Womansize - A book review
Hello lovelies, I’m taking a break from my news blackout to share a book that’s been incredibly eyeopening for me and I think would benefit anyone who has some sort of body image issues.
The book in question is Womansize - The Tyranny of Slenderness by Kim Chernin. It was first published in 1981 but it’s still very relevant and it has changed my perspective on the female body in general as well as my own.
The book is about how women see their bodies, how they deal with the pressure to look a certain way, and how their struggles to reach unrealistic social expectations often translate into extreme dieting, disordered eating, self hatred and mental health issues.
A survivor of anorexia, the author brings up this illness again and again throughout the book.
A survivor of anorexia myself, I could see myself in every page.
When I read that anorexia is an illness of self-division, where the body and the mind are considered two separate entities of which the mind can take control over the body - that used to be me.
When I read about the author’s desire for her body to look like the one of an adolescent boy’s - that was also me.
When I would get panic attacks over the irrational fear of having gained weight overnight and be suddenly fat.
When I’d wake up in the morning and immediately hate myself.
When I’d feel a constant uneasiness within my body, a systematic guilt after a meal, when I only felt beautiful when hungry.
I was not alone.
I am not alone.
All those records of women reporting the same exact thoughts I used to have. It saddened me beyond words to learn how many women feel the need to diminish themselves, feel like they don’t deserve to take up space, that they are powerless and unworthy and inferior.
According to the author, this is one of the reason why eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia became so common from the 1960s - and may I add, more than ever today. They often reflect a girl’s struggle not just to live in a body, but in a woman’s body. This girl cannot deal with the idea of becoming a woman in a culture that tells her that women are to be despised.
It’s interesting how the author makes this connection between wanting to keep an undeveloped body and the fear of womanhood.
For many anorexics, fat often equals maturity. Women who looks like women - with curves, prominent breasts, wide hips - are those who get catcalled, whose opinions are futile, who are deemed as weak and powerless, who get paid a fraction of their male counterparts for the same work.
The longing to live in a body that looks like the one of a child’s often reflects the fear that becoming a woman would mean having to conform to all of the above.
I don’t want to say that this applies to me. I don’t think my anorexia developed out of fear of having to face society’s expectations as a woman. But reading this book I have realised that my most profound anxieties revolve around attributes that are strictly linked to my identity as a woman.
The parts of my body I am the most insecure about are my hips and my bum - a woman’s most distinct traits after boobs and vagina.
Even though I had zero body image issues thought out my teenage years, I do remember being annoyed and feeling uncomfortable at the realisation that the boys clothes that I had been wearing all my life no longer fit the way they used to: they were too tight on my hips, my once-loose jeans were now filled up with bulging bum and thighs, my boobs were small yet too visible.
In full-blown anorexia, I could fit into those clothes again. Anything I wore would hang loose off my bones. I looked like the adolescent boy I couldn’t be when reality (and puberty) hit.
And then recovery came, and with it my curves, my hips, my bum.
And ten years later, reading this book, an enlightening awareness hit me: what I used to call fat is the body of a woman.
This is what I’m supposed to look like. My body is appropriate for a woman body, not a 15 year old boy.
Recently I’ve been struggling with body image as I’ve notice my body has been through some changes.
I looked at some pictures of myself a few years ago, when I was in my twenties, and I realised I don’t look like that anymore. My hips have gotten a bit larger, my bum a bit heavier, my thighs a but fuller. My tummy’s grown a small but visible roll of fat around my bellybutton that didn’t use to be there.
However. I’m not in my twenties anymore. I’m not cycling 24km to and from work every day. I’m not worrying to much about not having carbs for dinner.
These changes my body is going through - they are natural. I am 32 years old. It would be unrealistic for me to expect to still have the same body I had 10 years ago.
I constantly compare myself to others (let’s be real) but I also find it easy to remind myself that it’s absolutely pointless because I will never be someone else. What is harder is not comparing myself to my past self. Because I used to look a certain way, I know I’m capable of looking like that, or at least I was, and it’s difficult for me to accept that I may not look that same way ever again.
What’s been helpful to accept and embrace my body changing is the notion that it means everything is working fine. I’m in my thirties, which is when the female body is naturally ready to get pregnant and have children. I’m not planning to have kids, but my body doesn’t know that. And it’s getting ready just in case.
I am actually fascinated by the concept of motherhood and what the female body can do, how it can adjust to bear another life, how it can produce food to feed a tiny human. I admire large women with kids around their ankles and babies on their laps because, in a way, they represent womanhood.
My body reshaping and gaining weight is just part of the natural process of being a woman, and I should be grateful for that. Instead of wishing I could freeze in a perpetual status of adolescence, I should be amazed of all the wonders my body is capable of.
Womansize doesn’t propose a solution to all these issues, but it certainly challenges the reader to reflect on why we think about our bodies and ourselves the way we do.
It clearly worked for me. I wish it works for you, too.