(Or, Eating in the Light of the Moon, Chapter 1 – “Woman Spirit”)
Last February, following 5 days of engaging in the symptoms of an eating disorder that I vehemently denied having, I told my counselor that maybe – just MAYBE – I’d be willing to make some changes. Nothing crazy, mind you, but I might be willing to explore some of my issues with food and my body. She stood up, reached behind her for Eating in the Light of the Moon and came to sit next to me on the couch.
We began reading with Chapter 1, “Woman Spirit,” pausing every few lines to check in on what I was thinking or feeling.
“Bodies sculpted by plastic surgery to look like those of prepubescent boys with breasts have become the standard for the ideal female body,” I read.
“Stop,” she said. “What do you think of that?”
I didn’t know what to say, really. My relationship with my breasts is a funny one. In fact, I am so disgusted by the fact that I have them that even the word “breasts” sounds dirty to me. There were brief periods where I enjoyed them (well, the boys I liked enjoyed them and I enjoyed the attention), but for the most part, from the time I started wearing a bra in fourth grade, I just wanted them GONE.
“I don’t know,” I stammered.
“I was thinking that sometimes I could even do without the breasts,” she said.
I laughed. Maybe she wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe I could survive this book and this shift in therapeutic emphasis, after all.
“Yeah, me too.”
Four months later, I would have that coveted thin body sans breasts. I could walk around without a bra for the first time since grade school. I still thought of myself as horribly overweight, but loved the long line from neck to toes.
Johnston discusses in Chapter 1 how the celebration of women and their curves was slowly overtaken by the hierarchy of the line. Masculine replaces feminine, angles and line replace curves.
Just this week in Body Image group we discussed the evolution of the ideal female form in Western society. An interesting pattern emerged. At periods of time in history when women are gaining more economic, political, and social power, the ideal woman is thin, thinner, thinnest. In the early 20th century, it was desirable for women to have a layer of fat, to have curves, to look — in short — like women.
But as women struggle for more power, they play small physically.
Just as the women are taking political power in the US through suffrage in the 1910s and 1920s, women cut their hair short and the thin “flapper” looks comes in to fashion.
In the 1960s, as women struggle for sexual freedom and gain more and more power politically, Twiggy appears on the scene, forever changing the ideal of women’s fashion and body.
The late 1990s and early 2000s see women increasingly involved in politics, economics, and government on national and international levels. At the same time, the prevailing look in fashion is Kate Moss’s “heroin chic” — thin, emaciated women. Prepubescent boys with breasts.
We discussed the reasoning for this shift: Women need to look like men to get ahead in the corporate workplace. Women need to desexualize themselves in an era where they are seen as objects, things to be had and used. Women need to make themselves smaller so as not to threaten the men they are taking power from.
Anita Johnston offers another interesting theory: Our society is slowly changing into one that values even the LOOK of the linear over that of the curved, the round, the intuitive. As women take their place in the sphere of influence, the only way they can be taken seriously is to conform to the society they are seeking to join.
Women still live in a society where what is masculine, linear, rational, and logical is considered superior to what is feminine, circular, intuitive, and emotional. Today’s woman is a round peg trying desperately to fit into a square hole in order to survive and flourish.
How does she do this? By trying to shape her body into a more angular, masculine form, one that has zero fat to round off its edges. (p. 6)
All quotations are from Anita Johnson’s Eating in the Light of the Moon, published by Gurze Books in 1996. You can buy it here.