I've been going to the gym on a semi-regular basis. It's hard to articulate how weird and complicated this is for me. I look forward to it every day that I go; while I'm there I don't think anything at all about the way my body looks or the way anybody else's body looks. I just go, enjoy the feeling of my limbs moving and stretching, and stop when I'm not having fun anymore. I don't compete with the guy on the treadmill next to me, I don't try to go further and faster than last time, and I don't pride myself on being able to go until my body gives out. I don't pride myself on remaining unsympathetic to my own biological needs and limitations.
In a way, I'm still faking it till I make it, because I still feel every one of those old impulses skimming beneath the surface of all of this progress. It is so hard. And I like to act like it's easy, but I've been thinking that I'm doing myself and every other woman a disservice by hiding the work, just like I did myself and every other woman a disservice by hiding the fact that I had an eating disorder when people used to ask me how I stayed so thin. All of that hiding and pretending is so damaging. It perpetuates the notion that these impossible feats can be accomplished through ordinary means; if I can do it, anyone can! We are all on an even playing field, bootstraps, etc.
So, here's this: I had an eating disorder for ten years. I've been solidly recovered for about five years, give or take. And it's still very, very hard.
It's hard to recover a sense of being connected to your body, of living inside your body and thinking of it as part of yourself, when you've been trained all your life to sever that connection. (Caveat- I've been diagnosed with bulimia and anorexia, but I've never dealt with binge eating, so I can't speak to that experience. It's impossible to ever speak for all of us. That's actually something I want to talk more about at a later time.) To take a lot of pride in subsisting on very little and working so very hard and tolerating so much discomfort and pain and pushing through that. You have to learn to ignore the things your body tells you. You have to be able to look at yourself and convince yourself that what you see isn't real. That everyone else's judgment is right and yours is so wrong it will never matter.
I think many girls aren't taught to DO THINGS with their bodies when they are growing up. We don't have a utilitarian appreciation of what our bodies are capable of. We don't learn to be proud of what they can do; we learn to be proud of how they can look. Which, of course, is a game no one can ever win. The bar will always be raised or shifted; the closer a person is to attaining that ideal look, the more we are encouraged to scrutinize them and rip them apart (celebrities without makeup! beach cellulite!! 'oh she's so perfect, I HATE HER,' etc.); and even if someone does somehow manage to be today's perfect beauty queen, tomorrow she'll be too old to be fuckable, and will therefore be worthless.
We really can't win this game. We're not meant to. But I want to discourage people from blaming women who try really hard to win it anyway. Think about that course of action critically, perhaps, but do so with this in mind: it is EXTREMELY hard to opt out. I have tons of advantages- I'm small and hourglassy (which is how we define a "feminine" figure, apparently), white, have Anglo features, etc., AND have supportive feminist friends and a supportive feminist therapist, and it is STILL really, really hard for me to try to opt out. I can only imagine how difficult it is for women who don't have all of those advantages. And when you're powerless, sometimes you're willing to settle for the scraps of imagined power that you're offered because at the end of the day you are still just trying to survive. So please, don't place all of the blame on the scabs, so to speak (especially if you are a man, in which case you really can't understand what this experience is like). Blame the system that pits us all against each other and never even allows for a real victor among us.
I'm trying my best to not play the game. Part of rejecting that cultural script, for me, has been forging a real connection with my body. Figuring out that language, which I purposefully erased from memory so long ago. Learning to enjoy being in it and using it to whatever extent I am able. I'm the one who lives inside of it, so I'm the one whose approval of it is most important- no more holding myself to a set of impossible standards to which I don't hold anyone else on earth.
It's a process. Some circumstances make it easier than others. At times, passing feels like a matter of survival. But instead of turning on one another for not living up to whatever standard we idealize, I think one of the best things we can do is talk to each other and stop hiding how fucking hard it is from each other.
*I think this probably goes without saying, but I'm not trying to imply that this is all about preening for the male gaze; but I do think that many of these pressures are sold to us using the idea that if we don't accept these standards for ourselves, we won't appeal to men/find partners