“Actually, I like the way I look”

When was the last time you heard a woman say those words?

I hate being on camera. I hate having my photo taken. I always have.
I am the one covering my face. The woman next to me is a sculptor who was sailing around the world with her husband, loving her life and probably not worrying about the stupid things I worry about.

I have been thinking about this post and what to write for a few weeks, ever since I read the first essay in Laura Lippman’s new book, My Life As A Villainess.

In that essay, she talks about being told she had a potbelly when she was a little girl. She talks about trying to lose the potbelly.

She says,

Every girl remembers her first diet. Usually, it’s her mother’s.

My Life As A Villainess, Laura Lippman

I remember my first diet.

I remember my mother’s diets.

I feel like I have been dieting almost since I was born. I feel like my entire life has been about depriving myself of what I enjoy so that my body somehow does not bother other people or bother me.

She remembers the time a man told her,

If you lost twenty pounds, you would be a knockout.

My Life As A Villainess, Laura Lippman

In college, a guy who saw me in my underwear while we were making out – I kind of liked him and he was in love with my roommate, Anita, and I guess I was the next best thing because she had a boyfriend and even if she hadn’t had a boyfriend, wouldn’t have gone out with him, told me,

You’d be really cute if you lost some weight.

She talks about the diets that so many of us have followed.

She talks about men who disagree with her telling her they don’t want to have sex with her.

Because of course that is the ultimate insult. Isn’t that all we women want? For all men to want us?

She decides no, screw them.

She decides not to diet.

She decides not to criticize her body. How she looks.

No.

Better.

She decides to like how she looks.

Stop waiting. Stop entrusting praise to others, especially to sad deluded men who think our bodies are theirs to judge. It is not the trolls or the blunt dance teachers or even our partners who get to tell us we are beautiful. No one can lift us up until we choose to leap.

….Consider…saying those dangerous, forbidden words out loud. Pick any of the sentences I have peppered throughout this piece, knowing how subversive they are for someone who is sixty: I am a knockout. They totally want to have sex with me. I’m gorgeous. I look great.

Do you know how hard those words were to type, how often I flinched? But I wrote them, I say them without a flicker of irony, and go figure, I’m finally beginning to believe them.

My Life As A Villainess, Laura Lippman

And that’s the part that makes me gasp.

Because even though I think I am good at not talking about dieting and weight and trying to steer conversations away from that, I do not like how I look.

(And even though I don’t talk about dieting or weight, I still think about it. All. The. Time.)

I do not like how I look.

And I talk about it.

I talk about my teeth and my eyes – how I like wearing a mask because it covers my teeth and how my eyes are puffy.

My eyes are puffy because I eat really good food that I have cooked. I am a really really good cook yet I am concerned about what I eat because of how it makes me look.

I hate how I look. I hate more than my teeth and my eyes. I hate it all.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way.

Caitlin Moran likes how she looks, too.

I stand in front of the mirror and look at myself in it, naked. Through some mad quirk of fate, I am a middle-aged woman with a nonperfect body who still, nonetheless, likes her own body.

More Than A Woman, Caitlin Moran

The idea that it’s OK for a woman to say she likes her looks –

Wait.

That it’s OK for a woman not just to say she likes her looks but to actually like her looks?

Doesn’t that mean she is conceited?

Are we even allowed? This is not our culture. This is not how we are supposed to be. This is not what our culture of ads for plastic surgery and makeup and photoshopped women tells us.

We are not supposed to accept ourselves as we are.

And yet. Laura Lippman flips off the patriarchy.

I thump the culture on the chest, push back, and say one of the most infuriating things a woman can ever say: Actually, I like the way I look.

My Life As A Villainess, Laura Lippman

Whoa. How dare she! How dare she?

How dare we women take the power away from men to define whether we are attractive or not?

How dare we take the power away from other women?

And I am including myself in that statement – I used to think about how the Miss Americas came from the south and my conclusion was that the women in the Northeast just weren’t that pretty.

It took me a while to realize that nope, women in the Northeast are more concerned with more important things than how they look.

I was wrong, Northeastern Women, and I apologize.

And – if women stopped thinking about our weight and our looks, what would we do with all that time?

What if we used that energy to fight injustice?

What if we used that energy to seize political power?

What if we used that energy to change the world?

Or even, you know – just to be happy?

When I asked her how she was going to celebrate her fifth birthday , my beautiful smart confident granddaughter (Mr T brought his two stepdaughters with him when I married him and they are lovely and smart and beautiful and I am so lucky), told me, “I am going to be happy.”

Maybe her generation will get it right?

I want that for them. I want that for us.

2 thoughts on ““Actually, I like the way I look”

  1. It’s a tricky subject.

    I keep seeing politicians and CEOs – your stereotypical middle aged+ white dude – in video clips and reminding myself: They don’t give a shit that they have wrinkles and eyebags. WHY SHOULD I?

    And yet, and yet.

    Like

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