So summer is here and in Texas that means it’s hot, hot, hot! The ways we survive is lots of water activities, beer, and margaritas. This weekend I’m celebrating a friend’s birthday in one of the best Texas ways possible: by sitting in an intertube in the middle of a river, drinking a beer, and laughing with friends. Floating the river is a great Texas summer tradition and one I always look forward to…sorta.
Floating the river is fun, but it also means wearing a swimsuit. I’ve never been particularly comfortable in a swimsuit, but this year the idea of putting on a swimsuit for the first time in 9 months is causing me ridiculous anxiety. I’ve gained some weight since last year and despite upping my workout routine and cutting back on sweets & drinks, I haven’t toned up or slimmed down like I had hoped. As such, I’ve been really dreading putting on the swimsuit. Should I wear a coverup? Should I wear my cute red vintage-style one piece? Should I just go with the the striped purple bikini and get over it? What will make me feel most comfortable?
Well here’s the thing I’ve come to terms with – I don’t feel confident or comfortable in a swimsuit no matter how much fabric there is, it’s not something that makes me think, “yea I feel great in this.” My decision about what to wear this weekend wasn’t actually being driven by my desire to feel good (something that I think we should all strive to do), rather my decision was motivated by shame. I felt guilty and shameful about the current state of my body. When I realized this I had to metaphorically smack myself up the head. I mean, really? This is not acceptable!
I recognize this is incredibly unhealthy. Theoretically and intellectually I can go on and on about the perils of patriarchy, and encourage other women to value themselves outside of their outward appearances, and I can lambaste the media for creating such a toxic culture, and I can go off on tirades about how society doesn’t value women for their accomplishments (or the fact that they are you know, people and people deserve respect, period). I can do all that and do it eloquently and passionately. Yet, here I am thinking I should have to cover up my body because it fails to meet ideal standards of acceptable femininity. My desire to cover up was not about me, but was driven by my perceptions of other people’s standards and expectations. Wow, no!
In essence I was objectifying my own body! There was no need for anyone else to do so, the damage was already done – and that, ladies and gentlemen, is patriarchy at work. I always come back to Ashley Judd’s great quote about patriarchy and the role women play in reifying and perpetuating dangerous patriarchal ideals. She writes:
Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times-I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.
I am reminded that if I truly want to practice my feminist beliefs then I cannot conform to patriarchal standards that attempt to shame me. I must resist a culture that insidiously and subtly encourages me to internalize toxic ideals and practices. Furthermore, I must speak out and refuse to be silenced by my shame and experiences. I reject patriarchy by sharing my own insecurities, and by openly resisting a culture that constantly tries to devalue my worth, esteem, confidence, and agency.
Please don’t mishear me, if you choose to coverup your body because of your own personal values of modesty, or because it makes you feel confident about yourself, then by all means do so. However, I realized my desire to coverup was driven by shame and a sense that I somehow “owed” people a “good” body. Covering up wasn’t going to make me feel better, if anything it was going to be an all day constant reminder that I didn’t “deserve” to be in a swimsuit like the other 1000 people on the river. So tomorrow I’ll plop my butt down in a tube, pop open a local craft brew, slather on the sunscreen, and embrace my value as a passionate, intelligent, fun, caring, and successful woman – a few extra pounds be damned.
*Important P.S. I want to acknowledge my own privilege in all of this. While I struggle with self-esteem and body confidence on a daily basis, I also recognize that I am privileged to be able-bodied, I am not obese and my health and size do not limit my mobility, ability to function, or even my ability to shop with relative ease in everyday stores. I’m completely aware of this and know I have much to be grateful for and hope I am not reifying someone else’s shame or guilt about their body. I am not trying to flout my own privilege without regard for the fact that my body is strong, healthy, and fits some form of consumer standards. I know my struggles are insignificant compared to so many other women (and men).