Double Standards

Joelle SfeirWhen did weight become a national conversation?

I have been living in Canada for the past 10 years, having left Lebanon when I was 25. Three months ago I decided to come back and give Lebanon another try.

Ever since the first day I arrived in Lebanon, I was shocked to realize that all that people had to talk about was diets, weight, light food (or the lack thereof), how much weight I had gained/lost.

I mean, I am invited to dinner and immediately family members I haven’t seen for 10 years will say things like: you look fat, you should diet, wow, in spite of your weight you look good.

And if only this was only between family members! Everyone feels entitled to comment on my body. Friends would ask about my food habits, at every dinner I am invited to, the conversation would be automatically steered on diets… like a cruise control for conversations…

I had a business meeting for a potential photo exhibit and the first thing that was said to me was “first things first. If you are having a photo exhibit here you must lose 15 kilos.” I mean, really?

Today I had lunch with friends in a restaurant. I was starving and ordered 4 meet kebabs and the waiter felt obliged to comment with a “these will be just for you?!”

After a meeting to organize a hiking trip, someone said that I didn’t look like the kind of person who would be able to walk for long (really? Come and feel my thighs!).

These are but very few episodes of daily comments and incidents of the past two and a half months here.

So I can’t help but notice that the weight issue has become a social psychosis of the Lebanese people.

If only budget and environmental and social issues were discussed with the same passion!

From the taxi driver to the waiter who will comment on what you order, from the sales person in a clothes shop who will dismiss you in a second with a we-don’t-have-your-size-here look, to family members, from friends and acquaintances to people met for the first time who will not have a problem looking at you from head to toe and say “you should diet”.

Don’t get me wrong. I was having this conversation with an super feminine Spanish woman in Montreal a few months ago and she thought I was criticizing women who take care of themselves.

I myself am the first one to want to be dressed fashionably, to want to do some sports just to stay fit when I hit my forties (not so far away). I love taking care of and pampering myself. If this is your definition of femininity, than count me a member of that club.

Of course, ad campaigns, TV commercials, movies, series (with stars growing ever younger), movies, etc. have a major impact on all of us and affect the way we see beauty. The effect ripples through different societies, in all part of the world, and take on many perverse aspects.

This means that it doesn’t only exist in Lebanon. Simple personal examples: In India, people told me I was fat, or very healthy, or indicated it with their arms. In Montreal, many times at work, people gave my lunch disapproving looks (too many Tupperwares). As for more “realistic” examples, just take an objective look at the world and you will see so many… or have a look at this project made by a woman photographer about her own physical appearance (click here).

Thankfully, some people are aware of this and in numerous countries, many organizations and individuals and ad campaigns are trying to fight the effect of ads on young girls and teenagers – ads that always showcase impossibly thin and impossibly perfect young women.

The problem – as I find – is that amidst this frenzy, people seem to have forfeited their brains. And in Lebanon, most of us have done so by taking it to the extreme and refusing others the freedom to look how they wish to look. It is the lack of personal freedom in being who you chose to be, no matter the social and moral codes, that bothers me. This tacit obligation to “dress like people like” gets me… especially when this obligation is only applied to me, a woman (or so it seems).

When have you heard a man being criticized for his protuberant belly, or for his unsightly clothes? Now of course, I am not saying we are pure victims. Such men will definitely have less success with women than better looking and better groomed ones. But still, I strongly feel the pressure is not equally shared.

Diets, plastic surgery (with bank loans), the fact that men feel free to comment on your looks if they don’t like it and that you are just supposed to take it with a smile (god forbid you would react and be considered an emotional being). All this coupled with a growing competition between women to find the “good match” (understand “the golden goose”) in a frenzy to get married (who wants to be single after 25?) no matter the cost(s). Add to this an extraordinary need to appear perfect, no matter what lies behind closed curtains…

And while everybody is busy talking about diets, no one is trying to peak behind the curtains. Because most if the times, what you risk finding is too scary to deal with. So it is just easier to keep pretending, to do everything men like us to do, thus contributing to the vicious circle we already are totally submerged in: allow men to tell us how we should look, convincing them that we are all looks and no brain, that we want to be encouraged in looking good. They will grow convinced that this all women are capable of, that women are only physical partners. They will keep imposing their views on us and in turn, we will grow convinced that this is what our daughters should be…

And this is where I will stop, because then I will have to talk about women’s place in society, and their role in raising their children, and women rights… Too brainy for a simple female whose only purpose is to look good to find a husband who will provide for her…

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