Thursday, April 15, 2010
Dreaming of Disappearing: What Skinny (Sometimes) Really Means
There's this old belief that a woman is "a lack"-- that is, essentially, that men are whole and women are a lesser version of that whole. Feminist theorist Judith Butler explains in her Subjects of Sex, "For [Simone de Beauvoir], women are the negative of men, the lack against which masculine identity differentiates itself."
The idea of woman as a lack was once commonly held.
And, honestly, I don't think that idea has changed much over time. There is no way that we can look at the standards women are required to live up to and not question why they are what they are. Why must women be thin-- and to greater degrees than ever before? There is research showing that being very thin is no healthier than being overweight, and that, in fact, being overweight may not be a good indicator of overall heath. Many doctors would argue it isn't weight or BMI (which is an awful indicator of health) alone that determine health. So why do we want to be thin? What will keep women wanting to be thin when we learn that our health is mostly independent of the number on the scale?
Because society says we are a lack, and to fit in, we must embody that.
Extreme thinness in runway models is often explained away by designers as being their way of better showcasing clothing. The girl should not be the distraction. The girl is the walking coat hanger on which the designer's art can be displayed. Yes, a model is a human and we're not "supposed" to criticize other people's bodies, but a model's body is objectified to a horrifying degree. Models are often encouraged to lose weight or are hired at extremely young ages so that their bodies are underdeveloped (no boobs or hips)-- at which point many will fall into the cycle of using eating disorders and substances to control their weight for the careers' sakes. I won't even go into how using pre-pubescent girls as a beauty standard for adult women is wrong-- or how being subjected to such rigid weight requirements at a young age is surely damaging both mentally and physically for the models themselves.
Runway models are supposed to fade into the clothing. We are not supposed to see them, just the clothes.
And you know? This is a sentiment we often hear mirrored in the accounts of young women with anorexia: they often report feelings of wanting to disappear, to take up less space, to become invisible.
For instance, Aimee Moore, a bulimic woman, is quoted as saying of her disorder:
"'I want to disappear,' she said. 'I want to be so small that nobody sees me because of everything I’ve done that has hurt people. I would like to be hidden. I’ve always felt like I was a failure. I can’t stick to anything. I can’t stay in treatment, can’t eat, can’t function normally.'"
Yes, this is a disorder, and Moore's brain, like every other ED-sufferer's, is telling her what to feel. But women are starting to develop disordered eating patterns and dangerous mindsets concerning weight at younger and younger ages. And this idea that there is, in many cases, a thought process about wanting to disappear is deeply disturbing to me.
No eating disorder is really about food. And our culture of forcing women to be thinner and thinner to be acceptable members of society, to me, is just another form of social control. It's the same as forcing women to cover their bodies, to suppress their sexuality, to be demure, to listen to what men say, to speak only when spoken to. Skinny is natural for some people, but skinny has become an engine of patriarchal power-- one that many women perpetuate by consenting to it.
When do we stop consenting? We are not lacks. We should not treat ourselves as such. We do not have to hide. I do not want anyone to feel like they want to hide their body, especially not because they feel like "failure" or that they "hurt" people otherwise. This standard of being skinny? I'm ashamed to sometimes want it, because it's just another way to brainwash women into believing that they should be something less, that small size means that they are doing their part to fit into society.
Not to mention, of course, extremely thin female bodies are often compared to male bodies. Perhaps, somewhere in the back of our minds, we shun the idea of breasts and hips and menstrual cycles for the power potential in becoming more male. Male, after all, is the whole: the ideal sex. Perhaps if women make their bodies closer to male bodies, they can get power, respect. I cannot tell you how many times I've been told my large breasts will make it hard to earn respect in their workplace, to be seen as more than a sexual object.
Fuck that. I am a woman. I am not a lack. I do not need to disappear. I will take up all the space I want.
And, yes, I believe thin women are women too-- and I certainly don't want to alienate any of my skinny readers. I just believe that our culture has a really messed up way of looking at weight, and if we don't start questioning it, women will keep disappearing until they are completely silenced.