My counselor and I have been reading a book called Eating in the Light of the Moon. (Yes, she is actually re-reading it along with me, one chapter a week.) I read it once last fall – more of a skim – and completely dismissed it, but agreed to give it another shot at my counselor’s request.
This week’s chapter was subtitled “Rediscovering the Feminine.” When I read it last Saturday, I was seized with anxiety at the end of the chapter, where the author states that part of recovery from disordered eating is bringing one’s feminine and masculine sides into balance. I told my counselor about this anxiety, leading to a 50 minute discussion of my own masculine and feminine qualities and why, exactly, I’m so stinking afraid of femininity.
My counselor was careful to point out before we began this conversation that, while my femininity may been damaged or subverted through the years, it’s still there. She reaffirmed that I am most definitely a woman and never once has she thought “Man, she is really masculine” in regards to me. (This is, in general, a quality I like about my counselor – she always seems to know exactly how a conversation or statement might get twisted in my mind and heads it off before I have the opportunity to make myself crazy over it.)
We realized pretty quickly that my rejection of the feminine (which I think I summed up as “skirts, and make-up, and spending more than 10 minutes getting ready in the morning, and being emotional”) – is a sort of preemptive strike. For as much as I want to state that buying into that cultural ideal of what a woman should be is stupid (oh, the irony and hypocrisy), it has much more to do with the fact that I just flat out rejected it before it could reject me.
The reality is, I never fit in. Not from day one. I was an awkward kid and I just got more awkward with puberty. So it was a heck of a lot easier to just say to myself, “Oh, that’s just stupid. I’ll never do that. I am so much more interesting/special/extraordinary than buying into a cultural ideal.” But let’s be honest, I’m not – I bought into that ideal hook, line, and sinker. I may not spend an hour getting ready every morning or wear make-up or wear skirts (or anything except jeans and race t-shirts) – but I spend far more time every day than I’d like to admit scrutinizing every fault and flaw of my body, working out, counting and re-counting (and re-counting again) calories, et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum.
That’s all very private and silent, though. I can buy into all that and keep it secret and still give off this tough-girl-holier-than-thou exterior. For me to give the outward appearance of a girl (or, eek!, a woman) would be awkward and uncomfortable and shoot me right back to middle school and the perpetual fear of judgment I felt every day. (I think my counselor actually used the word “stunted” in regards to my emotional growth past age 12.)
So my counselor encouraged me to sort of experiment with femininity, but to go in realizing that it is going to be highly anxiety-inducing and awkward and I will probably feel like I am twelve all over again. I think if I were make that into a concrete homework assignment, it would look a little something like this:
This week, I need to try and wear a little make-up. I need to wear something other than a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. I need to wear an outfit that acknowledges (and even accentuates) the fact that I have curves. I need to go out of my house and into public while doing this. (Additionally, I need to have some sort of plan to deal with the anxiety that will come of this.)
It’s the perfect week to give this a shot – my college girls are in town tonight and we’re going out! So I bought a “new” pair of jeans (really, a Goodwill find) – a nice dark wash pair that can easily be dressed up. I bought them even though I feel like a small hippopotamus in them, because my friend said they looked great on me and I am aware of the fact that my own perceptions of my body are probably skewed. (Or, if nothing else, I am pretty sure this friend would have no reason for wanting me to look like a small hippopotamus.) I straightened my hair. I’m considering some eyeliner (or maybe some blush). I’m still on the search for the perfect top, but will likely have to borrow something from one of my girls.
The part I’m lacking is the plan. Really, it couldn’t be a better situation to try out a more feminine look – I’m not going out alone and we’re going to a place I am really comfortable (our favourite martini bar!). I’m more anxious about the food and drink aspect than anything else. And food anxiety is but a step away from body anxiety is but a step away from the whole thing falling apart. I don’t even know where to begin dealing with that, but I’ve got about three hours to figure it out.
And attempting make-up is probably going to take most of that three hours.