Whenever I find myself at a crossroads in which I have the choice between multiple paths, be they small (i.e., this outfit or that one?) or large (i.e., what should I be when I grow up?), I have used the following two "Truths" to help guide my decision-making.
Truth # 5: When in doubt, channel "KJ@3"...
|Me, at 3. (aka, "KJ@3")|
When faced with a moral conundrum - or even when faced with somebody who's life seems so much cooler than mine - I remind myself to "Be KJ@3," who would never-ever pick the mean option, the jealous option, or the physically uncomfortable option. How would your 3-year-old self make decisions?
... but, if that doesn't work, channel Ms. Piggy.
Of course, there are a few (PG-13 and R- rated) situations that would be inappropriate for a 3-year-old. In these times, Ms. Piggy has to show up. (FYI, I know it's usually "Miss" Piggy, but I think she'd thank me for the correction!) Ms. Piggy is a curvy gal who believes that she is destined for stardom and great love, and that nothing can stand in her way. She is sassy, outgoing, yet unabashedly feminine. Oh, did I mention that she's an author on the New York Times Bestseller List, AND was the plus-size editor of Vogue Paris? You read that right: we're talking about a feisty bestselling fashionista author who loves her curves! HIYA! Unlike the more innocent KJ@3, Ms. Piggy knows when it's time to fight fire with fiery rage, and I've had a few of those times in the past year (recall, massive online bullying a few months before my wedding). I'd never want to subject KJ@3 to some of the cruelty out there (and I also wouldn't ask her for advice when picking out honeymoon lingerie!), so it's good to have a back-up with backbone and sex appeal!
Truth #6: Be a role model.
Learning to view myself as a role model for other women - particularly for my female college students - has been one of my most powerful tools for staying healthy and appreciating myself. To me, being a role-model has never meant being "perfect". We have plenty of “perfect” role models out there in our popular culture of fables, fairy tales, and romantic comedies, telling young women and girls that success, happiness, and love can only be theirs if they look like barbie-dolls and make it their life’s work to please others. Weird nerdy girls don’t get the guy until they've had a makeover, which for some reason always involves ditching her glasses (What is it that they say? “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”)! This is not what I want for my students. I want them to take their unique lives, unique bodies, and unique minds and stride confidently along their own paths. I want them to find love and embrace it, rather than doubt it. I want them to revel in their quirks, and say PHOOEY! to people and media who tell them they need to look or act a certain way in order to be happy. I can't truly encourage my students to do this while being a slave to the same systems I'm critiquing. (And it's not like students don't notice when their teachers are trying to look like barbie dolls!)
Because of this, I think that imperfect women who have fabulous lives make great role-models. So, when I consciously try to be a role model, I relish in being as vibrantly imperfect and quirky - yet successful, loved, and happy - as possible. I believe that being a role model in this way is good for my students, and I know that it's been good for me. Numerous times when I’ve been tempted to go on a crash diet - or to otherwise look perfect and act perfectly composed and put together - I’ve talked myself out of it simply by reminding myself of how badly I want to prove to my girls that quirky, chubby, bossy, outspoken, clumsy, weird, girls can absolutely achieve professional success, wonderful friends, and fabulous love. Who are your favorite imperfect role models??
BIG Truth #3: Yes, this IS what a feminist looks like!
I've finally come to a meaningful conclusion on this topic. There's been a lot of debate among feminists, regarding the appropriate relationship between women's appearance, patriarchy, and being a "good" feminist. Some scholars suggest that normative beauty standards are a form of (evil) patriarchy, and that, by indulging in beatifying practices, women contribute to their own oppression, and to gender inequality as a whole. This suggests that women who participate in heteronormative beauty practices must be either naive and uncritical, or are strategically making patriarchal bargains. (You may recall that a patriarchal bargain is a "decision to accept gender rules that disadvantage women in exchange for whatever power one can wrest from the system. It is an individual strategy designed to manipulate the system to one's best advantage, but one that leaves the system itself intact.")
As a woman who is both an avowed feminist and who makes tiny little patriarchal bargains pretty much every day of my life, I have felt angst. Does wearing mascara, high heels and "shapewear" somehow negate the sum of my academic work, volunteer efforts, blogging, and mentoring? Can I promote Health At Every Size while using weightwatchers.com to stay mindful of my eating and exercise? If dieting is supposedly anti-feminist, does that somehow make binging pro-feminist? These questions have nagged me quietly for years, but my no-mirrors project (and public blogging of the process) have brought them front and center. And you know what? I'm glad! It helped me reach my 3rd BIG Truth.
Here it is: YES, this IS what a feminist looks like! But what I look like should never matter more than what I do. There is no such thing as a "perfect" feminist. However, I acknowledge that to be a "good" feminist, you probably ought to do more than just believe in the importance of equality between men and women; you ought to help make it happen. Because of this, it is important for us to sit down and think about the sum of (1) our daily actions alongside (2) our larger lifelong commitments and work. Both of these things should be recorded in our personal accounting books, but it's the balance that matters in the end. However, these personal accounting books ought to be just that: personal. Judging other women for not making the "right" decisions ignores the complexity of our differing life experiences and unique selves. Even worse, when we judge other women for their choices, we effectively limit their choices, which ultimately disempower goth them and us.
Thoughts? Reactions? Frustrations? Have you ever felt judged regarding your political believes because of your looks? Spill it! :)