Learning to REBEL

Last week on Sisterwives, Beth knocked us all sideways with her courageous honesty and her battle cry in favour of a movement which is gaining momentum (especially online) at the moment – that all people (but most especially women, who seem to (for many and varied reasons) cop the worst of this body-image shit) accept themselves just as they are, and acknowledge the things about them which are physically beautiful, that they develop soul-deep knowledge that they are (physically) completely acceptable, and that they focus at least as much on making their whole person a beautiful one, rather than a miserable or harmful one.

To say I was blown away by Beth’s experience and her willingness to share so much of her life and her thoughts, would be a vast understatement, yet it left me feeling challenged. I wanted to help support this movement and keep it going because in principle I can see that it’s a hugely, enormously good thing. And simultaneously I wanted to run as far from it as I could, because as a person who has spent most of her life absolutely deep-down convinced of her own physical repulsiveness, I didn’t think it could ever apply to me.

I decided to enlist the help of another of my Sisterwives – a complete beauty, inside and out, who also has some image issues (which if nothing else, the fact that SHE has them, tells me that these issues truly are bullshit we somehow buy into, and very much need to start freeing ourselves from) – so I would like you to welcome Mandi to the post.

We decided the best way to tackle our demons was head-on, with awkward questions – the kind no-one ever wishes to be asked. And we committed to falling on our swords and being completely candid in our answers *gulp* [Edit, having finished the post – falling on your sword hurts. A lot.] – Lizzi

ChickenShit SisterWife
How do you judge other women’s bodies?

Lizzi: Critically, objectively, and usually in direct comparison to how I see my own (which I judge critically, subjectively, and very harshly, because that’s the kind of mindset which can happen when you’re struggling with abuse which undermines and belittles you physically, or which rejects you physically and makes you feel repulsive; also what can happen when you’re still newly post-eating-disorder (if those things ever really go…). Depending on what I see, I hone in immediately on size, and focus on tummy, legs, arms, butt, face – to see if I feel I’m doing better or worse by comparison.

After that I tend to look at things like whether she’s pretty or making the most of herself with clothes, but those aspects are usually afterthoughts, because it’s the weight issue which is the trickiest one for me – I grew up fat. I was fat for a long time and after marriage I got fatter. I stepped on the scale one day and discovered I was nearly over 200lb, and that was my final straw. I hated myself and I knew what I needed to do to fix it, but I never had the motivation because I felt so unattractive anyway I didn’t think it could possibly matter.

And hey, at least I had a husband who loved me for fatter or thinner, or uglier or covered-up (supposedly, but not, as it turned out) and it wasn’t until I found that weight I felt so horrendous about I knew I needed to make active changes to avoid, that I started to do anything about it.

Mandi: Sigh. Do I have to answer? I am really good at seeing everyone’s beauty, both inner beauty and outer beauty. This is true. Most of my friends and SisterWives call me a cheerleader because I lean on my ability to offer sincere and true compliments. I look at other women and see how pretty their hair is and wonder why my hair can’t be that long, shiny, wavy, straight, cute, etc. I see their smile and envy that they offer it so effortlessly. I notice face mostly. There are times when I look at body and have body envy, but that tends to occur at the gym where I see a woman with ripped up arms and tones legs and think, I wonder if she’s had kids. My legs looked like that before kids. But you asked for honesty, and the truth is, I never really get away from a woman’s face before I begin my self attack.

I also worry very much so that every single time a woman looks at me, she’s sizing me up for my faults. Every. Single. Time.

Who do you get dressed up for?

Lizzi: Other women. Definitely. I want to look either better by comparison, or not as bad as I might otherwise do. Or I’ll make no effort at all and go out revelling in looking like a complete hobo, secure in the knowledge that I am as ugly as all-get-out and it doesn’t matter because I know I’m at the bottom of the pile and out of the competition (I know, I know – it’s not a competition (not one I’m winning, anyway)).

At the moment, men are barely on my radar, though I’m still an incorrigible flirt.

Mandi: I dress very much purposely for other women. Whether I’m going out for a night on the town or going to the gym, I always wonder what other women will think. When a woman pays me a compliment, it means so much more than when a man does. Although, to be told I’m beautiful by anyone always feels good.

Do you hold double standards?

Lizzi: Absolutely! I would never subject anyone else to the standards and expectations I hold for myself – the thing is, I’m fighting genetics and the logic-knowledge that prettiness/attractiveness isn’t the be-all and end-all (nor should it be), and at the same time have over 20 years of being made to feel ‘less than’ (in all aspects) to overcome.

I’m very gradually rebuilding my self-esteem, and there are many people who are generously helping me. I hope, as per Beth’s revelation, that once the internal is sorted, the external will matter less to me. But I also fear that, because I worry that if the external stops mattering to me, I will make less effort and become unacceptable.
The root cause is fear of rejection. I know that, and it manifests in other ways too.

Mandi: Abso-friggin-lutely. I am with Lizzi. I find everyone else around me beautiful. The things I don’t like about myself, I find attractive on other women.

