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AND NOW, A GUEST POST: Fuck Your Fascist Body Standards (And Also Face-Devouring Bread Mold, Because That’s Just Scary)

Friends, there is a new tradition arising at Tiger Beatdown: the tradition of me, Sady, haranguing one of my favorite commenters until she finally agrees to do a guest post. Today’s guest post comes from Chelsea! She comments as ChelseaWantsOut, and also sometimes as Chex. All other information pertaining to her life is mysterious; this may have something to do with the fact that she is actually Batman. Well: such is my theory.

My best friend Hanna recently started dating another friend of mine, Abbey, who I’ve known since second grade (a quick shout-out to my elementary school tee-ball team: Sparkles REPRESENT!), and it’s a little weird.

The way they met was pretty cute. There’s this whole story involving Abbey’s brother and a pool party and a bunch of “oh, you’re THAT Hanna/Abbey?” Anyway, they’re a lovely couple, but just yesterday they emerged from the opening phase of the relationship life cycle, the warm insular eggy first month of staring lovingly into one another’s eyes and never disagreeing, and there was the usual amount of pecking that goes into breaking that barrier. The fight they had will seem trivial to some of us, since we are superfeminists who haven’t bought into the beauty standard since eons of the unenlightened masses’ Patriarchy-years ago, but here it is anyway:

Hanna was upset with Abbey because Abbey wouldn’t stop telling her she was beautiful.

Abbey refused to “admit” that Hanna is empirically hideous. As Hanna confided, “I don’t need her telling me lies to get me to love her. I would be happier if she would just tell me the truth so that I didn’t have to be so uncomfortable. It’s okay that I am not pretty. I can still be loved and loving without that.” And later, “What scares me is that I do trust her. And I feel sad that she is so infatuated with me that she thinks I am beautiful. I will let her down when she realizes I am not and I am terrified of losing her.”

The reason this incident is significant to me, apart from the fact that someone I love very much and think is gorgeous genuinely believes herself to be unattractive (and she’s fine with that, really! Except when she’s not!), is that (despite what I said in the first paragraph) I’m there a lot of times, too. Me! Makeupless, unshaven, debrassiered, loud feminist Chelsea still occasionally looks in the mirror and thinks, ugh, those cheek creases, what’s with my nose, I’m so damn flat-chested, look at all the myriad ways in which I don’t resemble perfect perfect beauty wonder! I still spend an inordinate amount of time trying not to wuss out of wearing shorts for fear someone will see my hairy legs and make fun of me. I still use a complex algorithm to determine the precise level of femininity appropriate for the outfit I wear to any given outing or social function.

And that pisses me the fuck off.

I don’t want to think those things and I don’t want to have to spend lots of time and energy trying to reprogram my brain so that I don’t. I want a world in which acquaintances would never dream of telling me how “disgusting” my body hair is, both because they respect me as a person and don’t feel it is their privilege to judge my appearance and because it simply does not disgust them. I want a world in which women are encouraged to love their bodies and use them in positive ways of their choosing, instead of hate them and subject them to the will of all mankind.

But until that world exists, I don’t think the answer is to say, “I am unpleasant to look at, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” Even that guy who had most of his face devoured by some kind of face-devouring strain of bread mold has a wife who enjoys looking at him. She changed her ideas of what is aesthetically pleasing, and we can do the same for ourselves. We NEED to do the same for ourselves for our own fucking sanity. It’s going to be hard as hell, and it’s so fucking unfair that we have to do this, but it’s better than spending our lives thinking we’re hideous and dodging cameras like thrown punches.

So here is your homework which I am giving to you on Sady’s blog because I am THAT presumptuous: Do some cheesy-ass self-help shit. Pretend you are someone else and give yourself compliments in the mirror. Write yourself a letter detailing all the things you like about your appearance. Do the exercises from that one post on Shapely Prose, however fat or thin you are. Do some affirmations or something. Masturbate furiously. Because, seriously, you are pleasant to look at. The people who love you enjoy looking at you, and I’m sure there are people who don’t even know you who enjoy looking at you. Your corporeal form is really neat and I’m sure you’ve heard this a thousand times, but your body does really spectacular things, too.

