Last night while reading Tina Fey’s memoir Bossypants, I realized that all women share one painful and absurd experience in common. Every woman can recall the moment in her life when she first understood that because she’s a woman her body is subject to endless, uninvited public scrutiny.
Sadly, there’s no card for that special day.
For Fey, that ‘a-ha, so that’s the deal’ moment occurred when she was 13. She was at the beach when her “cousin Janet” looked at a girl wearing a bikini and declared: “Look at the hips on her.”
Writes Fey: “This was how I found out that there are an infinite number of things that can be “incorrect” on a woman’s body.” (FYI: she’s being ironic here. She doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with anyone’s body.)
It’s a very funny chapter and for female readers it resonates, big time. I can’t remember my first day of school, first dance, or even my first Snickers bar. But I have a very clear memory of the first time I realized I wasn’t perfectly formed.
I was 11. I was standing in line at my local sub shop waiting for a salami sub, bag of chips and cherry Slush Puppie. That was my lunch for many years. (Now I eat salads every day and still carry ten extra pounds. You tell me what’s up with that?) A boy in my class was standing behind me (these guys are always standing behind you for some reason) and talking to his friend about who he thought was the prettiest girl in our class. My name came up. I waited for my sash, crown and bouquet as clearly I was about to be crowned Prettiest Girl in Grade Five.
Instead came this poison dart: “Her? No. Her nose is too big.”
Whaa? My nose! Where? How? Suddenly my face was no longer a whole coherent image but a composition of parts that were good, bad, and obviously horrible. I didn’t say a word, or even turn around. I just skulked off with my salami sub, the hasty consuming of which marked the introductory lesson in ‘how to eat your feelings.’
Every young girl has such an experience and frankly as you get older they multiply. But if we can’t do much about the jerky attention, we can alter our response to it. For Fey that means seeing other people’s comments with a mix of practicality and humour (a.k.a maturity). Give up the dream of perfection, suggests Fey and be grateful for all your wonky (but healthy!) body parts.
In short, count your blessings (one large working nose, check!), and have a sense of humour about all the crap people say about you when they’re standing in line waiting for a salami sub.