It was the 90s – before Instagram, before I even had a cell phone. (That’s why there’s an alarm clock – because I didn’t have a watch, either and I didn’t want to miss lunch). I was at Club Med in Ixtapa, Mexico – the first time I’d ever gone travelling without a back pack, and only because someone else was footing the bill, and sure enough, this experience forever ruined me for budget travel – and this was my toes-in-the-sand photo.
This photo seems so naive, now. It was before toes-in-the-sand pics were everywhere. Before selfies were a thing (this pic was taken with an actual camera that used film). Before pedicures and salon-polished toes were a norm and required if one dared to photograph one’s sunburned feet. Now, to be honest, I wouldn’t take or post a pic of my not-professionally-pedicured toes. I wouldn’t dare let the seams show like that.
And that’s a problem.
I’ve been railing against the relentless exhortations and expectations that we think positive and be positive at all times. I’m against the psychic pruning of our souls and our reality. I think it depoliticizes us. I think it explicitly strives to make us feel insecure and disenfranchised in order to sell us the illusion of empowerment. I think we should be very, very worried that international institutions and repressive governments are using happiness rather than human rights as a good governance metric.
But it’s bigger than the relentless pursuit of happiness. It’s The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand. It’s go-go entrepreneurism without the accompanying info that, in fact, most women entrepreneurs gross around or less than $50K per year. It’s yoga – or let’s be real: stretching classes – sold as a way to get taut and hot rather than a way to prepare the body for seated meditation. It’s calling your new crash diet a cleanse and a wellness journey rather than act of female obedience (at best) or orthorexia (at worst). It’s striving to be in a good mood and calling it a spiritual journey. It’s pursuing upward mobility and Mammon – good for you! me too! – but calling that a spiritual journey, too. It’s refusing to watch the news or mainstream media lest it taint your positive vibe. It’s trying to feel positive and happy and empowered but not actually doing anything with that (illusory) power. It’s thinking everything in your life is the sum of your personal choices and that there aren’t any systemic barriers or lubricants slowing or speeding your roll. (Sheryl Sandberg just broke it down for a room of thousands of people – mostly men – like this: “There are two options. 1. That are far superior to women and deserve 95% of top level positions. 2. That there is systematic oppression. Pick One.”) It’s seeking transformation and empowerment for yourself but not the world. It’s only posting the perfect photos of your decidedly imperfect life. It’s all part of the same damn thing, and that thing is The Beauty Myth 2.0…
Let’s smash it. Let’s stomp it, together, with our pedicured and unpedicured feet.