And Hanna, Abbey doesn’t conform to the ridiculous beauty standard imposed by our society any better than you do. And you are both beautiful.

13 Comments

  1. oshima wrote:

    (As another unshaven, makeupless, flat-chested individual with an "interesting" nose, reprezent!)

    I run into this a lot with my partner because she has seemingly endless, unfounded criticism for her own looks. It's funny because we share nearly identical proportions (and I am a couple years older than she), but while she'll call herself "old" and "fat" she will also argue furiously whenever I try to call MYSELF any of these things. I find her far better looking than myself and am somewhat baffled that I can have pretty-damn-good self esteem but she won't stir out of the house if she has a teeny red spot on her nose that day.

    Yet for some reason her biggest complaint is her skin tone — she thinks she is "too dark" and I, being white, feel completely unequipped to persuade her that her skin tone should not factor in to her beauty. I don't even know where to start; it really bothers me but at the same time I'm thinking hey, it makes her wear sunscreen and that can't be bad for her in the end.

    Monday, July 6, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink
  2. Spatula wrote:

    You know, as an artist I can't get over the beauty and intricacy and complexity of the human form. And by that I don't mean idealized, fluffy-toga perfect form. I stare at people on the subway, and I have to remind myself to not stare too hard and freak them out, because the whole time I am looking at them, I can't get over how beautiful they are.

    And you KNOW people on the subway look normal. Fat, wrinkly, warty, sweaty, unharmonious, toga-free and so, so, so beautiful.

    Am I the only one who sees this?

    Monday, July 6, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink
  3. CaitieCat wrote:

    Yay, post from ChelseaWantsOut! And well-written and funny and everything! Perfectly Tiger Beatdownish. :)

    I make a point of calling all of my friends beautiful. All of them. Every one of them is beautiful to me: they're sentient animals on the hoof (occasionally, on the wheel), what's not to love? And too many of us never hear that: never get told we're beautiful.

    Great post, CWO, and great choice for a guest post, Sady!!!!! (many exclamation marks are a sign of TigerBeatDownLove!!!!!)

    Monday, July 6, 2009 at 3:49 pm | Permalink
  4. ChelseaWantsOut wrote:

    Thanks for posting this because now that everyone knows – or at least suspects – that I'm Batman, I'll have to do so much less actual ass-kicking. Whereas before I had to prove my toughness, now it will be assumed and no one will want to start anything. This will save me at least 2 and a half hours of THWACK! and BAMF! per day.

    Monday, July 6, 2009 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  5. ChelseaWantsOut wrote:

    Oh, snaps, people have commented! That is so happy-making it makes me bounce up and down for really reals!! Yaaaaaaaaaay! Now to respond to each of you in detail like a total nub!!!

    @oshima: Woo, lack of boobs! Yeah, it can be frustrating when people can't see their own prettiness. With Hanna, for instance, I have considered photoshopping a picture of her just barely enough that it looks like it could be someone else – like maybe even just photoshopping the clothing to make it look like an outfit she doesn't own, and then telling her it's my friend, you know, Gertrude or something, and showing it to her, because I bet if she really thought it was someone else – even if it looked exactly like her – she would be like, "Wow, that girl is really beautiful, I wish I could look like her." And then I would be like, "AHA! GOTCHA!"

    @Spatula: I am an artist, too, and I know exactly what you mean. I love LOVE love to look at people. Have you seen any of Lucien Freud's paintings? I feel like he is really good at seeing how beautiful the different shapes and colors and textures of real regular humans are. He doesn't try to "idealize," he just tries to capture it, and it's gorgeous.

