November 3, 2010

Even Feminists Get the Blues

Filed under: Featured Feminist — Tags: , , , — Liz @ 2:31 am

During a six week crash course in women’s studies, my mother accused me of the religious fervor of the “recently converted.” I simply told her that the patriarchy had conditioned her to disagree with her daughters as a method of distracting women from the oppressions occurring right under our noses. My mother, who had often told me growing up that the Bible was “written by men to control women,” denied ownership of the F-word, citing that she liked “heels and lipstick.” I simply told her that feminism was open to almost any interpretation as long as she made decisions with consideration. She openly disapproved of my shaving cessation (Which includes a feathery dark mustache), saying that just because I was a feminist I didn’t have to “let myself go.” I simply said that yes, I was letting myself go…letting myself go of the narrow beauty conventions that were partly responsible for my chronic self-loathing.

My women’s studies class was a revelation, and while I had always considered myself a feminist, I had been ignorant of feminism’s history, origins, and founders. I lamented my delayed education and felt an urgent need to enlighten those I perceived as toiling in darkness. Women’s studies and feminism provided answers to all my questions, my confusion, and my outrage. Though its awareness revealed the profound threat of even the most seemingly innocuous advertisement, feminism was also quick to comfort, console, and connect.

Feminism made me feel invincible, and during that initial immersion, I had never felt more empowered, more liberated, and more beautiful. I practiced solidifying my arguments, intent on posing feminism to everyone I met. I felt a great sensitivity toward my fellow human and a renewed trust in men. I delighted in small rebellion, displaying my body hair with sleeveless flourish. I decided to go to law school.

But all faiths suffer a fall, and even feminists get the blues.

Media is inescapable, especially in Los Angeles, and though I make all efforts to disengage from it, I still suffer its influence. I’ll pick up a magazine on a friend’s coffee table, and as I begin flipping through its advertisements, I begin to wonder if my thighs really are too big, my skin too blemished, or my clothes too unfashionable. I begin to dissect the airbrushed bodies, and though I am a photographer professionally familiar with the deception of Photoshop, I envy those pore-less landscapes of impossibly even-colored flesh. I compare myself to a catalog of body parts, certain I could attain them if I just started running again or cutting my portions in half. These anxieties creep in unsuspected under nascent guises of “health,” and like a parasite, they evolve into a mental, spiritual, and physical infestation. I will perform the ritual mirror-stand, twisting and turning and sucking, scrutinizing every part of my body, exaggerating my “flaws,” no longer a reflection but the projection of an epidemic.

These bouts of insecurity defy logic, generating an inner turmoil of criticism, further agitated by a sense of failure to live up to my ideals. I feel like the “world’s worst feminist,” falling again and again for media’s obvious legerdemain, intoxicated though I know the wine is just water.

Body hair is a choice and I have chosen to wear mine as a badge of my feminism. On my best days, I stand in front of the mirror and lift up my arms to admire the dark patches of hair. I imagine – though it feels cliche – that I am an earth goddess and that my powers are in my hair. My boyfriend lovingly teases me for idly fingering my mustache hairs as I work at my desk.

But one time I was wearing a skirt and bare legs to an art museum and a woman approached me to ask after my shoes. I was excited to bond with another woman if only for a moment and if only for something so stereotypical. We both looked down at my feet, and real or imagined, she seemed to pause at my prickly legs. When I see my mother, I throw on a cardigan; when I go to work, I make sure to wear pants and sleeves; and when I order my coffee, I wonder how the young man behind the counter interprets my shadowed upper lip. Again, I feel like the “world’s worst feminist,” cornered by the conventions I am trying to dismantle, a prisoner of my politics, a failure to future fighters.

I hate the reduction of feminism to body image, but when I decide to wear a casual dress only to the hollers of two men from their car windows, I am reminded that we are still fighting this first stupid battle while a greater war remains yet untouched. The battle lines are drawn on the sidewalks every single day, and walking down the street sometimes feels like picking through a mine field, and I can never guess which of my clothing is bulletproof. One day I was wearing slacks, a button-down, and even a tie, and at six in the morning on my way to catch the bus to my brother’s high school graduation, a man followed me in his car and after ignoring his comments, he bristled and said, “What? You don’t like black people?”

