By Lesley | February 23, 2011
Do you like irony? I like irony sometimes, when it’s funny, or when it’s apt, or when it serves a comeuppance to a person or institution in need of one. I’m less fond of irony when it fills me from boot-soles to eyebrows with aghast indignant eye-popping head-exploding what-the-fuck-fresh-hell-is-this rage.
This post is in regards to an instance of the latter.
See, Glamour magazine ran a survey — an exclusive survey — of more than 300 “women of all sizes,” in which they asked said women to “note every negative or anxious thought they had about their bodies over the course of one full day.” Glamour was shocked — shocked — to find that a “whopping” 97% of women admitted to at least one negative body thought each day.* The average participant expressed thirteen such thoughts a day.
Unsurprisingly, Glamour has the brazen arrogance to express astonishment at this development. The article calls these results “horrifying,” “disturbing,” “shocking,” “hateful,” and many other choice adjectives.
The points raised in this article are well known to anyone who’s thought critically about the cultural messages we constantly receive about our bodies, but are probably more dramatic to folks new to these ideas. Women are taught early on that self-reproach is admired while self-acceptance or self-love is not. We’re mired in unattainable beauty standards. We bond with other women over mutual body loathing. There’s even a neurological component. The article goes on to list tips for not hating yourself, as though overcoming a lifetime of cultural conditioning is as straightforward as keeping a journal and focusing on your “strengths”. Then it sort of comes apart with no real conclusion, just a collection of reported self-insults (“Fat-ass. Lazy bitch. I hate my thighs. I hate my stomach. I hate my arms.”) followed by some quotes from the few women who didn’t report any body-negativity (“Taking ownership of your choices gives you power.”) and then it… abruptly ends.
The fact that these points are being raised in the context of Glamour magazine may raise a bit of consciousness on this issue, which is a good thing. However, I am bound to mention that the fact that they are being raised in the context of Glamour magazine also makes it a hypocritical thing. I’ve been down this path before, with Seventeen‘s mixed-message approach to “self-esteem”, so this is not unique to to this particular publication: all women’s magazines carry the same “love yourself (but not too much)” message. Such magazines suggest that thinking, “I sure wish I could find some jeans to adequately camouflage the size of my ass,” or “I’d love if it someone could teach me a new exercise to tone my arms,” or “I need guidance to tell me what I should eat,” is fine, but thinking, “I am a fat, worthless pig” is not. Why? What’s the difference? Aren’t these ideas connected, in the end? Don’t they both come from the same place? The first is couched in language that implies a “positive” approach to “self-improvement”; the second is negative and judging. But each only exists in context with the other. The woman who cheerily longs for new toning exercises does so because she is unhappy with her arms. The woman who wants ass-slimming jeans feels that longing because she does not like the look of her ass. The woman who wants a magazine-sponsored diet is unsatisfied with her ability to feed her own damn self in a manner befitting the body she does not possess. These are the same women who will have the brutal attacks of self-loathing described in Glamour‘s survey. You know why? Because these are the women who read motherfucking Glamour magazine, and Glamour itself reinforces that thinking. Hell, even the survey article about negative body image includes the subtext that you are fucked up, poor lamb, and Glamour is here is help you.
Simply put: you do not get to build a magazine around making women feel inadequate and then express astonishment and pity when they comply. This is the culture that Glamour and its ilk have helped to build — a culture that is relentlessly critical of women’s bodies, a culture that considers women’s bodies public property open to debate, a culture that trains women to turn this criticism on themselves, and to accept and internalize every comment, opinion, observation and judgment on their bodies no matter who it comes from, be it a parent, a friend, a boss, a significant other, or a stranger on the street, because they think they deserve it.
Glamour can pretend to be shocked, if it pleases. But I’m not buying it, because the talk without the walk means sweet fuck-all in the grander scheme of life. Glamour can rail against the body image problems of a generation stretching from cradle to grave, and wring its hands and say, oh no, we didn’t mean to make you quite that self-recriminating! It was a silly accident! Oh, and have you tried this new diet? No, really, you’re okay as you are. Check out the new ab-busting exercise that will change your life, on page 43! Jeans to make any figure** look like it’s shaped differently than it’s actually shaped, page 124! But you’re fine! So long as you buy this magazine, believe its body-shaming rhetoric, and loyally purchase the products sold by the advertisers therein.
But you’re fine.
* How big does a number need to be before it begins whopping? I’ve always wondered.
** Figures over a size 12 not included.