I remember my motivation to get and stay skinny in 2009 began after seeing the first social media-oriented photo of myself playing a guitar on stage. I was in Norway wearing a new pair of tight grey jeans I’d just purchased in London. I felt like I owned the world and couldn’t wait for the excitement of tour and the future of my music career. Honestly, I felt like I was on fire!
But after seeing that photo my heart sank. My first thought was “Nobody will listen to my songs if they see me looking like that first.” The only mental image I had of a boss-like front woman was small, slight, and either fiercely self-confident or unequivocally burdened by shame. (I didn’t own a smartphone at the time, and hadn’t seen much live music growing up. I was never allowed to watch music videos as a kid. During my middle school years, my family moved hundreds of miles from my hometown leaving me to endure preteen angst in isolation. I didn’t make new friends easily and my social life was generally non-existent.)
I couldn’t “own myself” this way, I thought. It didn’t bother me too much in practice. I still ate and at the point never engaged in overexercise. But I was well aware that if I didn’t come across as visually female and hot, I would get nowhere. Nobody ever told me this. Nobody ever told me to lose weight if I wanted to “make it” (whatever that means), and nobody ever directly compared my physical attributes to another woman playing music. If anything, I received feedback that the music itself was good! And partners over the years would reassure me that I was “beautiful.” (Again, whatever that means).
But I was absolutely sure that if I exerted enough control over not only the form my physical body took, but also my speaking voice, my word choice, my dress, and my possessions that people would pay attention to me. Instead of ever finding comfort in my own skin, or being able to shake the perpetual feeling of unworthiness, I concentrated on building a flawless version of myself. I didn’t see it as fake. I saw it as growth, betterment, maturity. It was exciting when people took notice and I could hone my craft accordingly, cutting out intonations that didn’t garner affection or adding affects that filled me with surges of empowerment. I liked to appear easy-going and apathetic. The real me is fastidious and emphatic. To facilitate my faux calm, I smoked a f***-ton of marijuana and enjoyed many vodka cocktails and bottles of pinot noir.
I always looked to the men in my life to see how I was doing or to entertain me if my self-improvement goals got boring. I am ashamed to admit this. Especially because in conjunction with hating myself for who I really am and how I really look, I also consider myself a feminist. Well, these days I do. Focusing less on my body has offered me the freedom of feeling less threatened by other women, which has in turn allowed me to feel better about my body no matter what its shape. I enjoy this vicious cycle immensely. I enjoy other women and their camaraderie, strength, and perspective.
The ironic conclusion I’m reaching is that it seems in the last six or seven years, social media has begun a progression from feeling voyueristic and violating to feeling truthful and cathartic. I still do not feel comfortable with my specific truth being broadcast online. But I do appreciate that social media has been helping women and feminists in music and in other realms to connect and support each other. I honor nonconformists who unapologetically install themselves and openly discuss their vices and victories. To be honest, I need them. Lots of us need them. One of the beauties of having diversity availble at the touch of a screen is that we now have access to confidence we may momentarily lack. Every time I see frizzy hair, thick legs, small lips, and unique style served up on my feed like the juicy main course, I feel a huge amount of hope.
There is a girl out there deserving of respect and power. She is ready to find her place right now. She doesn’t need to hesitate or be concerned. She’s totally capable of killing it. Finally, the world is singing her praises.