The Sacrifices We Make To Be Thin

A couple of days ago, I saw a picture of a woman on Instagram. The frame focused on the woman’s torso, and she was turned just slightly aside, so that the lighting perfectly caught her abdominal muscles, making her look thin and fit. Underneath the photo, she had written the caption, “This is the only time I have abs, and I haven’t eaten for twenty four hours because I’ve been sick and throwing up”. The photo had been liked multiple times, and it had only one comment, written by another woman: “I’m so jealous.”

Now, I’m sure this woman didn’t mean her comment the way that it sounded. I’m sure she was not actually saying that she would love to be physically ill and vomiting to the point that she cannot bring herself to eat for twenty four hours, all for the sake of obtaining abs. Chances are, she did not read the photo’s caption and merely thought that the first woman’s abs were admirable. However, there was something about seeing this exact comment on this exact photo that simply felt like a microcosm of how we as a society see women’s bodies.

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The photo above shows me two years ago, when I was 175 pounds and unhappy with my body. I was just coming out of a year spent coping with depression and eating what polite society would generously call a fuckton of fast food (pizza was my kryptonite), and so I came to the conclusion that if I was going to make a permanent change in my lifestyle, I was going to start with my diet and exercise habits.

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Fast forward a year, and now we’re at this photo. Here, I am 125 pounds. I had worked damn hard to lose those fifty pounds, and I was incredibly proud of myself for it, but on average, I was only eating about a thousand calories a day – and for those of you who don’t count calories, that roughly translates to “not enough food”, especially considering I was working out six days a week on top of that. There were nights where I only went to bed as early as I did because I knew that if I went to sleep, then that would bring me to breakfast faster. On average, I went through my days feeling hungry and weak. I was shaky, I had a hard time focusing on the things that I loved to do, and there were times where I missed being physically larger simply because I didn’t feel quite so vulnerable and small when I was. But at the same time, as much as I did not feel well, I was dedicated to staying that way. I counted my calories diligently, and if I went over, or if I ate more than one cheat meal a week, then I felt incredibly guilty to the point of tears, sometimes to the point of feeling the urge to go into the bathroom and try to make myself throw up (I never did, thankfully). And the strange thing about all of this is that I don’t really know why I, of all people, felt this way. I mean, yeah, 175 pounds was a little heavy for me, but I had been a curvy girl my whole life until this point – and I was damn proud of my curves too. I was that girl who reminded people that Marilyn Monroe had been a size twelve. I was that girl who rolled my eyes at the idea that women needed to lose weight to be beautiful. I was that girl who seriously questioned why ‘fat’ necessarily needed to be an insult. And yet, here I was, starving my body and putting myself through emotional torment – and why? It wasn’t to be beautiful – I thought that I was beautiful before. So why was I doing this to myself?

Well, to be honest, I think that it was because of the way that we as society view women’s bodies – and I return to the Instagram commenter as my microcosm. It didn’t matter that the first woman needed to starve herself and be physically ill to get abs – the fact that she had abs was the only thing that mattered. We tend not to see the pain that goes into getting the body that society tells us we should want. Hell, we tend to not even think of it. When someone we know has lost a ton of weight, our go-to comment to make is always, “wow, you look great”. And of course, this compliment comes from a supportive place – all that we’re trying to do is assure someone that all of the hard work they’ve put into their body is being noticed. But what about the girl who lost all of that weight by starving herself? What about the person who lost weight because they were sick? When they’re being told that they are increasing their value in the eyes of those around them by causing themselves harm, then that is going to encourage them to keep causing themselves harm. They are going to keep on starving themselves, and they are going to keep on ignoring all of the signs that their body is giving them that they need to change what they are doing, all to get that compliment and feel that sense of accomplishment.

I’ve seen it done, again and again. The woman who knows exactly how long she can go without eating anything is told, again and again, by everyone around her, that she looks great and should keep doing what she is doing. And so she does keep doing it. She keeps on starving herself and she keeps on putting her own health at risk, all because we as a society have decided that the only acceptable way for a woman to look is thin, and so some women will do anything they have to to achieve that.

In my case, I didn’t even think I hadn’t been beautiful before. I just knew that I wanted to change my life, and considering the comments that I was receiving and the expectations that I placed in myself, so long as I kept losing weight, I was doing something right.