I said, “No, I don’t like you,” which further agitated him, and not for the first time, I was apprehensive for exercising my right to say, “No.”

Sometimes feminism feels utterly hopeless, and I feel “bound and don’t know what to do,” even though I know it’s wrong for someone to feel entitled to comment on a woman’s big thumbs or big boobs…even feminists get the blues.

So what’s a cowgirl to do?

Forgive herself – first of all. Insecurity is an addiction and recovery is difficult with the drug’s omnipresence, so relapse is almost inevitable…and therefore, okay. It’s frustrating as a feminist to fall prey to a predator so poorly camouflaged – you feel as if you’ve been fooled twice, so shame on you. Considering, however, just how unfairly we’re matched against a legacy built on oppression, it’s important to understand that it’s going to require more than a hundred years of voting to write our new chapter, and that with every feminist decision you make, you’re spelling out another word. Forgive yourself, soldier, we need you on the battlefield.

Share your battle wounds with other women, as befriending women is in itself an act of rebellion. Simply voicing your frustrations can be therapeutic and like the members of a recovery group, we are constantly healing each other, whether we know it not. You are not alone and your powers of healing are innate.

The weapons of this war can be as small and as simple as a friendly word…even if it’s just a friendly word of forgiveness to yourself. It seems as though people often confuse activism with grandeur, but activism is sometimes much more effective as just a humble gesture. I never comment on anyone’s weight – even as a compliment – and when someone tells me I “look like I’ve lost a couple pounds,” I tell her that it’s actually just the glow of confidence. If our greatest enemy is ignorance, then offer education, and take a negative moment as an opportunity. You may not change anyone’s mind, but you have at least planted the seeds of thought.

And remember that even when you are the “world’s worst feminist,” another woman is watching you, and you never know whose role model you may be or what small act or word may be an inspiration to her. Lately I’ve been in the throes of a heavy relapse, and when a friend of mine called me her “feminist hero” I admitted that I feel anything but, and that I am still just as scared and insecure as I was when I was a teenager and therefore, perhaps not even a feminist at all.

Some time later I met with her again to take photos for some promotional material for her burgeoning folk music career. At one point she raised her arms over the instrument in her lap and I noticed her armpits, once shaved, were left natural.

I recently met up with an ex-partner and while discussing feminism, he said out of the blue (Perhaps after noticing my new body hair), “You know, I used to think that hairy armpits were gross, but the more I see women with them, the more it becomes normal.”

Indeed it’s just a small, superficial gesture, but it’s moments like these that restore my faith in feminism. While the movement may not make us invincible, it will make us resilient. Even when we’re blue, we’re still feminists, and it’s in admitting this occasional weakness, pain, anger, and defeat that we admit we are all ultimately human, and therefore eternally capable of incredible change.

Photo by Liz Acosta.


  1. This was lovely and inspiring. thank you!!

    Comment by Amelia — November 5, 2010 @ 1:47 am

  2. Reading through your post I was reminded that real natural beauty is rarely seen nowadays, especially in LA. I too have stopped shaving for who knows how long now and it feels great not worrying about shaving every couple of days. But, like you said, it is nearly impossible to escape the media and past insecurities arise more often than not. Such insecurities shouldn’t stop us from being what we are: Feminists. I too will learn to forgive myself. Truly loved your post.

    Comment by ElizabethP — November 7, 2010 @ 10:33 pm

  3. brilliance

    this made my day

    you are officially one of my heroes

    thank you so much

    Comment by smartalek — December 13, 2010 @ 9:37 pm

  4. Thank you for writing this insightful and helpful piece so beautifully. I relate. I find the upper lip hair the hardest to accept, I hate doing it but I hate not doing it- and the truth is I “think” it looks “prettier”, whatever that is, without hair and I suppose for some reason being “prettier” is something I seem to value, connect to my self-worth, an ideal I feel compelled/ pressured to pursue, despite thinking to the contrary on an intellectual level. I Really enjoyed reading this.

    Comment by Tiffany — June 16, 2011 @ 5:00 pm

  5. Thank you for this.

    Comment by dasunrisin — June 16, 2011 @ 6:30 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment