So, it's taken some time to manage some quiet moments when I can write about this, and I'm not sure I can pull my thoughts together completely, but still.
One of my friends and mentors guest lectured in my class about eating disorders.
She showed this video which is pretty terrific, btw.
I has response journals due that week, and I got overwhelming responses from students. An athlete who had been pressured by his coach to lose weight. Students who had watched family members struggle with eating disorders, students who always considered themselves too thick or thin to be beautiful.
We later watched Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth (since the school's copy of Becoming Barbie was too damaged to use). The book was published in the late '90s, and Wolf's thesis is that whenever women achieve major gains in society, the ideal of beauty becomes something almost unattainable, in order to undermine the power of women. Her examples: The right to vote, followed by the Flapper ideal, the birth control pill shortly followed by Twiggy, and today's women...educated, liberated, and paralyzed by the images on magazine covers. She posits that three major industries perpetuate women's insecurities in order to profit: dieting,plastic surgery, and cosmetics.
Almost immediately following these discussions, Rush Limbaugh hit the news for some incredibly disparaging comments about Michelle Obama. In particular:
"What is it - no, I'm trying to say that our First Lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, or of a woman [professional baseball player] Alex Rodriguez might date every six months or what have you. I mean, women are under constant pressure to look lithe, and Michelle My Belle is out there saying if you eat the roots and tree bark and the berries and all this cardboard stuff you will live longer, be healthier and you won't be obese. Okay, fine, show us."
So...Michelle Obama looks unhealthy and overweight to him? And he's saying that a 47 year old lawyer should look like a surgically enhanced, airbrushed, quite possibly eating-disordered 20 year old? Sheesh. Two kids and a career as an attorney mean a couple things: 1)you have a few crow's feet and stretch marks, and 2) you have better things to do with your time than spend 4 hours a day at the gymn (and better things to do with your money than plastic surgery). I happen to find something incredibly beautiful and powerful in both of those observations.
I think my favorite Barack Obama quote ever is his musings about his wife in The Audacity of Hope: "Most people who meet my wife quickly conclude that she is remarkable. They are right about this--she is smart, funny and thoroughly charming. She is also very beautiful, although not in a way that men find intimidating, or women find off-putting; it is the lived-in beauty of the mother and busy professional rather than the touched up image we see on the cover of glossy magazines. Often, after hearing her speak at some function or working with her on a project, people will approach me and say something to the effect of "You know I think the world of you, Barack, but your wife...wow!" I nod, knowing that if I ever had to run against her for public office, she would beat me without much difficulty."
The first time I read those words, I was in my early twenties, and not terribly long out of a disastrous relationship. I latched on to that quotation- as an indicator of the person I wanted to be, and the respect I wanted from any future partner. Four years later, I think it's becoming my reality.