I decided to change my lifestyle shortly after I reached 125 pounds. People had been telling me for a while that I looked too thin, that I was a person built to be curvy and I didn’t look right so small and bony, but that wasn’t the reason that I decided to change. No, the reason why was because I sat down to write one night, to do the one thing that I always told myself came before anything else, and I couldn’t do it because I felt so weak and hungry. It was at that moment that I realized it wasn’t worth it. I decided that I would rather feel strong and energetic than look the way that society expected me to look. I still eat healthy and I still work out six days a week, but now, I eat when I feel hungry and I make sure not to count calories. I have gained seven pounds since, and I feel much happier and much more comfortable in my own body.

But it still scares me when I see exchanges like the one on Instagram. I hate to think of all the girls and women who are putting their bodies and minds through hell, and they continue to do it because they continue to receive compliments for their weight loss, as though their being thin somehow matters more than their feeling strong and well. And it’s difficult to say that we should not compliment someone on their weight loss at all, because if someone has lost a lot of weight by simply making healthy changes to their lifestyle, then that is something that should be celebrated. But girls and women should also know that being thin is not the most important thing that they can be – being happy and healthy is infinitely more significant. Strength is so much more beautiful than a lean stomach will ever be.

And my message here is not that there is any one way that our bodies should look. I am not trying to belittle the beauty in thin bodies, nor in larger bodies, nor in muscular bodies. I firmly believe that every body type is beautiful, but it is more important that you feel comfortable and happy, and that you are healthy in mind and body. I believe that it is absurd that society encourages us to sacrifice our wellbeing for a body that is easier to accept. I believe that we are more than our physical appearances, that our thoughts and feelings and happiness has value, and that no one should ever feel the need to cause themselves harm in order to become something that society says they should.

Don’t Be Victims

“Being born a woman is my awful tragedy. From the moment I was conceived I was doomed to sprout breasts and ovaries rather than penis and scrotum; to have my whole circle of action, thought and feeling rigidly circumscribed by my inescapable feminity. Yes, my consuming desire to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, bar room regulars–to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording–all is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yet, God, I want to talk to everybody I can as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night…” – Sylvia Plath

As girls, we’re told that we need to be careful.

As girls, we’re told that we need to cover up. We need to wear shirts that cover our breasts, our shoulders, our bra straps. We need to wear pants or skirts that don’t show too much of our legs. Because if a man should see us in public dressed like that, should he realize that we are concealing actual human forms beneath layers of cloth and should he decide to do something that harms us, then that is our fault because we provoked him. We showed too much of ourselves, we dangled a juicy steak in front of a hungry, brainless, stupid dog. What did we expect would happen?

As girls, we’re told to watch our drinks, to mind ourselves carefully when we go out. Don’t drink too much, the way that men do. Know exactly how much alcohol you can handle at all times, even if you’ve never drank before, or you don’t do it very often. Don’t get sloppy, don’t pass out, don’t let a man slip something into your drink, because if you do, and if you get hurt, then that is our fault. We invited it. Don’t you know that girls aren’t supposed to drink? We may live in a society that glorifies alcohol as the primary way to have fun, a society that states that you are a boring prude if you don’t drink, but it doesn’t matter. As a girl, you should know better than that.

As girls, we’re told to protect ourselves at all times. Don’t go out at night unless you absolutely have to, and if you absolutely have to, there’s no question about it, then at least don’t go alone. Take someone with you, preferably a big, strong, masculine man to protect you, you weak, frail-bodied victim, you. And if you do have to go out and you can’t find anyone to go with you, not even another girl, then at least prepare to be attacked. Carry your keys between your fingers, so that when he comes up behind you, you can spin quick and catch him in the eye, and maybe that’ll give you a head start. Maybe you can escape him then.

As girls, we’re told that the world is a dangerous place, and we cannot go it alone. There are certain spaces where we are not welcome, where simply being a woman in that space can get you raped or beaten or killed. As girls, we’re told that we are Little Red Riding Hood, and we need to be on constant lookout for the Big Bad Wolf, because if he gobbles us up, then it isn’t because he’s a Wolf – of course he’s a Wolf, that’s his nature. No, it’s just because we weren’t looking for him hard enough.

Fuck that.

As a woman, I don’t want to live my life with my body constantly on my mind. I don’t want to have to worry if what I’m doing will get me raped or killed or beaten or kidnapped. As a woman, I want to see every last corner of this earth, whether I’m welcome there or not, and I want to be able to go there without having to remember that I am a woman, and that that puts me at risk. I don’t want to not be a woman, but I want to be seen as a person first. I want my life to matter more than my breasts, my right to my own body to be more important than what I was wearing. If I’m brutally raped or murdered, then I want that to be a tragedy and not a question of whether or not I deserved it. I want to be seen as a victim only after something happens to me, not before.

