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.