I watched this monstrosity go up outside the downtown library in the summer of 1990. It was the summer I wore teal Hammer pants with tiny wild animal graphics; the summer before I could drive; the Third Summer Of Not Eating. There used to be grass here, not brick, so I lay a few feet away as the workmen pounded and hoisted. I wondered what it was supposed to be.
“It’s art,” intoned a homeless woman sharing the grass with me, as though she could read my thoughts. Which maybe she could. “It’s alien art.” She raised her bottle and took a swig.
1990 was the hottest summer on record here. A hundred and seventeen degrees and I had lost “home alone privileges” because the therapy wasn’t working too well. Why couldn’t I mix chocolate Slim-Fast with water and chase it with a Dulcolax? What was wrong with swimming 500 laps in the pool?
The world doesn’t need another eating-disorder narrative. We’re all stocked up on manic-languorous accounts of little fingertips tracing bone and jabbing uvula. The only important things I can say go like this: You start out having it and it ends up having you. It keeps you MUCH longer than you want to stay. It’s a religion in which you are the deity. It’s the loneliest church in the world.
I was 15 then and I’m 38 now, and the monstrosity outside the library still stands. The cultural jabs re: how I should look and the measure of my overall power and worth have changed since 1990. Only the cruelty is the same. “Forty-year-old woman” is a synonym for many things, yes? But I have a secret weapon against the terror of aging (not to mention fitspo) that a woman who didn’t spend years learning how not to starve and puke; a woman who didn’t discover radical feminist theory might lack. I understand that:
1. The game is rigged;
2. You don’t have to play.
There’s visceral relief mixed in with the horror when you realize: Women are all objects. Young, old, fat, thin, powerful, vulnerable, conventionally attractive or odd-looking — generally speaking, in most of the world, that’s the dominant message. Read the news. Read more and more. Think in full paragraphs. Every minute you throw some new/improved version of yourself into the fire and wait for oracular approval is a minute wasted. It’s like reading an endless scroll of YouTube comments: You cannot come away unhurt. And you’ll look up to find it’s 23 years later.
Don’t waste that kind of time. Don’t watch the shows. Don’t look at the photos. Don’t participate in conversations about “thigh gap” or how old is too old to have a baby. As far as you’re able, disturb the narrative. Of course, none of us are exceptions and none of us can opt out totally, but Margaret Cho said it best:
“…one day I just said, ‘Hey, what if this is it? What if this is just what I look like and nothing I do changes that? So how much time would I save if I stopped taking that extra second every time I look in the mirror to call myself a big fat fuck? How much time would I save if I just let myself walk by a plate-glass window without sucking in my gut and throwing back my shoulders? How much time would I save?’ And it turns out I save about 97 minutes a week. I can take a pottery class.”
With a device that in 1990 was still science fiction, I took this photo in front of the library today. The sculpture is the same, all spidery red gloss and pigeon spikes. It is here, and I am gone.
*Andrea Dworkin (but you knew that already).