I’ve considered myself a feminist pretty much since 1968, which was the year I turned 13, looked up from childhood to take in the world around me and noticed how women were perceived and treated and limited. This was also the year that Second Wave Feminism started kicking into gear and busloads of feminists showed up to protest the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City because of its impossible (and also racist) standards of beauty, as well as the blatant inequality in encouraging little girls to grow up to be Miss America, while encouraging little boys to grow up to be the President of America.
So on Friday morning, when, Jenna, the author of the High Gloss and Sauce blog, mentioned on our ChicagoNow community Facebook page that she was sick of all these people on social media talking about how they have no interest in being a feminist because feminists are ugly and hairy and masculine and she wanted to debunk that myth, my first reaction was “Yeah baby, go get ‘em…we need to do that…”
Because, geez Louise, the general idiocy around feminism seems to be running rampant these days. Like recently, when celebrity and star of movies like “Divergent” and “The Fault In our Stars,” Shailene Woodley, talked about how she isn’t a feminist because she doesn’t hate men — showing her complete ignorance about what feminism is actually about, it totally floored me (and my two daughters, who are both about Shailene’s age). (For the record, Shailene, I love men and have been married to an incredible one since I was twenty. And he’s a feminist too.)
But Shailene isn’t alone. A lot of female celebrities today like to avoid being called feminist. Many say they prefer “humanist” — probably because their PR machine has told them feminism is too polarizing and humanism just sounds…you know…less like anything that the majority of moviegoers, TV watchers or music buyers would disagree with or for that matter, even understand. Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie seems to be one of the few who get it, that a feminist is simply anyone who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.
So when the High Gloss and Sauce blogger asked us to send photos of our Hot Feminist selves for a photo montage on her blog post…I immediately jumped in to help.
By suggesting a friend send a photo.
No, I didn’t send a photo of me.
Because…well… I have trouble thinking I’m hot. Mostly I think I’m NOT hot.
It wasn’t completely clear to me what Jenna had in mind when she said “hot.” (If you check out her blog post you’ll see that it seems to have a lot to do with happiness.) But I have a good sense of how our culture defines it and that’s immediately where my head went. If you read a magazine or take in any form of media whatsoever, being hot involves wearing size 4 or less, being muscled yet soft, curvy yet thin, having perfectly perky yet full breasts, a great ass (round not flat, obvious, but not dimpled and hefty), no “unwanted” hair anywhere, being strong and healthy and sexy and less than the average weight for your age and height.
I am none of the above.
I’m not sure I ever have been. Ok, I might have had one perfectly perky breast day back when I was about 12, but I was too young and busy playing catch and riding bikes to notice.
And by the time I was 13, I’d already gotten the message loud and clear that I didn’t fit the traditional standards of girl beauty. Practically from birth, I was never into girly things, I always hated pink. I liked baseball more than Barbies. And basically I was too fat to be pretty. I remember going shopping with my mom for clothes when I was five, coming home all proud of my new blue jeans and red cowgirl shirt, and hearing my mom telling my dad, with sadness and disappointment in her voice, “Well, of course we had to get them in the Husky Girls department.”
So the Feminist Movement, with one of its key premises being that perhaps our standards of beauty are just a tad too narrow…as narrow as Twiggy’s hips versus my husky girl ones…warmed my little junior high school girl heart.
But it seems like the idea of a wider definition of beauty is a part of feminism that’s gotten lost or distorted somewhere along the way. Distorted to mean, on the one hand, that to be a feminist you must enjoy unshaved armpits and eschew eyeliner, or, on the other hand, that in order to be a high-achieving feminist you must achieve “the look” – our impossible cultural standard of beauty – or at the very least, die trying.
That’s what Courtney Martin suggests in Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: many women have embraced the feminist message that we can do anything we set our minds to, thank you very much, but unfortunately that “anything” often includes looking like Shailene Woodley, Kate Hudson, Katy Perry or Susan Sarandon.
With every feminist bone in my body, I believe that women should love their bodies no matter their size or shape or color. And I believe that we women shouldn’t have to live up to some crazy beauty ideal. That “Hot” ought to be something we define for ourselves rather than having it defined by the media and other people.
Unfortunately I have never totally been able to feel that way in my heart of hearts. All my adult life, I’ve been dealing with a eating disorder – I’ve been fat and I’ve been thin-ish (for brief moments in time), but I’ve never had a really healthy relationship with food, and never truly loved my body. I’ve been working on it. But it’s been slow going. Ask my therapist.
Having kids has helped. They’ve taught me a lot, because I have always wanted them to love their bodies and not force themselves into shoes that hurt or boxes that didn’t fit. I remember when Zoe was 8 or 9 – she’d crashed headlong into puberty earlier than the other girls in her class. Unlike them, she had curves and breasts and she looked… sturdy…maybe even husky… rather than waif-like. And it was making her sad, making her jealous, making her angry. One day some clothing crisis of some sort happened and she broke down in tears and told me how she was hating her body and we sat down together and I held her while we both cried and I told her that her body was fine, her body was beautiful, her body was everything it should be and it didn’t matter that it was different than the other girls’ because everyone is unique and cookie-cutters are just for cookies.
And you know what’s amazing? I think she believed me.
She believed me more than I believed me.
About ten years later, after her Freshman year of college I was concerned about her “Freshman 15” and I tried to talk to her about it. I sat down next to her and in my most compassionate voice told her I was worried about her weight and wanted to help her any way I could. And she looked me square in the eye and told me she loved her body and I didn’t need to be worried. She was healthy, and she was happy with who she was. And if I wasn’t, that was my problem.
Ouch. And wow.
So, honestly, the fact that I didn’t send in a photo of my hot feminist self to Jenna, is my problem. I truly want to be a woman who defines myself as hot, on my own terms. The funny thing is, I can see it so much more clearly in other people than I can see it in myself. Like when I see the pictures of my women friends on Facebook…all ages, all shapes, all sizes, all colors, and they all seem amazing to me, so stunning, so… hot.
So, I’ve decided I need to renew my commitment to claiming hotness for myself. Here is how I want to define hot:
Speaking the truth.
Treating yourself with kindness, compassion, curiosity and respect.
Allowing yourself to fail.
Laughing at your failures, and trying again.
Running, dancing, resting, eating, sleeping, and being, FOR yourself.
Taking care of yourself.
Taking care of the world around you.
Crying when you’re sad.
Asking for help when you need it.
Wearing mascara if it makes you happy,
Being awake to your life and alive in your own skin.
Or at least, hot is trying to head in this general direction.
Which means I qualify.
So I’m sending in my Hot Feminist picture to Jenna. With my whole hot feminist family. And you could too. ((HighGlossChicago@gmail.com). I’m sending it with a little hesitancy and my usual shame, sure.
But also with this little spark of pride, that I would like to keep fanning…until, just maybe, it grows into a bonfire.
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