Yesterday I wrote a post about being a woman and the way we see women in society. I talked about how upsetting it can be for a woman to be totally defined by the assumption that a desire (or not, in my case) to bear a child is key to measuring whether or not we are successful at being a woman. It came off the back of reading an article by Elizabeth Day whose struggle with infertility has been made all the more distressing by this imbedded mentality that a woman is somehow incomplete without a child.
It was a powerful read and I decided to offer my own stance on not wanting to have a child from it.
This morning Jennifer Aniston is trending worldwide on Twitter. There is no doubt that she is beautiful, that she has an incredible body, beautiful hair, a successful career and is in general pretty blessed. These are the things that spring to mind when we think of Jennifer Aniston. Not that she is incredibly smart, kind, funny and is a very talented actor (if you haven’t seen Cake, you don’t get to disagree with me). The fact that she is beautiful trumps everything else to do with her other more substantive qualities both as a person and an actor. She has been so firmly placed in this box of beauty and nothing else that really is it any wonder that she mostly does romantic comedies? No one is ready to take ‘Rachel Green’ seriously as an actor. When she tries, these films are pretty much ignored completely (who has even heard of Cake?)
After all this time, she has finally had enough of the way the media have intruded in her life and has spoken out. In every aspect of her personal life, the media has scrutinised and bullied her, like she she doesn’t deserve to be anything but the woman who made a failure out of Hollywood’s golden marriage. It was almost like her split from Brad Pitt gave them license to hound her, to dig through her entire life from every which way, without stopping to think that hello! her marriage, her divorce, her entire personal life was literally no one’s business but her own. Yes, it was her marriage, her divorce and it is all her business. Just because she was on TV for 10 years, just because she is in movies, doesn’t automatically make her entire life open to everybody else on the planet.
It’s truly disgusting how much the media have shaped her into this thing, this pathetic image of being some other Hollywood actor’s ex-wife instead of her own person. After Brad, it was “he left her because she didn’t want children,” he left her because she can’t have children,” “when is she going to move on and get a boyfriend?” “omg she has a boyfriend, are they going to get married?” “nope they’ve split up, this poor woman is going to be alone forever!” “oh wait, new boyfriend alert!” “Nope, she blew this one too. Damn this woman needs to find a man and hold on to him! She’s no spring chicken you know,” “oh look it’s Justin Theroux, someone get him to put a ring on it quick!” “hooray! he did it,” “oh wait, they’ve been engaged forever how come she doesn’t want to marry him?” “obviously she’s not over Brad,” “oh wow, they got married! She got her happily ever after. FINALLY!” “nope, she doesn’t have a baby. She needs a baby for it all to be fine and then we can all stop feeling sorry for her,” “you guys, she’s on holiday with her husband and she has a belly. IT’S FINALLY HAPPENING!” “Nope she just had a big lunch apparently, but you know lets follow her around for another week because she might be lying and she OWES us news of her pregnancy because we’re invested in her happiness as a woman. She needs this, we all need this”.
I’m exhausted from just typing that and so I can’t really imagine what it must be like for her to actually live it – to have to tell people a dozen(!) times a day that no, she isn’t pregnant she just enjoyed a nice lunch that day. The way she has been treated you sort of forget that she and Brad split over a decade ago. She has not been with him longer than her entire relationship from beginning to end now. She has moved on. Nobody else has. She is done with the media portraying her as an almost perfect woman whose worth is measured by her physical, marital and maternal status.
Why is Jennifer Aniston’s maternal achievement so important to the media? Why do we buy into it? Why does her body have to be perfect all the time? Actually, I’ve seen the picture of her in her bikini. I didn’t for one second think she was pregnant but I was guilty of thinking “oh god, she looks too amazing in that bikini, why can’t I look like her?”
And here is where I totally and completely agree with Jennifer Aniston on her point on the way in which we see women. I am not perfect. I don’t for one second think that I am. In fact, I know that I say things about other women that is unnecessary and sometimes even mean. It’s a combination of my own self-hate and the way I have been conditioned to think – that only really perfect looking women are successful at being a woman. It’s hard to shake that kind of thinking but it is by no means an excuse for how judgemental I can be sometimes. Just last week I watched Fifth Harmony’s new video All In My Head (Flex). It is an ok song, catchy in an annoying sort of way but not terrible. I prefer their other songs and videos. But the thing I was fixated on was the way they were dressed in that video. I was literally mortified by how they were (not) dressed. I was uncomfortable by it because nothing they are wearing in the video is flattering to their bodies (I would personally swap some of them around and at least give them some room to breathe). I wish that was the reason behind why I didn’t like the video. It wasn’t. I just couldn’t understand how they could be dressed like this when they were so obviously not the perfect body shape. I’m not. My body is something I hate so much that I never look at it. The girls in Fifth Harmony have beautiful bodies. They have confidence. They are beautiful because they work their curves, all of their imperfections and they embrace them. I’m disappointed in myself for not seeing that first instead of thinking that they looked terrible because they are not conventionally slim and sculpted to within an inch of their lives. They don’t. But if you think about it they are all shaped like any other young woman you see on the street on any given day. On reflection, it is actually refreshing to see them in this way and I should have seen that first and embraced the power in it instead of jumping to judgement first.
