The day before I attended a wedding last week, I decided I had nothing to wear. I could see the huz brace himself when I announced this, and then again when he unintentionally and unhelpfully mentioned the dress I’d had made and worn to a wedding we attended in December.
Now, I didn’t send him a look of death because I’m opposed to repeating what I’ve worn, but because the wedding in December had been a formal evening event, whereas this one last week was a day wedding. A glitzy formal gown for an early afternoon event made no sense to me. I needed something else.
So, off I went to the shops and hoped to find something worth wearing (and if that’s what you think I do everytime I have to attend a social event, you’re wrong. It’s just that my closet is presently not in its best form) – I lucked out at Mango which had raging sales going on, and managed to nab a really nice LBD for the price of a formal top. Short, sleek and most importantly, wearable for almost anything fancy and even not so fancy. I saw a good long future with that dress, and combined with the 50% off, it was a steal. The next day, I matched it with a pair of wedges, a French manicure, a clutch and minimum jewelry, and I was good to go.
But, of course this post isn’t about some fabulous outfit I wore to a wedding, or how women are “never satisfied” with the clothes they already own etc. Neither is it about how “good” I looked that day or how pleased with myself I was because I saved myself from becoming a social outcast for wearing the wrong thing to a day event.
When a woman at the wedding complimented me on how nice I looked, I thanked her. I thought I looked pretty nice too. When she went on to comment how wonderful it was that I looked so much better and thinner than I had looked a few years ago, and said “I guess now that the kids are grown up you have more time to work out. That’s good.” I honestly did not know how to react. OK, wait, I did know how to react, it’s just that it isn’t legal, apparently.
Obviously, it did not end at that because *cough society cough* the other women present at the time were determined to know what I had done to look “so good” (seriously, is there NO other term?) but when I said “I ate cake for breakfast daily” no one laughed. They thought I was being serious and one said, “No, I mean what have you done lately?” – My response was “Why are my looks so important? Or, my weight?”
They stared. I didn’t say anything else.
Later, an old school friend caught up with me, and instantly demanded to know how I “continue to look so good” (Are you paying attention to the power of your sales, Mango? Because believe me the effort wasn’t mine.)
“Despite what?” I wanted to ask her while I fought the urge to rush to a mirror and check if plastic coated super duper gorgeousness had fallen all over my face and body, molded and turned me into Barbie. Clearly, I was making an impression and was being considered some kind of showstopper what with my fat-girl-turned-super-short-LBD-daring and all. Plastic would be the icing.
What got to me more than anything else that day, was how I kept noticing a note of approval in all those comments being made about my body (and every other woman/girl who was being complimented.) I felt like I was being told in no uncertain terms that whatever I was doing is right, that the way I looked (that day) was the way I was supposed to look, and that the years gone by where I had ‘neglected’ myself was wrong somehow, but how awesome was it that I’d seen the light and made the change!! I am after all expected to be a certain way, – I’m some man’s wife, a stay at home wannabe goddess who has also worked ‘while raising kids’ and now writes ‘in my free time,’ but most of all of course I am *drumroll please, and bring out the crown* ‘a Mom.’
Because I am all those things, and especially a mother, I need to show that off with the best possible post-twin body (even if it’s coming ten years too late.) If I don’t do that, I’m not ‘complete.’
How dare I not be doing and saying all the right things? I shouldn’t dare to say that I do literally nothing to lose weight, I shouldn’t ever mention that I exercise if and when I feel like it, and I should never ever say I’m not on some kind of diet because of the weight I’m constantly ‘battling.’ As a woman I’m not supposed to say any of that, especially not to many other women and definitely not to a man. I should be obsessively trying to show the world how I can do everything and still look good.
The looking good is important otherwise bah! Then, I should bask in the praise I receive (for looking good) and thank the Lord for blessing me with the grace to know my rightful place in this world… All slender and pretty, and with my shit together at the heel of society’s shoe.
Women are there to guide me off the wrong path and onto the one of super woman, men are there to nod their approval when I toe the line.
I’ve noticed this happening more and more lately, despite the successes and great strides being made by women. It’s as if we’re being reminded of our place, our worth, constantly, but worst of all, we’re sort of reminding ourselves as well. Chan and I were discussing this just yesterday and she suggested it was time to call it out as and when we see it happening.
We decided to hashtag it #CometoHeelWoman and here are my two picks from recent news.
Two nights ago Amy Adams won a Golden Globe award, and most articles talked about how shocked she was to receive it while wearing a something something Versace dress. What we’re being told is that yes she has achieved so much, but, because she’s a woman, we all (and especially she herself) must remember her real reason for existing. I suppose society thinks if a woman receives no praise for that, she might turn up at the next social event in a potato sack, or worse, an old dress that doesn’t hide her physical flaws and expect an Oscar.
