It all started quite innocently.  My room mate came home from her work at a café and mentioned that well known Hollywood actress, Christina Ricci, had dropped into the shop – for a second time in the past couple of weeks.  This wasn’t so surprising to me, as I know that the actress is in the city shooting a film, and famous people shoot movies in Halifax quite often.  I also know many of my actor friends who auditioned to play supporting roles in the same film, and I would like to think that I am somehow above being star-struck.  After all, I don’t watch Hollywood movies so much anymore, nor do I usually follow Hollywood media culture, but I do know who Christina Ricci is, and she fascinates me.  Why?  A few reasons.  One: she’s my age.  Two: she possesses an intensity and a courage in the roles she plays that I admire, and three: we both struggled with anorexia at the same time – she in the public eye; myself, only in front of the relatively few people who cared that I existed in my insular, small town fishbowl.  I am morbidly fascinated by this poor young woman’s relationship with her weight.  Years ago, I looked to her as a role model – the subtly defiant Wednesday Adams who seemed far too sardonic and oblivious to things as insignificant as her appearance, to fall into the same traps as me. 

But after curiously looking at recent pictures of her online, what I found threw me for a loop.  As I found myself scanning these recent pictures of her modest frame, I stumbled upon a tweet from a teenaged girl: “I want to look like Christina Ricci, 95 pounds of pure muscle.”  In the same breath, I found an article extoling the discipline Ricci possesses in her exercise and diet routine, and a quote from the actress stating that no matter what she does, she will never look like the average person in a bikini.  Now, think about that.  Of course she won’t.  Everyone’s bodies are on a vast continuum, and she will probably not often in her life, fall into the average category.  But what did she really mean by this comment (if it is indeed her comment)?  Well, I have a hunch that my recovered anorexic brain knows exactly what she meant.  She meant that no matter how hard she tries, she will never look as good as everyone else in Hollywood, that she will never be “enough.”  It broke my heart to read these comments, and more importantly, it broke my confidence.  This is the sequence of events that followed:

I nervously went to the bathroom to weigh myself, sighed, and went to the mirror.  Sighed again.  I have gained weight in grad school – normally not such a big deal to me – but today, the gulf between me today and the slightly more fit me that started 3 years ago seemed enormous.  And 15 or so lbs is not an f-ing big deal.  But I suddenly wanted to look at pictures of when I was 95 lbs, or 85lbs, or 78lbs, my lowest as a teenager- to remind myself of how unhealthy I looked.  And I remembered that I don’t have them.  There is a reason for this.  The reason is not because I looked sick, or because the images contain some sort of anorexia-relapse trigger.  The reason is because they freak me out: I simply was not even present in these photos.  My eyes were vacant.  I had checked out.  In these photos, I was not really looking at the person behind the camera, but at the future reflection of how “not enough” the picture would prove me to be.  And many women can spot this look – the shot where you’re trying to capture the best angle, your good side, where you’re terrified of what the picture will reveal, and are using sexuality and coy bravado to mask the feeling that you are NOTHING without them. 

My first instinct was to look into the future to where I could lose some of this excess, grad school weight.  And then I paused.  I am now in a role of peer mental health coordinator – a position where I will be working closely with many young people whose very culture dictates that they give a shit about how much they weigh.  They are already in the thick of it.  If I lose weight in front of their eyes, particularly if I dip below what I have come to see as my own average, what message am I sending?  I am not meant to be 95 lbs.  Not at all.  And I do not have the excuse of having Hollywood producers breathing down my neck.  All of us are role models.  All of us are examples for each other.  Social learning allows for a spread of both revolutionary ideas, and of subtle, silent oppression.  Every woman who ever lost weight told me they did it the healthy way, that they did it for their health, and for themselves.  Bullshit.  We do it because “health” has become synonymous with an impossible standard of physical fitness, with the Victorian belief that self-control makes us somehow stronger and higher status human beings.  There are sooo many problems with this notion.  One: it is often centered around doing what is socially desirable, and with the homogenous, tall, thin, large-breasted, big-eyed, toned bodies looking back at us from the check-out counter, alongside the high calorie, high fat, guilt-inducing snack foods.  In this social system, we are set up for failure.  Well, I have literally just decided that I would rather fail.  I would much rather fail at being a thin person who naturally isn’t so much, than be one of those who convinces themselves that their countless hours at the gym makes them a better person, that it gives them more control.  Well, what are you controlling, I ask?  Or rather, who’s standard of beauty is controlling you?  Don’t get me wrong, as described above, I have by no means overcome the societal systems I live inside.  I am not trying to say that I am somehow stronger for being able to sometimes not give a shit.  Some days, I do care.  Some days, I feel like my hairy legs and my fleshy body make me an avid feminist, and sometimes, I wonder if people might like me more, if I might have more social and work success if I looked more like the ideal.  This is a question I want to raise to everyone out there: Roughly what is the percentage of self-care that you practice that actually involves self-compassion, and what is the percentage that seems more like a punishment in disguise.  I’m not knocking being healthy.  I’m not saying that in order to be role models, we all have to be perfect according to some other standard of being unaffected by culture or personal mental health issues. I’m just trying to lead myself and others to question the sneaky ulterior motive of the notion of watching your weight in the service of “your health”.

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