The Necessity of Deprivation

This morning I looked in the mirror and criticized my appearance to with excruciating detail. I thought about how I would need to wear contacts for a party tonight, because I hate myself in glasses. I thought about my lack of thigh space. I thought about how if I lost just 10 pounds that my cute round butt might become a cute small butt. My mother used to comment on my vanity. She would chastise me for appreciating clothes a bit too much, for concerning myself with my appearance, and claim that beauty came from the “heart”. But my mom wouldn’t smile in photos because she hated her crooked teeth. She never missed a day on the treadmill, swearing off all sweets, dairy and gluten. She is 5’1″ and weighs 110 pounds, which is just 5 pounds too heavy. And each morning when she would comment on the wiry, untamable nature of her dyed hair, I was there watching.

Today I called my mom. While we talked, I glanced at myself in the mirror again. I sucked my stomach in, then pushed it out. I leaned into a flattering angle, considered my curves, then gave a small sigh. I’m a small girl, I inherited my petite frame from my mother, I stand a proud 5’2″ and my weight fluctuates from 115-119 pounds. I’m a 32 D with a 27″ waist. I know that I’m “small”, but I still never feel small enough – correction, “thin” enough. I brush off comments about my body from friends and strangers alike, because I never feel adequate enough to deserve them. Now, I don’t struggle with an eating disorder, and I don’t think that I need psychological help. But when I watched the video of Lily Myers performing “Shrinking Women” at the 2013 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational, I identified with everything she was saying. Something I think to be a trend that is largely not associated with body image issues. I’m accustomed to reading article after article of how “society” tells us who and what we should be, or how we should look. All of us see the magazine-covers of celebrities and models who are beautifully airbrushed and stick-thin. But I’m not used to hearing that body image is something learned or even “inherited”.

If you haven’t seen the video, watch it before you continue reading.

This (dare I say) provoking piece has been floating around my internet circle for the past week. When I finally watched it, I understood why. And then I read the youtube comments.


Batters Box 28 minutes ago

Where are all these shrinking women? seems everytime I go to super walmart it appears to be getting smaller

tubermann1 1 hour ago

wahhhhhhhhhhhhhh life is so hard!

salohcin1013 1 hour ago

This comment has received too many negative votes

This girl is just a sexist little whimp. If you can’t have the confidence to eat a piece of PIZZA, that is your own damn fault. Feminists are such diluted pieces of shit. Women have the same rights and opportunities as men, yet MEN are the ones required to sign up for the draft. MEN are expected to hold the door for women, and pay for dinner. This girl needs to rethink her own decisions, and GROW UP before writing such an ignorant BULLSHIT “poem”. Men and women have the SAME RIGHTS.

Emetiic 3 hours ago

this is just bullshit. feminism doesnt really have a purpose anymore in the 1st world, lets face it, you get paid the same, you can vote, you get the same rights as everyone else. stop trying to be better than men and just be happy being equal. in many cases where women were the minority, they’re now the majority, which is fine…i dont have anything against women at all, but hearing that they’re so suppressed is just nonsense.


And while I could write a response about the perhaps surprising reality of INequality to every one of these negative comments, I won’t. Because this isn’t a feminist debate. Though it could be. It’s a woman to woman conversation. Myers says,

“I never meant to replicate her, but/ spend enough time sitting across from someone and you pick up their habits/ that’s why women in my family have been shrinking for decades”

And while I stand in the middle of my New York City apartment, my mother across the country also stands looking in the mirror, sucking in the stomach that she felt deserved to have seven children, stretch marks that were well-earned by her necessity of deprivation, a concept well learned from her mother, my dear, sweet, frail grandmother at a slight 98 pounds. I wish that instead of asking me, “Honey, have you put on weight?” that she was asking what exciting restaurants I’ve tried recently. I wish that she was congratulating me on my job promotion. I wish that she was not criticizing every detail of her own body, but encouraging me to accept my own.

Myers’ poem so poignantly states,

“We all learned it from each other, the way each generation /taught the next how to knit /weaving silence in between the threads”.

The subjects of the poem are the shrinking women who are being taught, one generation to the next, that the way to survive is to shrink. I, like those women, was taught to shrink. I remember my mother shrinking when my father would verbally abuse her, raise his voice in his ignorance and do everything in his will to provoke her as an attempt to claim the power he never felt he had. I remember my mother shrinking when my grandfather died, the man who raised her right, instructed her, and then withered away as he slowly lost his memory. I remember my mother shrinking with every tear that fell from her frail face when her marriage was crumbling around her and there was nothing that she could do.

The conversation is not “MEN HAVE WRONGED WOMEN, FEMINISTS UNITE”. The conversation should be “Women, encourage your daughters to grow strong and healthy to stand up for something they believe in and support them in their desire to vocalize their opinions.” I wouldn’t have a problem starting this blog if I hadn’t obsessed for weeks over feeling unqualified to write this post.

I don’t understand why I feel the necessity to deprive myself of food, beverages, company, pleasures, or the simple joys of life. I can’t explain why I feel like in a city of 8 million people I need to shrink from their critical eyes. Maybe because I was taught, like Lily, that all I could be, was a woman shrinking.


And then, please, when you’re done reading this post, by all means check out this wonderfully written (contrary) response to Myers’ poem.

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