losing it

Last week, just one day after Jessica Simpson finally had her baby, I came across an internet article about her “post-baby weight loss plan.”

One. Day. Afterward.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. I shouldn’t have been remotely surprised.

But I was, because how ridiculous is this? Why is losing weight immediately after childbirth glorified? Why is it held up as a shining standard when, in truth, an average woman lacks the time and interest in getting back up on the treadmill after popping out a kid? Not to mention that a woman who’s just been through a physically and emotionally traumatic event needs plenty of time to heal before attempting diet and exercise?

Not to mention that normal women are not offered a $4 million weight loss deal, like Jessica Simpson was.

Celebrities are a world apart, of course. Their stardom — their paycheck — is contingent on their looks. Their value; their worth — at least monetarily speaking — is directly connected to their outside appearance. For average women this isn’t so. It shouldn’t be so. But the pressure trickles down. Even hyper-aware, media-savvy ladies can start feeling the pressure. It’s hard not to, when another hysterically fawning celebrity-baby-weight-loss article surfaces every few weeks.

/// Sidebar! The wholesome lifegiver/sex goddess dichotomy comes to mind here. “You have achieved pure, glowing motherhood. Now get back to looking like a porn star.” Which is something that deserves its own post, GAH. ///

It affects every stage of life. If you’re dating, you get the engagement ring ads, and if you get married, you get the baby ads, and then of course if you get pregnant, you get the weight-loss ads. Actually, if you’re a woman you’ve gotten the weight-loss ads all along, because honey, how else are you going to snag that man?

And if you’re happy being single, prefer a woman over a man, or are content with the way you currently look, then you clearly DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT YOU REALLY WANT. Allow the media to show you the way.

This is the insidious circle of life in marketing. And no matter how vigilant we are, we all fall victim to it sometimes. I was most vulnerable to messaging when I was younger and still dating. I remember feeling panicky the first few months I was getting together with the beau, because I had a sense that I had to conform to some kind of beauty standard but I didn’t know what that was. I took my cues from popular media, because I had no clue otherwise. So I made appointments with a waxer and I bought new clothes and I wore makeup when I slept over, because I understood that these were the things that were done and I was afraid that without them, I wasn’t good enough.

It’s fear — “What if the way I am is wrong?” — that drives us to seek answers and reassurance about every step we take. And it’s that fear that the media preys on. They use it like a crowbar to pry us upon and turn us inside out. And we keep going back, because we need to make sure we’re still doing it right.

You know, there’s a perverse superstition to women’s magazines like Glamour and Cosmopolitan. It’s almost like a religion. You know what, no. It’s almost like a science; a math equation. Page after page of articles that suggest the door to happiness can be unlocked only if we uncover variables x, y, and z. Like if the mystical stone is rescued and reverently put back into place, the ancient temple doors will at last slide open to reveal an inner chamber dripping with prized gold and jewels. Like if we drop those last ten pounds, learn to use eyeliner, mix and match basics with statement pieces, and achieve inner peace via downward-facing dog, then that guy you sometimes see in your apartment building’s elevator will finally notice you!  

And so we get endless contradictory articles like this, breathlessly revealing that men have opinions about your looks! So avoid the ones he hates! But the looks that he hates vary depending on the man! So basically you’re screwed any fucking way, because some man out there isn’t going to like your look and that goes against the entire point of female existence OH MY GOD.

We act like there’s some checklist you can go down to get things right in life. If we can control the circumstances — if we can get our private parts sculpted just so, or wear the right clothes, or lose all the baby weight right away — then there’s less risk. We feel like in doing these things we increase the odds of getting what we want, which I suppose is popularity and happiness and love.

I figured out I don’t want those things. Well — I want them. But I want them on my terms.

I wish I’d had the strength, the confidence, the wherewithal, the knowledge, to sit myself down when I was younger and say, “Dude, nobody worth his salt is going to care what your pubes look like.” Barring that, I wish someone else had told me that. But I had to learn it myself, and like most things in life, I learned it way after the point I most needed to hear it.

And I worry about that. If I have kids, I worry that they’ll waste years putting the expectations that are hardwired in our culture above their own beliefs. I suppose that’s out of my control; that’s their hypothetical battle to fight. But I want to give them better tools than I had. Better counter arguments. Better self-awareness, and better self-esteem. I worry that the deafening roar of the media is just going to drown me out.

And sometimes I just want to take all the women in the world and give them a hug. Tell them they don’t have to listen to these fools. Because right now I could use the reminder.


Credit: I couldn’t have written this post without my sister-from-another-mister Kim, without whom I’d have no one to rail against society on Gmail chat when we’re both meant to be working.

