I was on a bike ride with a friend when I told him I had a real hard-on for Hillary Clinton after watching her docu-series on Netflix.
Did you know that she only took Bill’s last name after theories circulated that Bill did not win re-election as Governor of Arkansas because the traditional (ahem, hillbilly) citizens did not respect his feminist wife and couldn’t possibly understand why she would keep her maiden name?
Say what you will about Hillary’s “personality flaws”. She was, is, a badass.
My companion was a bit shocked by my use of the word ‘hard-on’ and ‘Hillary Clinton’ in the same sentence. He then confessed that he thought she came across as “cold”.
Naturally, this comment got me going.
“Would you ever use “cold” to describe a male politician?” I asked, while dodging pedestrians on the bike path and trying to keep up to him on my Granny bike ready to prove a point.
He sheepishly admitted that he would not.
And there you have it, folks: The gender double-standard.
To be fair, this guy is aware of his male, white privilege. It was one of the things I liked about him. But he clearly couldn’t escape his own deep down feelings about how a woman should look and act.
Since the Black Lives Matters rallys kicked off, white, female friends and I have discussed the fact that we will never know what it’s like to be black, but we know what it’s like to be oppressed and objectified.
We have been given the head-to-toe look by men twice our age in the boardroom.
We have been coached to “work on our tone” so as not to come across as bitchy or bossy.
We have been a check box in the visible minority category as part of the job application process.
As much as women’s rights have evolved over the past 50 years, we are still treated as objects in the eyes of many. For some reason, even in 2020, there are men who feel like they have a right to make comments about how women look and act.
When I was 22, I dated a really shitty guy. During the two years we were together (I know, I know, too long), he made so many comments about my boobs and how he was going to buy me “big fakers” one day, that I eventually came to believe that there was something wrong with my little boobs.
That I was not enough exactly as I was.
The fact that he felt entitled to modify the body I was born with disgusts me to this day, never mind the face that I had actually considered letting him.
I moved on to someone who wasn’t as cruel, but similarly had opinions about my body. This time it was my thighs.
Now, the mean girls started calling me thunder thighs since junior high, so this criticism was not new to me, but it was heartbreaking coming from someone who said he loved me.
After a workout one day, he asked me what I did at the gym. Among other movements, I mentioned squats.
“Don’t you think your thighs are big enough?” He asked.
I should have ended things then.
I have thick thighs. No doubt. But why he felt like he had the right to make a remark about that being anything other than amazing is beyond me.
I mean, sure, I had a few things to say about his “look” as well, but I had always thought, “Ashley, who are you to ask someone to change who they are?”
I wish he showed me the same respect.
The same guy once told me that if he met me after watching me play soccer he would have thought twice about dating me. Too aggressive.
I clearly know how to pick ‘em.
During this relationship, I went to a vein clinic for a consultation. I have a series of burst capillaries on my left outer quad due to multiple contusions from soccer and one really bad GT Snowracer crash and I had started feeling self-conscious about it.
The treatment required a saline solution to be injected into the capillaries to flush out the blood. It would cost $500 and I would need three sessions, followed by compression leggings and a series of other protocols to ensure there were no complications.
I never went back.
Not long after, I got a Groupon (I know…) for a cellulite reducing treatment where I basically wore panty hose and had a woman run a very strong vacuum over my thighs and then wrap me in an infrared blanket. After a few sessions I felt both scammed and ashamed.
Why couldn’t I accept my body for the work of art it was?
That was ten years ago.
After my bike ride and the “cold” comment from a relatively aware man, I couldn’t help but think that not much has changed in terms of how we expect women to exist in the world. Woman are not only encouraged to act a certain way (there was a whole HBR Magazine focused on it in 2014), we are still encouraged to look a certain way. Primarily, young.
The beautiful thing is that as we age what we lose in collagen production we gain in wisdom.
I recently turned 37 and that uncoincidentally coincided with me not recognizing the skin on my hands. Not only has the texture changed, but there are a few spots here and there that remind me of my grandma’s hands. This is not a bad thing, but rather an observation.
The lines around my eyes have multiplied and deepened.
When the light hits my head just right I can see strands of silver hair.
I know if I wanted to I could get fillers and creams and dyes to undo all the doing of ageing but I can’t bring myself to do it for a variety of reasons. Truthfully, one is cost.
I would rather go to Central America than get my armpit hair lasered off.
Look, I have zero issues with cosmetic procedures.
You want fake boobs? Rad.
Laser hair removal? Cool. Been there.
Skin resurfacing? Sure!!
Full lips and a smooth forehead? Give ‘er.
1 100% support people who are making decisions about their body because they want to. Because it makes them feel like a polished version of the legend they already are. I know women like this and I applaud them.
But for the people who have had the voices in their ear that I have had, or who compare their existence to the overly filtered and consciously curated photos on social media, I say wait a beat.
We rarely make good decisions when we make them from a place of fear or insecurity, or when the pressure comes from outside of us to make a change.
One of things that has helped me recognize my own negative self-talk is having nieces. To me, they are absolutely perfect. Are their bodies changing? Yes. Can that be confusing? Oh ya. And aside from telling them they are perfect the way they are, as an adult in their life I absolutely have a responsibility to model that behaviour. And so I have to get there myself.
Here’s the thing, I am the first to admit that I am trying to slow down the signs of aging with my diet, movement, and handcrafted serums and body balms that I make in my kitchen. I lift weights, go for long walks, and do yoga. I eat mostly plants and the occasional cinnamon bun and donut.
I love carbs and coffee and beer.
My goal: to feel strong and healthy.
I catch myself holding the soft skin on my thighs with contempt once in a while and release my hate grip as quickly as I notice it because if I knew that my nieces were doing the same thing my heart would shatter into a million pieces.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about children it is that they are always watching, listening. They are looking to the adults in their lives for cues on how “to be” in the world. If they see us grabbing our love handles or making hateful comments about our cellulite or hear us demonizing food how will they know to do any different?
If we can’t come to acknowledge our bodies as powerful vessels for good then what is the next generation going to do?
The world would be a really dark place if we spoke to our kids the way we spoke to ourselves.
Now listen, I for sure have days where I stand in front of a mirror while trying on swim suit and think, “Well, fuck. That is quite the ass you got there, girl.” But I also bought my first thong bikini bottom this year because, well, why the hell not!? It sure beats hoisting my bathing suit up my arse when I want to sun the buns!
I spent much of my 20’s trying to shape my personality and body to align closer to the expectations of others (boyfriends, male bosses, mainstream media). During a time when I was trying to figure out who I was and what I cared about it was hard to accept what I was learning about myself because it didn’t always align with the expectation of others. Or what I interpreted to be expectations.
Now in my late thirties I’m finally starting to know better. I’m starting to stand up for myself and other women even when that means telling my inner-critic, or a Bumble date (hypothetically), to take a hike. I’m not just letting go of the burden of other people’s expectations I’m throwing them out the fucking window.
You go get your boobs done.
You go get your cellulite vacuumed.
You deal with your tone and over-animated facial expressions.
I’m going to be here doing more important things.
Like doing squats, eating donuts, and not wearing a bra because, well, I don’t fucking have to!