The altar of self-loathing

After a significant amount of thought, I have realized the idea of being a woman and the complexity of writing about such a broad idea is overwhelming. Where do I start? Do I talk about the things in my daily life which I find irritating? (Like men who hold the door open when I’m a hundred yards away and wait for me, making me feel rushed, and then expecting a thanks for something I didn’t want in the first place?) Or should I talk about the happy accidents which helped to shape who I am? Should I talk about the inherent confusion being raised in a household where my mother was unfeminine in almost every way, but with a father who still expected to have meals served to him, cleaning done for him, and be permitted to do as he wished while my mother took full responsibility for the parenting? Should I talk about how cheerleading made me and my teammates strong, independent women – spitting in the face of everything society thinks cheerleading is and somehow still viewing ourselves as sex objects? Should I talk about the day I learned the dance women all know when bonding with each other, offering a compliment, sharing something they hate about themselves, then receiving reassurance that it’s in their heads? Should I talk about how painful and confusing it is planning your life when you k now that at some point you’re going to have to choose between being a mother or a professional, allowing one role to suffer, either sacrificing the well-being of your hypothetical future children, or dedicating yourself to study, career, intelligence for nothing? Should I talk about the men who place their girlfriends/wives/daughters/sisters/mothers on pedestals then desecrate a woman’s self-esteem when she fails to live within that ideal?

For today, I’m going to tell you the story of the day I learned how to talk to other girls. I was ten years old, and sitting at the lunch table one day very near the end of fifth grade. My childhood, for whatever reason, had been plagued by feelings that I never truly fit in, and learning what I did this particular day has done little to help that, but that is not what this story is about. On this day I was surrounded by the other girls from my class, all of whom I had known for years, with varying rapports. I don’t particularly remember what started the conversation, but I do remember they were all talking about parts of their bodies they hated. One girl would offer that she hated her nose, another that she didn’t like how fat she was – freckles, hair, the more sexual parts hadn’t become issues yet. At this point in my life, I had been frustrated that I never seemed to be wearing the right clothes; fashion eluded me. Every year my mom would take me school shopping before the first day of school, and every day I would show up and notice no one was dressed even remotely like me. Somehow, I always missed the mark. I was in that awkward place before puberty really kicked in and I could fit adequately in teen clothes, with miniature hips and a training bra, no I was no longer shaped right for children’s clothes either (there was no difference between the boys’ clothes and the girls’ clothes and I was very definitely no longer shaped like a boy). So, yeah, I hated my clothes, but I hadn’t yet learned to hate my body for failing to fit them. I hadn’t yet developed the acne which would make me hate my face, and no one else had started taming their eyebrows, so that wasn’t an issue. I was still playing with beanie babies, the land of make-believe was still mine. Make-up was only for play-time and the boys I had crushes on weren’t attainable except for tag. It was all very abstract and my personality was all that I thought was responsible for anything (other than my horrible clothes which marked me as unspeakably different). At some point during this conversation, everyone revealing their insecurities, I became the main event. Without offering any insecurities about my physical appearance, the entire group of girls started telling me how beautiful I was. At some point while this was happening, I became aware that my saying “thank you” was insufficient; they would think that I was stuck-up, so I needed to offer them something to show that I wasn’t. I offered my front teeth as my first sacrifice to the altar of puberty. A boy had said something earlier in the year about the gap between them, so it was very easy – the idea wasn’t even mine. As an adult, I see this dance everywhere. Women meet for coffee, sit in the back of a classroom, or in the kitchen at a family gathering. They all offer the things they’re trying to fix about themselves, or the things they wish they could fix, all physical, then everyone else says a dutiful amen, followed by a falsely heartfelt explanation of why that particular flaw isn’t real or a complete dismissal “you’re not fat,” and then raise the stakes with their own personal physical short-comings. It’s just how it is. We learn to offer chunks of ourselves so as not to offend those with weaker self-esteem, and unfortunately, that requires searching your body for a believable flaw. That believable flaw becomes your go-to conversation piece, and then it stops being a mere offering to the gods of poor self-esteem when you start to really believe it’s a flaw. That first flaw is a gateway, a path through which you open yourself to a world of self-loathing. You stop seeing yourself as a unique package, divinely beautiful in your unique appearance as a whole, but instead as an assembly of flawed pieces: legs, too short, stubby, undefined; cankles; feet poorly manicured; eyebrows uneven; complexion inconsistent and volatile; abdomen too large, rounded, and ugly; eyelashes too short and unnoticeable; lips too thin; butt too small, too much cellulose, not enough muscle; arms too hairy; hair too curly or too straight or too brown, too difficult to change, too frizzy, too short, too long, there’s a whole world of things that can be wrong with your hair; breasts, too small, uneven, ariolas too big or too small or too dark or too light, or hairy; body hair is evil, cut it all off.

One concession leads to many and by the time I reached high school, the only part of myself I could stand was my eyes.

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