Trim your thighs. Enhance your cleavage. Take a Bubble Bath

Recovering from a bit of surgery recently, I complained to a friend that I felt nauseous and that there was nothing I wanted to eat.

“Well, I bet you’re losing weight!” she responded enthusiastically.

Silly me for not noticing the built-in dieting benefits of my recent medical problems.

Indeed, I should have been more aware. As a woman, you can’t escape the constant mandates to diet — or, as I have come to think of it, disappear yourself a little here and a little there. Every time I open my yahoo mail, I am greeted by close-ups of women’s butts, and the entreaty to purchase a cream that will rub out my cellulite. Sometimes, I study these butts. They don’t look real. The only people with butts like that are 12-year-old girls and emaciated models. Speaking of 12-year-old girls, mine thinks she is fat because her thighs are one degree less than taut. “There’s no such thing as a thigh that is 100% taut,” I tell her. “Still…” she says.

What’s she supposed to think? Here she is trying to grow up and the grown women coming at her via the mainstream media all seem to be wanting to look like her. Except as far as cleavage goes. That’s one part of our bodies that we are constantly entreated to enhance. Lift it, underwire it, push it up, and frame it in lace. Serve it up, the way you would a meatloaf. Present yourself to the world via your cleavage. “Even angels need uplift,” says Victoria’s Secrets, drawing on the classic whore/virgin look that women are supposed to master.

In this latest Victoria’s Secret line of underwear, a model decked out in an “uplifting” bra (revealing plenty of cleavage) and panties (setting off pencil-shaped thighs, flat abs, no butt) is reclining with her legs spread and one of her white angel wings suggestively hovering over her crotch.

Pity the 12-year olds! Not only do they have to negotiate the jiggle/taut issue (former okay for breasts; not okay for butt; vice-versa for latter), but they have to figure out how to act like “come-hither” angels who innocently, passively pulsate with sexuality every single minute.

Women are supposed to be the ultimate multi-taskers, and maybe it’s partly because we are forced to juggle impossible demands and keep straight millions of minute directives about every square inch of our bodies. We are induced to buy panties that “control” our bellies and “One Cup” bras that make our breasts one size bigger. Consider also, the “Miracle Bra” lined with “Gel-Curve silicone” for a “softer, more natural effect.”

While we thrust ourselves out here and trim ourselves down there, we also learn that underneath the decorative underwear, our bodies and their functions require extreme discretion. Kotex now sells wrappers for its feminine hygiene products that don’t make that crinkling noise when you unwrap them.

Well, thank goodness! Weren’t you so sick and tired of the godforsaken racket it used to make when you had to extract a pad from its plastic wrapper? Now we can all rest assured, with Kotex’s new “Quietest Pouch” technology, that few will be able to guess what we might be up to in the bathroom. We can pretend to be doing something entirely different in there! Maybe adjusting our cleavage or something. No one has to know that we might be unwrapping a pad or throwing one away or in any way taking care of the actual functioning of our bodies.

So, the total feminine package goes something like this. Women should present themselves as shape-shifters who appear simultaneously innocent and slutty, and who use their snowy-white angel wings to seductively stroke their crotches, which, by the way, we are also supposed to pretend we don’t have. Shhh!

Now…presumably the point of all this is to make ourselves sexually attractive, glamorous, and appealing to men. Why? You might guess it’s because we love sex and are doing everything we can to get more of it. But no. According to a recent Parenting magazine, which is oriented toward the straight, married woman who has landed a mate and successfully reproduced with him, women don’t want sex except insofar as it is a useful tool for getting what we really want, namely, a bubble bath. One writer calculates that by giving her husband 15 minutes of “quality time” (for sex, she implies), she earns herself an “epic bath-and-magazine session.”

Maybe we submit to the body enhancements and trimmings because we’ve been told they will make us attractive to men, and we like male company, so we are willing to do what’s necessary to get it, even if it requires sex. But no, that’s not it either, at least according to Parenting, which suggests that your husband is just another child in the house, whose company must be tolerated rather than enjoyed and whose foibles must be managed, disciplined, and resisted.

In an article about how “tried-and-true child-rearing techniques can work wonders on husbands,” Parenting advises wives to reward their husbands’ good behavior, dispense the occasional time-out, and employ quid pro quo quality time — all in an effort to keep those childish, little-boy husbands in line. Infantile though they may be around the house, they still have grown-up sexual needs, which women do not share but which we do feel compelled to service, if only to earn those precious moments in the bath.

So…they’re telling me I’ve got to act like a virgin sex goddess in order to attract a man, who I will then attempt to keep at bay, sexually service occasionally, and treat like an immature child — all so that I can meet my true needs, namely, climbing into a “steamy tub and reading a magazine, in total silence, until my toes wrinkle.”

The encouraging news, as always, is how hard the mainstream media work to construct our lives for us. They wouldn’t have to work this hard if we weren’t so resistant.

I know that plenty of women buy the celluite-fighting lotions and the push-up bras. I know that we sometimes even adopt narrow ideals of beauty and pressure each other to conform, e.g., my friend who helpfully reminded me of the figure-trimming bright side of being too ill to eat.

Once, the adult women students in one of my classes asked me if I belonged to some special religion that forbade make-up. I imagine that they had discussed it amongst themselves and decided that there was no other plausible explanation for my avoidance of foundation and lipstick. I mean, why settle for uneven skin tones and unremarkable lips when you don’t have to?

But these moments are not common. Much more common are the moments that women spend engaged in making a life for themselves — pursuing relationships (sexual and otherwise), creating families, and making a difference in their communities — activities that don’t generally improve consumer spending.

Now we know why the media works so hard to convince us that we don’t care about pleasure or about connection to others or about having an impact on our world. Our bodies are something to be managed and disciplined. Ditto for what are supposed to be intimate and loving relationships. If you think satisfaction comes by participating in your community, doing interesting work, or seeking education, you haven’t been paying attention. Alone in a bubble bath is where you need to be.

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