This morning, Scott stopped by my desk before class. He saw the "Shad March Events" flyer on my desk and asked me what I thought of Bridal Boot Camp (which was one of the ones listed there). He read me the description (which I hadn't looked at before).
Bridal Boot Camp will help you get into tip-top shape for your wedding day. It works because there's a deadline and no room for mistakes! This will be a total immersion style of training, with twice a week sessions and access to your trainer, ensuring accountability and success. Your trainer will motivate and train you the way you want to be trained. Get slim, strong, and sexy with emphasis on building symmetry and balance.I said I understood the desire to look your best for this really important event which will be immortalized in photos but I'm uncomfortable with the idea of weight as a measure of health, and the idea that you have to be a certain shape to be attractive -- "get skinny and fit because no one will love you otherwise; oh wait, you're getting married, so someone already loves you!" I said my feelings on this are strong and probably unsurprising. He was in agreement with my feelings, which I appreciated.
I told him a little about an article I read yesterday -- about "fat talk" and how women "race each other to the bottom." (I told him I felt like this was one of the ways I failed at being a girl and that I was really okay with that. Though yes I'm sure I've absorbed some of that acculturation.)
Here's the excerpt I was gonna post yesterday but didn't have the brainpower for:
One of the things that I am really into studying, lately, is adolescent female friendship. It is this hugely complicated and fascinating thing, wherein girls create immensely powerful spaces of resistance, but also put each other through Patriarchy Boot Camp, and I am starting to hold the opinion that studying it extensively will reveal to you the Secrets of Life. I won’t go into all of that right now! But I will say that I have, recently, been reading a book called Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, by Rachel Simmons. One passage in this, which grabbed me and blew my mind and suddenly made about a thousand troubling incidents way more easy to understand, was about how female bullies pick their victims. The author interviewed a whole bunch of girls about this, and she came up with a really good, really obvious answer. So, do you want to know how they pick their victims?
They pick the girl who seems the most confident.
Yes, that’s really it! In the particular seething cauldron of insecurity, unhappiness, and fear that is female adolescence, girls tend to feel shitty about themselves for about a million reasons, and to think that they need outside approval – from friends, from boys, from the culture at large – in order to be worthwhile. But if a girl seems not reliant enough on outside approval – if she doesn’t hate her body enough, if she’s too successful at getting guys to like her, if she’s not interested enough in getting guys to like her, if she thinks she’s smart or cool or worthwhile or pretty (or if she just is smart or cool or worthwhile or pretty, and it’s pronounced enough for the people around her to take notice) – then the wolves start circling. Because they’ve all been bullied, too; they’ve all been undermined; they’ve all made the mistake of standing out, at one point or another, and they’ve been punished for it. And now, because they feel like shit about themselves, you have to feel like shit, too. A girl who doesn’t feel like shit is a threat to the entire social order, the extensively complicated and crappy system whereby women have to earn their way into a pretense of self-esteem by getting enough approval from other girls or from other outside sources in general.
What girls learn to do, in order to survive in this particular dynamic, is to race each other to the bottom. It lasts for a lifetime. They maneuver, hiding the urge to matter and succeed under an appropriately self-loathing demeanor, so that they can get ahead and climb up without ever appearing to do it.
For example: have you ever gotten the Complinsult? It is a wondrous and immensely complicated thing, the Complinsult. Here’s one of the best I have ever received, which I keep close to my heart: “Your outfit is amazing! I think it’s so great that you can wear that out in public. I’d never have the nerve.” The words are saying “I suck and you are awesome,” and yet? That is EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what it means. Guys do this, too, sometimes, but typically only guys who are really adept at social maneuvering; girls tend to learn it earlier, and to have it down better, and to use it more, if my own personal experience is any indicator.
Or: the Fat Talk. You know about the Fat Talk, right? Lots of people have written about the Fat Talk already. For years, I thought this was some grody stereotype that you only found in male stand-up comedians’ routines about how women are awful. But then I met women who actually did it: the thing where, before ordering dinner at a restaurant, you all talk about how you should order this and you absolutely cannot order that, because you are so disgusting and you cannot stick to your diet and eating a cheeseburger will literally send you right straight to hell, and if you are the girl who straight-up says she wants some nachos so covered in cheese and guacamole and various meats that they might as well not even have any chips involved – just a big mess of meats and milk fat and squished-up avocados, that is the experience for which you are aiming, and also it would help if the entire thing had sour cream all over it – well, you just might have earned yourself a Complinsult about how brave you are with your dietary habits, young lady.
The weird thing is that, in this scenario, it seems not to ultimately matter whether you get the cheeseburger or the nachos or whatever: what matters is the extensive ritual of saying bad things about yourself, and contradicting other ladies about the bad things they have said about themselves, and giving each other permission to order the nachos, before they’re ordered. And if you don’t get permission to order the nachos, if you’re the one girl at the table who doesn’t get contradicted when she says she’s fat and shouldn’t be allowed to eat what she wants, then you know something is up. You know someone at the table, or maybe everyone at the table, has a problem with you. Which is why you don’t place your order without doing it: for a long time, I thought I was just demonstrating my good body image by ordering a cheeseburger and not participating in the Fat Talk, and then I sort of figured out that I was straight-up declaring that I was so hot I got to do whatever I wanted and was too insensitive to appease the body insecurities of my friends, who were (my actions declared) less hot than myself. I still think the Fat Talk is destructive and body-hating and stupid, and I don’t want to do it, but the way I get around it is to talk with the girls I have lunch with about why I think it’s destructive and body-hating. Not to just bypass it. Because that’s how self-esteem, and self-promotion, and social status, tend to work with girls: it’s a series of very subtle interactions in which you say you’re not good enough so that other girls can tell you that you are.