My stilettos, my choice. Your Hijab? You’ve been brainwashed!

c1492d1b9a40d95336eb738d895c9ae2Ever hear anything like this? “It’s shocking that Muslim women have so little say over what they wear. They say it’s their choice to wear the Hijab. They’ve been brainwashed! Their free will has been corrupted and they have no idea what real choice and real freedom is. Not like me. I know real freedom.”

You stand there in your size 9, 4 inch stilettos crammed with your size 9.5 feet, toenails painted and cuticles trimmed, leg hair ripped out by the roots with hot wax applied regularly. The shoes hurt but they make your legs look great.  You know you could wear flats… you choose to wear heels.

Your $12 ultra sheer super control top pantyhose do their best to contain that tiny tummy bulge but what it can’t hold in is managed by your Spanx. Your dress is exactly the right mix of professional and sexy so that your meeting today will go well; if your ideas don’t dazzle them, they’ll be hoping for a peek to determine of the colour of your $65 underwire push up bra and wondering if it matches your thong and whether you’re landing strip or clean. You choose to wax because it makes you feel sexier…

Your skin glows… it should, after being religiously scrubbed, buffed and exfoliated. You moisturize twice daily of course, to stay smooth and silky. Your makeup only takes a half-hour now, and you’ve narrowed the routine down to about 15 steps and products. The cost is alarming, but that’s how it goes. You choose to use good skin care and cosmetics; they are much more expensive, but they make you feel prettier…

Your hair… well, it continues to be a struggle. You are going grey and would like very much to let it go, let it happen. In your profession though, grey hair is an invitation to the younger, bolder, hipper folks to step in. You’re not quite ready to let that happen so it’s cut, trim, dye, streak, highlight, foils… you name it. You choose to colour your hair because you know it makes you look younger and sexier…

You pull on your exercise gear and go for a run a few times a week. You hate it hate it hate it and it hurts your knees but you only have a little time to exercise and you seriously don’t want to gain any weight over the winter. Your body needs to be bikini ready when you head to Mexico for a winter break. You may be getting older but you sure don’t want to seem like you’ve given up! And your man, well he likes you looking slim and hot and you want to keep him looking…

Women in the west are the most brainwashed in the history of the world, I would wager. I’m one of them. I have bought into the Virginia Slims, Coca- Cola-Calvin Klein-Betty Crocker-Cosmopolitan femininity construct as much as the next woman. I have no place, no right and no authority on which to judge the choices of any woman anywhere. My choices are the result of the brainwashing I’ve undergone my entire life. Here in the West, that’s celebrated as personal freedom.

There are lots of reasons to be angry about the treatment of women in other countries, under other regimes and political or religious systems. Squawking over women’s lack of choices is hypocritical at best so long as we continue to be pummelled with messages about how to be prettier, fitter, sexier so long as we keep making dolls for our daughters that look like little anorexic prostitutes. We can’t keep offering our own women the choice between being being blow-up doll bitches or perfect Pinterest moms while condemning the choices of others. We need to think about this…

Moral authority? We don’t have it.

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I’m a size 10. So I’m gross?

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I grew up as a dancer… ballet, tap, jazz, non stop competetive dance from the age of 5 until I finished high school, having won the top prize in my Provincial competition… best of the bunch. I battled my body all through my teens… fingers poked at my “midriff bulge”, fingernails dug into my derriere and told to LIFT IT! LOSE IT! PULL IT IN! SUCK IT IN! My years as a young woman were rife with negative body messages, blatant and more oblique…as a dancer, there’s no such thing as too skinny. Predictably, I succumbed to the pressure. I stopped eating. Everyone around me feigned shock and horror, but I shrunk and I won the BIG prize, so the dismay was muted. Once I’d won, I started eating again and everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief. It wasn’t a PROBLEM I had, it was a SOLUTION… I’d lost the few extra pounds I carried and clearly it had all been worth it…, no?

I stepped away from dance for about 10 years and, strange truth, I got slimmer. I stopped obsessing over my weight, found a man, got slim. Got REALLY slim.  When I got married, my nearly 5’6″ frame carried only 118 pounds, barely a size 2. I wasn’t dieting, wasn’t sick, wasn’t trying to be slim. I ate chocolate, candy, chips, pancakes, you name it. I also smoked… that did it for me. When the babies started coming, I got slimmer and slimmer. With each baby, my feet got bigger and my boobs got bigger… otherwise I shrank almost immediately to the size I’d been before birth. Then I’d get smaller. I had 3 babies in 4 years, nursed each one. I smoked (I will forever be ashamed of this) during my pregnancies…yes, I cut WAAAAAAY  back to a few a day, but still. I then carried, chased, ran after, held, rocked, fed and cajoled those three babies while blessed with a hyper drive metabolism.  I also taught dance… up to 14 classes a week of jazz and tap. That burns a lot of calories.

Then I turned 35. I took a desk job, and thankfully I quit smoking at last. My metabolism did an about face and I began to gain weight. I now struggle to maintain what I feel is a healthy weight.

I don’t have a thigh gap. In fact I didn’t even know what that was until a few months ago. I have a bit of a pooch.  I need an actual bra, with cups and a bit of underwire. I have birthed 3 children, and there is evidence of that in various body parts. I’m also 46… there’s no escaping that though I’m no stranger to Dr. Botox.  I ride my bicycle when it’s warm, run, work out (not religiously), and salsa dance. Even so, I cringe when I step on the scale, cry when I can’t fit something that I want to wear, and have learned to despise shopping for pants, skirts and dresses. I’m okay with tops… so long as they are all big, baggy, hide my flab and don’t strangle my (apparently) freakishly large upper arms.

And I hate my body. I hate that I am no longer a size 2, 4, 6 or even 8. I hate that I get the “full body check tsk tsk” from the hyper cool gay sales guy at Le Chateau. I hate knowing that I am teetering on the very brink of “plus size”. Me. Hot, beautiful, strong, fashionable, powerful ME. Plus size. Scared. Horrified by my own body. How can I overcome this? How do WE, as women, overcome this?  I can cover it well with nice clothes and good shoes, but don’t expect to see me in anything clingy. Ever.

Mike Jeffries, in a 2006 interview which was made enormously public this week has declared that his brand, Abercrombie and Fitch will not carry XL. In fact the largest size they carry is 10. My size. MY SIZE. Anything larger than me is plus size and has no place in the fashionable universe. No. Nononononono.

I resent the idea that a woman of my size (average) and weight (absolutely dead average) is a plus sized woman. Who decided that?  What does that tell my daughters? I have two gorgeous, stunning daughters who are each within 15 pounds of my weight. They both hate their bodies, both think they are fat. I accept my culpability in that… how could they grow up with me and my warped body image without absorbing some self hatred at least by osmosis?

I have a couple of links for you today. One is a remarkable video curated by Dylan Lambi-Raine, Kayla Hatzel and Sarah Zelinski; 3 classmates in the Gender Studies program at the University of Saskatchewan. This video shows objectification of women… AND of men, in stereotypical roles and demeaning and degrading poses. Oddly the reflected version, images of men being objectified, is no less disturbing.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/story/2013/05/08/saskatoon-viral-video-university-of-saskatchewan.html

An interesting bit of history: the 2006 Salon article featuring Mike Jeffries in full dreadful flight:

http://www.salon.com/2006/01/24/jeffries/  It’s just a big old trash bag full of political incorrectness and awful misogyny.

So Mike Jeffries, go away. The cool kids don’t like you. Voice in my head? Get lost. Please? The truth is I’m actually pretty gorgeous, at least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself. Every single day.