And I may not see any of this in my lifetime – I may never be able to walk into a seedy bar and order a drink without worrying about someone slipping something into it, or about drinking too much and being taken advantage of. But the way that this starts to change, the way that we can make things better, is not by telling our daughters don’t be victims, but by telling our sons don’t hurt women.

Why ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’ Doesn’t Work for Sexual Assault Cases

This morning, I was bumming around on the internet, looking for something that might entertain me while I fixed up my usual breakfast, and in my search I came across a vaguely titled video discussing Casey Affleck’s Oscar win, and, curious, I clicked on it.

The video’s argument was that people who condemned Affleck for the allegations of sexual assault against him are ‘morons’ (yes, this word was actually used; repeatedly) because Affleck’s case was settled outside of court, therefore we will never know if he really did it or not and all people in civilized society are innocent until proven guilty.

And on the one hand, yes, I believe in the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mentality. This mentality helps people who are falsely accused avoid serving unjust sentences, and should be kept in the back of everyone’s mind in most court cases.

Most.

Because there’s a huge, glaring problem when it comes to sexual assault charges. In fact, there are two.

One of them is that the amount of women who falsely accuse rapists are immensely fewer than the amount of women who don’t receive justice after being raped. And this might happen in a multitude of ways: some women just don’t go to the police following a rape, because they internalize it as being their own fault, or because their rapist is someone close to them, or they worry that they won’t be believed, or they think it will only cause more trouble than its worth (and that’s only a few reasons why they wouldn’t). Some women do go to the police, but they aren’t believed, or the police tell them that it’s their own fault for dressing/acting/presenting themselves the way they did, or the police tell them that it’s her word against his and chances are she won’t see justice done. Some women get as far as the courts, and yet they still aren’t able to convince the jury that the rape actually happened, or that it wasn’t somehow her fault and she was actually ‘asking for it,’ and that all she’s trying to do is ruin this poor guy’s (cough cough rapist’s) life. And some girls actually do manage to make it to the police, to the courts, and to a place where they convince the jury to convict, and YET, the rapist’s sentence is incredibly light compared to the crime he committed (for an example of this, just look up Brock Turner).

There are multiple women I know who have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, and yet very few of those assaults are actually reported, for one reason or another. It has come to the point where I feel uncomfortable citing the statistic that ‘one in four women in Canada are raped,’ because I know that those are only reported rapes, and my lived experience tells me an entirely different story. And, meanwhile, I don’t know any women who have falsely accused someone of rape – although I’m sure it does happen, just not nearly as frequently as we think.

The problem is that, in cases such as these, the man’s word is always held in a higher place of privilege than the woman’s. The woman is always somehow at fault, somehow asking for it, while the man is always some poor, innocent victim whose life could potentially be ruined by this malicious female who is out to get him. Or, if that’s not the case, then there just isn’t enough evidence to convince the court, which brings me to the second problem with this ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mentality when it comes to sexual assault: it is very difficult to prove, beyond any semblance of doubt, that a rape actually happened.

There are cases where luck is on the victim’s side, and evidence can be found. If she gets to the hospital in time and a rape test is administered, or if there are witnesses, or if the rapist happened to make a recording of the crime, then the woman is more likely to see justice. But what about all those other woman who didn’t have that sort of good luck?

What about the women who didn’t go to the hospital or to the police right away, for one reason or another? Many women don’t, especially if their rapist was someone they knew, like their employer, or a family member, or a close friend, or their boyfriend, or their husband, or even just someone who seemed like a perfectly nice guy right up until the point that he forced himself on her. Or maybe he’s someone with a lot of power, a celebrity or a politician, and the woman knows she won’t be believed because of that, or that if she does go forward, she will face a constant barrage of fans who want to see the best of him and will call her a liar, a slut, a bitch, tell her that she deserves to die for what she did. For being the victim of a violent assault at the hands of someone they idolize. Maybe she doesn’t think she can handle that.

So these women hesitate before going forward, and the physical evidence fades away. Bruises heal. Semen is no longer traceable (maybe he wore a condom to begin with). And when she does reach out to someone, no one can prove anything. It’s her word against his and he’s innocent until proven guilty, so he gets off no problem, free to continue sexually assaulting women and empowered by the knowledge that no one will believe her anyway, while his victim is publicly shamed and accused of being a malicious liar.

