First of all, THANK YOU to everyone who commented on the feminism post, whether here or on Facebook or even to me in person. Today’s topic is different but related.
I’ve been thinking about this one for a while, but only just now figured out exactly what I want to say on this particular topic.
I have always been extremely unconfident about my body. Getting naked in front of a new person/new people is still a Big Deal to me. I was on the wrong end of bullying for twelve of the first 16 years of my life, much of it centred around my looks – and something that is so vicious, and went on for so long, can hardly not have an effect that carries over into adulthood.
As a woman in this culture, it’s bordering on compulsory to hate your appearance. Just look at the magazines, adverts and other media targeted at women – it all tells us that our value is in our appearance, that we’d better be on a diet at all times or else, that we must buy all these products and go through all these time-consuming/painful/expensive (delete as appropriate) routines just to make ourselves acceptable.
The crux of this, in a (probably over-simplified) nutshell, is that our primary purpose is to be appealing to men. And this stuff gets internalised. You can think it’s utter misogynistic bullshit, as I have ever since I got old enough to start thinking critically about this stuff, but rational thought and logic and strong feminist views are not always impenetrable armour against a lifetime of having it pushed upon us that we’re all wrong, wrong, wrong and in desperate need of fixing. The world loves to tell us all about how our man will cheat on us or leave us if we don’t continue to match up to his expected standards of physical perfection.
What does this have to do with polyamory?
At first glance, not much. Look a little deeper, and… a lot.
What about trying to impress multiple people? What’s that like, especially when they’re demanding/expecting/requesting different things? I was once in a situation where one partner was telling me I was too fat (I wore a UK size 14 at the time,) while another I knew preferred curvier women and would have been deeply opposed to me losing too much weight. One loved my natural blonde; another wanted me to be red- or dark-haired. Bouncing between partners and getting a mix of “you’re great as you are” and “change this, this and this!”…. when desperately trying to keep two (or more) people happy, two (or more) sex lives on track, this is not an easy thing to navigate.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be attractive to one’s partner, or making an effort to do so – that isn’t what I’m saying at all. I dress up sometimes when I go and see Nomad, because I know he enjoys it, and it makes me feel good to do. The difference is that I know he still loves and values me when I’m lounging around in pyjamas and a hoodie, or wearing sweatpants with my hair all scraped back for dance. The difference is that he doesn’t demand I change myself for him, or attack me for my appearance, ever. I suppose to a lot of people, it’s obvious that a partner shouldn’t do this. To me, it was a revelation.
So what have I gained from all this? Sometimes I feel like, after many years of struggles and self-loathing, I am starting to not only accept (and sometimes even like) my appearance, but realise that there are so many other elements of me which are much more important. This has largely come from deciding to no longer bother with people who expect that I change for them. Of course I want to be with partners who find me physically attractive, and I never want them to be afraid to express this – but I want to be with partners who find me attractive as I am, and even more importantly, who find value in me beyond my looks.
Basically, if someone wants me, they take me as I am – imperfections and all.
And if they don’t want me, because I’m not pretty/thin/hot/whatever enough, their loss.
Maybe, with so much of our culture insistent on telling us that there are so many things wrong with us, when it comes to romantic relationships we should stop trying to change ourselves for those who demand we be different, and spend more of our time on people who value our beautiful selves, and know that our beauty goes much further than just skin-deep!