Un conversation avec l’insomniaque
Alors, mesdames et messieurs, let’s have a chat about what’s on my mind, shall we?
Je pense que oui.
At the moment, I’m knee-deep in a book titled Rat Girl, a memoir by Kristen Hersh (of Throwing Muses fame). The book is great so far, the writing is vivid and restless, just like I like ’em, but what it is like and what it is all about isn’t the important part of what we’re getting into. Currently I’m hovering somewhere around page 103, and taking place is a conversation between Hersh and friend Betty, focusing on a fasting and broth diet the latter is currently undertaking:
“How about just, you know… food?” I ask her. “Why don’t you eat that?”
“Eat food?” She thinks. “But I want to be lovely.”
Stop. Okay. Admission: I’ve been there. Fact: it isn’t a good place to be. Reflection: my freshman year of college, my academic and personal life was a mess– 10 different courses per week, flimsy starter-kit friendships, anxiety attacks, raging perfectionism, angsty-angst falling for someone in a relationship, etc. Messy messy mess. So I decided body hatred was apparently the way to go. Dining hall food consistently made me ill, so calorie deprivation was already part of my normal life, and I was a music student, it was pretty normal for us to miss two out of three meals a day. Long story short, I kept myself on a strict as-little-food-as-possible thing as often as I could manage. But then would come the inevitable binge eating. And then came the desire to p-u-r-g-e. Fortunately… gag reflex wasn’t something I came equipped with. But still, despite failed halfhearted attempts at anorexia and guilt-driven attempts at bulimia, body hatred remained. “But I want to be lovely.”
“But pretty’s a weird club; the rules are always changing… and then if you get in, they say you’re stupid.”
“I don’t get wanting to look good; it seems rude. Just makes other people feel bad, doesn’t it? Trying to look better than them?” Betty’s ignoring me. “How can you say one person is nicer to look at than another, anyway? I mean, if you gotta try to look like something, how about kind?”
Oh, Kristen Hersh, if only. But she’s right on a fundamental level, isn’t she? If it weren’t for the extreme societal focus on being “lovely” and “pretty,” would the rest of us care? I understand from mild experience, that anorexia and bulimia are first and foremost diseases that affect the mind, and secondarily the body. We grow up being force-fed what we should look like; our parents are force-fed what we should look like. And like any good primate, we try to imitate. It is heavily ingrained in our culture. For example: “normal” body types and ready-made clothes. The “normal” body type, what we should look like and be shaped like, is dictated to us by the fashion world. Not even so high as the world of couture clothing, but as close to home as your local department store. The ready-made garments we use to clothe ourselves come pre-made in specific sizes and cuts that conform to specific body types. I am a reasonably “tall” lady at 5’7″ but most of my height is in my torso. I have a small bust, a smaller waist, and butt measurements nearly double that of my waistline. Today’s jeans are predominantly cut for women with tiny and short everything, or large and tall everything. If a pair of jeans fit my waist, they won’t go over my butt; if they fit my butt, there’s a several-inch gap between the waist of the pants and where it should rest on my body. If by some miracle I manage to locate jeans that fit there, they’ve got to be hemmed because I’m not made entirely of legs. And let’s not even go into the psychological fuckfest that is sizing.
Why try to look like everyone else? Because its what we’re supposed to do. And this unwritten rule is the downfall of many a woman’s psyche. I’m sure this phenomenon doesn’t exist solely in the world of females; men aren’t invulnerable to it, either.
She smiles and keeps drawing. “Oooh… I like where this is going, sweetheart. But I think it’s sex appeal we’re after. We all wanna go to bed with somebody. Or just know that we could.”
“But no one wants to sleep with looks,” I insist. “They want to sleep with a person.”
She looks up from her drawing, stunned. “That is such a lovely thought! But entirely untrue. They want to sleep with a person… who’s hot.”
And there you have it, folks. Sex sells. We’re trying to look like what we’re told we should, so we can be sexy. So we can be attractive to other people. So we can be confident, happy, etc.
“Yeah. But we all want to be loved. It makes us feel lovable.”
“Betty, sleeping with hot people isn’t love. It’s just sleeping with hot people.”
“True… We want to be valued. And that makes us feel valuable.”
Aha. Ça c’est the problème. Value. Feeling valuable as a human being. This is what it all comes to: feeling valued. I can say with distinct clarity that when I was in a relationship, when I felt desired, I felt valuable. And now that I’m no longer in said relationship, I do indeed feel a distinct lack of such value. Nothing that’s in the foreground, dictating my every move, but it is there. I don’t know why it’s there. I still value myself as a person, know I’m worth far more to the world and to those I love than my sexual desirability, know that I’m not undesired. But there it is, like an embarrassing tattoo I don’t want anyone to see, being covered up, not defining me, but imbedded so deeply into my skin that I know it will never come out. And if it affects one, it affects countless others. With billions of humans on this planet, it is hard to conceive an experience as wholly singular.
Hello world. I’m Mouse, and I have a love-hate relationship with my body sometimes. But that’s okay, because it isn’t my fault, or anybody’s fault. It’s a construct. A piss-poor construct. And it may win some battles, but I’ve always been winning the war.
Here’s hoping you do too, you beautiful, sexy, valuable human beings, you.