Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Beauty Myth

Submitted this for publication a while ago. Didn't get picked up. Going to post it now instead.

I’ve been biking to work, and I’ve been feeling good about that. It’s a bit longer than I used to ride to school, and I’m proud I’ve risen to the challenge. Every morning I walk into my office building in spandex shorts and a t-shirt. I was self-conscious at first about being seen in my bike gear, but I got over it. I’ve been feeling good about that too – feeling good about doing what’s right for my health and for the environment and not letting my paranoid perception that everyone is watching and judging me get in the way. I’ve been fighting the voices in my head that whisper the Beauty Myth, that tell me that my outside is more important than my inside and that a less-than-rock-hard butt and an asymmetrical face make me a less worthy human.

It gets harder to beat down the voices, though, when they are reinforced from the outside too. The other day, one of my friends had biked across town, and was doing some shopping, so she was walking down the street in her bike gear. A man roller-bladed past, and yelled “you better get a thong for that fat ass.” When I heard this story, I became self-conscious about my own spandex-clad butt, which rolls through downtown Ottawa daily. Then, I got sad and angry. I know that if I look at fashion magazines, or peer too closely at various lines on my face in the mirror, that I am inviting the voices in my head to start their nattering, but how are we supposed to fight the Beauty Myth when it attacks us, completely unprovoked? And where does this guy get off? We are in a supposedly post-feminist society, but some jerk still thinks it’s appropriate a) to yell something incredibly personal and degrading to a total stranger and b) to suggest that a woman should be wearing thong underwear with her exercise gear (with the implicit suggestion that the shorts are for him to look at, not for her to be comfortable while doing physical activity). The demons, clearly, are not all in my head.

So here I am – a modern feminist woman, and the Beauty Myth is the beast on my back, but worse, because it’s inside of me too. I want to be a dragon-slayer, but sometimes I have Stockholm Syndrome and succumb to its scaly embrace. When this happens, I need the help of people who love me to get back in the fight. I have been blessed with relationships with strong and intelligent women, each beautiful in a different way. I have men in my life who believe in me, who have never suggested I am limited in what I can achieve because I am a girl. We all stumble and get seduced by the Myth at times, but these relationships remind me of what’s important – of where my real worth and beauty come from. This is my community, these are the people who know my soul, and whose opinion I want to cherish – not some yelling drive-by creep.

When I am reminded that I am loved, it makes all the difference. I’ll continue to wear my spandex shorts. They’re good for riding, and riding makes me strong and leaves a light footprint upon the earth. I’m trying to make peace with my body, and then move beyond it. I’m made in the image of God, who is divine, and I’m called to follow Jesus, who saw to the heart of people. I want to do the same, starting with myself.

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