Rosamund Pike was also at the Golden Globes. She was nominated for one under the category of Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama, after even her own Director had reservations over her playing the role in Gone Girl. But, the media didn’t seem to care too much about how well she has done, and frankly not many people did either. Pike just had a baby five weeks ago and her post-baby body is enough to knock your socks off!! That as we all know is real women news.
Vera Wang designed Pike’s dress for the Globes and said to Pike “‘I know what to do with you right after you had a baby; just leave it to me,” so naturally Rosamund Pike was “honored” to wear the dress that Wang so painstakingly created to hide every ugly bulge on her already thinning body. Just spent nine months carrying a baby to term? No problem. Want to step out on the red carpet (see: society) and let the world know how the ‘battle scars’ didn’t get the better of you? There’s help. Wipe out all traces of that ‘ugliness?’ Good, you must.
Honored. It’s almost as if the girl is conditioned to feel this way, and the sad thing is she isn’t alone, there are millions like her. I feel for them, I feel for us all, but I am also frustrated with all of it.
Daily I hear about women making their mark in the world, we talk so much about empowering ourselves more, we ramble on and on about progress and toss around words like ‘confidence,’ ‘strength’ and ‘success’ but, at the end of the day it’s not taking much for us to submissively come to society’s heel is it? Is one mention of how good we look all that really matters to us in the end? Is it really what we show to the world more important than what we are in the world?
I’m not saying looking nice or making an effort is wrong, or that even a compliment is a bad thing. There’s a feel good factor to both which many of us enjoy and welcome. But, there’s a difference between a compliment and being patted on the head like a good little dog for meeting society’s standards, for ‘knowing our place’. As women we know how that works, we have all at some point experienced ridicule for not measuring up, but are we really and truly listening to what’s being said when we do measure up?
The ‘Wows’ I call them. – “Wow you look so good, have you lost weight?” “Wow, it doesn’t even seem like you had a baby, you’re so thin. Well done.” “Wow, you’re getting married, time to shape up that body.”
How often have we heard this? Last week at the wedding was not the first time I did, and it won’t be the last. There was more approval there for how I looked than for anything else I might have done in my life, except of course having children. I was generously patted on the head for that too. The constant reminder that as a woman I am only worth what came out of my uterus and how good I (sometimes) look after drove me to wanting to do some serious harm to people I otherwise like and love. I would have gladly taken the compliments, but approval as if how I look is all that matters in the end? You have got to be fucking kidding me.
It made me stop and think though, of how often we mistake these dangerous reminders for what they really are, and also how terrible it is when we ourselves partake in them knowingly or unknowingly. I thought about how easy it would be for me to take what was said to heart, to try harder to look better, to always be on top of my weight game. I am not a thin girl and I never have been, and every fat girl knows how great it feels when someone questions if you’ve lost weight with that “Wow” tagged to it.
I remember a time long ago when I almost caved under the pressure of those tiny pieces of approval, you’re less resilient when you’re young, but I was also never one to care too much about another’s opinion of me, especially if it made me feel like a puppet. In return I was called ‘defiant’ because a female must be labeled. I realize I was lucky in that I never sat in a corner and cried, then later put on a brave face to the world. I didn’t see the point really. But, that in no way means I was held less accountable for my weight, or that the verbal blows didn’t get thrown at me. I just learned to appreciate who I was more than what I looked like, dress how I liked (because I loved clothes and still do) and not give a rat’s ass for anything else.
So, while we may quite gleefully vilify thin girls for falling for the glorification they receive (and really, we need to not be hatefully nasty about that either, because wtf?) I think many not so thin women glorify ‘ideal’ female bodies as well. Weight loss is still wowed over, the perfect body is still a goal for many, women pretend it’s ‘health’ they’re after during diets and exercise regimes, when it’s really the image they crave, corsets and body shaping underwear are worn for one reason only yo, the accolades are still received and given when the pre-baby body is achieved in record time after pregnancy, admiration is sound at the “graceful ageing” of older women and everyone aims to be ‘just like them.’
I think we first have to face that we ourselves pander to this mindset, or at least that many (MANY) of us do. We are also the ones insisting that women remember what they are and keep the shackles firmly on, we do disapprove when we or other women cross the line, fall off the image perfect wagon.
By doing that we stay true to the thought that being a woman is not good enough, or there is something inherently wrong with being one, and that is where I believe we most severely fail ourselves.
Anne is a fiction writer and blogger, and a former hotelier living in the sprawling coastal city of Karachi, Pakistan, with her husband, two kids and a pet fish. A city girl at heart, she likes her coffee strong, books always within arm’s reach, perfumes by the boatload, music of the old school variety, beaches sans the crowds, cozy cafes early in the mornings, and intimate encounters with Jack Daniels on Saturday nights.