15% of a feminist

We all know you can’t measure health or beauty on a scale, and that the thin ideal is a tool of capitalist oppression designed to keep women weak, self-hating, and distracted from dismantling the patriarchy, right?

Right.

But we also know that in this patriarchy, which has not yet been dismantled, women are more likely to be taken seriously as “experts” when you can see their hipbones. The thinner I am,the higher my IQ seems, the more pure my intentions appear, and, the more sexually appealing (PDF) my body is – and of course the more sexually appealing a woman’s body is (i.e., the more it conforms to the culturally constructed ideal), the more she knows about sex. Of course.

So I lost 15% of my body weight in preparation for the book tour.

I did it because I know that my white woman’s body communicates “intelligence” most efficiently when it is small.

I did it because my body fat is a culturally encoded proxy for my morality – am I lazy and greedy and disorganized? or am I industrious and self-abnegating and orderly? – and when a woman talks about sex science, she has to be morally irreproachable.

I did it because I decided I would do anything and everything I could ethically, healthfully do, to maximize the amplification of my message.

I did it gradually and healthfully…  but I did it because I wanted to change how I look on the book tour. And I do look different.

I’m not “thin” – “thin” isn’t something that exists for a woman like me, with the lean mass of a man my height and breasts outside the size range sold at Victoria’s Secret. I’m also non-conforming in other ways: my hair is short and, oh yeah, blue. I wear giant glasses.

But I do conform more closely now to the culturally constructed ideal.

Result?

It’s weird. Men pay more attention to me. Women are more suspicious of me. Students are more deferential. All three of those things are very, very weird. Am I behaving differently without being aware of it? I don’t think so… but people are definitely responding differently to me.

 

I think the message of the book is genuinely important and helpful, and I want people to hear it and be curious about it. I want people to read the book. On the blog – even in the book – my body isn’t part of the equation. On the phone, on the radio, my body doesn’t matter. But in person, on video… the shape, size, color, and energy of my body is the first thing people experience. My body is a medium of communication.

And the research tells me that I’ll persuade more people if my body is smaller.

For women who are sex educators and researchers, our appearances are fraught with layers of meaning.  Being transparent about my strategies for negotiating all those layers is the best way I can think of to stay honest about what it’s like to be a sex educator.

In the book’s Acknowlegements, I thank you, the blog readers, for the ways you’ve kept me intellectually and emotionally honest for five years now. I’m a better sex educator, more aware of what my language choices and my presence in a room does to my message, because of you all. It seemed fair to talk about this issue.