For a while one of my guilty pleasures was watching "How To Look Good Naked." For those of you who haven't seen it in any of it's permutations (British, American or Canadian) here's the formula. Take one average woman whose body image is so bad that she won't get naked in front of her husband (I only ever see straight married women on this show) and introduce her to her saviour in the shape of the benevolent gay host committed to showing her that she is beautiful just as she is. Once we're introduced to our heroine and all the reasons she hates her body we watch her strip to her skivvies in front of the host and a three way mirror and cry. The host chimes in at this point to tell her all about how beautiful she already is and how mistaken she is, hugging her all the while, and she tearfully agrees that yes, she would like to feel good about herself. By the end of the show she is doing a nude photo shoot and modeling lingerie in a runway show at some mall while her family tells us through their tears how she's a new woman now.
There are a lot of things I like about this show. I like how they show women how distorted there body image is. In every episode the subject is asked to place herself in a line of women sorted from smallest (hips, ass, belly, depending on the woman's most hated body part) to largest where she thinks she fits. Invariably she thinks she's bigger than she really is and has an aha moment that goes something like this, "well she's got a gorgeous hips/ass/belly and she's bigger than me? Wow! I can't believe I was so off!"
So yes, I appreciate that this show gives all women permission to feel beautiful in their own skin. I love that they don't give weight loss tips or put them through booty boot-camp. But as far as debunking the beauty standards it leaves much to be desired. First, don't tell me that there's nothing wrong with my belly and then put me in a body shaper. I've tried a body shaper, and while I liked not having a "muffin top" I was hot, the waist-band of the damn thing kept rolling down to my waist giving a lovely double muffin top and I had a weird muffin thigh thing going on where all the displaced leg fat popped out of the bottom of it. I would rather make peace with my jiggly bits as they are than squeeze myself into that instrument of shame and torture again. But I digress. The body shaper is really only a minor quibble. The real issue for me is much more fundamental.
The thing that really gets my granny panties in a twist is that there is still really only one kind of beauty. As soon as we get into shopping and hair and make-up it's the same hyper-feminine commercially viable twaddle as "What Not to Wear." First, you must where heels. You cannot be beautiful or confident as a woman without some back breaking, foot squeezing stilettos. You must wear conventional trendy clothes and you must "dress your age." If someone pleads comfort it's dismissed as so much nonsense. Comfort, clearly, must never be allowed to trump fashion and confidence comes from feeling sexy.
So maybe that's why all of the women seem to be straight. Because queer women know that you can be butch and beautiful, you can be a boy-dyke and be the hottest thing at the bar. You can be a fat girl in a mini skirt with belly rolls and if you own it and carry yourself with confidence there is no questioning that you are fabulous. If you really want women to love themselves as they are you have to embrace the whole range of gender expression and gender identity.
When I was a teenager hanging out with all of my alternative friends in the alternative scene I felt damn hot when I walked down the street in steel toe boots, leggings, a mini kilt and an over-sized L7 t-shirt. Now that I'm a mom and married to a man I'm surrounded by "normal" straight people and I have to constantly shut down those voices in my head that make me feel inferior because I'm not femme enough. These makeover shows just amplify the already overwhelming pressure to toe the gender line.
While I'm glad that some people are starting to talk about fat phobia and fat acceptance I'd feel a lot better if the gender police would just back the fuck off. If you don't know what I'm talking about ask yourself how many times you've heard some woman disparaged because she didn't shave her legs or pits. Or how many times you've hears someone say, "she could be pretty if she just tried." Because seriously, who the fuck says that smooth legs and pits are more feminine, and who says a woman has to be feminine anyway. And what does it even mean to 'try' to be pretty. As one woman I know and love said when confronted with that particular line of crap, "I've got better things to do."
Well, I've got better things to do than worry about if my gender expression is threatening to others. I've spent my whole life not fitting in. I didn't fit into to the mainstream but I didn't fit into any of the alternative boxes (punk, mod, hippie, grunge etc.). I'm not straight but I still like men. I'll wear a skirt and make-up one day and army shorts and boots the next. I shave my legs but not my pits. I love to cook and knit but I'm the "handyman" in the house. By Sandra Bem's Sex Role Inventory I am androgynous, meaning I am high in both masculine and feminine identification. I like this definition, I embrace it. But it sure does seem to confuse people. So, as with so many other things, I say, "Fuck 'em" because life is too short to let other people tell you who to be.