Gero-Punk Praxis: Aging Grrrl Revolution!

Part two of a two-part essay

by Guest Gero-Punk

Glenna Morris

 

What on earth is that gray hair doing there?! The first time I asked myself that question was about a year and a half ago. I made sure to maintain my ritual hair coloring religiously up until about three months ago. Starting with the realization that I was never happy with the color results over the past few coloring sessions, I quit dying my hair. Along with refusing to count every calorie, get my acrylic nails put on every two weeks, or have my eyebrows smothered in hot wax and the hairs subsequently ripped from my flesh––I have begun the process of allowing my natural hair color to reclaim itself upon my head.

Here is the thing I am unsure of, though: Am I allowing my gray hairs to flourish, accepting not-so-perfectly shaped eyebrows, resigning myself to the size 12 increase in dress clothes, and constantly having to clip my flimsy, flaky, fingernails because I have ultimately given up on being the beautiful, youthful, girl I once was, or is it because I am genuinely ready to accept who I am becoming.

I question this because some days I look in the mirror and notice a new gray hair, critique the general lack-luster look of my locks, and that turns to a critical pinpointing of my reflection’s wrinkles (mixed with the constant confusion of why I still battle acne and rosacea), to an adamant avoidance of a full-length mirror. I then take a deep breath, accept my fate, wrap my hair upon the top of my head, cake on the cover-up, and refuse to think on it anymore for the remainder of the day. Which proves a relatively successful refusal, until I sit for too long and consequently have to pause for a few painful moments while my aging knees adjust to their now extended state. Allowing one voice within me to proclaim that my knees wouldn’t feel that way if I started taking walks everyday like I keep telling myself I will. The opposing voice answers with a realistic position that my knees are getting old; that weight and exercise was of no consequence to them when I was 18.

Which reminds me––I was “fat” when I was 18. And again when I was 22. At an inconceivable 257 pounds when I was 27. Down to 180 pounds when I turned 31. Up to 220 pounds as I near my 33rd birthday. Such has been the never-ending battle of my youth, and clearly a war I will continue waging as I move forward through time. Only I notice things now, like these achy knees, the pounds get more resistant to diet and exercise, and exercise is no longer the energetic fun endeavor it was just a few years back. Oh well, comes with getting older I guess. Doesn’t matter anyway, right? After all, who am I trying to impress?

Sometimes I believe I am not trying to impress anyone.

Bell Hooks (2000) says: “As a middle-aged woman gaining more weight than ever before in my life, I want to work at shedding pounds without deploying sexist body self-hatred to do so…all females not matter their age are being socialized either consciously or unconsciously to have anxiety about their body, to see flesh as problematic” (p. 35).

I want to cite myself at this point in great length on a paper I wrote a few years ago based on Nomy Lamm’s (1995) It’s a Big Fat Revolution. I include this here for two reasons: 1) It is valuable to the topic of embodiment and the above issues I have been writing on with regard to my own body; 2) when reflecting on this writing, realizing that I still feel much the same way about my body, I notice my body image is shifting to include my age. There are many places within this paper where we could substitute the word “fat” with the word “age.”

This paper speaks to every aspect of my embodiment now, not just fat. It speaks from my internal feminist. It admits that I will contradict my own feminist thinking. It reminds me to stop self-hating and self-defeating thoughts be it about weight, age, gender, appearance, etc. It is worthy of being brought up again and again each time I reflect on my past learning with regard to women’s issues:

 15 July 2011

 It’s a Big Fat Revolution By Nomy Lamm

             For the first time in my life I can see that my body image is a result of fat oppression. This is very interesting because all my life I was convinced that my weight and my body image is just a product of not trying hard enough to be rid of it. Here’s the thing though––I haven’t always been fat! Yet, I have always thought I was, I am conditioned to pity people who are, and now that I am fat I wallow in self-loathing a good majority of the time. I can sit here and tell you that I really don’t try hard enough to loose weight, that if I did I could be thin and beautiful, that the way that I look and feel is entirely my fault. I could also sit here and tell you that I am curvy and luscious, that I have never lacked on emitting sexuality, and I have never had trouble getting a date, so––so what if I am fat? It all really depends on the day and how I feel in that moment. Like Nomy Lamm, I am a real person and I don’t always feel up to being the strong confident person, “sometimes it is hard enough for me to get out of bed in the morning (105).”

