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Body Imag(ination)

Every now and then I start to wonder how much more I would be able to get done if I was able to redirect the time and energy I spend worrying about my physical appearance and put it towards my creative work. I have a feeling it would be a lot.

If you were to mine the minutes each day that the average woman spends picking out her clothes, worrying if she’s gained weight, exercising, and meticulously engaging in her daily skin/makeup/beauty regimen, my best guess is you would probably be left with, on average, about two and a half hours a day of solid time. That adds up to 17.5 hours a week, and over a year that’s 38 days straight. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Anyone who spent almost 18 hours a week focusing on any one discipline would become a master in a relatively short amount of time.

I happen to like to shop, and I happen to like making myself look pretty. This is not to say I want to do away with these pastimes altogether. To a certain extent, they’re fun, a source of recreation. But I do realize that they are  aligned with a larger, more consuming, and significantly less fun aesthetic anxiety that takes up way too much of my time.

THIS IS WHAT A SUCCESSFUL HOLLYWOOD ACTOR LOOKS LIKE. I love you, Steve, but how is this fair?

You know what really drives me nuts? That there are men is this world that, at best, walk around looking totally fucking ordinary  and at worst, look like they don’t give a damn about their physical health or appearance, AND that these men are in no way hindered in their professional pursuits, and quite often aren’t held back when it comes to their social lives, either. The amount of successful ugly actors in Hollywood astounds me. It can only be assumed that the success of these men is an indicator of their talent, their connections, and their tenacity. Their female counterparts, on the other hand, are being measured by all of the above, as well as their ability to live off egg whites and kale alone and workout six days a week, and, oh yeah, maintain an unhealthy relationship with their bodies and appearances.

So why is it that there are men in this world who walk around feeling completely confident and have a relatively healthy body image when they can’t remember the last time they saw the inside of a gym, and I freak out if I go more than two weeks without exercising, even if it’s because I’m recovering from a pulled muscle? Perhaps my personal neuroses plays a part; I have to admit that. But that neuroses came from a lifelong diet of swallowing the “here’s what you need to look like” messages I’ve been fed from a variety of societal sources. These sources are not limited to the media but also to other influences, both subtle and overt, from family members, teachers, coaches, mean girls, insensitive boys, and the like.

One of Lady Gaga’s posted twitter pics

I would not call Lady Gaga an author of many profound statements, but her most recent “fuck you” to the general media by showing off her supposed twenty-five pound weight gain by tweeting semi-nude photos of herself is nothing short of inspiring. Particularly because she looks so real, the way most women who are not in some form of show-business actually look, and completely unworthy of the moniker “Fatness Overdeen,” which my friend told me popped up in the comment section on Gawker.

This embrace of normality is more than refreshing, it’s a rare and critically needed divergence from the same horse manure the mainstream has been feeding us for a millennium. But it’s not enough — not only because it’s just one drop of pure water in a sea of toxicity, but because the status quo for the average women’s body image is a unhealthy, unrealistic standard that leads to feelings of self-hate and the all-too errosive criticism that flows so easily between the female community. I’ll give you an example.

I finally got around to watching HBO’s “Girls,” which I was resisting for a long time because of the issues swirling around the show concerning racism and privilege. I’m going to put those concerns aside for right now and focus on something else: the role of body image in this show, namely that of the Director/Creator/Star Lena Dunham. I’m also going to go out on a limb and admit that my inner Mean Girl came out when I was first introduced to Dunahm through her film “Tiny Furniture.” I was horrified by her attitude (which is pretty entitled and annoying), but moreso by the scene in which she is wearing nothing but a T-Shirt, putting her cellulite buttocks on full-display. That was the point I turned the movie off.

In the show, Lena Dunham’s character Hannah is slightly overweight and by no definition a universal standard for beauty. Yet, she embraces her physical incarnation by eating cupcakes in the bathtub, telling her pseudo-boyfriend that she just doesn’t try to lose weight, and even proclaiming to her boss while she’s propositioning him for sex “I’m disgusting, but so are you.”

Lena Dunham. Whatever happened to a little self-love…

At this point, I was charmed despite myself. It was uncomfortable for me to admit that I did NOT want to see a female on camera who was not physically attractive, mostly because it points to what my problem is, which is the same for many other women: that we’ve internalized an unrealistic standard which we will never obtain, yet we continue to expect it of ourselves and project that expectation onto other women. And who are we doing this for? It’s certainly not for us, and after talking to several men, I happen to know that most of them do not expect, or even want, women to look like they squeeze in an hour on the treadmill in between yoga and Pilates sessions everyday.

You know who else we’re not doing it for? Our daughters. It makes me interminably sad to think that someday I might have a little girl, and without intending to, I might pass along the message to her that beauty and physical perfection is a standard that she must always strive for, but will never succeed in obtaining. If I’m not careful to re-evaluate my own attitude about what’s acceptable and what I need to look like physically in order to happy, her inheritance from me will be a lifelong lack of self-acceptance. Instead of looking just to the media and public figures to make change and set new standards, I think we all need to start a  revolution on an individual level as well.