A lot is written and advertised about women's self-image and how damaging it is to women and girls of all ages. And I don't doubt it. Presenting an ideal that not all can live up to is a form of cruelty masked as billion dollar businesses that will never deliver on those promises but we hop on the treadmill anyway.
And by the way, I'm not talking about a real treadmill, because that will lead to a physical change if done properly and with discipline. I'm talking about the treadmills we all get on for destinations unknown that rarely deliver.
With Valentine's Day around the corner I'm reminded by a line I heard once that "expectations are premeditated resentments." Because invariably, the world, and specifically our significant others, rarely live up to the expectations placed upon them by us. And then we burn with indignation into the night when they don't. St. Valentine was a prisoner who sent his love light out into the vast expanse through the bars of his cell, hoping those who cared about him would "see it" and "feel it." That's not what this day has become in the ensuing millennia.
So here's what I propose for me and my girlfriend this Valentine's Day:
1. I solemnly vow to accept whatever happens on that day as an expression of your love for me and I for you, regardless of the wrappings and trappings of how it all happens.
2. I won't place any expectations on you outside of my control or outside of yours.
3. I won't form a resentment for anything I thought should or shouldn't happen February 14. It's just another day albeit loaded with anticipation and fraught with peril. But it needn't be.
Nothing on this day will be about anything other than "I love you just the way you are". If you like candy, I get you a grab bag full. If you like flowers, I get you persimmons, if you like clothes, I get you a gift card to your favorite store, if you like to be nearly naked around the house, I get you something sexy and skimpy from Victoria's Secret. It's about YOU. Not about ME. (Well, maybe the Victoria's Secret gift is a little about me.)
And I know wherefrom I speak. When my hair started falling out in my 20s I was pretty freaked out. And it didn't help that a few crazy cruel girlfriends remarked on it. When a man loses his hair, it's the dictionary definition of "out of my control" because hair signifies an almost pre-pubescent youth ideal. Not unlike what women go through when 15-year old girls grace the covers of women's magazines! It's almost like asking young men and women not to grow up and let their bodies express what that age actually looks like. And the absurdity that it should it be masked or changed. The Pope yesterday said that cosmetic surgery is like a modern-day secular Burqa -- with all the societal burdens that implies -- and for once, I can't say I disagree with him.
Men's perceived inadequacies bear relevance -- and to some degree equivalence -- to what women suffer through, perhaps just not as extremely. Breast size for women could equate with member size for men; heavyset men and women are both marginalized almost to the point of near-invisibility by a beauty-obsessed society; and for every woman looking to cosmetics to change the look of what is probably a perfectly fine face, there are legions of men have sought out toupees, topical creams, pills, hair plugs and hats for a world that sent them messages that having hair on one's head is preferable to not. It's interesting that the Ashley Graham video celebrating her plus-size beauty for Curves In Bikinis and breaking barriers with the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue association; instead engaged in a sort-of reverse sexism by showing ripped handsome men with idealized bodies, faces, and full heads of hair and somehow the same evolved thinking that all kinds of bodies are sexy in that spot didn't seem to apply to the men.
This Valentine's Day I'm going to say "I love you just the way you are" and mean it. And I sure hope she thinks so too. And I say that without any expectations.