“I’m only dieting for health reasons”, my beautiful friend said as she pushed back her sweat-drenched hair and speared a dry piece of lettuce with her fork. Yeah, right, and I’m only wearing liquid foundation & eye shadow for the SPF factor and considering BOTOX as a relief from headaches. Let’s face it; we diet because we want to look good. My question though, is what looks good? There is a popular attitude that thin equates to beauty (& success/intelligence/prosperity/youth/you-name-it) especially in the female gender. But it raises the question, are we simply feeding into a double standard by expecting all of our sisters and ourselves to be as thin as the day we graduated high school and not expecting the same from our masculine counterparts? And maybe, more importantly, can we care about how we look AND still call ourselves feminists?
I preface this by saying that I think of myself as a feminist. I believe men and women deserve fair and equal treatment both in the workforce and at home. And I don’t believe women were made to simply be sexual tools for men, but on this one topic of weight I swing like a clock’s pendulum. To face brass tack facts, I have about the same chance of achieving real, Hollywood-type, bikini baring thinness as, say, of winning the lottery twice in a row. Still, I am a vain creature and do want to look my best. But, in my natural post-menopausal state, I fall a little to the right of hefty – not exactly fat, but certainly not thin either. And occasionally I will catch a glimpse in the mirror and think, “Wow, better do something about THAT” (the THAT in question is usually the width of my posterior). So I trot off (& by trot, I mean get in my car and drive the 3 miles) to the grocer where I fill my shopping cart with enough produce to actually feed a herd of livestock. I pile it in the fridge, feeling virtuous and thinner just by the effort and start a regime of raw vegetables and lean, lean protein (I shudder to think how skinny these animals must have been that I’m consuming). After a few weeks of this, I’m practically glowing with health or at least my presbyopia-impaired eyes think so and then I see the scale begin to budge downwards. Yay! I carry on happily with my self-imposed punishment (diet) at least until I get waylaid by the smell of a juicy, grilled burger wafting across the hedge in my cozy little neighborhood. Actually, there’s no telling what may derail my diet. It could be two consecutive celebrations with friends, a glass (or two or seven) of wine, or a bag of candy stashed in the back of the deep freezer. It could be a stressful day, a good day, an argument with my beloved or even boredom because there’s nothing on TV but reruns. But, the harsh truth is, eventually I am off the wagon and mainlining Baskin Robbins like Lindsay Lohan stopping at a liquor store on the way home from rehab. Then I feel defeated and after a week (month) or so of self-abuse, crawl back on the scale determined to start again.
Still no matter how I’m doing, I wonder, how much is enough? At what point am I willing to spend my entire life avoiding birthday cake and homemade pasta with butter? What size is sufficient? Size 10? 8? 4? Keep in mind, I’m not talking about healthy and unhealthy, for that’s a completely different story altogether. For example, I know large women that are the picture of health with excellent cholesterol levels and brilliant blood pressure and can name at least two tiny, tiny gals on statin meds. So take the health factor out of the picture and assume we are leveling the playing field by saying all the women in this rhetorical question are healthy, active human beings. What determines the ideal size? Is it the weight chart health insurance companies utilize to determine insurability? Is it the size of the latest Kardashian or the model on the newest edition of Vogue? Or is it more appropriately determined by a mixture of inner sense that says, I can maintain this size comfortably without endangering my physical health or the sanity of the loved ones that must live and dine with me?
In my opinion, I think it comes down to swagger. Every woman living understands swagger. Swagger is the universal feeling that is not based on being male or female, young or old. It is the belief that makes you feel powerful, sexy and right on the target. The interesting thing is that I’ve seen both large and small women with swagger and regardless of size, when they’re selling swagger — people buy it. Swagger, you see, is a combination of self-awareness, confidence, power AND sexuality and isn’t that what feminism is all about? A woman with swagger isn’t a victim of the whim of others nor is she likely to be falling into a stereotype someone else has set up for her to attain. I think the ultimate Queen of Swagger is Latifah and she sums it up by saying:
“… You know what? If there’s a dude sitting around telling you that you’re too fat, leave his ass. We’ve got to change their opinions too, and we keep feeding guys all of this stuff, that everything is about our bodies, and that’s what it’s really about. I’m not saying that, in a couple, in a relationship that you shouldn’t be loving ….. to that individual. I’m not saying let yourself go or don’t be healthy. Be healthy but don’t be hung up on somebody else’s words, like you shouldn’t live and die by what a guy thinks of you. You know, we’ve got to be the shit to ourselves, excuse my language, but we have got to be the bomb to ourselves first.”
So, yeah, sure you can be a feminist and shovel lettuce into your face after a brutal workout. You can even be doing it so that you fit better in your favorite jeans, just as long as YOU are deciding how you want to look and who you want to be. Like the Queen says, be the bomb to yourself first and remember that even Queen Latifah went on Jenny Craig, at least for a little while.