So what’s the solution here? Should we operate under a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ mentality when it comes to sexual assault? I don’t know – I don’t think I have all the answers. But I do know that when a woman comes forth and claims that she has been sexually assaulted, I am more inclined to believe her than I am him, because I know that there are far too few people on her side.

In Defence of Plastic Surgery

Plastic surgery seems to get a bad name in our society.

Without calling any specific person out, there are many celebrities who had quite clearly surgically altered their appearance, and yet they will deny it despite all evidence to the contrary.

Many body-positive women, including artists Melanie Martinez and Alessia Cara, have called out plastic surgery as being a problem that targets emotionally vulnerable and self-conscious women.

And in our everyday society, you often hear people laughing at plastic surgery, especially if they decide that the someone has ‘overdone it’ or that they shouldn’t have done it at all.

For one reason or another, there seems to be a certain amount of shame attached to getting plastic surgery. People are expected to learn to love the things that society has told them is flawed, and if they can’t but they don’t want to simply let it be either, then that’s considered a shame. But, personally speaking, I don’t think that there’s anything inherently wrong with plastic surgery.

And maybe that’s just because I’m a big fan of body modification in general. I love piercings, tattoos, hair dye – all sorts of things that alters the way nature made you to turn yourself into something that you made. Personally, I hate my natural hair colour and feel much more confident and beautiful with red hair. There’s no shame in that, and there really shouldn’t be. It should be treated as just another thing that I do to present myself on my body, like clothing or jewelry.

And because I love body modifications, I can completely understand someone wanting plastic surgery. I know what it’s like to struggle to make yourself love something on your body when you know that there is a way to change it. If that’s what you want to do, if it will make you feel more confident and comfortable in your skin, then I say more power to you!

The problem is not plastic surgery. Plastic surgery is only a means to an end – a tool, as good as hair dye or clothes. The problem runs much deeper than that.

The problem is that we live in a society where girls are told that the only way they can be beautiful is if they have big lips, youthful skin, large breasts. Our definition of beauty is far too narrow, and that isn’t okay. It is perfectly fine to have personal preferences and want to change your physical appearance for yourself, but it is not okay when you are altering something because you think that that is the only way you can become beautiful.

The problem is when people are so desperate to change something about themselves that they’re willing to put themselves into harmful situations to do it. Maybe they spend more money on it than they should, maybe they go to doctors who are unlicensed, maybe they don’t really know what they’re doing.

The problem is that the beauty industry is so complex and invasive that, at this point, we don’t even know what’s real and what isn’t.

And when people complain about plastic surgery, when they scoff and roll their eyes and say “you can tell she’s had some work done,” I like to think that this is really what they’re complaining about. Not that someone has had the audacity to surgically alter their body, but that there’s always this underlying suspicion that they’ve only done it to conform to this ugly and pervasive definition of beauty in our society. That’s really the problem here.

But the person who gets plastic surgery should not be treated as the one at fault here. Even if the only reason they are getting it is because they have been told all their lives that they needed to in order to be beautiful, that is not their fault. That is society’s fault, for making them feel that way.

Plastic surgery is not at fault. The narrow-minded definition of beauty is, and that is the thing that should be challenged. We need to let girls and women both know that they can be beautiful just the way they are, that they don’t need to change anything if they don’t want to. And if they still want to change something after that, then let them! That’s perfectly fine.

At the end of the day, there’s nothing inherently wrong with plastic surgery. If you’re doing it because it’ll make you feel happy, then do it! You deserve some happiness! Just make sure that the only person you’re doing it for is you.

Why Women Are Not ‘Asking’ To Be Objectified

Though we may not have personally experienced it, I think many of us have at least witnessed the objectification of female bodies – particularly of nude or sexualized ones.

Perhaps you’ve seen a friend on social media post a sexy photo, one with her cleavage as the clear focal point, or where she’s wearing very little clothing for whatever reason (maybe it’s for an event, or maybe that’s just what she felt like wearing for this photograph), and you can’t help but notice a disturbing trend in the comments section. A trend of her male friends making very sexualized comments toward her. Some of these men are just there to drool over her, making the typical “nice legs, honey” comments. Some of these men make it clear that they’ve already imagined her in situations that she may not have even wanted to be in, saying “there are so many things I’d like to do to you”. And while you may not see it directly, it may not come to you as a surprise when I say that some of these men have privately messaged her explicitly sexual comments, invitations, or dick pics as a result of this photograph that she publicly shared.

