I had an unnerving experience two days ago and haven’t quite yet recovered.
This thing happened in the changing room of my local gym.
Here’s a meme I made for the occasion. It might give you a clue as to where I’m going with this…
I was admiring an adorable little girl, 7, maybe 8 years old. She was the cutest thing ever and I smiled at her. When she realised I was looking at her she glanced towards the mirror and sucked in her tummy.
I felt ill.
What are we doing to our children??
Of course I’d been triggered by the Tuam Babies story, I am aware of that. It’s the big story in Ireland this week. It’s a horrific story. The bodies of just under 800 children have been found in a septic tank (!!) in Co. Galway. There are no words really. It’s almost unspeakable. And yet we’re almost used to it here now. What has this story in common with my experience? Nothing at first glance. But I believe it is a mistake to not see and acknowledge a connection.
Women and children have been treated horribly by our society for countless years. It hasn’t stopped. It’s just done differently now. We ship crisis pregnancies off to the UK in their thousands for abortions every year. It’s a practice which no doubt will be seen as barbaric in years to come, and it’s reminiscent of the (not so) olden days in Ireland, where unmarried pregnant “fallen” women were hidden away in mother-and-baby “homes”. We are living with the legacy of a patriarchal and misogynistic Catholic presence in our country which hurt both men and women for years. In some ways it continues to do so. Guilt and secrecy around sex and sexuality still reign. I see it all the time in my client work. No doubt you see it in your life, or that of your friends.
Judges in abuse and rape trials here continue to show leniency . We’re worn out from hearing stories of clerical and non clerical abuse of children. Many assault cases go unreported and when they do, the victims feel they don’t get justice. Is this another hangover from the olden days? I suspect so, yes.
And so on ad nauseum. Look, we all know this. You don’t need me to tell you. We all know someone…
And now we also have the media obsession with the perfect body to deal with. We are attacking women’s bodies and declaring ownership. Here are some of the rules we are teaching our girls:
1: You don’t have the right to make decisions about your own body.
2: You should be a mother, and a perfect one. It’s OK not to, kind of, but it’s a bit weird…
3: You shouldn’t look as if you’re a mother though, or as if you have recently given birth.
4: Every female friend you have is your competitor.
5: You should learn how to be a good sexual partner, not slutty; interested, but not too much (see every issue of Cosmo, ever).
6: Don’t “get” raped.
7: Don’t enjoy food.
8: Don’t celebrate/ enjoy/ show/ your body except under certain circumstances where the pleasure of a certain type of man is at stake.
9: Excel at everything and work a little harder than boys, and get paid less. If you complain about this you’re being hysterical.
10: Don’t get all hysterical if you don’t like how things are, it’s just how things are. Accept it.
This may seem ridiculous to you. But I invite you to consider this list. Consider all the messages, overt and subtle, that we and our children are receiving daily. (And of course it’s not just girls are listening).
This poem struck me some months ago and it came back to me as I watched that lovely little girl try to adjust her shape.
I’ve been a member at my local gym for a couple of years now and while I enjoy it immensely and find it superbly therapeutic, there are things that I find upsetting. I hate when I overhear conversations about diets and food and how much weight people have lost. I adjust my body language to ensure that I’m not invited to join in on what is, in fact, ritualistic self loathing. I hate when I notice other women looking at me and when they comment on slim I am. I hate that now I feel like I should type that my parents were also slim so it’s not something I work at. It’s ludicrous that I feel I need to justify my shape. And yet I did it, just yesterday, and again just now, and I won’t delete it. There it is. I want you to know how even an experienced therapist can occasionally fall prey to relentless media bombardment. After all, that’s how it works right? No-one is completely immune and if you think you are, you’re kidding yourself.
I sometimes pray that I’m the only one in the changing room so that I don’t have to witness another gorgeous woman pinch her stomach and frown with disgust at the mirror.
I really hate watching little girls suck in their tummies.
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