39 Responses to “losing it”

  1. Did you see this article? It made me want to do a giant fist jab: http://www.forbes.com/sites/lizgarcia/2012/04/30/media-obsession-with-celebrity-postpartum-bodies-is-part-of-the-war-on-women/

    You know there is this whole counter narrative found in a lot of media, especially movies about the ‘tom-boy’ girl. The girl who isn’t too girly & can do all this stuff a man can do, but still looks really hot in a dress, has a perfect body, and never needs to wear a bra because her boobs are small & pert? That’s the narrative I always bought into. I never was into make up, but I wanted to be skinny enough to look good in a pair of overalls without a bra- only I’m a D-cup, and even was going though a grief induced eating disorder I was never what you would call skinny.

    So I embraced skirts, I bought some bras, and while I still have this fantasy of my body 6 sizes smaller, I also try to find ways to make myself look banging the way that I am. Occasionally. Actually I work from home and almost never see people so my husband knows I have something in mind if I actually bother to take a shower. That’s romance for you!

  2. Oh, lady. Why is the world so effed up? Why are we not in charge? And why is my pubic hair not crafted into the shape of a swan? Oh dammit, they got to me!

    My pubes and I look forward to reading your post on the wholesome lifegiver/sex goddess dichotomy. It’s a whole other world of WTF.

  3. OK and now a silly story: One of my friends started freaking out about stray hairs before she slept over with a new guy. And I had to explain, OK so you’re finally naked with a new man. Is he really going to kick you out of bed for a nipple hair? Nope. He’s thinking “Cute naked girl! In my bed! Cute naked girl! In my bed!”

    • SERIOUSLY. Also, what dude is ever like, “OH NO I need to wax my balls before my date tonight just in case this goes somewhere!” No. They’re not gripped by terrible shame because of their body hair, or because they had a few too many bites of the fettuccine at dinner and now they feel bloated. They’re just thinking “Naked naked naked naked!”

  4. “I wish I’d had the strength, the confidence, the wherewithal, the knowledge, to sit myself down when I was younger and say, “Dude, nobody worth his salt is going to care what your pubes look like.”

    This would have saved me so much angst. So much angst and money.

    • Seriously. I really wish I had an aunt that had done this. Or an older sister. I’m now making a mental note to do this for any younger girl/woman that comes into my life.

  5. Re: “I wish I’d had the strength, the confidence, the wherewithal, the knowledge, to sit myself down when I was younger and say, “Dude, nobody worth his salt is going to care what your pubes look like.”

    This is why chapter 2 of Moran’s “How to Be a Woman” is going to be compulsory reading for any teenagers I know in the future.

  6. I volunteer with teenage girls, and I’m tempted to say things like this often. Though, I usually wait to say things about pubes until after they turn 18, just in case.

  7. The media’s effect on body confidence is absolutely corrosive. I *still* have to give myself the occasional reality check when I find myself depressed because I’d look terrible in a skintight leather catsuit.

    The unbelievable appearance-related pressure on women is one of the things I bring up whenever people start “feminism is irrelevant” arguments with me. The response is ALWAYS “but can’t smart women just ignore it?” Oh, for fuck’s sake. I don’t care how smart you are, if you go through life with a running commentary in the background on how important it is to cultivate a smaller butt/bigger boobs/groomed body hair, you can’t “just ignore it.”

    • I love everything about this comment.

    • I need a “like” button for this comment. No, I need a “love” button.



      Yes, yes, yes. I was thinking about this after I published the post, about how the general reaction from others when I mention social pressure about women’s looks is “you can just choose not to listen to it.” RIGHT. Because that’s so easy to do! There’s gotta be a “mute” button somewhere around here, eh?

      • Exactly! There IS no mute button. The women I know with awesome self-confidence have managed to turn up their internal “I AM GORGEOUS” soundtrack so that it drowns out the BS. That’s different from “ignoring it.”

        • This is what I was very blessed with as a teenager/young adult. I have no idea why, I just thought I was very, very awesome and if someone thought differently that was obviously *their* problem so nuts to them! This has actually gotten harder for me as I’ve gotten older and lost my youthful know-it-all-ism. I wish I could bottle that feeling and give it away to every woman I know.

      • If you choose not to listen to the narrative about how you should look it doesn’t mean that men, your mother, the old woman on the street, or anyone else has decided to listen. And then you’re left trying not to listen to them too. We’re stuck in this world surrounded by the shit. How the hell do you expect me to shut it out?

        • Exactly. I tried very hard not to listen when I was young, but everyone around me surely was, and making comments, or dating other (smaller) women. Exactly.

