A surge of feminine consciousness is manifesting its way into many strongholds of society: The Miss America contest axed the swimsuit competition this year. The NFL recently hired female experts to study domestic violence within its player ranks. The Me, Too movement has become a formidable force, leaving the male power elite quivering in their gartered nylon socks.
Then why do I still hate the skin under my neck, the flaps under my arms and my thighs?
"I have faith in women," said feminist Germaine Greer, who helped bust women out of the kitchen in 1970 with the international bestseller "The Female Eunuch."
"But the changes that need to be made are fundamental," Greer told The (London) SundayTimes 10 years ago, the year Hillary Clinton lost, but still ran for, the Democratic candidacy for U.S. president.
"They are not going to happen overnight."
If social constructs and institutions die slowly, so do personal paradigms, none more visibly than disdain for our own imperfect anatomy, bodies most of us wouldn’t dare put a bikini on in a private dressing room, much less a public stage.
This individual body shame points back to a misguided society that has for decades pushed on females mostly unattainable standards, including the proud-to-strut, winner-takes-all Miss America bikini body. Bring on Twiggy, airbrushed Cosmo magazine and the submissive "I Dream of Jeannie" and her bare hour-glassed midriff atop pointy breasts. Stir in a longstanding universal prototype that says women are born to please. And my generation learned to internalize and pass on unrealistic expectations that to this day in 2018 has some 80 percent of us and our daughters struggling with body image issues.
Alleluia, bring on a new wave of collective feminine consciousness has burst forth among us: I don’t know a single woman who isn’t fully aware that obsessing over achieving the perfect body, whatever that is, is not good or right or healthy. I for one have spent a lot of time in therapy and meditation loving myself, loving my body, and learning how to teach my daughter to do the same. The last time I was postpartum, i.e. 30 pounds overweight forever, I stood in the shower with my eyes closed and consciously reflected on each body part: "These arms are not fat. They hold babies. This tummy is not jelly. It is flesh and blood that gave life." I even started the Healing Body Image Project on Facebook, which brought women together in bikinis, to a public waterfront, where we cried and laughed, shared agony and shame and posed openly for professional photos we later posted on our page.
I am feminine consciousness. And yet, still, I cringe. Those arm flaps, that neck skin, those thighs. Of late, it is the way my big toes stick out on the sides.
My toes, for God's sake.
There's a documentary that’s been making the rounds on the independent film circuit for two years. "Embrace," at first glance, tells a story I could have told about myself: A postpartum woman, Taryn Brumfitt, a then overweight 37-year-old mother of three from Australia, suffered from body shame, but then lost the baby weight and still didn’t like her body.
At some point, at a moment when Brumfitt was considering a tummy tuck and breast augmentation, a switch flipped. She could no longer, would no longer, support unrealistic standards of perfect beauty in view of her children or the universe. Armed with Kickstarter funds, she set out to film women worldwide talking about body image with hopes of uncovering insight and shared commonality.
I know I sat in the audience this summer at the Bozeman, Montana BZN International Film Festival devoted to women and the environment, and cried with the women Brumfitt filmed, perfectly lovely people who, when asked to describe their bodies, said things like "disgusting," or "could be thinner."
But it was toward the end of the film that my own switch flipped. It was when Brumfitt moved on to interview three women who were blatantly disfigured that the ambient light came on under my arm flaps: One was a model who’d had a brain tumor that left her with partial facial paralysis and a blinking eye. The other was a woman with a full beard. The third was a burn victim, also a model. who was running a marathon in the Australian Outback when flames from a freak firestorm melted her face and 65% of her body.
Each had physical markings that rendered them defaced, if not freakish, by society’s standards. Each told a story of anguish. Each also told a story of transformation that glowed forth from their bright faces, visages that were forced to find a way to shine, or die.
I thought in that moment if these women can be joyful, happy people, with strangers staring at them every time they walk down the street, I can deal with arm flap.
That was two months ago, and it’s still where I am: My mind starts going down that arm-hating road, I think of the woman with the burned — smiling — face. Her name is Turia Pitt and you can find before and after pictures of her on Google.
We women are, in the year 2018, yes, a new and renewed embodiment of feminine energy and spirit, the consciously aware Me, Too generation, despite what we learned, what we were told, what became integrated and part of our DNA.
We are part of the change that comes with collective conscious that yet begins with individual consciousness, a fact that can be both daunting and empowering.
Which may be why I am so taken with the three women in the film. Together, we can, I once heard a beloved politician say. Connection, not competition, is the true female way: Bodies together, arms linked, chests out. Not individual bodies strutting in stilettos across a golden stage to see whose butt cheeks are higher.
We’re all in this together, as it turns out. Bye, bye, Miss American pie indeed.
Journalist Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988 when she was pregnant with the first of her three children. E-mails are welcome at email@example.com.