Do lesbians care about body image?
15 years ago, my answer would have easily been an emphatic NO.
Of course, if you had asked the straight, 15-year-old me if I hated my body, I absolutely would have choked back the tears and mumbled yes before running, crying from the room. Why is that? What was different for 20-year-old lesbian me? What changed to make her so comfortable? But more importantly, why do I identify more with my self-conscious, 15-year-old self now at age 35?
Let’s flash back to high school. I was just like every other teen struggling with weight issues and my body image. I weighed the closest I ever have to what my driver’s license claims when I was 18. And I thought I was enormous. Disgusting even. I vividly remember dieting for most of my senior year. In reality, I looked great – there is actual photo evidence – and I would give anything to look like that now. In high school, most of my best friends were cheerleaders and Homecoming Queens. But I couldn’t get a date. I didn’t get invited to parties. And every boy who ever came to my house was either telling me about problems with his girlfriend, working on a project for a class, getting tutored for an upcoming exam, or asking if I could get my friend Janet to go out with them.
Fast forward to my freshman year in college. It was then I realized that I actually liked girls a lot more than I had ever liked boys. In fact, identifying as a lesbian seemed to finally allow me to be comfortable in my own skin. Comparing myself with the 95-pound, size 4 cheerleaders in high school was killer and completely unrealistic. Turns out that wasn’t who I was, and although I was probably 30 or 40 pounds overweight, I didn’t need to wear a cheerleader uniform, or be a size 4 to be attractive. I felt completely at peace with that. In fact, when I came out, I played around with my image like many LGBT teens do. In this new world of women that were attracted to women, it was liberating to be able to dress masculinely and be cute or be super feminine and still be considered attractive. I didn’t get too crazy, but I definitely wore my share of tank tops, flannel shirts, and baggy jeans (complete with a wallet on a chain). I didn’t care what other people thought. For the first time, I wasn’t concerned with trying to impress anyone else. I was me. I liked girls. Sometimes I wore flannel and sometimes I wore dresses, and that was okay.
Then after college, along came The L Word… Thanks, Showtime!
Lesbians could finally watch themselves on TV. There were characters we could identify with, people like us. People with very successful lives and careers, families and relationships (in the beginning anyway). Except I couldn’t help but notice one thing. These ordinary, everyday lesbians sure were glamorous.
This is what Showtime told us a lesbian is supposed to look like.
I am not sure of the timing, but somewhere during the six seasons of this show, I really began struggling with my body image again. I enjoy being girly and feminine, but I don’t feel like I look good doing it with the extra 60 pounds I carry around. Yes, I’ve gained weight. A couple of years ago I lost 75 pounds, then I gained 30, lost 10, gained 20… I currently feel like the frumpiest, most unattractive person on the planet. Definitely not what the glamorous women of The L Word would be interested in!
Because, OMG Shane.
Every lesbian wanted Shane. Or wanted to be Shane. But let’s get real, Shane doesn’t really exist, right? I mean, plain white t-shirt and perfectly ‘natural’ makeup and ‘messy’ hair every day. Right.
And if you didn’t like Shane, there was always Bette.
I wonder how lesbians younger than me would answer the body image question? Will they go through a similar love-hate cycle with how they perceive their bodies? Today, I definitely have issues. I hate the way I look at least 4 days out of 7. And no amount of make up or hair products can fix that. Other days I feel pretty good about myself. Is my waffling due to aging, societal perceptions, or media portrayals? If there were more lesbian role models out there would my issues be lessened? What about younger girls looking to mass media for a lesbian they can identify with, will their struggles be similar to mine?
I am calling this Lesbian Barbie. How does she make you feel? Yeah, she’s a little butch, but she has perfect, perky boobs and no bra… a flat tummy and low-rise jeans… tattoos and a wallet on a chain… dog collar and leather jacket. Is this a realistic portrayal of a lesbian?
I may have seen one in the wild once, at a bar. Or on Halloween.
Have you seen TV’s newest lesbian character yet? Charlie has a lesbian daughter, and yeah – I don’t look like her either. (Two and a Half Men)
Thanks to shows like The L Word and networks like Showtime, lesbians – even the ones that grew up in a small town and never knew another lesbian – can see themselves portrayed on television. And just like straight women, they will often have un-realistic standards and perceptions to measure themselves against. All women struggle with body image issues at some point in their lives. Lesbians may be more accepting of other women’s bodies — but we are still our own worst critics, and I think that can be said for any woman at any point in their lives, straight or gay. And just like every other woman, I need to motivate myself to exercise more regularly, spend more time on my yoga mat, and work to improve my own feelings of self-worth. My body image issues always seem to lessen when I am feeling more energized and full of life.
And I should probably stop watching TV.
Showtime’s attempt to re-harness the success of their first lesbian series “The L Word” led to this series which touted women who were real lesbians in Los Angeles living their lives in front of a camera (think The Real World)… these “non-actresses” look just like all the women I see walking around the grocery store during lesbian hour on Sunday. Right.
And I guess I should just be thankful I don’t feel like this:
Do you have any other thoughts on this topic? Leave me your comments!!
Thanks for reading,
Other articles about lesbians and body image:
Are lesbians more satisfied with their body image than straight women?
Lesbian Women Feel Less Pressure To Have A ‘perfect’ Body
The L Word Effect