Since I had the babies and have been on a journey to get back to my optimal weight by improving my lifestyle, learning to love exercise and eating consciously and intuitively I’ve learned a lot about my body. Since getting a thyroid condition and gaining the weight back it has occurred to me that there are two things about weighing 125 pounds – my goal weight – that scare the crap out of me and which I have a bunch of left-over negative feelings about.
1. The way other women treated me when I was thin. In general, when I was thin, I made very few new female friends. Women would call me “intimidating.” They would often be downright mean to me. I had several coworkers and bosses who took such an instant, vicious disliking to me that they made my life a hell whenever I had to interact with them. Fat girls, especially one in particular, would be especially cruel to me saying backhanded things about how “if they looked like me they would be married to millionaires” or “their life would be perfect, so they didn’t know what my problem was, why I was having all these normal problems with men.” (hint: because much of the male population treats women like shit, all the more so if they are thin and pretty.) Often other women, especially my fat friend, would sleep with my boyfriend or have phone sex with my lover and use excuses like, “but I’m fat, you don’t know what it’s like, I feel so bad about my body, I had to prove that I could get him too.” Sadly, it took me far too many years to finally ditch said friend and leave her to her big fat excuses. Since gaining 30 pounds I find that women are 1,000 times nicer to me, they approach me, they ask me to lunch, they don’t refuse my own overtures of friendship. I guess I am less intimidating. They don’t feel it necessary to tell me they “hate me” for being thin. I have far more female friendships than I did when I was thin and I like it. It’s more fun for me. A part of me wonders if I will be sacrificing my approachability if I go back to being thin. I don’t think I’d be okay with that.
2. When I was thin men treated me like their plaything. Not all men. But enough to make me wary of going through it again. During my thin years I was flashed by a drive-by masterbater, a movie-theater masterbater sat next to me, raped by a supposed friend while I was asleep, sexually harassed at every job I ever had from blatant comments like “I want to do you in the snow” from a 40-year-old married dude when I was 16 (he was not fired when reported, but they did move him across the aisle – generous of them huh?) to being fondled by a dirty old man as a waitress for $3 tips (yeah, I took him to court and lost and it was humiliating), catcalled about every time I walked down the street, men tried to pick me up and offer me money for sex when was waiting for buses, fondled and molested at every straight dance club I ever walked into, stalked and kidnapped by a boyfriend I broke up with and knocked around by a boyfriend who could overpower me. I could go on. Most girls have an experience like this to share. But, this many? Whether or not this was directly related to me being thin, I associate this type of male attention with being thin, mainly because when I gained 30 pounds the behavior stopped. Men stopped giving me all their abusive attention. And it was a relief. A huge relief. I’m not anxious to go back to that treatment. I make jokes and tell my body, “Don’t worry dear, the wrinkles around your eyes and your laugh lines will serve the same purpose as the 30 pounds.” But, I don’t think my body believes me, so she hangs onto the extra 30 pounds no matter what I eat or how much exercise I do.
In order to be thin, I have to release my fear of being thin again and risk women hating me and men treating me like their entertainment. Am I ready?
We’ve enrolled Ainsley in a variety of sports to see which ones she’d excel at and which ones might light something in her.
When her pediatrician told us her BMI was high and we needed to make some changes, we realized our book-worm of a daughter, who lived in a neighborhood, at the time, where it was not super-safe to let her spend hours in the yard by herself and had no friends in the hood, was simply not getting enough exercise. Enter city Rec. leagues: soccer, softball, basketball, Tae Kwon Do.
She’s playing basketball this season and in January, she and Zack will start taking ice skating lessons. Between the first season of basketball and this one, I can see a real difference in her ability to comprehend the game and use her body to make plays. We also intend to enroll both the kids in spring soccer (Zack is finally old enough to play).
Her real passion and talent is swimming. For which, I will take a tremendous amount of credit. I’ve spent entire summers taking my kids to the lake and pool and teaching them the skills of swimming. Not only is swimming super-fun, and a life-skill (so as not to accidentally drown), it can also be highly competitive.
It’s time now, in her development, for Swim Team. She’s good enough and excited enough about the sport to make it worthwhile.
One of our major money goals is to be able to enroll both our kids in some sort of sport that really lights a fire under them. For the exercise, the sense of achievement and belonging to a team and to instill a competitive spirit in them.
I do think a competitive spirit is helpful in America (I kind of hate when they don’t keep score and give everyone a trophy in kid’s sports). The “right to win” doesn’t come naturally to some kids and it’s a necessary skill in our capitalistic society. The ability to run faster and try harder, instead of give up and surrender, when you think you’re being beat is another skill I hope they learn from sports.
My hope is, and the report on Sexualization of Girls by the APA (American Psychological Association) Task Force makes a categorical case for it, that being invested in a sport, being an athlete will help her maintain a sense of self that is not “sexual object” or “here for male entertainment” as she enters her adolescence. The idea being that her sense of her body will be about something more, something deeper and action-oriented, like “my body is skilled, my brain is wired” to swim, or shoot baskets, to run fast, etc., rather than “my body is pleasing to look at and touch for others.”
In other words, a sense of self that is not entirely about sex and how boys perceive her.
