Whether you turn to the right or to the left,

your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,

“This is the way; walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:21

Men, Women and Swim Suits ...

Spring may finally be spring-ing after a long, dark Covid winter.

You know what that means?

Swim suit season is just around the corner.

The catalogs arrive and women shudder.  Men, I have to believe, don't give it a second thought.

Have you ever heard a man say, "I am trying to get in shape for swim suit season?"

I highly doubt it.

Renee Engeln, in her book Beauty Sick cites a study out of Duke University. She writes:

"Men and women were asked to try on a bathing suit and stand in front of the mirror. They were alone - no one was there to see what they looked like.

Whereas men said they felt 'silly' in the bathing suit, women's emotional experiences were much more intense.

Wearing a bathing suit in front of a mirror left the women feeling disgusted and angry, even revolted.

How can you have respect for yourself as a human being if you're disgusted by such an important part of your humanity?

How you feel about your body's appearance is inextricably linked to how you feel about yourself, and this link between self-esteem and body esteem is stronger in women than men."

Do ya' think?

Might this be why the spring Land's End catalog that just arrived at my home contains EIGHT PAGES of swim suits for women, and ONE HALF PAGE of swim trunks for men?

The men's trunks contain no real description other than the phrases "comfortable" and "quick-drying fabric."  Also, "water-draining onseam pockets," which would, of course, be important if you wore pockets into a pool!

On the other end of the widest spectrum known to humankind, the women's suits contain these kinds of descriptive phrases:

Slimming, Stunning, Tummy Control, Slender, Skirted, Grecian (!!), All-over Control, Tugless, Flattering, Bra, Cute, Sporty, Sophisticated, Covered, Muffin-Tops-Be-Gone, All-over Support.

Dude ... The men's trunks cost (on sale) between $25 and $27. The women's CONTROLLING suits cost  (also, on sale) at least twice that much.

Now, don't get me wrong. I own a Land's End suit. With a skirt. It's probably a very controlling skirt, too. I no longer want to go to the pool in something akin to my undies.

But this whole topic just has me thinking, hard ...

And wanting to throw on any old swim suit I can find, the less controlling the better, and go to the pool and laugh and swim and eat a popsicle and just ... I don't know, act like a guy?

Anyone want to join me?

Giving up beauty sickness for Lent, friends. There is real freedom here.

The roots of beauty sickness are deep

Some noticings during my first week of giving up "beauty sickness" for Lent:

Thursday night we ordered wood-fired pizza from our favorite local spot.

My husband (whose permission I have to tell this story) crisps the crust in our cast iron pan while I whip up a salad.

We have this meal down to a science. 

We sat down to watch Netflix and enjoy our meal.

Soon, there was only one piece of pizza left.

My husband turned to me and said: "Do you ever feel like you don't get your fair share of the pizza?"

I looked over at him, curious. "What do you mean?" I said.  "Do you feel like I ate more than I should have?"

Grinning at me, he said, "Yea. Yea I do!"

I think he expected me to laugh and apologize.

Instead I said, "Well go crisp up some more, friend! You know how to do it! Don't shame me about eating delicious pizza! We still have an entire pie in the kitchen."

I was dead serious and angry.

He knew what I had been reading and writing about. He knew what my deepest struggles are around food and weight and eating and such. He knew I had given up beauty sickness for Lent.

And yet, there it was: The assumption that the "little lady" should eat less than the man. 

I was HUNGRY. And I had eaten until I was full. 

It was fantastic and so satisfying and delicious and delightful.  I was thoroughly enjoying my new Lenten fast!

After I cooled down a bit we talked about this interaction. We are even laughing about it now. It will become a running joke between us.

Here's the moral of this story:

In order to succesfully pull a weed, you gotta' make sure you get the root.

The roots of female beauty sickness are deep.

They are a part of ALL of us, men and women. And they are everywhere.

In every interaction, it seems.

Even in the simple act of eating pizza with your favorite person on a Thursday night.

 

Subversive abstinence ...

