November 17, 2005
I think I have body dysmorphia: an unnatural and distorted view of my physique, otherwise known as false body image.
See, I'm the only woman I know who has ever expressed a bit of shock at the Dove advertisements.
They've been running for the last few months on billboards, on bus-stop ads and in magazines. Surely you noticed: It's a veritable chorus line of women clad in the barest essentials of white bra and underwear. But the clothes -- or lack thereof -- are not what stand out.
It's the women: Instead of the super tall, super skinny and buxom Amazonians with not one ounce of fat on their bodies, these Dove Girls, as they've come to be known, have flab. They've got love handles or a little belly or thighs that actually touch and hips made for child birthing. In other words, they're regular people.
They're mostly in the Size 8-12 range -- which is thin for the typical American woman, who averages out at Size 16. But runway models wear Size 0-4. (Why do they even offer a Size 0?) Every single woman that I've spoken to loves the ads.
"Finally, they're showing what real women look like," my friends say. "It's refreshing to see normal bodies on billboards."
Millions of women have responded favorably to these women, because they're real, they're curvy and, truth be told, they're pretty tight -- no jingling or jangling, no unsightly, pockmarked cellulite or varicose veins.
But my first thought was, Don't you think they're a little ... fat?
Just a little? A teeny bit? I never said this out loud, not in the company of women. Because I'd probably be stoned. I'd be branded a traitor to womankind, flogged and marked publicly with a the scarlet letters F.C.P. -- as in Ariel Levy's new book "Feminist Chauvinist Pigs" (Free Press) which accuses some women of buying into -- and perpetuating -- male stereotypes of women.
Have I betrayed all my feminist principles and begun to view myself through the prism of society's -- i.e. men's -- standards?
Honestly, this has nothing to do with guys -- the standards are all my own. See, I've always had issues with fat. But what Jewish woman doesn't? Although judging by the content of women's magazines, weight seems to be a national obsession.
Are there any women who were born with perfect bodies who are completely satisfied with those bodies? Women who only eat when they're hungry and stop when they're full? Who don't save up calories for a really big meal? Or go on juice fast days and cabbage soup diets or count calories or carbs or fats or oils or cholesterol or sodium -- or the way the letters of the food add up to spell the devil's name backward?
Maybe there are women out there who don't act like the rest of us, but I've never met one. (OK, I did once, but I killed her.)
Seriously, am I the only person who walks past other woman on the street comparing myself to her?: Is she thinner than me? Does my butt really look like that? Please don't say that's what my elbows look like.
The thing is, I used to be skinnier. I used to be in my 20s. I used to be a teenager. Maybe I'm not a sick person; maybe I'm just trying to recapture my youth, or the body of my youth.
Feeling this nostalgia, I sifted through some old beach pictures. And I made an amazing discovery: I wasn't any skinnier then. If anything, actually, my arms are a little more toned now, my stomach a little flatter, and my tush is a little less, well, tushier.
So how is it that I feel fatter?
Could it be my surroundings, the fact that I'm no longer in New York City, a metropolis filled with Jewish women who have Jewish women's bodies -- which are generally shorter in height, fuller in the hips and bust and wider in the derriere.
Now I live among a people ("Angelenos") whose arms look like ski slopes and whose hip bones jut out like moguls on a bare mountain. These are women whose necks are so thin you could see the food being swallowed -- if you could catch them in the act of eating. These are women who might have been called gawky, or skinny or coat hangers when they were younger, but for the magic of surgery and a sick workout schedule, have now defined an impossible standard of beauty.
Have I violated the Ten Commandments by coveting these bodies, these waifish figures I will never, ever, ever, become?
As I ponder these sins, and wonder how I have become my own worst enemy, I see the Dove ad again. And again. And again.
I still do that thing: Is she fatter than me? Is she fatter than me?
But then I find one woman in the ad who is no fatter, no skinnier, no taller or no shorter than me. She is me. And she is not bad. She is not fat. She looks nice. We look nice.
Not that I'm not completely reformed. I don't look at Calvin Klein models and think: You are way too skinny, you war victim.
Yet, sometimes, I look in the mirror and say to myself: not bad; not bad at all.
But even that's not the point, is it?
The trick is to peer into the looking glass and see that it's only my reflection in there -- not the essential me -- and to turn around and walk away.