Last week Lea Michele, the lead actress and head Gleek on the hit television show Glee, was shot in a spread for GQ Magazine in poses intentionally looking like a hyper-sexual little girl. The lollipop, the school girl attire, common props for “little girl” fantasies in porn.
This week, Lea Michele, is making her debut in a virtual duet of These Are a Few of My Favorite Things with Julie Andrews from The Sound of Music for none other than Dove’s, the mother of Campaign for Real Beauty. A marketing campaign I have been publicly supportive of.
Dove, the body care company who’s marketing campaign has largely been built on images of real, imperfect women in their underwear and educating about the early beauty pressure and sexualization of girls in marketing through viral videos like Under Pressure.
As a woman, how is this supposed to fit neatly and congruently in my head? As a mother, how am I to trust that Dove cares about the Onslaught (another viral marketing video of Dove’s) of highly-sexualized and objectified marketing women and girls face?
When faced with images of your spokesperson looking like this?
This year I looked at the same photograph and I thought, What is it, really that bothers me about this photograph?
Would I let my 9-year-old daughter Ainsley wear this dress?
Yes, it has sleeves. The skirt comes down to mid-thigh and there is no dramatic cleavage. This dress meets all the house rules about dresses.
The same is true for this dress.
And this one. A modest pink striped dress with cute belt.
This one has a bare midriff. Which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t let her wear this type of skirt, but she would have to find another Pirate top. House rules.
Would I let her wear these leggings and shoes?
Well, I probably wouldn’t let her wear the blue thigh tights unless they went all the way up. But bare legs with combat boots – sure. Black tights or leggings? She wears them practically every day.
Is it the accessories then?
Pink handcuff bracelets? Yeah, I think I’d let her wear them. She wears jewelry and the kids had two weeks recently of being obsessed with a pair of handcuffs left over by a neighbor kid. And they DO make those in pink, our old town had a lady cop who carried pink handcuffs.
Is it the hair and make-up?
No, my daughter can wear her hair in all of those ways, down and with ponytails. She can wear hats. I don’t like that choker on the maid, but, I might let it slide for Halloween or know that it will be annoying and she’ll take if off. And make-up. It’s Halloween and its the one time a year she gets to wear make-up out of the house, I wouldn’t deny her that.
What is left? The girls. Little girls playing dress-up. Is that what is sexualized?
But there’s one other thing in this photograph that we’re missing when we look at it.
It’s the lens through which we’re looking. In all forms of art and communication the receiver of information interprets and applies what they know from previous experiences and previous imagery to what they are seeing. They use that knowledge to make a judgement.
Our lens in America has changed drastically from when we were growing up and wearing similar costumes.
Women dress up like little girls in similar costumes in pornography. Child pornography exists. I’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. If not the pornography itself, then you’ve likely seen the news reports and the talk shows about it, the cop shows, read the books or stumbled across things you wish you hadn’t seen online.
That is scary. It’s terrifying. Our culture seems to have a growing attraction to the taboo of sex with young girls. Which stems from the fact that at least 60% of the population has looked or does look at pornography of infantalized women or adultified girls.
You don’t have to “look like a slut” for people to have these images in their heads. The imagery leans toward the innocent. Innocence is the appeal, the stripping away of innocence actually.
Which has the effect that sometimes I look at my daughter in a knee socks or a plaid skirt – perfectly normal attire – and I feel a little afraid. Because I’ve seen knee socks and plaid skirts used in pornography and I don’t want my little girl connected with that. Sometimes I do a double take at her pigtails and braids – major props when infantalizing women in pornography so they look more “little girl-like.”
It feels like this is happening:
They make porn about various parts of women and girls – “sexualize” them, if you will. And then we surrender little parts of ourselves to try to avoid this kind of depravity being attached to us.
You made porn about Boobs? Okay, we’ll cover them up more.
You made porn about Booty? Okay, we’ll be more discrete about that.
There’s not a single part of a woman’s anatomy that this hasn’t happened to. Little lines we don’t cross so as not to appear too “sexualized,” so no one gets the wrong idea about us.
But, now that pornography is looking more and more childlike and media and marketing are catching that notion and using it in regular ads . . .
You made porn about Catholic School Girls . . .Okay, we’ll surrender plaid skirts, knee socks and neck ties.
You made porn about Cheerleaders . . . Okay, I won’t allow my daughter to be a cheerleader or play with pom poms.
You made porn with Pigtails and Braids . . .
You made porn with swimwear, soccer gear and stuffed animals . . .
You made porn with Halloween Costumes and Dress Up . . .
Slowly by slowly, girls and women are walking a tighter and tighter line in their dress, in their play, in their lives. (Here, I was hoping my daughter would have more freedom to be herself and express her authentic femininity than I had.)
Little by little, we’re surrendering innocent and beautiful parts of ourselves, little bits of our femininity, and handing that jurisdiction over to pornographers and marketers. . . .
Until. . .
Well, they’ll never stop taking over little pieces of femininity or little pieces of innocence. They are Takers by nature. They would love to have jurisdiction over all images of femininity and childhood for their perversions. They would love to have jurisdiction over femininity and childhood itself.
What, then, will be left of us and our little girls if we don’t stop surrendering our jurisdiction?