Things — identifiable objects, products, goals with clear labels and price tags, men you’ve known for five minutes — make such a handy repository for hungers, such an easy mask for other desires, and such a ready cure for the feelings of edgy discontent that emerge when other desires are either thwarted or unnamed.
-Caroline Knapp, Appetites: Why Women Want
We’ve all been there. Too much to drink, late-night out–you end up going home with someone who is so hot you can’t believe your own luck. Only to turn over the next morning and find that, in fact, you can completely believe your luck: once again, screwed by the beer goggles.
I have a pair of goggles that are similar to those–well not so much “similar to” as much as “the opposite of.” Mine are what I call “body goggles” (#bodygoggles), and apparently I wear them all the time. I’m not proud of owning said goggles, but there it is anyway. Objects may appear larger than they actually are.
Mine is not a particularly original issue: I like being thin. I have absurdly unrealistic standards by which I measure this desired thinness, and when I inevitably fail to live up to these ridiculously constructed standards, I can be quite mean to myself. (I’ve been told that as humans go, I am one who is particularly hard on herself.) In my experience, it’s the rare woman who doesn’t wear some form of body goggles when assessing one’s own body, and in this case I am not cool enough to be the rare woman. And that disappoints me. As a feminist, as well as someone who hasn’t followed a particularly typical trajectory in life–someone who is proud of being a non-conformist–in this particular aspect, I am just another sheep. Baaaa.
And because I look at myself through the lens of these goggles, I tend to look at everyone else through them as well. There’s a woman who takes many of the same classes that I do at my gym, and since I always try to get a spot in the very back, I’ve had some time to study her body. And I’ve often found myself wondering, How can she work out so much and still be chunky?
So before the hate mail comes in, I do realize that there are about 1,000 things wrong with that question, not the least of which is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with being “chunky.” I’m also well aware of the fact that there are many factors that affect a person’s weight that have nothing to do with exercise. Hear me when I say that I know my perspective is skewed here. I’m just trying to be honest.
But besides the inherent presumption that exists in that question, what I realized this past Monday was that it’s not even true. She’s not chunky. She’s muscular and sculpted and lean, and her stomach is flat and her tush is tight. She just happens not to look like she’s a refugee from a famine-ravaged country. She is not a walking skeleton but rather has some flesh wrapped around her bones.
And for whatever reason, on Monday I took my body goggles off before going to the gym, because it hit me all at once: Wow. She’s not chubby at all. And then, with just as much weight: Wow. I’m pretty messed up.
Those goggles affect the way I see the world. When I wear them, my capacity for compassion is small and brittle, and when I manage to take them off that capacity becomes big and elastic. It’s kind of that simple.
In her book, Appetites: Why Women Want, Caroline Knapp wrote:
In one of the largest surveys of its kind to date, [this was published in 2004] nearly 30,000 women told researchers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine that they’d rather lose weight than attain any other goal, a figure that alone suggests just how complicated the issue of appetite can be for women. This is the primary female striving? The appetite to lose appetite?
Thirty thousand women. Thirty thousand women who want to lose weight more than they want anything else in their lives–more than love or a fulfilling job or a sense of belonging. That’s staggering. Unless of course, that desire to be thinner is actually just a stand-in for those exact things: love, a fulfilling job, a sense of belonging, etc. If the desire to lose weight is just the easiest of our unrequited desires to articulate, then that number makes perfect sense.
Truth is, my attitude toward my weight is just a barometer–a measurement of how much of my own humanity I’m accepting, and how much of it I’m denying. Am I facing life head-on or am I running from it? Am I able to accept the messy and ugly reality of being alive or am I trying to divert all of life’s discomfort into something physical and quantifiable? If this is my number then I am ok. It becomes a clean, closed system and that system can sometimes make all of the other blurry boundaries a little more tolerable. Because even if the number isn’t where I want it to be, at least there’s a line that can be drawn. I can articulate a goal and that goal can then be pursued–and either I can reach that goal and be proud, or I can fail and arrange all of my self-criticism around that failure. And at least there’s clarity in that.
But every once in a while, I can’t help but ask myself–what if I just accepted myself, exactly as I am? What if I didn’t focus on any external markers, but set my goals on my own terms and in ways that made sense for me?
It’s such a revolutionary idea, I actually can’t quite imagine what that would even look like.