Another example is Fergie’s MILF video. My goodness, it is a truly terrible song (and I really rather enjoyed Fergie in the past). I watched the video yesterday. Apparently it is an homage to feminism, taking back control of the female body from the male gaze. Except that it’s not. Not to me at least. The video features notably famous mothers Fergie (obviously), Kim Kardashian (ok), Alessandra Ambrosio, Chrissy Teigen, Ciara and numerous other top models who are also mothers. Ok. Great. Seriously, great. Mothers can be hot. I think mine is a badass and she is seriously beautiful and hot. I’m not saying mums can’t be sexy but in this video they pretty much all exclusively have a teeny tiny waist. Sexiness is measured by the size of your waist. I felt instantly bad about myself. I am often called voluptuous, curvy or cuddly. You know what that means to me? FAT.
Curvy means fat. That is what I hear in my head. I am not so fat that I can’t leave my house, but I am fat. Because Fergie’s breasts don’t scream under the weight of them like mine do. Ciara doesn’t have a tummy like I do; actually she doesn’t have a tummy at all, it’s just straight up ab-city over there. Alessandra doesn’t have thighs as big as mine – in fact mine would probably break every bone in her perfect body. Kim Kardashian, well her famous bottom is bigger than mine but is infinitely more beautiful than every part of my body (and even she documents extensively on how much she works to get her body to look as perfect as possible). To me, they are beautiful in a way I can never be. To me, they are the kind of beauty, the kind of sexy that is so unreachable I put them on some sort of pedestal and instead bash Fifth Harmony who are way closer to my own body shape. I have it the wrong way round and it infuriates me. Because the message from the media as Jennifer points out is two-fold, you should be a mother but you also have to look perfectly perfect while you’re at it and anything that deviates from the prescribed image of body perfection means you are a failure.
When I was 18, a former friend of the family told me that I was abusing food to protect myself. She said I had abandonment issues stemming from my childhood and that I didn’t trust men (I don’t) and I was subconsciously making myself fat to repel men. I don’t know if she is right. Certainly, I am really very happy being single because, no I don’t trust men. But I also just don’t want to work at being in a relationship. Period. I don’t like drama, I don’t like angst, I have enough to think about than adding another person into my life right now, I’m still trying to figure out my own feelings around sex, I don’t like feelings in general actually so I have very little to offer when it comes to a relationship overall. If I am honest though, I also don’t want to share my body with someone the way it looks right now. I once told The Warrior that she would know if I had met someone I truly liked enough to make an effort with because I would resume my workouts and pay attention to my eating like I once did. She said that I should want to be healthy for me, not for someone else.
Here is how little I have come from that sort of thinking. This morning I ran into a former colleague. I haven’t seen her in about a year and she, coincidentally works not too far from my new job. It was lovely to see her and I am glad she is happy again. You know what I came away from that brief conversation thinking about? How truly amazing she looked and how she must have thought I looked beyond rough since we saw each other last. She is a Brazilian beauty, absolutely flawless skin, barely any make up at all, amazing outfit, incredible body. And I avoided eye contact with her because I just didn’t want to focus too much on what on earth she must be seeing in me. I didn’t want her to see that my hair was flat, that I have put on weight since she last saw me, that I wear less make up but my face has lost what little angles it once had and is now just a round, chubby mess, that I am wearing a big jacket over my dress because I’m not comfortable in it anymore, that my legs look terrible in these ankle boots and in general I just look weighed down. It was awful and I just want to cry thinking about it. Here is the thing; if I was someone else and I saw myself in the street, I would never think some of the things I think about myself. Things like, “she literally looks like a whale in that dress,” “her legs are like tree trunks she needs to not wear dresses period,” “how chunky is that girl?” “why is her face so big?!” “she would be way better looking if she was skinny”. I think all of these things, and more, about myself because I don’t look the way I should look. I am not skinny like pre, or even post-lunch, Jennifer Aniston. And I am not curvy and overtly sexy like Kim Kardashian. I am not an English Rose type. I am not an Asian beauty. I am just me with all of my (protective) fat. And so, totally unsexy, unbeautiful and unworthy.
I wish it wasn’t like this. But as Jennifer Aniston reminded us all in her essay, we need to be the change and stop judging each other, and ourselves, for who we are. Whether or not we are mothers, whatever our shape, whatever our marital status. Be happy with yourself and always remember, being a woman is not a one size fits all deal.
Maybe someday I’ll believe it. And live it. I will consider myself profoundly fortunate if I ever get there.