  8. Re Jessica Simpson. She had a c-section, I believe, and let me tell you? After that? There’s no fucking exercise options. Unless you could lifting your baby out of a bassinet and then trying to get back in bed without hurting yourself as exercise. 9 weeks later and I still can’t do all sorts of things, like anything involving my abs, because it still hurts. So her weight loss can ONLY be through crash dieting, ie, the most unhealthy option possible. And trying to diet during the early breastfeeding HUNGER? (The kind of hunger that wakes you up in the night?) Seems cruel. Cruel to her, yes, but bad for the rest of us who watch her and her ilk.

    I agree with you on everything else too – that one just hit a little close to home for me.

  9. Allow me to present another opinion: If the media, or an ad, has the power to alter or even destroy your self-confidence or positive self-image, there’s a problem. Either parenting left something to be desired or there was some tragic teen event that led to vulnerability. Blaming media is a weak out.

    Be stronger than that.

    • Obviously it’s the women who are the problem in this scenario. Of course! Thank you so much for pointing this out. I guess every problem a woman has really can be solved by a man telling her to get over herself and stop being so emotional. Oh women, so irrational and crazy with their ovaries and father issues!

    • The thing is, it’s not just one ad or a single glance at a magazine in the doctor’s office that one time. It’s a steady stream of images and messages for years and years and years. I’ve never been a Cosmo subscriber or a fashionista, and logically I know about airbrushing and makeup and the importance of loving my body the way it is. No teen trauma, pretty decent parenting.

      And yet it’s still there, the voice that tells me I’m ugly. It isn’t that I look at a photo or an ad and think “oh gosh, she’s so thin, I must be hideous!” It’s not as direct as that. This stuff gets in at a subconscious level because it’s there, in the background, pretty much all of the time, and unless you want to stop watching TV or surfing the Internet it ain’t going away.

      My mom’s partner once told me that he’d never understood how much pressure there was on girls to look a certain way until he had daughters. Talk to women you know and respect about their self-image. You’ll probably be surprised at how many of them identify with what Lyn wrote.

  10. Yeah, Silly Lyn! Your parents must have fucked up, or maybe you were bullied, rendering you “vulnerable.” Vulnerability, as you know, is something only a few, really damaged people feel. So…you should really get back in your time machine, and choose some different parents! And while your at it, stay away from those bullies. That was kind of dumb of you, to go to first grade with them, and all.

    Oh, what’s that you say? You had great parents, and never had a “tragic” teen event? But yet you STILL feel weird and crappy when every magazine in the check out aisle is subliminally telling you “even if you’re good, you could be better/” Huh.

    That’s weird. Because only…most of us…feel that way too as evidenced by these comments. What a coincidence! We should ALL just be stronger, like Eddie says, and the .000006% of people who work at tabloid magazines should just not worry about us.

  11. It’s not just body image too. Growing up, all I ever saw on TV or in magazines were beautiful white people. Maybe a token ethnic person was thrown in there every now and then but that was never the norm. Don’t even get me started on how “exotic-ness” can be tied up with all sorts of other issues. It took me a good part of my 20s to embrace my multi-racial background and to be able to look in a mirror and be ok with not being tall, blonde or blue-eyed.

  12. My kick ass, independent, strong mother clearly fucked up too cause lately that voice in my head that says “you really could be thinner you know” is getting increasingly hard to ignore. Or maybe it was that traumatic time in elementary school when a chair broke under me. Oh wait, that never happened. That was just something I saw on TV.

    Yeah I’m pretty sure I am just like millions of other women, being told that we can be and have it all if we just try a little harder. At everything. All the time. And maybe have surgery. But love yourself in the process! Because you’re enough. Except you’re not. Until you do that one more thing. And that one. Oh and that one.

    Sigh. It’s hard.

  13. First, I’m glad that the blogger went ahead and pushed my comment out. I appreciate the opinions of the dissenters to. I just find it strange that marketing can have such a devastating effect on people not otherwise predisposed to indirect messages. Shouldn’t your support network of those you trust render indiscriminate messages irrelevant?

    • I wish it did! My husband has a really hard time understanding why telling me “but *I* think you’re beautiful!” doesn’t fix things when I’m feeling unattractive. Like I said above, this stuff gets into your brain at an almost subconscious level. I think we’re all more susceptible to indirect messages than we’d like to be.

    • I want to reply to you again because based on your follow up I think you are being sincere. For me personally, I do not wake up every day feeling like shit about myself because I don’t look like the media’s ideal woman. It’s so much more pervasive and subtle than that. It’s the idea that Nina talks about above, that if we all just try a little harder, we too can have it all. We can be the perfect wife/mother/friend/career woman who looks perfect in a bikini and knows how to throw a dinner party and makes six figures. It’s the idea that we *could* be perfect if only we weren’t fucking it all up for ourselves constantly by being flawed and human. There is a lot of pressure for women to be perfect and it’s difficult partially because don’t we all want to be better at things? It’s the blurring of that line between the realistic and the practically impossible that I blame the media for.

