Around this time last fall, I wrote a piece about the girls I had worked with during the summer. It was about how I thought their weight insecurities were irrational and depressing, and about how the media’s standards damage so many women, from passive onlookers to the models who pose in the ads themselves. My feelings on the subject have not changed; what has changed, however, is my weight.
Since last fall I have gained approximately twenty pounds, even thirty depending on the month. It was not an intentional gain, but instead just the natural result of working overnight shifts for the first time in my life and getting through many grueling hours with coffee, chips and Sour Patch Kids. There I was, happily chewing away, and before I knew it my jeans wouldn’t button and I found myself shopping in double digits. Double digits – on one hand I instinctively feel shame “admitting” that, and on the other I just want to scream to the sky that some stupid numbers can’t possibly matter. And they don’t, but there have been times when I have fallen apart over them anyway.
During these moments (or even hours) of breakdown, I’ve had to face quite the paradoxical dilemma. Am I that much of a hypocrite? Do I run with all this self-love narrative only until I can’t squeeze into a size four anymore? It’s been difficult to look at myself and not feel that huge contradiction stirring. I do know better, yet it still takes so much mental energy sometimes to fight off the idea that just because I’m not in a catalog I’m not okay.
Speaking of catalogs and commercials that “we believe we pay no attention to,” Susan Bordo, writer and professor of English and women’s studies, compares our desensitization to media images to water in a fishbowl — “barely noticed by inhabitants.” Some of us hardly take the time to realize that our body images are sometimes just twisted reflections of all the airbrushed celebrity bodies every movie and magazine cover expose us to. In her book “Unbearable Weight,” Bordo advised to not just passively receive the notion that everything we see is digitally modified, but to “let that sink in. Confront its implications.”
After spending the last few years taking women and gender studies classes, if I’ve been a wreck over some irrelevant weight gain, I can only imagine how much worse it is for women who don’t have the knowledge to challenge the big picture — or the big pictures I should say, filled only with lots of very not-so-big girls. How could it be that after so many eye-rolls at the universal spotlight on women’s bodies, I can so easily become overwhelmed with this giant fear that gaining weight makes me somehow less adequate?
USM media studies major Jenny Glanville mirrors what many women struggle with, even when we know better. “Even after being involved with women and gender studies, I struggle with my body image. Pressure to look a certain way comes from all sorts of places, surprisingly from people we love too,” she said. “I’ve heard from my own mother ‘You want to be careful with your weight.’ As women, shouldn’t we be sticking together, being supportive in any way we know how? If we want to lose weight, be there, if we don’t, understand that.”
Between mothers and the media we are all pressured in one way or another, and sometimes forget to support instead of size each other up. As time goes on, whether my own changes are in my jean size or in my brain, or even both, I am with Bordo in hoping that our culture is “a moment away from revulsion, or perhaps simply boredom” with the world of plastic, digitalized bodies. Until then, the universal quest for thigh-love or stomach-love or butt-love rages on.