Body Blogging #2: why are women judging each other's bodies and eating habits?
Not So Popular take an honest look at women judging women, insecurity and anxiety, and the difficulties behind actualising #loveyourself in the day to day grind of being a woman, yes, a woman with a body...
I recently read an interview with Monica Lewinsky on the Guardian website (without being preachy, or promising you a life changing experience, I cannot resist urging you to watch her incredible TED talk) which was part of ‘The Web We Want’ series, focusing on how to end online abuse and foster better on-line interactions. One of things that stood out for me in what is an interesting and thought provoking article was the observation that,
Notice, the man is not told that he is going to beaten up; there is no reference to his physical body, no punishment to his body for expressing his mind. For the woman however, any punishment must either consist of, or be combined with bodily punishment. Women are not granted the division of body and mind afforded to men. The do not have this privilege. Everything a woman does with her body or wears on her body is automatically assumed to be an expression of her personality, politics or sexual identity. Theresa May’s shoes are purported to say a lot more about her and her policies than David Cameron’s suits are about him and his.
We are disproportionally obsessed with the bodies of women we’ve never met, and what they do with those bodies. And whilst on an impersonal, socio-political level I abhor this, on a personal level I totally get it. I am totally obsessed with other women’s bodies. I try to tell myself it’s different, because I’m not judging a politician by her shoes, instead I’m judging a stranger for her smoothie preference, or a friend for her dinner choice. And whilst the consequences may be vastly different, it’s just as toxic, even if it’s not for our countries democracy, but my own mental health.
I am not an expert in sociology or cultural psychology, so I am neither going to diagnose a cultural malady, nor propose a cure. Instead I’m going to look at my own obsession, and examine that. And although I am hardly an expert on myself (and I couldn’t tell you the reason for the majority of things I do), I have a better shot at coming up with an honest evaluation on this front, even though hope of a cure may be overly optimistic. In fact, I can tell you straight away both the cause and the effect of my obsession with other women’s bodies; anxiety. Anxiety makes me minutely aware of what the women around me are doing with their bodies, and once I see what they’re doing, this makes me even more anxious. Anxiety breeds anxiety.
I’ll admit that my preoccupation with other women’s bodies is focused mainly on what they eat, and how they exercise. I’m not too fussed (although not completely oblivious) with what they wear or who they date. This is because I’m fairly comfortable with my own sense of style and relationship status, whilst I am constantly stressed out about what I eat and my exercise regime. Because I am so unsure of my own choices, I am desperately searching for affirmation in the choices of others, yet I never get it. If I have lunch or dinner with a friend who eats less than me, I will spend the rest of the day chastising myself for eating so much, whilst internally judging her for being so obsessed with her weight and body shape. Yes, this is ridiculous but true; forgo extra halloumi and you become a narcissistic Victoria Secret wannabe. I on the other hand will go home and eat four tubs of ice cream and the throw them up, but still consider you the one with the problem.
I am both a member of a gym, and I obsessively and compulsively exercise everyday, yet if a friend expresses a desire to start running or join a spinning class I will do my utmost to dissuade her, because if she does it, then I think that I should be doing it too. As a sit writing this, I can feel my heart start to race at the prospect of someone, anyone doing a spinning class whilst I am sat here on my arse. My anxiety around other women’s bodes is that irrational, that visceral and that real. And it is only around women’s bodies, never do I give a second thought to what my male friends, or male celebrities eat or don’t eat, or how and if they exercise.
The reason that I am so bemused by the popularity of yoga and quinoa filled ‘wellness/ beauty/ #loveyourself blogs, is that I can’t comprehend how people find them inspiring rather than threatening or mocking. The problem is not with the blog, or the pictures, or with what my friends eat or how often they go jogging, the problem is with me and my crippling anxiety around food and exercise. One of the ways I deal with the anxiety of seeing women make different choices to my own is to dismiss those choices as vain/unhealthy/unintelligent, almost without realising that in doing so I am inadvertently judging the women themselves in the same way. I am judging the woman as a whole by what she chooses to do with or to her body; for an apparent lover of the mind, in one fell swoop, I have reduced it to a meal choice. Which I suppose is in the same boat as judging a politician by her shoes.