      • “It’s the idea that we *could* be perfect if only we weren’t fucking it all up for ourselves constantly by being flawed and human.”

        This. When Beyonce says that the only post-partum weight loss secret she has is “discipline,” it implies that she’s not genetically blessed, doesn’t have a team of nannies and chefs and personal trainers, and that it’s not basically her *job* (that she gets paid a ton of money for) to get that pre-baby body “back.” It implies any woman can (and should?) be able to bounce back from pregnancy immediately and that it’s a moral failing if she doesn’t.

        For me, it’s not really even the valorization of the weight loss that’s the problem. It’s the way that the media occludes all those other factors (of privilege) that I mentioned above… in order to sell us things. How many women feel bad about their weight, looks, proportions etc. etc. because the beauty industry is so good at hiding how it’s just that — an industry?

        • Jennifer Garner once did an interview and was asked how she got back into shape after her baby, and she said she had to spend hours sweating on the treadmill and elliptical. I wanted to give her a huge hug for that honesty — but at the same time it’s so annoying that anyone would feel the need to *not* be honest about that!

  14. I’ve thought more about this in re-reading the comments. It led me to a couple of examples of women in my life and conversations we’ve had on the topic and it was perplexing to me then too.

    College gf, extremely good looking, extremely intelligent, extremely outspoken. Turns out she had been bulimic for a time prior to our dating. I didn’t get it, other than her twin sister was a complete rail while she was curvy (and in a good way, mind you).

    My wife, who is tiny, has huge issues with her weight and works out a couple hours a day and is an incredibly healthy eater (she’s a Dietician). Like another commenter, there is pretty much nothing I can say to her to sway her compulsion. She attributes this not to media, though she also hates all of the image commercials, and more to teasing from her father growing up.

    It’s just perplexing to me how this can happen, but again, I’m not the intended audience either.

    Thanks for the discussion.

    • An Alaskan Bride May 11, 2012 at 2:22 pm

      I think part of it is not just media, but also how we socialize girls to be women in our society. We’re taught to be nice, polite, get along well with others, be pretty and charming, and play nicely. We’re also taught what is expected of us beauty wise: Be tall, lithe, graceful, thin, etc. Then you put media pressures on top of that. Now I must not only be very charming and sweet but a vixen with dyed hair and perfect eyebrows!
      I think it’s great you’re thinking of these things. Challenge yourself: Walk down the make up aisle in your local store. See all those things? The eye lash curling wands and no clump mascara? The “plumping” lipstick that has caspian (hello! We put that sh*t in mace and bearspray!)? The ageless foundation and wrinkle reducing creams? Yeah. THAT’s media. There’s no way to ignore that. THAT’s the pressure to be a certain way.

    • Eddie, I’m super late to reply, but I wanted to say thanks for your input. I had to think long and hard about why I feel that media and society play such a role in womens’ attitudes about their physical appearance, and why it can be so hard to let all that go and completely ignore it. The trouble is, it’s difficult to prove personal experience, and moreover, something that’s so ingrained in society is easily looked over. For example, many of us don’t think twice about the fact that male actors can slowly go gray and wrinkled and age gracefully into their careers, while actresses have a much shorter shelf life — either go for the botox and hair dye early or risk being out of work by your mid-30s.

      Bodies can be a touchy area for women because it seems like our self-worth and value is so easily wrapped up in our appearances. I vehemently agree with you, though, that ultimately it falls to us individually to pursue a positive, healthy state of mind about ourselves. Some days are easier than others, as you can imagine. While I’ve gotten much better, there are still doubts and fears that I can’t shake. I hope talking about it helps all of us sort the bad from the good influences in our lives.

  15. I’ve come too late to this party, but Lyn, just wanted to say that you totally rock my socks off. I’ll take one of those hugs, thanks.

  16. Age is such a significant factor in discussing how we make sense of the nonsense thrown at us. At 26 years old, I have an easier time doing exactly what Eddie said- taking a step back, deciding I’m valuable, determining to surround myself with beautiful bodies that look more like my own. (oh, hai, pinterest… http://pinterest.com/quirkyliz/workout-inspiration/)

    BUT. That assault begins when we’re so young. So very young. It becomes a hard habit to break. I can determine NOW to ignore that my lashes need to be longer/thicker/plumper/falsified/blackest black, but that’s after 20+ years of NOT ignoring it. Of not knowing that I needed to and not knowing how to. Twenty years of being told that everything about me needs to be improved in several different ways (feel like being overwhelmed? stop by your mom’s and flip through her Avon catalog) up against a scarce few years of being determined to ignore that noise that I’ve already been ingesting for so long. It’s a lot of work to ignore all of the voices saying I need to look like *this* or else I’m not valuable, and the only reason I don’t look like *this* is because there’s something wrong with me.

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