I’ve been rereading Gloria Steinem’s Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, and it’s making me think. I read it once as an undergraduate, and it radicalized my little 18-year-old self. It empowered me. The first edition of the book came out in 1983, right after the heyday of the second-wave feminist movement, and when I was two. Anyway, something in Steinem’s essay titled “College Reunion” startled me.
“No, the worst crime is to be thin. Since I understand this discomfort with thin people very well (I have always struggled with being overweight and there are only a few minutes each day when I’m not thinking about food)…” (Steinem, 133).
Gloria Steinem is perhaps the best-known feminist in America, and is probably one of the best known feminist scholars in the world and she has written that food and her body take up a lot of her time. This fascinates me. Not to deify Steinem, but for some reason I assumed she did not deal with body struggles in this way. I find it both reassuring and heartbreaking that she does (or did…this essay was written over twenty years ago). Regardless, I applaud her honesty.
What does it mean when whip-smart women are preoccupied with their weight? How do we stop thinking about it so much? I think about it a lot less than I used to, but like most women, I still think about my body and food, and worry. I no longer see my size as a direct reflection of my self-worth, but to some extent, I still think it “matters”. I know I am not alone in this.
Do men think about their bodies in this way? I think some of them do, but not as many of them do as women. I think we teach boys to think about their bodies in different ways than we teach girls. It all gets very tricky and confusing. What would we do if we stopped thinking so much about our bodies, and judging ourselves and others? What would we do with all of that free time?
We’d kick ass. We’d revolutionize. Or, at least be slightly more confident and productive.
I don’t have any answers on how to stop the preoccupation with our bodies. I know I feel better about my body when I’m active, doing things I love, and spending time with people I love. I wish I could completely eliminate my negative body thoughts, but I think that’s going to take a good long while.
I think we need to reframe how we think and talk about our bodies. How we think and talk about our bodies now is unproductive and shaming. We need to move past this idea of body-as-reflection-of-self-worth and instead celebrate what our bodies can do.