Society has changed a lot since de Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex, but there are still conventions all around us that enforce a female’s belief in her immanence, her permanent and unchanging identity as an object. Think, for example, of the many mainstream women’s magazines that ask women what their “true” color is, or to find out what kind of hairstyle or perfume fits who she really “is”—these are all subtle methods of telling a woman that she has a constant, “true,” unchanging self to uncover. This is quite different from the typical men’s magazine, where the common articles are about objects (cars, electronics, hot women) for the man to act with/upon. Women are told to be, not encouraged to do or make.
So the mirror does more than satisfy superficial urges; gazing into the mirror is, we are led to believe, a way to puzzle out who we are. The act of looking at yourself is—despite your knowing better—affected by the swarmy men who whisper as you scurry down the street that you have beautiful windows to the soul; you go home to peer into glass and block out the “bad” flesh to locate that soul. De Beauvoir spelled all this out 60-odd years ago so that bright, educated women like me would not fall into this trap of staring at our reflections to find ourselves in all our glorious immanence. And yet there I was, locking myself into the handicapped stall—the one with the bigger mirror—to study my appearance, just to make sure that I was still there, and hating myself for it.
And here I still am. The shame of my compulsion to look into mirrors has grown over the years, but the shame is not enough to break the habit. Hatred feeds hatred. “Hating my body” barely kisses the surface (I can block out the thighs, the arms, the fat that suffocates the cheekbones; besides, it is difficult for me to imagine sincerely hating flesh): it is hating myself for being such a female, such a bad woman, compulsively drawn to the mirror even though I know better. And then—digging deeper still—hating myself for hating myself during these moments of entrapment. For I know that this hatred plays the same tricks—is as intoxicating, and provides the same false sense of fullness—as the pure enthrallment of the mirror herself.
There is no hunger, only thoughts about hunger that gnaw away at the place where my mind should be: first, the desire to be hungry so I can look better; then, the desire to be full as punishment for being so stupid as to waste my life thinking about how I look. Next, hating feeling full because now I will get fat, and moreover I will be stuffed with silly thoughts like I’m going to get fat. There is also the guilt of feeling full because I was duped into bad eating habits, which means weak womanhood, because I put the food to my mouth not out of hunger but because of some idea about what it means for me to be a woman; and the hatred of feeling full because feeling full is like feeling plenitude, immanence, weighed down to the ground and unable to transcend. The desire to be light enough to transcend: the desire for hunger.
Itchy. It feels itchy, like there are ants making an anthill out of the inside of my skull, their infinite tiny pricklish little legs tickling the tender bits of my mind. I see insects where there are none: jumping back at a nonexistent speck on the floor; nightmares of roaches tumbling onto my naked self when I turn on the shower faucet; close my eyes and there is a giant bedbug like a crest stuck on the wall in front of me. I feel like a hysterical woman. I feel like I cannot go on: voices and voices and voices breaking apart and doubling back and shouting and whimpering and apologizing and for every voice there is a new one yanking the other back from behind. They are digging a grave: scratching into the place where the mind should be a giant…deep…hole…
Hole? Like how a woman is a hole? Maybe I am just thinking like a real woman! I will write about it. If I cannot escape this hole then at least I can spit it out of my body by turning it into art! But wait. Aren’t I not supposed to take symbols seriously? And who am I to suppose that other women have this paralyzing, spiraling anxiety? Bad me! “A woman is a person who defines herself as such,” I read somewhere. A woman is not a person desperately trying not to fall into their hole! You are a bad feminist for your thoughts: women are totally fine! Why put another weak woman out there in the world? You need to create strong women, role models to help out fools like yourself. Women are fine. If you are not fine, do not write. Wait, what are you doing? Why are you not writing? You are acting just like a woman: unable to finish anything that you start! Awwwww. Pity pitiless you, destined to be a weak woman just like all your forefathers and weaker still for believing such trash. Destined to be a weak woman and a bad feminist in a—what is it called—post-feminist world!