23/04/2017

Body Positivity: Notes From a Determined Woman

I read three things, good, bad, and inspiring, in the past week that were served up to me via the body positive sources I have filled my world with. Now I have feelings about them that won't go away so, you're welcome ... 


First the worst

This New York Post article has been doing the rounds, "Why I Won't Date Hot Woman Anymore". The title alone is of course obnoxious, the entitlement, the arrogance, my teeth were grinding before I even read it, and I probably shouldn't have read it at all. I won't go into the long, long list of reasons why it's just unbearable, but I will say that my overwhelming feelings were of disbelief and pity. Who are these people who are choosing their partners, who they're presumably expecting to stay with for many years, purely on their looks? I understand sleeping with someone as a one off because you're superficially attracted to them, but to continue to date that person that you view as a sort of ... human accessory? How is that not soul-sucking? Looks fade and do you really want to be bored for the rest of your life? Don't you want to be cared for, to love, to have fun, and share meaningful experiences with a person you actually like?

Perhaps I'm an anomaly but I was not initially physically attracted to any of the guys I've had my biggest crushes on. Perhaps I found the way a boy carried himself noticeable, with a casual confidence beyond his years, or was smitten with the way a guy was adorably sleepy-eyed in the mornings, but that was not about weight, or hair, or teeth. I have never broken someone down into limbs, fat, and skin and approved of them solely on that basis. What is attractive to me is when guys listen, understand, are passionate, have curiosity in the world around them, and enrich my life. I have my preferences like anyone, some people I'm just not attracted to, but how I feel about appearance always ultimately has so much more to do with who people actually are. Which brings me onto ...


Second the best 

Sometimes you read something and the whole time you are reading you're also muttering yes ... yep ... that's me ... PREACH. The article in question was this fantastic interview with Bethany Rutter for Bustle's "A Body Project". I can only hope to be as confident as she is one day, I find it hard to imagine what it would be like to not be ashamed of my body, let alone actively love it. What really spoke to me however, were her experiences with dating. 
"For such a long time — for maybe the first two years that I was on OKCupid — I would view all of my potential partners or dates through the lens of  'Who will find me attractive? Who looks like the kind of person that will fancy me?'"  
I do this, all. the. time. I've done it all my life, asking "is this the kind of person who would have me?" as if I could only ever be a burden. I project forward, trying to imagine how a relationship would work, envisioning how it would fall apart before it's even begun, the many ways in which my inadequacies (real or imagined) would ruin it. At least in real life someone could attempt to break through my assumptions, could approach me and declare their own opinion before I dismissed it. Online, I am deciding within seconds whether someone is allowed to like me or not and snuffing out any chance of a future before they even know that it's a possibility. I browse through profiles on PoF or Tinder and inevitably I decide that either I am not interested in them, or that they are exactly the kind of person I might like and that therefore they deserve someone better than me. Either way I swipe left, and make the decision for them, believing that I have done them a favor. It's obviously not a productive approach ... and worse, it's actually very patronising to have made a decision about whether they're allowed to like me or not. When I imagine a great guy doing the same thing, swiping past because he doesn't think I could like him, even though he thinks I sound great, the absurdity is clear. Rutter goes on to explain how she approaches dating now: 
"And then, after a while [...] I was just like, 'OK, well this isn’t working out for me because I’m just meeting people that I don’t fancy. And the fact that they fancy me does not add any value to my life.' Like, if I’m not interested, then where does this get me? So one day I was just like, 'OK, what have I got to lose? I’m just going to message a bunch of people that I think are attractive and see what happens.' And that really changed everything for me, because I discovered that people I found attractive also found me attractive. From then on, I had a constant flow of interesting, attractive people in my life. It made my life more fun and pleasant, being an active participant in my love life."  
It seems so obvious, but I really needed to hear it. Reading the article put things into perspective for me, I actually jumped on Tinder straight after, to experiment, and just swiped on my inital instinct. To my surprise match after match popped up, that I would otherwise have missed out on! I really am my own worst enemy, but it was proof that when I have a little more confidence, and take control, things change. When I followed up this weekend by finally reading Lindy West's book, I was practically surfing on my own empowerment! 


Third the crying, grateful mess

West's book Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman has been on my radar for a long time. Someone will mention it in a tweet, or it'll be in a beautiful insta post full of feminist literature, many of her articles have drifted into my life over the years too (including this one which perfectly describes how I'm trying to approach health and weightloss, and how I feel about anyone else doing the same!) I finally decided to buy her book though, and tore through it in just a few days. It resonated with me on so many levels and made me cry (and laugh), more than once. This is what I love about reading, when you open a book and inside you find someone who feels like they're speaking directly to you. They have experienced what you have experienced, thought the same thoughts, asked the same questions, and sometimes they have the answers you never knew you needed to hear. 

Over the past year I have been slowly filling all of my social media sources with body positive women in an attempt to break through this warped image that I have of myself, that leaves me terrified of glimpsing my body even in a steamed up bathroom mirror. It was a relief to find out that this confident woman also started by relentlessly exposing herself to fat-positive images, I'm on the right track!: 
I was hooked. Late at night, I started furtively clicking through fat-positive tags on Tumblr like a Mormon teen looking at Internet porn. Studies have shown that visual exposure to certain body types actually changes people's perceptions of those bodies - in other words, looking at pictures of fat people makes you like fat people more ..
 First, I stopped reacting with knee-jerk embarrassment at the brazeneness of their bodies, the way I'd been trained. I stopped feeling obscene, exposed, like someone had ripped the veil  off my worst secrets. Next they became ordinary. Mundane. Neutral. Their thick thighs and sagging bellies were just bodies, like any other. Their lives were just lives, like any other. Like mine. 
Then, one day, they were beautiful. I wanted to spill out of a crop top; plant a flag in a mountain of lingerie; alienate small, bitter men who dared to presume that women exist for their consumption; lay bare the cowardice in recoiling at something as literally fundamental as a woman's real body. I wasn't unnatural after all; the cultural attitude that taught me so was the real abomination. My body, I realized, was an opportunity. It was political. It moved the world just by existing. What a gift.
Basically reading this book felt like a complete stranger had read my mind, and reassured me that they had experienced all the issues that loom large in my life, and still found confidence, and love, and that I could too. 

It still surprises me sometimes that I'm pretty much always living under the assumption that I'm never going to find someone to love, who loves me in return. It's like I just got used to there being a filter over my future, where someone important, that I've never met, has been crudely cut out of all the memories I've yet to make. Little things, dressing up smart for the theatre, waking up next to someone on Christmas morning, or simply having a cold drink together in the sun. My whole life I have been preparing to do these things alone, scared to hope it could be any other way, not imagining these were things that could happen for me. 

These two women have renewed my confidence this past week, and reminded me that just because I sometimes find it hard to imagine good things happening for me, it doesn't mean they won't. What's more, I don't just have to accept the scraps of whatever life throws my way, I can actually try to get what I want, and acting as if I'm worth it is the first step!

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