    @CaitieCat: Thanks so much! I've been enjoying your posts at Shakesville; you are totally rad! Yeah, I'm a big fan of complimenting my friends, even when they protest. I have this friend named Erica who is really gorgeous and used to have the most adorable way of deflecting compliments: I would be like, "Erica, you're so lovely, you're like a goddess," and she would say, "Oh, yeah, that's really great or whatever except that I'm just so busy right now, terribly busy." and then she would just change the subject and pretend it didn't happen. Did I mention she's incredibly charming and funny in addition to being stunningly beautiful?

    And if more comments come I will most likely respond to them in detail as well, because this is all very exciting for me!

    Monday, July 6, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Permalink
  6. CaitieCat wrote:

    The thing I used to stop myself arguing with people who compliment me was to realize that, quite simply, it's rude. If my friends are kind enough to say something nice to me, it's really (I think) rude to turn around and say, "No, I'm not $COMPLIMENTED_TRAIT!" It's like saying, "Hi, friend, I think you have crap judgement, and I'd like to smack you down publicly about it!"

    So now when people offer me unexpected and gratuitous compliments, I just say "Thank you."

    Please note that this does not apply to wolf-whistles or any other form of public objectification – if I respond to those at all, it's usually with a gesture, rather than a word. (ahem)

    Monday, July 6, 2009 at 5:17 pm | Permalink
  7. womenwithpants wrote:

    Great post! I always try to remind myself that I should never treat myself worse than I treat my friends. So if I wouldn't give them shit for something, I shouldn't pick on myself for it…

    How stupid is it that I have to remind myself of that?

    Stupid patriarchy.

    Monday, July 6, 2009 at 7:15 pm | Permalink
  8. carleighsoup wrote:

    Yeah Chelsea! Awesome post! This has been on my mind a lot lately. It's hot out, so I've been furiously shaving my legs so I can wear skirts, and I HATE IT. I cut the shit out of my knee today. Why do I bother? If another woman asked me if she should stop shaving her legs for the patriarchy's gaze, I'd be all HELL YEAH! But, uh, don't take my razor. Boo, Carleigh, boo. I guess I have enough to deal with already that I don't want to deal with explaining to random people that I still deserve to be treated like a human being even if I don't comply with the Official Hair Removal Process of Women's Bodies.

    Monday, July 6, 2009 at 7:32 pm | Permalink
  9. Anonymous wrote:

    Beauty is not skin deep; pretty is. Go for the beauty.

    Jbd

    Tuesday, July 7, 2009 at 7:16 am | Permalink
  10. ChelseaWantsOut wrote:

    @CaitieCat: Yeah, there's a certain kind of street compliment I'll accept, and it doesn't involve shouting, whistling, or honking. It's generally someone I'm passing on the sidewalk saying, "What a lovely article of clothing," or "You have such pretty eyes," or something. I also sometimes give those kinds of compliments to strangers, and I really hope they don't think I'm rude or nosy.

    @womenwithpants: Yes, exactly! We all do that and it is absolutely the assholicopter patriarchy's fault.

    @carleighsoup: Yeah, it is damn hard to go out hairy legged in a skirt, and I do not think any less of anyone for not shaving. I am definitely Patriarchy-compliant in other ways. Passers by can look at me and be soothed by the fact that I have long hair with bangs, a skinny body (as if that is any of my doing), and an owner/handler, or "spouse" as I like to think of him.

    @Anonymous or Jbd: I definitely appreciate that women have more to offer than just their outward appearance. However, the main point I'm trying to make here is that "pretty" means aesthetically pleasing, and the scope of what the world has told us is aesthetically pleasing is too confined.

    Tuesday, July 7, 2009 at 12:15 pm | Permalink
  11. Hannah wrote:

    This is a great post! Super timely since I gained a sliiiight amount of weight recently and have been trying hard to not beat myself up for it/change my life to lose it.
    Also, dude, your friends need to learn some goddamn respect/consideration! My lady-bffs don't consider themselves feminists at all, work hard to look pretty for mans, etc etc, and would NEVER call me or my body hair disgusting out of pure respect for me.
    Also also, you are great at being Batman.

    Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 9:09 am | Permalink
  12. M. Caliban wrote:

    –But until that world exists, I don’t think the answer is to say, “I am unpleasant to look at, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”–

    Would a better statement be, "I don't fit popular notions of beauty, and there's nothing wrong with that?"

    That said, you're not her. You don't get to decide whether finding beauty in her body, or saying that it's okay to be unattractive is better for her. We all get through this crap our own way and what makes you feel good might mean nothing for others.

    I’ll also point out that if her girlfriend is constantly pointing out her beauty, that means her girlfriend is constantly judging her appearance. Most likely Hannah would prefer no judgment at all. Abbey’s been asked to stop, so she should stop.

    If they weren’t dating, would you react the same way? If a strange man came up to Hannah at a party and constantly complimented her appearance, and Hannah specifically asked him to stop, would you talk about how messed up Hannah must be?

    I hate to say it, but I believe you’re falling into the trap of romantic ownership: Abbey is with Hannah, so Abbey must now compromise when it come to how she wants her body and appearance talked about. The truth is that Hannah has no more ‘right’ to make Abbey uncomfortable than the strange man at the party does.

    Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 10:30 pm | Permalink
  13. ChelseaWantsOut wrote:

    @Hannah: Hey, thanks! It's not my real friendy friends I'm worried about making fun of me, it's just acquaintances and coworkers, really. I'm sure my friends think all kinds of things about the black tufts of fur peeking out from my pits, but they keep their own counsel on the matter.

    @M. Caliban: Yes, that WOULD be a better statement, and would convey something entirely different than what Hanna actually said.

    You raise some good points. People definitely deserve to set their own boundaries and decide what they do and do not want to talk about. Reading my post and taking it at face value, I can absolutely see how you would take the stance you're taking.

    The basic problem, as I see it, is that they were arguing about a matter of opinion as though it were something factual that could be determined empirically. Hanna wasn't saying, "I don't find myself attractive," she was saying "I AM unattractive," and demanding that Abbey concede that point. Abbey was insisting that Hanna IS attractive, repeatedly, in response to that. Hanna could have said something to the effect of "I don't see myself that way and I would prefer if you would refrain from making comments about my appearance," or Abbey could have said something like, "I realize you disagree with me, but I am not going to change my opinion of your appearance. We don't have to talk about it if it upsets you."

    But that's not the way it went, and the issue isn't that simple. Hanna has been my best friend for 13 years. We've been through a lot together in that time. When my best friend, or any person I have an emotional connection with (something I generally don't have with strange men at parties), says, "I am ugly, and have somehow tricked people into believing otherwise, and when people realize that they will be disappointed," I can't help thinking this person might be having a case of the low self-esteem, and perhaps would be happier if that were remedied in some way. Especially if the person has also recently said to me, "I just suck so much, I don't know why anyone would like me."

    Also, maybe I am putting too much emphasis on aesthetics because I'm an artist, but I personally like to be surrounded with things I find attractive. And there are several parts of my body I see a whole lot, like my hands and arms, my crotch, my tummy, my breasts, just because they're there whenever I look down. If I didn't find those parts of myself pleasant to look at, if instead I found them repulsive, that would be very upsetting to me. If I felt a wave of disgust every time my hand brushed some imperfect part of my body, that would be very upsetting to me. In fact, I've been there, and it was very upsetting.

    And now it's been hours since I started writing and I keep coming back to this and I really don't have anything more to say, other than I agree with you, and I don't. And I'm not saying Hanna's messed up, I'm saying it's messed up that we are systematically trained to hate our appearances. KTHXBYE.

    Friday, July 10, 2009 at 8:57 pm | Permalink