             The question is why do I battle these contradictions? I too have examples like Lamm that are memorable occurrences in my life that have hurt me and changed the way I see myself (106). When I was eighteen years old my grandmother asked me “what happened to my skinny little granddaughter?” My mother has been using Slim Fast for as long as I can remember, and she has fluctuated between a 4 and an 18-dress size throughout my life. My boss at my first job told me I was too fat to wear shorts at work. My husband tells me I am beautiful, yet he also tells me that his friends only think I am fat because they seek super model perfection (and of course I’m not perfect). He also insists that fat people are only fat because they are lazy (except for me of course). And we can’t forget how the media is a mind-blowing contributor to fat oppression. Interestingly all of these things have combined together to make me think I was fat even when I wasn’t!

             We are conditioned to believe fat is ugly (106). Lamm claims this is just a cultural standard that has many medical lies that support it (106). Wait–she said medical lies? That’s interesting because as I have grown older and wiser, have stopped caring about dating and measuring up to unattainable standards, I have still maintained this self-loathing image of my fat based on the fact that I need to loose weight at least for the sake of being healthy.

           Actually, I have a hard time believing that they are all medical lies. Six months ago I was literally loosing the use of my right knee. If I sat for extended periods of time and tried to get up and walk suddenly, my knee would seize up in pain and often times buckle under me completely. I was eighty pounds overweight and had to tell myself enough is enough. I began a simple weight-lifting/cardio exercise program four times a week, paid closer attention to what I was eating and when I was eating it, and I lost thirty-five pounds. My knee doesn’t hurt anymore. With this kind of proof, I must be justified in believing that fat is in fact problematic.

          Not to mention all of the energy, high self-esteem, and validation from everyone that I look amazing. Everyone is so proud of all of the weight I have lost, and so am I, is that wrong? Lamm asks “when will we stop grasping for reasons to hate fat people and start realizing that fat is a totally normal and natural thing that cannot and should not be gotten rid of (107)?” I don’t want to hate or pity fat people (including myself), but I don’t know how to stop seeing fat as problematic and something that indeed should be gotten rid of. I don’t want to judge myself or anyone else, but I look at extremely skinny girls and think, “she needs to eat a cheeseburger,” and I look at fat girls (and myself) and think, “how did she let herself go like that?” How much of this thinking is really just a cultural standard of what we are conditioned to believe is beautiful or healthy, rather than an actual health issue or a personal preference of what is beautiful?

          In the end though, this is a form of hate oppression, whether we oppress one another or ourselves. Lamm states “it doesn’t seem fair to me that I have to always be fighting to be happy (105).” Regardless, of whether I can grasp some of Lamm’s claims or not, this is one I wholeheartedly feel. Body image is a struggle for me, fighting to be happy is a constant battle for me because of how I see myself––that is a good indicator that fat oppression is very real. It’s not necessarily a problem that I want to be thinner; it’s also a great accomplishment that I no longer dread knee surgery (for now). What is a problem is that I have been conditioned to believe I am worthless based on how fat I am, and that I know I will never feel/believe I am truly beautiful and thin, no matter how thin I may become. I understand when Lamm says “I want this out of me. This is not a part of me, and theoretically I can separate it all out and throw away the shit, but it’s never really gone (105).”

