Living In the Knowledge of Imperfection
I’ve been thinking a lot about personal choices, personal neuroses and one’s paradigm. This post is going to be pretty personal, and a little bit confessional, which may not be the best idea on the internet, but I think that the readers of teenskepchick are pretty awesome, and when we talk about important things like feminism and skepticism, it’s important to be open with each other. Also, I think my personal neuroses are part of a bigger, important question, and it’s one that I want to talk about: how do we integrate intellectual decisions into the down and dirty of real life?
I have an eating disorder. Now what on earth does that have to do with feminism and skepticism? Why am I telling all of you about it? Because I want to talk about how sometimes we’re all hypocrites when it comes to our demons and the lives we have to life that don’t always mesh with the people we want to be.
Much (if not most) of the time, I feel like I’m a failed feminist and a really bad skeptic because I have an eating disorder. I know I’m not the person with this particular blend of traits out there, and I feel like we never really get addressed in general discussion or allowed to discuss these two aspects of ourselves together.
People with eating disorders have a remarkable ability to hold themselves to different standards than they hold the rest of the world, and I find that particularly true of how I view myself as a body. I objectify myself. I am my size, and I only matter if I lose weight. I would NEVER hold another person to those standards or even think about them in a manner similar to the way I think of myself, and I find it really difficult to come to grips with the fact that I am a feminist and believe no person should be reduced to their body, but that I do that to myself every day of my life.
Even worse, on particularly bad days I find myself doing it to other women in order to compare myself to them.
As a skeptic I wonder where my brain has gone when I think in an emotional, illogical way, viewing myself in a way different from other people and in a way that simply makes no sense. I feel particularly torn as someone who prides themself on having a good brain when I think of myself strictly as a body.
Now this is a personal problem. Clearly mental disorders do not listen to our more logical brains, and for anyone that has a mental disease this makes having strong beliefs about humanity, equality, and respect extremely difficult. Ideologically I firmly believe that all women have the right to feel comfortable in their bodies, that no body is inherently ugly, and that the human body in and of itself is astounding. I believe that all human beings should be respected for more than their bodies. So why is it that my deepest held emotions contradict the strongest held intellectual beliefs I have? How do I live day by day with this kind of disconnect?
I’m sure I’m not the only person who finds themself running into personal hypocrisy. All of us bump up against our emotional sides and our emotions do not listen to what we tell them. Most often this seems to be our negative emotions: when we’re angry, anxious, lonely or afraid, we judge more harshly, we forget that others and ourselves deserve our respect, and we forget to think clearly. And for any skeptic who has a mental disorder, trying to keep a clear head and think skeptically when in the grips of your illness is perhaps the most difficult task in the world.
So how can I be a good feminist and a strong skeptic while still feeling this way? How do any of us integrate our day to day lives, all the pressures we feel about our bodies, how we view ourselves, how we present ourselves, who we are, etc. etc etc. into the paradigms of feminism and skepticism? Personally I feel this is particularly difficult for young women (although I’m not trying to say that young men don’t have a struggle too), but we’re asked to walk a fine line between having to be beautiful in order to be noticed, and yet not too beautiful that we’re not taken seriously. Every girl likes to feel good about herself. Every human being gets emotional, but girls are encouraged to be more emotional than boys. How do we accept and encourage these traits, yet retain our intellectual beliefs and act out of logic?
I think the most important piece of this question is to understand that we have multiple ways of thinking and being. We cannot expect ourselves to be fully integrated all the time. Particularly when we’re young, we’re still trying to sort out how the intellectual, the emotional and the physical all fit together. If the best we can do for now is to get each piece right by itself, I’d say we’re doing pretty well.
We cannot hold ourselves responsible for our emotional responses to the world around us. And although this is cliche, what we can control are our own choices. While I may treat myself only as a body, view myself only as an object to be perfected, I make the choice never to do that to anybody else. I make the choices in my relationships to act as if I did not believe these things about myself, to only date those men who ask for consent in sexual acts, to be a strong voice for women, to speak up when I feel threatened or objectified. It’s amazing the things we can hold in contradiction in our own lives, and if I have to hold my emotions in contradiction with my actions in order to live out my values, I will do that. I think that this is not a bad thing. It’s a stop gap measure until I can address my own emotional problems. All of us have to do this at times in our lives, and I think that it is actually an important and effective tactic in life. Fake it till you make it as it were. If emotionally, you feel rotten and are inclined to act out of that rotten feeling, then force yourself to make the intellectual choice until you can believe in it on a guttural level. It’s better than nothing.
But I also think it’s important to cut ourselves some slack. There are certainly days I feel guilty for objectifying myself. But human beings cannot universally live out their logical decisions. Reality doesn’t match up with the idealized situations in which we made our intellectual decisions.
So here’s my advice to the young ladies (and men) who are trying to understand how to be a skeptic, a feminist, and an all around good person in a world that forces us into corners pretty often: do your best. Don’t hate yourself when you don’t live up to your own expectations. Allow yourself sometimes to be shallow, silly and pointless. But always live by the principle of no harm. If you slip up on your feminist and skeptical principles, try not to let it be when your girlfriend needs you to support her against harassment in the workplace or when someone is being ostracized for being an atheist. And something that I have a great deal of difficulty with: you deserve all the respect and love you think other people do.
Here’s hoping this is more coherent than it sounds as I type it, but I’m sick and perhaps a little loopy.