Every Other Thursday

Every Other Thursday: On Dani Mathers

(I have decided to do a random post every other Thursday, unrelated to baking, imbibing, or healing from abuse, that details something that I can’t get out of my mind. Here is the first installment. I hope you enjoy.)

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I can’t stop thinking about Dani Mathers. For those of you who missed it, Dani Mathers was a former Playboy Playmate. Recently, she took a picture of a naked woman in the locker room of her gym and sent it to thousands of followers via Snap Chat with the caption, “If I can’t unsee this, either can you.” As there’s unfortunately no shortage of horrendous behavior in the world, public outcry has more or less moved on. I, however, am stuck on it.

At first, I felt silly. There’s so much horror in the world. Is a shitty person engaging in reprehensible but ultimately unsurprising behavior worth all this brain space? Besides that, she seems to have received adequate comeuppance. I won’t lie. I took pleasure in her downfall: the criminal investigation, the loss of both her jobs, her lifelong ban from L.A Fitness, the sheer intensity of the animosity she received online. Hasn’t justice been served, as much as it can be? The act was illegal, violating, and in every way unacceptable. Yet, isn’t it over and done with? Everyone was appropriately outraged. She was appropriately punished. Why can’t I let it go?

It struck me today that maybe my response isn’t absurd. There are other issue in the world that some could deem “more important” than Dani Mathers. But don’t people have the mental capacity to care about more than one thing at once? The ability to be shocked and outraged by one news story does not negate the ability to be shocked and outraged by others. Although, I must say, the bulk of my shock and outrage has passed. At this point, I just feel intensely sad.

It’s not over and done with. Not for me and not for many other women.

The female body is under constant scrutiny, both by men and by other women. To say self-acceptance is an uphill battle for women is an understatement on par with saying, “Gary Busey could maybe take it down a notch.” Personally, I can’t seem to like my body no matter how much I maneuver, discipline, train, push, and, frankly, at times nearly abuse it to force it to change. First, I hated that I was overweight. I lost 35 pounds, and now I hate that my shoulders are wide and my feet are big. I feel like I need to lose another 35 pounds (I don’t – this would actually make me underweight, but I still feel the need to lose as much) to further diminish the largeness of my frame. I assume everyone around me judges my body as harshly as I do. This is somewhat irrational. I do genuinely believe most people are inherently kind. However, it would be dishonest to say that my body, my female body, isn’t judged. When I lived in Chicago, I could not go anywhere near Wriggly Field on game day without 20-something year old Cubs fans shouting insults about my weight. I had someone pull up to me in a car once just to call me a fatass, laugh, and drive away. I’ve overheard friends and family members, who I thought I could trust, joking about my weight. Since I’ve lost the 35 pounds, it’s sickening how differently I’m treated. Store clerks smile at me more often. Men open doors for me. I don’t have wait staff scan my body up and down when I place an order in a restaurant. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that, yes, a lot of people did judge me before, and are probably still judging me now.

I started going to a gym for the first time last June. Prior to that, I was terrified of entering a gym. How could a body like mine go to a gym? What would people say? This is a problem so many women have, including women with specific health conditions that could improve with regular physical activity. That’s the reason the Dani Mathers thing makes me so sad. This toxic behavior is so incredibly harmful. How many women have been scared away from going back to a gym, or from going to a gym at all? For women who are less than confident in their bodies, what Mathers did manifests our worst nightmare. We are going to the gym to improve ourselves and our bodies, and we’re met with nearly cartoonish-ly absurd scorn simply for existing in those bodies. I once said, to a therapist who suggested I join a gym, “I can’t do that. I feel like someone would take my picture in the locker room and send it to friends for a laugh.”

“That’s ridiculous,” she said, “I doubt that would really happen.”

But it did happen.

 I like my gym now. I genuinely look forward to my daily workout. Most people are nice, and the people who aren’t nice aren’t mean. They’re just not overtly friendly. I feel completely at home there. The Dani Mathers thing has not affected my desire to go to the gym at all. Had this happened a year ago, however, forget it. I never would have set foot inside a gym in my life.

To anyone who’s afraid of going to a gym because of Dani Mathers, I want to say this:

Fuck her. Fuck all of them, actually. Fuck the Dani Mathers of the world. I am not going to tell you that they’re secretly insecure or that they’re actually miserable, because I don’t know and I don’t care. It’s irrelevant. You don’t need to believe horrible people feel as horrible as they act because, frankly, their feelings don’t matter. Those people are nothing. They’re persona non grata, or at least they should be. Let’s all agree to pretend they don’t exist as much as we possibly can. Go to the gym because you want to lose weight. Go to the gym because you don’t want to lose weight, but want to improve your health or mood. Go the gym because your doctor thinks you should, or your therapist thinks you should, because nothing is more important than your physical and emotional well-being. Go the gym because it’s fun for you, because running on the treadmill helps you clear your mind after a long day. Go the gym for your own goddamn reasons, which are no one else’s business. If someone judges you or your body while you’re at said gym, that person is trash.

I know it is not easy advice to take. I also know that, unfortunately, in reality these people aren’t nothing. There are very real consequences of body shaming. I am not asking you to ignore this, to live in some fantasy world where self-acceptance will come from a simple rallying cry of, “Screw the haters!” Education the haters. Fuck, discipline the haters legally—which is what’s rightfully happening to Mathers—if they cross a line.

All I am asking is that, temporarily, try to forget. For at least an hour a day, or two hours a day, let yourself enter a respite in which such people are not part of the world. Do this for you, so you can do whatever it is you are afraid of doing. I do not want anyone, no matter their size, to let the looming threat of some asshole with a camera phone dictate their lives. Sometimes, you have to block it all out just to live the life you deserve.

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