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.