Because when a women represents herself as a sexual being, too many men see that as an invitation to began treating her as a sexual object, one whose humanity can be entirely drained away to serve only the purpose of their gratification.

And there are some people who don’t really see this as a problem. They see the posting of photos like this, or a woman dressing in even-just-slightly revealing clothing, and they say “well, if she didn’t want this kind of attention, then she shouldn’t have done that in the first place”. Personally, I disagree with this statement, however, and for a couple of reasons:

1) It ignores the fact that, maybe, she didn’t dress or act this way for men.

Whenever people see a woman presenting themselves as a sexual being, they always seem to assume that she’s doing it specifically for the purposes of the entire community of straight men, which feeds into this vicious cycle that I’m talking about. She’s doing this for men, therefore it’s alright for men to talk to her however they want or send her whatever pictures they feel comfortable.

But women don’t necessarily have to have had men in mind to take a sexy photo or dress a specific way.

Maybe she just got a new outfit that she’s pleased with, and she wanted to show it off.

Maybe she feels like she looks particularly pretty in that photograph.

Maybe representing herself in a sexualized manner makes her feel confident and powerful.

Maybe it has absolutely nothing to do with men at large – maybe she just wanted to wear that outfit today. Which makes catcalling, dick pics, and objectification completely unwarranted when you think about it that way. Imagine trying to show off a nice, new shirt that you bought, and the only responses you get are obvious come-ons and sexual advances from everyone, including people who you might not have even wanted to think about you that way.

And even if she is intentionally representing herself as a sexual being, that is only because many women are sexual beings. Women have desires and attractions, and if they feel comfortable expressing that in a public setting, then they should feel safe to do so without being hounded by men who only want to tell her the ways that she can gratify them.

A woman isn’t ‘inviting’ anything by the way she dresses. She isn’t an object who exists only for your pleasure – she is a human being who should be considered as much more complex and varied than that.

2) Sexual objectification doesn’t just happen to women who are dressing or acting sexual.

The best example that I can think of that’s been on many people’s minds lately is breastfeeding. A woman’s breasts are not, inherently, sexual objects. They are a part of her body, and sometimes, they can be used to feed small children. But many breastfeeding mothers have been forced into shame and seclusion directly because a part of their body that they cannot help having has been deemed sexual by other people.

I have heard from people who fear what might happen if a child walks by and witnesses a woman feeding her baby in a public space, as though the sight of a breast is a fearful thing that might contaminate the young and pure of heart. But at the end of the day, it is just a breast, just a part of the human body, and no child who sees one will be worse (or better) off for it. The only reason why people think of it as a dangerous and sexual thing is because they’ve decided that it’s a dangerous and sexual thing.

The same thing is true for essentially all nudity. Nude photography, for example, is something that we’ve often been taught to view as fearful or inherently sexual. If one poses nude, then they are forced to take into consideration things like what people at work will think if they ever find out, or what their children will think if they ever stumble upon the pictures. But, a) nude photography does not inherently have to be sexual, and if you want evidence of that, I urge you to look up some of the late great Leonard Nimoy’s work. Some of it is just celebrating the beauty that is the human form, and b) even if it is sexual, so what? Many of us are sexual beings, and what’s so wrong with that? What about that is so fearful? I mean, yes, there are certain people in our lives who we may not want knowing that side of us, but if someone feels comfortable expressing it, then they should be allowed to without fear of being stripped of their humanity in the eyes of others because of it.

So I know that the question many men will be asking at this point is, “What is the appropriate way to respond then?” and, truth be told, I don’t know if I can entirely give a blanket answer to this question, because a lot of it has to do with the individual – particularly, it depends on your relationship with the person as well as the setting. All that I can really say is that, if you are considering making a sexual comment toward someone, you need to take a second beforehand to ask yourself, is this warranted? Is my relationship to this person one where I am totally justified in responding to them in this manner, and is their behaviour suggesting that a sexual response is proper? A lot of this is something that is going to require judgement on your part, because it’s difficult to broadly describe in which scenarios its appropriate and in which it isn’t. After all, treating a woman as a sexual being, with her own sexual agency, is not a bad thing. It only becomes twisted and ugly when you treat her as a sexual object, with the expectation that she exists for and should be flattered by your pleasure.