To those of my readers who don’t recognise the term fuckery, it means something’s bad- in a bad way. To sleep with your sisters husband or brothers wife is fuckery, a disloyal act that hurts a friend is fuckery, and the Tory government is super fuckery if you’re not a member of parliament (who just received an 11% pay rise, so obviously they don’t think that things are fuckery enough for the rest of us). The urban dictionary has it down as meaning nonsense or bullshit, but where I come from that’s it’s secondary meaning for this Jamaican patois word.
The term body dysmorphia refers to a persons inability to see their own body accurately, for instance anorexia sufferers genuinely see themselves as fat when they look in the mirror, and bodybuilders genuinely think they’re tiny if they’ve missed a session in the gym. Anyway, vocabulary lesson over.
In my time on this good earth I’ve acted, modelled and danced and was a gymnast as a child, so I’m no stranger to pressure to keep within a certain size and body type. In fact I’ve gone through periods of depression and bulimia.
That’s why I found the recent article in the guardian ‘The imperfect but honest image of a woman’s body’ so moving. Beth Whaanga’s documenting of her journey through cancer in pictures is incredibly heroic, and really made me stop and think about my body, my body image, and body image pressure.
Image is something I struggle with on a daily basis; I don’t feel ‘myself’ when my eyebrows aren’t done, or there’s hair on my legs, my hair is out of place and god forbid getting my feet out at yoga or pilates if my toes aren’t perfectly manicured (because that’s the whole point of exercise anyway, isn’t it? To mould the body to the mental image?). And people will poo-poo any idea that the pressure there, it basically comes down to your own free will and choice they will say.
The thing is that it does and it doesn’t. It does, because nobody will physically make you do these things or imprison you if you fail to do them. But it doesn’t because of the positive reinforcement if you do do them. When you conform to the stereotypical confines of female beauty, many areas of life may suddenly become easier, people will look you in the eye more, say please and thank you more often, be generally more courteous and helpful, as well as complementary and a variety of other positive things. And I don’t deny that sometimes you’re more confident because you’re feeling good about yourself and that has a knock on effect, but a lot of it is genuinely how you look.
For instance, there are times when I feel so good about myself that I think I don’t need make up (I usually wear a tinted moisturiser round my eyes, eyeliner, mascara, blush and gloss), but before the day is halfway through some polite and concerned person will always ask me if I’m tired or not feeling too well. I never feel quite as good after that somehow. Have you ever had that experience?
And when I try explaining to other women that to a degree we are programmed through negative and positive reinforcement (I’m not saying anybody intentionally does this to us btw) on a daily basis through our interactions with unwitting others, they will often look at me in total denial and say ‘no, this genuinely makes me feel good.’. Yeah, I know it makes you feel good, it makes me feel good too. The problem is that I became quite dependent on feeling attractive and being noticed, to feel good at all. And I notice this all over the place. And I’m asking “why?”. To this I’m always answered ‘You think too much.’
Now I’ve taken the same gender studies classes and have read the same books as everybody else. And I am a feminist (feminists being anyone who believes that all people deserve the same rights, opportunities and respect, regardless of sex or gender). I’m not blaming men, I am definitely guilty of committing this crime on a daily basis, good looking people (male or female, singles or couples) especially if they have gorgeous kids always put a smile on my face and I engage with them more. I’m not a saint, in this particular instance I’m a raving hypocrite, and I’m not quite comfortable as I sit here and write this.
In psychology there is a term called cognitive dissonance which refers to the discomfort a person experiences when they do something that directly contradicts their beliefs or their understanding of the world. Having studied the phenomena lightly during second year of university, I recognise exactly what it is I’m feeling when I tell myself that wearing make-up is unnatural, having perfectly waxed legs isn’t a requirement of life on earth or we’d have been born with hairless legs etc. I can say these things over and over in my head, knowing them to be true on an intellectual level, yet also knowing that on a deeper level they feel like total bullshit. I’m failing as a woman if I’m failing to be attractive, is how I feel,and every day that I fail to meet the beauty requirements that somehow embedded themselves in my consciousness as necessities I am self-conscious and uncomfortable in a way that I can’t quite explain (if you feel it and can put it into words then please post in the comments).
My mother once told me that she didn’t feel comfortable in her own skin until she was thirty, and that by the time she was forty she had a whole nother body, and that she really missed the one she had failed to appreciate for all those years. I took that information on board, and feel no false modesty or need to cover myself up. What I am saying is that I genuinely feel bad about myself as a person when I am failing to meet the standards that I myself have. Everybody’s standard that they hold themselves to will be different, I think my own is pretty unrealistic and I’ve spent the last five or six years trying to get that worrisome part of me to bugger off, or at least pipe down so I can focus on the more important parts of living.
I’m sharing this because I wanted to honour Beth Whaanga, and thank her. Because our bodies are the vehicles that carry us through life, they may be bigger or smaller, taller, wider or more petite, but our self resides within them, not in our image of them. And I’d like to share my hope that I can accept my human imperfections and idiosyncrasies (after all I do believe that imperfections are a perfect part of the universal process, I just fail to apply that wisdom to myself). So today I’m advocating honesty and self acceptance (rather than the self acceptance I usually practice in which I accept the parts of myself I like and make a plan to deal with the other parts) and I invite others to do the same. Because when we are faced with the genuine frailty and impermanence of life it cannot but shock us into appreciating our health and mobility which we can take for granted when we are living in and for our image. And I am determined to love my scars, they are a sign of all the things I have survived or overcome in my life, of lessons I’ve learned and mistakes I’ve made, all of which have been for the better in the long run.
Please feel free to post comments, I would love to know how body image and pretty pressure affect you, whether you are male or female, and no matter what your age. Thanks for taking time to read!