A friend of mine from my days at Northwestern University (thanks, Mary!) suggested I look into the research of a current psychology professor at our Alma Mater.

Dr. Renee Engeln wrote a book called "Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women."

I cannot recommend it more highly.

However, I am stuck on page three where I read this:

"Thirty-four percent of five-year-old girls engage in deliberate dietary restraint at least 'sometimes.'

Twenty-eight percent of these girls say they want their bodies to look like the women they see in movies and on television ...

These are girls who are just learning how to move their bodies around in the world, yet somehow they're already worried about how their bodies look, already seeking to take up less space.

Between ages five and nine, 40 percent of girls say they wish they were thinner. Almost one-third of third-grade girls report they are 'always afraid of becoming fat.'"

These statistics took my breath away. I had to close the book and just sit with my sadness.

Our little girls, barely in kindergarten, are worried about their weight.

Our grade school girls, not even in fourth grade yet, wish they were thinner.

I am shocked, and not at all shocked.

In her Introduction Engeln writes this:

"We have created a culture that tells women the most important thing they can be is beautiful. Then we pummel them with a standard of beauty they will never meet. After that when they worry about beauty, we call them superficial."

Engeln describes this as "beauty sickness," and its greatest tragedy is that it,

"steals women's time, energy and money, moving us further away from the people we want to be and the lives we want to live. It keeps us facing the mirror instead of facing the world."

This is such a complicated issue. I am both a victim of this and a perpetrator.  I finally feel, in my mid-50's, at peace with my body. I mainly want to be healthy and strong. But I grieve over all the hours, days, weeks, months spent "facing the mirror instead of facing the world."

I am confident Engeln is not advocating unhealth.

But I am confident she - through her research - is creating a path forward for girls and women as we stand strong together against the wrongly-held belief that the greatest thing we have to offer the world is our outward beauty and thin bodies.

As I think about the start of Lent and all the girls and women who might use this annual season of religious observance as a chance to "give up chocolate," or "give up pop," or any other kind of dietary restriction disguised as devotion to Jesus, I wonder if a better observance might be - for all the women and girls I know - to give up "beauty sickness" for the next forty days.

Imagine the freedom we might all find in that subversive abstinence.

 

Girl power ...

I have written a couple posts about body shaming I experienced during my childhood. I could write a thousand more; many more recent. 

There is a toxin in our culture that provides men both the freedom and permission to comment on women's bodies. 

I, in no way, believe that young boys and men aren't ridiculed for their looks, as well. I doubt, however, that it is as rampant and acceptable as is the constant discussion (to put it nicely) about how women look.

So, when my two daughters were young - probably due to the sense of disempowerment I had felt - I vowed to afford them a strong sense of personal power in this arena.

Two quick stories - neither of which I suggest are "good parenting - but I want to share, nonetheless.

One daughter was at an elementary school skating party. I was a chaperone. She let me know that a 5th grade boy had snapped her bra while she was skating. I could tell this felt like a breach of her boundaries and made her uncomfortable. So, I walked out onto the floor of the skating rink and snuck up quietly behind the young man and whispered in his ear: "If you touch my daughter's body again, you will have to deal with me." 

Can you picture this? Like I was a mob boss or something!!!

He looked terrified. Shocked that his actions had such swift consequences.

I do not think he ever snapped her bra again.

After that, I decided to be more proactive.

I told my other daughter that if any boy ever made a disparaging comment about her body she had my complete and total permission to make an equally disparaging public comment about his body. 

In fact, I would go as far as to say I encouraged this by suggesting a phrase she could use. 

We giggled quite a bit about this suggestion.

I hope you understand what I was attempting to do for my daughters, however crudely.

I knew I would never be able to stop the constant barrage of public comments they would receive about their bodies.

But I could prevent them from feeling powerless about it when it happened.

What else was a mother to do?

What else can mothers do now?

How do we offer our daughters protection from this kind of shameful garbage?

How do we provide them with a sense of empowerment about their unique and beautiful bodies?

How do we teach boys and men that it is never ok to offer their thoughts and critique about female bodies?

I welcome any constructive thoughts.