What would you change about your body, if you could?

Lizzi: Not my height. Or the length of my fingers. Or my smile, but only because other people like it. Or my ears, because who cares – they’re ears. And I quite like my hair (most days). But everything else.

Mandi: Jeez Louise with these hard questions. My smile. In a heartbeat. I want one of those sparkly toothpaste commercial smiles, but sadly, unless I spend thousands of dollars, I’m stuck with the one I have. Some people tell me it’s okay, but I’m not convinced. I can’t believe I said that out loud. 

When do you feel most attractive?

Lizzi: It’s most definitely an attitude – there are a few times (and they’re becoming more frequent) when I have been completely in extrovert-mode and feel ready to make friends with anyone, and the world is full of colour and music and beauty, and I feel as though everyone will like me, because why wouldn’t they – which frees me from all the BS for a while and allows me to experience something wonderful (esteem? Confidence?) just as I go about my everyday life. A little bit of eye make-up (for me) also helps immeasurably. And glitter.

Mandi: I feel most beautiful when I walk out of one of my classes at the gym. When I’m sweaty, and sticky, and gross and have on no make-up, but my arms and my legs and my abs are tight and depleted, and I can look in the mirror and truly love myself. I think that’s why I go to the gym almost every day. When someone at they gym comments on my progress, I feel like I’m ten feet tall.

Also, when I’m dancing because dancing makes me happy. So very happy.

Do you exercise because you love your body or because you hate it? Or for something else?

Lizzi: As one who used to feel compelled to exercise, and used to have panic attacks about getting fat if I didn’t do any every single day if not more…I can now say that I exercise because I want to improve my body and make it nicer, rather than because I hate it and desperately want it to change. There are times I slip back, but they are becoming more infrequent…by which I mean sometimes less than once a day.

Mandi: I exercise because I love my body, and I want to keep loving it. I push myself because I enjoy seeing results. I thrive on it. I eat bunless burgers on July 4th because I’m this close to meeting my summer goal, and when I do, I can rejoice in that. I love my body, and I’m very proud of it. But just don’t ask me to post a picture of it. Ever.

How will YOU support the movement towards every person seeing the beauty in their own body?

Lizzi: This is a start, right? I think the more I try to tap into the logic side of the brain which recognises that if I agree that everyone has things of beauty about themselves, and that each person has the potential to be incredibly attractive to others because of their looks, the content of their character, or a combination of the two, then I must follow that thought to the conclusion that I, too, am part of that ‘everyone’, and must therefore also be attractive. I think the main issue is that beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder, and I am still in a place where I can very rarely ‘behold’ myself with anything less than revulsion.

The other thing I can do is be candid, because I’m pretty sure there are people out there like me, who have this self-image thing all mixed up and muddled, and I’m nothing if not good at being a mess. So here I am. Messy, chicken-shit, and maybe a little bit brave.

Mandi: I’m going to keep doing what I do and encouraging the people around me, pointing out the things I find wonderful and exceptional and dare I say … beautiful. Just look at these answers. We, women, are our biggest enemies. We need to stand together and hold each other up rather than try as hard as we can to tear each other down. We need to find beauty in ourselves first, to appreciate the things we can. We need to rebel against the stereotypes that society has set for us (for example: perfect Crest smiles and tiny waists). And we need to teach our daughters that beauty is not what makes us, that security comes from self and within, but first we need to teach our daughters kindness. Because with kindness comes acceptance, and once we have acceptance, we squash judgement, which is at the root of all of this bullshit insecurity. (Oh, we’re talking about me here? What can I do? I can stop believing the negativity.)

Any final thoughts?

Lizzi: Yes. I didn’t realise how much I was going to hate doing this, and I was surprised by how stupid I felt for making the suggestion in the first place to write it. And to drag Mandi down into it, and potentially make her feel bad – kinda hate that I did that. I also REALLY wanted to be as brave as Beth and post a full-body shot, but after Soulie tried to take one for me, I slipped immediately into the dark side and hated everything about myself, and cried huge amounts for how ugly and trollish I look, and how stupid I am. Then I messaged Mandi and told her I couldn’t do the pic, and I was sorry. But it’s okay – I think I’m cool with being the chicken-shit Sisterwife. For now. Until I somehow fix me. Which I’m trying to do.

Mandi: I knew the questions before I started answering, but I didn’t realize how tough it would be to say out loud what the voices in my head say to me every day. Also, when Lizzi and I decided against the full body image like Beth (our badass Sisterwife) so bravely posted, I sighed, huge and heavy, at the relief I felt.

This has to stop. We have to quit beating ourselves up. I have to stop beating myself up and putting so much energy into appearance. Because, I’m smart and funny. I’m a good friend and a good writer. I have exceptionally well behaved and happy children who I adore. I’m healthy. I have food in my cupboard and refrigerator and a car that drives and air conditioning. So what if I don’t have the prettiest smile or the best hair. I’m pretty fucking amazing, and so are you.