          While reading Lamm’s words last night I thought I agreed with everything she was saying. However, this morning I awoke ready to work out, renew my diet plans, approvingly but critically evaluated the changes to my stomach and backside, and then sat down trying to write this with a feminist attitude intact. How can I do that when I spent the morning filled with fat-hate and oppressing myself? Years of perpetuating my inner and outer messages about whom I expect myself to be in order to fit the social norm is going to be hard to get rid of.

          Is there hope for change? Is there a solution for keeping future generations from buying into this sort of propaganda and oppression? Lamm suggests that rather than reassuring fat people that they are not fat, we need to demystify fat and deal with fat politics as a whole (107). Lamm believes that “all forms of oppression work together, and so they have to be fought together (107).” So, it seems she is suggesting that we need to accept fat, and not in the simplistic way of just ignoring physical attributes, or saying that we are all beautiful on the inside (107). Rather, “true revolution comes not when we learn to ignore our fat and pretend we’re no different, but when we learn to use it to our advantage, when we learn to deconstruct all the myths that propagate fat-hate (107).”

          At this point, personally, I can buy into trying to let go of most of the myths about fat-hate. Myths brought on by the media that romanticize and idealize thinness, in comparison to the fat person on TV that is depicted as a food-obsessed slob (106, 108). It may take me some time to let go of the health perspective of fat-hate. I will likely continue to work on loosing weight for the sake of my knee (and yes my self-esteem as well), and that’s okay. And I may be looked upon as a contradiction within myself and within feminism for that. But I will continue my quest for knowledge to become a revolutionary feminist. I will make a strong effort to stop judging others and myself.

           I will start my morning not with critiquing myself, but by joining the “fat grrrl revolution” with Lamm by looking in the mirror and saying “my body is fucking beautiful (106).” And then I will go workout!  

 

References

Hooks, B. (2000). Feminism is for everybody: Passionate politics. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

 Lamm, N. (1995). It’s a big fat revolution. In Barbara Findlen (Ed.), Listen up: Voices from the next feminist revolution. Seattle, Washington: Seal Press.

 Ray, R.E. (2004). Toward the croning of feminist gerontology. Journal of Aging Studies 18, 109-121. doi: 10.1016/j.jaging.2003.09.008.

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Glenna is a recent 2014 graduate from Marylhurst University with a BA in Psychology. Born in Fairbanks, AK, she has resided throughout Oregon, Washington, and California over the last twenty-eight years, the last eleven of those years in Estacada, OR, where she currently lives. She has two young sons, three horses, two dogs, and a cat. She is looking forward to attending graduate school for an MBA in the fall and aspires to found a youth recreation and counseling center for the rural children in her community someday. When she isn’t busy with school work, you can find her on a nearby lake with a fishing pole in her hand, enjoying the simple pleasures of time outdoors with good friends and family.

 

 

 

 

About Jenny Sasser, Ph.D.

I am a freelance educational gerontologist, writer, community activist and facilitator. As of 12/21/15, I am former Chair of the Department of Human Sciences and Director of Gerontology at Marylhurst University. I joined the faculty as an adjunct member of the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program in 1997 and since that time, I've been involved in designing many on-campus and web-based courses and programs for adult learners, including in Gerontology. As an undergraduate I attended Willamette University, graduating Cum Laude in Psychology and Music; my interdisciplinary graduate studies at University of Oregon and Oregon State University focused on the Human Sciences, with specialization areas in adult development and aging, women’s studies, and critical social theory and alternative research methodologies. My dissertation became part of a book published in 1996 and co-authored with Dr. Janet Lee--Blood Stories: Menarche and the Politics of the Female Body in Contemporary US Society. Over the past fifteen years I have been involved in inquiry in the areas of creativity in later life; older women's embodiment; sexuality and aging; critical Gerontological theory; transformational adult learning practices; and cross-generational collaborative inquiry. I am co-author, with Dr. Harry R. Moody of Aging: Concepts and Controversies (8th edition). I live in Portland, Oregon with my dog Happy. My daughter Isobel is a Sophomore at Bard College in New York state. I have been on the planet 49 years.
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