Today I made the mistake of going shopping for a bra. Reading all the signs, I was struck by the number of ways I could reinvent myself. I could tuck my tummy, smooth my back, conceal my nipples with a “modesty panel”, uplift, separate, reshape or a whole range of other possible changes that I don’t even understand.
Seriously? My back might not be smooth enough? Good God, there’s a whole level of trauma I didn’t even know I could aspire to.
As a woman I am expected to shave my legs, shave my armpits, tuck my tummy, conceal my face behind a whole slew of gloopy chemicals, pluck my eyebrows and thicken and extend my eyelashes, just for starters.
Don’t get me wrong, if you want to do those things, go for it. I completely understand a desire to reinvent yourself. A couple of weeks ago I had purple hair, and I am currently sporting a henna tattoo. What I object to is the overwhelming message that we should completely reject our bodies as they are. That simply being who we are is inadequate, even gross, and must be slavishly hidden in order to be acceptable to polite society.
You may think I am exaggerating, but my 6 year old can’t bring herself to wear a dress without adding shorts underneath, lest someone see her knickers. Not her bottom. Her knickers – the purpose of which I thought was at least in part to conceal her bottom. But now we must conceal the concealers. This is the overwhelming message of the primary school playground – that knickers must be hidden. So now we are not only twitchy about hiding skin, we are twitchy about hiding the hiding of the skin. If we take this to its illogical conclusion we will all be padded up like the Michelin man.
Bras are apparently no longer sufficient to contain and conceal my breasts, unless they have thick padding (getting thicker every season) artfully designed to pretend that I don’t have nipples and that my breasts are a highly unnatural, but apparently now inoffensive shape. Almost every bra in the shops has this padding, and it is both uncomfortable and unattractive, if you ask me (which clothing designers never, ever do – perhaps it has something to do with the way I glare crankily at them from under my bushy eyebrows).
Clothing is increasingly designed to hide our bodies.
We must have tummies unlike our own, breasts entirely unlike anybody’s own, skin that is closer to plastic than a living organ, and a body that is pulled, pushed, warped, plucked, and padded until it resembles nothing more than a Barbie doll.
We are told in every ad, every shop and by every beauty product that who we are is no good, but don’t worry! We can fix you!
And we wonder why our children develop eating and body image disorders.
I would love to be able to tell you that I am proud of my body, but I am not. But I refuse to buy into the tummy tucking, nipple hiding, waist cinching culture that tells me I should be ashamed. This is my body. This is my shape. I have skin. I have wobbly bits. And I have better things to do than waste my energy being ashamed of it.