All cultures I can think of have some history of making people – women especially – suffer for fashion. There was a brief report on TV the other day about a woman who lost feeling in her legs and may have suffered some degree of nerve damage because of her too-tight skinny jeans. Sure enough, there was this little discussion about fashion and harm, and it only brushed the surface.
The whole foot-binding thing in China? I heard once that the idea was targeted – it was introduced by the new ruling class specifically to cripple the women so that the men would not be able to unite and rebel. They had to stay home and take care of the women. There would be no uprising.
I’m certainly not the first person to point this out, but this obsession with dieting, with restriction – reframing depletion and literal physical weakness and exhaustion as if it’s a virtuous moral position – this obsession only keeps you weak, and insecure, and all it seems to do is rob you of energy so you can’t question it anymore. Think about how many hours are spent in the pursuit of beauty? I don’t believe a life can actually be wasted. All things lead you somewhere, teach you something in the end, and all lives are valid.
But think about what you could do, with your energies, if they weren’t spent in service of something that never gives you anything back? Beauty – the closer you get, the further away it seems, and the harsher it criticizes you. What revolutionary lives could we lead instead? Not that all of us should be Olympic weightlifters either, there’s a line you cross where that kind of training stops being good for your health. It’s just that it’s your life. I want your efforts to feel worthwhile.
Many people are aware of the dangers of weight-loss dieting, but the prevailing social view still seems to ignore the negative aspects – as if the end justifies the means, even if you never achieve the goal. And all this fitspiration? Purportedly it’s designed to keep you on track, but really it keeps you obedient. The more I work in this industry, the more it appears to be true – at the risk of generalising like crazy, if you want to improve your health, eat more and train smart. But all the time I see people grinding away at it on a treadmill, just trying to eat less, less. Hardly anyone thinks about recovery or progress in realistic terms.
Servitude to what? To who? And for what dubious prize?
I feel I need to issue a trigger warning, but… a fun activity, so to speak, is to google fitspiration quotes juxtaposed against images of people drinking. Not for the faint of heart. But reveals a different kind of truth, I think.
If it really was about health, the language would be different. Disordered, warped standards would be recognised for what they are, and nobody would buy into them. You’d see them coming from a mile away.
Could you imagine an Amazon Warrior giving two shits about the thigh gap? Not that we all have to be warriors, of course, as a term it’s used incredibly inaccurately these days. But why train to diminish yourself? Why not train in order to grow? If strong really was the new skinny, again the entire rhetoric would be different.
So, fuck you thigh gap. I mean, I get it – chafing thighs can be incredibly painful. But I hope it’s clear that this is not what I’m talking about. We seem to have a variety of completely made up standards for beauty emerging all the time, some only thinly veiled, some clearly masquerading as positive, when they’re actually deeply negative and harmful. There’s this bizarre idea of having high standards – but who is the arbitrator? Why would we think that something harmful and exploitative equates to having a high standard? Standardisation is the enemy of uniqueness, of character. If we really did care about standards, wouldn’t we instead pursue what was appropriate for ourselves – you know, try to be your own authentic self, not measure yourself against contrived, standardised guidelines?
Because in the end, these standards – it’s not about health. It’s about servitude and oppression.