The latest viral essay circulating around Facebook is called: “Would You Rather Be A Whale, Or A Mermaid?” A poster in a fitness club (and the fitness club in question is either in France or here in the States depending on which version you read) allegedly asks this question of its members (and potential members). The essay goes on to enumerate the many good qualities of whales while pointing out that mermaids, you know, don’t actually exist.
And, because it is currently going around Facebook, it’s getting reactions ranging from “OMG so true! Repost if u agree!” to “U fatties just need anuther excuse too stay fat.”
Supposing for a second that this poster actually exists, it’s a pretty stupid marketing strategy, and yet it’s plausible, because self-hatred is big business around here. We live in a society where botulinum in your bacon is cause for widespread panic, but it’s perfectly fine to stick it in a syringe and shoot it into your forehead. Perhaps that’s a simplistic view of things, but I stand by this example. People will do some pretty insane things to themselves to be wrinkle-and-fat-free, because we’re conditioned to view the human body as something that needs to be pounded, pummeled and poisoned into submission.
I go to the gym several times a week, and try to be mindful about what I eat. But the fact of the matter is that I am a woman in my forties with a genetic predisposition to be, well, “hippy.” To be a Size 4 I have to basically starve myself, and that’s not me waxing dramatic, that is a statement of fact based on personal experience. Severe caloric reduction makes me mean and obsessive, and triggers my mania. I am working very hard to rid myself of years of criticism and verbal abuse that I would never in a million years inflict on a loved one, and yet had no problem with dumping on myself. It’s a really tiresome way to live, and allowing myself to be the weight I’m supposed to be is still pretty new territory for me. It’s liberating, and aside from quitting drinking, it’s also probably the healthiest thing I’ve done for myself.
And yet because my abs aren’t flat and defined, because I have a tummy and because my upper arms wiggle a bit when I’m feelin’ particularly gesticulatory, there are those who’d say I’m “unhealthy” and in denial about just how unhealthy I am. In point of fact, my doctor consistently calls me “ridiculously healthy,” and save for a tendency towards anemia, my bloodwork reports really should be framed and hung on my living room wall. They’re that awesome.
But the larger point here is that I still hang onto some shred of belief that we can promote healthiness without resorting to self-harm, self-hate, and body policing. Body policing – we’re all guilty of it to some extent. We do it when we tell someone who’s underweight to “eat a sandwich.” We do it when we snark that someone really shouldn’t be wearing something that we don’t consider flattering. We do it every time we apologize for eating something, or explain to everyone within earshot why we’re NOT eating something. We do it every time we resent someone for the space he or she occupies. And I suppose you could say that I’m doing it right now, by questioning those who go in for the Botox. We do things, wear things, because they make us feel better about ourselves, so where’s the harm? But again I ask WHY we have to be “perfect,” if we’re already healthy?
“Perfect,” like mermaids, doesn’t exist.