Sugar and Spice

I was recently reminded of a concern of mine after reading a post by Nico over at No Period Baby. Nico mentioned how she has been reading The Beauty Myth, and how it has made her realise how important appearance is in the lives of women. Nico questioned how she could raise a daughter without perpetuating these inequitable, skewed ideas centred around image.

This idea resonated with me, because every time I let a pregnancy thought enter my little head I ponder this question. I always tell The Dude that I would prefer a son (yes...yes...a healthy baby, regardless of sex is what I should want, yadda yadda yadda), and this is the primary reason. I consider myself a strong woman, but image is where I have failed any feminist ideals that I possess.

I insist on being called Ms Pru, never "Mrs". When men marry, they never have to change their title, nor do I think women should. Some of you may think of this as a very paltry detail and hardly cause to call myself a feminist, but UK culture is OBSESSED with formality. I am never addressed as "Pru" in a casual situation such as WHYBAML's office, but rather Mrs Pru (I corrected him, fyi...curious glances were exchanged). I do not want my marriage to signify the end of my life as an individual, of which my real first name is rather indicative. Mrs Pru is my mother-in-law. I am not a 56 year old housewife and grandmother of 4. In case you were wondering, I did take The Dude's last name. Lest you think you've caught me in a hypocritical trap, you haven't, at least I don't think so. A female professor of mine once said that most Western societies are patriarchal, and as such, most women are given the last name of the male side of the family. Since this is the case, my maiden name ("maiden"...no heavy symbolism there) is yet another last name forced on me by males. That, and it was way too clumsy to keep.

I can also never envision myself being a stay-at-home mom. It's fine if others choose to do this, but it isn't the life for me. I can't bear the thought of surrendering my financial independence that my job affords me, limited as its salary may be. I am also uncomfortable in assuming the traditional female role, as I feel like others would also treat me differently, ie presuming that I'm not educated, lack the drive to succeed professionally, and that my main goals in life are to raise my children and keep a nice tidy house.

I'm not trying to prove myself as a feminist. There's no point. I only used the examples above to juxtapose my own interpretations of feminism as it relates to my life with my all-consuming battle against my appearance. I would struggle to raise a daughter to not have these issues, because I cannot even conquer them myself, despite being an educated, cultured, and aware woman. You know, if I can say so myself. My confidence is supremely affected by how I look, and I can't see that this will ever change. When I was thin, I hated my nose, freckles, skin tone and a host of other things that I no longer consider problem areas. Now that I've gained weight I focus mainly on that issue, and all the things I hate about my body are weight-related. I have no doubt that even if I lost weight that I would find more features to despise to replace the disdain for my weight.

That said, how could I ever teach my daughter that looks aren't important? How would a woman such as myself, one who went home and nearly threw up upon finding out her weight at the doctor's office two weeks ago, convince a young girl that appearances are trivial? I would never be the type of mother to slyly say, "My, someone is getting a bit chubby, aren't they?" to my daughter, because I fully acknowledge that sort of behaviour only adds to this insurmountable social issue. If my daughter did come home crying after school, miserable because other kids were calling her fat, how would I console her? I'm sure I'd tell her how these kids are assholes and to ignore them, but if in my own mind I'd know that this poor child was in for a lifetime of such ridicule.

I am pondering doing my thesis on an aspect of feminist art historical theory, because I think its a riveting subject. I would like to do something involving this idea of Wolf's so-coined "Beauty Myth", as the visual arts are overflowing with innumerable portrayals of feminine imagery. I'm also hoping it will bring me to some realisation, finally, that who I am is not mainly constructed around what I look like. I would like to genuinely feel that "It's what is on the inside that counts." is not a trite saying doled out to children crying on their mothers' shoulders but a statement that can does contain some truth.


Em said...

I feel the same way. I have grown up with lots of positive affirmations from my loved ones but I personally have a horrendous self-image and low self-esteem. I am, periodically, obsessed with excercising, losing weight and compulsive clothes shopping to make me feel good. During my active addiction days, I also sought to feel good through nanst one-night stands.
I grew up in a pretty normal family, am well educated and intelligent YET I am so screwed up about my appearance at times. I NEVER want my potential daughter to go through that. I don't really know what point I am trying to make but I think I'd be a better mum to a boy because I'd be really scared that I would pass on my unhealthy attitudes to my daughter. (Of course, I'll be thrilled to have a child, no matter what sex!)

Manuela said...

A thesis on this topic sounds like a brilliant idea!

Personally... if I had to pick a title... hmmm...you know instead of Mrs. or Ms... I think I'd like to go with Ombo... Oh Mighty Bitchy One. Or... if I were somehow forced into Mrs. I'd want the full thing... Mistress... 'cuz that just conjures all kinds of naughty images that might make people squirm... THAT would be fun!

K said...

It's often hard to think about helping someone with an appearance crisis, when I have so many myself. During my childhood and adolescence, I never had a problem, I waqs confident and proud of who I was and what I looked like. Funny how that was only shaken after getting married and subsequent stress.

I'd love to see the thesis if you pursue it.

Jenn said...

Add me to the one who would like to see the thesis.

I'm quite the opposite of you. I'm content to stay at home (only I'd rather be a mother than a wife) and let my nursing license drift into inactive. I kinda like Mrs. But I really just don't care how I look. Usually I try to tame my hair into something socially acceptable. But I don't care about what I'm wearing, if it matches, or if it's cool. I'm at least 50lbs overweight and, while I'd like to lose it, it's more for health reasons. I NEVER wear make-up. I worry any daughters I have won't be ambitious enough in their careers though because of me opting to stay home.

thalia said...

I want a daughter more than I want a son (although clearly I'd be happy with either at this point!), but not because I think I can handle this problem, but in spite of it. I certainly think I can do better than my mother did (she was of the sly: do you really want that piece of cake variety). But in the end it's only partially up to us. We can't save them from reading Vogue, Heat etc. As with most elements of parenting, we won't be able to get it all right.

Molly said...

Oh Pru --

That's one of the great things about the internet -- we all know the INSIDE you, so we know how absolutely kickass you are. Yaay!

I'm jonesing to see that thesis as well. You rock.

Critical Darling said...

Interesting--I was just talking about the Mrs. thing the other day. I'm not fond of it because it makes me feel old. I'm only 23 and unmarried, but when I go to the store, they have a nasty habit of adressing you by the name on your credit card. Since I always go with my boyfriend, they always call me Mrs. M

As far as physical image goes, I'm rather proud of myself in that department. I was tormented as a child for being too thin (I hate that people think it's only fat kids) and had serious image problems as a teenager. I did, however, develop a personal philosophy that involved renouncing the materialistic--popularity, money, physical looks. I actively force myself not to take into account the way someone looks when coming to conclusions about them. And I expect the same in return. Having turned into a rather nice-looking person (vengence is sweet) helps as well, but I do have mild issues with my body and don't like when women with serious low self-esteem act bitchy towards me because of theirs or pretend I'm physically perfect. People are just as judgmental of a pretty person as they are of a not so pretty one. Anyway, my point was that I think if children are taught to respect others and to see physical materialism as trivial, it may be easier for them to view the harsh comments of others as a sign of the judges weakness and not their own.

tania said...

I'm so with you on the fascination with beauty and think it would be a kick ass thesis topic. That's why I love watching Average Joe. Love it. I openly admit it.

I would think at 35 I'd be happy with myself for who I am, but I am hating my body now, which I find very bothersome. When I was pregnant the first time I loved every pound I gained, now that I'm starting out a good 5-10 pounds heavier than I did, I'm struggling not to just feel fat. My hugest pet peeve in the world is people who complain about feeling fat when they're pregnant, so I'm fighting it tooth and nail. It doesn't help that I'm having a bad hair year. I think I'll be OK once I truly look pregnant and know that people looking at me aren't wondering "hmmmmm... has she put on some more weight, or has she got a bun in the oven?"

I stay at home, and it is very very difficult for all of the reasons you mention (other than the keeping the house tidy part, because I really do a crappy job of that). But then the freedom is nice. But then the fact that you never have any time to yourself sucks. There's no correct answer there, unless it's Tuesday-Thursday. That might be the ideal situation.

Kim said...

I'm torn on the Mrs thing. I haven't got round to changing a lot of my details since I got my married so I'm still known as Ms. MaidenName which used to get me a lot of weird looks before I was married. Now I'm starting to use Mrs.HisName but I don't feel old enough to be a Mrs. It's all weird.

I think I'd be a better Mum to a boy too. My mother did such a god awful job that while she provided for me, she was blatant with her criticism. I'm scared of doing the same to my own daughter.

Anyway, very cool post. Thanks for that.