dear eva, pls help
Our new agony aunt Eva Wiseman helps us untangle some of the knots in the tights of life.
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How can I be sure that body positivity isn't just capitalism?
Please help settle a debate between me and my fleshy soul vehicle. I've always been bigger than your average and while I've never hated my body, I don't wake up every day beaming from ear-to-ear over how much I absolutely fucking love it either. Should I? I read in my boyfriend's sent emails that being "thicc" is really in now, but how can I be sure body positivity isn't just another way for brands to appropriate benevolent capitalism? Is it better to be a self-loathing radical feminist or a blissfully content consumer? Being happy when everything's so awful feels inherently wrong. Help.
Yours, Katie W."
First, honest and deep-felt congratulations for never having hated your body. That is incredible and amazing, and deserves a line break.
How many of us can say this? That we have not, even for an afternoon, stood and abused our thighs with venom usually reserved for a mugger on a stolen moped that's grabbed your phone. Hating your body has become as ingrained into femininity as the colour pink or the ability to cry. It is how we make friends, in nightclub toilets, in competitions of self-execration. My nose? I want it to be detained at Guantanamo. Oh yeah, well my arse? My arse deserves to be drowned like a witch. My chin is a cunt. And that's the other thing -- because there's not a huge amount of mileage in simply hating our body, singular, we've learned how to carve it up into bitesize chunks, all the better for detesting slowly. So then, in the middle of this ancient cacophony of body hatred we have heard since we were six, there's suddenly a singsong jingle telling you to fucking, 'embrace your curves' or 'love your body.' Always though, with the help of a new firming cream, or control tights, or fancy pair of pants. You're completely right -- 'body positivity' is totally another way for brands to appropropriate benevolent capitalism, catching us in this sticky net where you're taught you hate your body, but also, you've failed if you don't love it too.
Which is why your email reads less like a problem and more like a kind of solution.
The best possible outcome for a woman looking in a mirror in 2017 is that she is able to think beyond 'I hate myself'. To have two thoughts at once -- one, that your body really doesn't look like Beyoncé's, and two, that it's a shame that this is what slides through your mind as you're getting ready for work rather than, say, the grinding daily routine of bus desk Pret desk bus phone bed. To think: I still agree with the bits of Naomi Wolf I highlighted at sixth form and I find the aggressive normalisation of plastic surgery disturbing, but: I also hope this oil gets rid of my cellulite. That body shapes go in and out of fashion is true, but for what? The party rail at Topshop? The ad campaign for YSL? How do these reflect on real life, where a body is used for more than a party. The idea that we should (and could) change our own body shapes to fit these three month trends is compelling and impossible and frankly unfashionable.
You and your fleshy soul vehicle (how on earth did you discover my daughter's name) sound enviably sane, and I hope you continue to balance feminism and consumerism through scoffing at the fatal problems in their relationship daily. But the boyfriend and the emails, that's another whole story and I'm not paid enough per word to deal with that today ok.
I'm just in love with the 'gram
Something has happened. It's hard to explain. For the last few years the only significant relationship I've had is with Instagram. It's the only thing I care enough about to check up on and the only thing I noticeably miss when my wifi goes out in between tube stations. I'm 25 and work in media, meaning I'm encouraged to stay constantly up to date with meaningless celebrity information through my social media apps. No one else seems to find it as difficult to manage as me. I recently cried over a photo of a girl from New York that I thought a skateboarder I don't know from Canada would fancy more than me. How can I overcome this constant self-loathing. When I see my friends, we pretend to be listening to each other but we aren't. My phone screen is the only place I want to look and it contains the only me I want to see. Sometimes late at night I obsess over glimpses of people I think I'm in love with wearing red eyeliner on the Discover page. Sometimes I delete the app and swear I won't go back, but by lunchtime the next day I'm stalking tagged pics and scrolling miles at a time like yesterday never happened. Will I ever get these hours of my life back? Am I really missing anything that important anyway?
Thanks so much... Alex D."
I know what I'm meant to say. I'm meant to say 'go running!' People love to tell you to go running. Meditate! Swim, preferably outside, ideally in a lake where ducks have died and there is actual shit floating on the surface, but you will be close to nature! I'm meant to say, get off the internet, run away from the monster that is chasing you. Get off the internet, because it is full of pain and you're not equipped to deal with such tsuris, you're only a human, and a weak one at that. Get off the internet, it doesn't like you and it calls you fat. But get off the internet is not a real answer, is it. It's like saying get off the train, when it's between platforms and beside, you're in a hurry. It's like saying, get off Saturday, get off dry land. Are you missing anything that important? Maybe.
There was a time in the early 2000s when I wrote an agony aunt column for a magazine that back then was gently kinky, in a Bettie Page kind of way, in a 'considered a genital piercing but actually no thank you I have a good relationship with my family' kind of way, and the questions were things like, 'Can you go blind from getting too much semen in your eye?' For which I had to ask my dad (the answer is yes). Problem pages used to be simpler. No, you can't get pregnant from doing that, and yes you should leave that awful boy, jesus. Answers to the girls that wrote into Jackie magazine in the 70s literally go, "No, love bites can't cause cancer", and give addresses of shops where readers could buy a book called Facts of Life. Now, when you wipe away the words and detail from most modern letters, the problem is less solid, more viscous, because it's usually: the internet is killing me.
You know what is hard? Being young. A secret about people over thirty: all we do is groan at how relieved we are to have been born before the internet became part of us. Because at least we had a few good years before this became an issue, our phones as a symptom (not the cause) of this existential malaise, this feeling that it's too hard to live, so easier to stand back and watch. The result being that, in time, it feels as though you cease to exist. It feels as though, in trying to keep up with everything, that RSI scroll between apps, you are always one step behind, that you are constantly turning your head to catch the light trail of something interesting. Is it better or worse to know that most people feel the same? That the girl in New York, I'd put money on it, spends many Friday evenings staring deep into the eyes of the same model iPhone as you, wishing she was somebody else, at least for an hour.
But neither of you are going to get off the internet, come on, let's be serious. You describe it like a boyfriend. It's more than that. It's the flat you share with him too. It's the block, the street, the time zone. Well done trying to leave - that's more than most, that deep breathed midnight delete. But in the same way that 'dry January' is a bullshit concept for desperate bullshitters, going cold turkey on social media rarely takes. We have been trained to stay there, to shut ourselves away in its warehouse as if we're looking for the last sticker to complete our Panini album. And we're not dumb - we know it hurts us, but it's where we live, this gentle warzone in red eyeliner.
So then the answer is, rather than forcing yourself to turn away from the sparkle of your phone, to make the other worlds you live in even bigger, and shinier, and remarkable.
The answer is to distract yourself with enough difficult and interesting things that a time will come when you sit up with a jolt, and realise you haven't looked at your phone for two hours. And something old inside you will flex again.