Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Best Friend...

by Jordan Kisner

I turned twenty-one recently, and a big glittery card arrived in the mail from a close childhood friend. Brightly colored and decorated with hearts, flowers and sparkles, this Hallmark classic reads in a curly script:

A Best Friend...
Is there when you need someone,
But understands when you want to be alone.
Sees the bright side of a bad hair day
Remembers when you met.
Notices when you lose five pounds, and gets excited about it.

There was the more on the card but, at that point, I stopped reading.

A best friend notices when you lose five pounds and gets excited about it. Huh.

Now, I am sure that my friend didn’t pay particular attention to that one line, but I found it really shocking, and have been spending some time thinking about how women talk to each other about our bodies and how they impact our self-worth.

First, let’s imagine how this card might be different if it had been designed for a male recipient. There may be fewer flowers and sparkles, and there would certainly be no mention of weight loss (though the incredibly ironic declaration later in the card that a best friend knows your favorite pizza toppings would likely survive the card’s masculinizing). Clearly, this card was designed by someone who wanted to appeal to “girly-girls,” with pink glitter and tropes of female friendship, but why does Hallmark think that female friendship includes a vested interest in each other’s body shape? Why does a real friend celebrate when you lose weight?

I suspect that this is because women are conditioned today to be unhappy with their bodies—to find them too heavy, droopy, tall, disproportionate, whatever. The list of imperfections we are taught to feel ashamed of, and then hide or change, is endless. The assumption that this creates a ‘we’re all in it together’ female camaraderie about hating our bodies is wrong and –I think— dangerous. Wrong because I know of a lot of women with close friendships in which weight, fitness or body type is absolutely irrelevant. Dangerous because this kind of sick camaraderie (which does exist between some women) legitimizes the crippling misconception that, as women, our self-worth is dependant on our bodies’ adherence to some unattainable model of beauty.

As much time as I could spend deconstructing what one silly birthday card indicates about modern American ideas of gender and body image, I’m more invested in pleading with women not to buy into this idea of female interaction. For women and men, friendship should provide a safe haven from this constant pressure to look a certain way, an area of life where physical appearance doesn’t matter. Fight for this in your friendships! Ladies, the next time one of your friends complains about her body, tell her you think she’s just right the way she is. Today, call your best friend, and tell her that you love her because she’s smart, or kind, or funny, not because of her appearance. Let’s prove the glittery, flowery stereotype wrong.


At November 21, 2008 at 10:19 AM , Blogger Courtny said...

Excellent post, Jordan. I agree with you that little jokes like the one in that birthday card do represent something far larger, more insidious, and dangerous for women. With record numbers of women suffering from eating disorders and cutting their bodies open in non-essential surgical procedures, our friendships will be far healthier for ourselves and each other as a haven from cultural pressure to conform to unattainable ideals.

At November 22, 2008 at 11:44 AM , Anonymous Rawness said...

Well, SOME stereotype's wrong, that's for sure.

MYTH: Women are social geniuses; all women get along well with each other, while men just fight

TRUTH: I lived in a mixed-sex dorm for two years in university where each floor was segregated by sex. It alternated: one floor men, one floor women, one floor men, etc. A few nearby residences were completely mixed. A couple of the men’s floors looked much the worse for wear at the end of the year. You know, men are so destructive. The women’s floors all looked perfect. All the girls were smiling and friendly. Talk to any of them, however, and they’d tell you that they hated living on an all-female floor, and every last damned one of them was moving to the mixed dorms the very next year, and not with each other. According to them, underneath the tidy rooms and smiles were claws and forked tongues. Every day was a quiet, mannerly, pitched social battle. The men, on the other hand, got along just fine with only a few exceptions. Most of us were quite happy where we were, the only complaint being that we didn’t see the ladies enough.

One thing that is true along the lines of this myth is that any woman will defend another woman against a man, even a woman that she doesn’t know. Start bad-mouthing women, even a particular woman that isn’t known to “present company,” and you’ll find women defending her even though they have no idea what’s going on. If anyone—a woman or another man—verbally attacks a man, other men will not jump in and defend him. Why? Men assume that other men can look after themselves and, after all, they’re competition. Women assume that an attack on one woman is an attack on all women.


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