are sharks, waiting patiently to taste a few drops of your blood. If you cease to bleed, the sharks will move on. If you stop throwing the I-feel-terrible-about-myself. I-need-something-to-help-me-feel-younger-or-prettier-or-thinner message out to the universe, the universe will eventually get it. Your peers will get it. Your daughters will get it.
Our foremothers seemed pretty busy sewing American flags, creating the foundation of this country, and holding down the fort. Perhaps the fort’s pretty well secured now, and through the miracles of invention and modern technology, we do have more freedom of mind and body than we’ve ever had.
All I ask is that we stop wasting it, stop publicly broadcasting innocuous-sounding messages that translate as guilt and shame. Stop putting ourselves down. Stop thinking ‘fat’, ‘old’, and ‘ugly’. And stop grasping for interventions to fight them.
At the end of the day, no one’s going to look down at your casket and say, “Wow, she really stayed beautiful, young, and thin until the very day she died! Kudos, abnormally attractive corpse!” They’re going to say, “She was a great mother and friend. The world lost a great person.”
Keep working on being that person.