Friday, July 13, 2007


OK, so if it seems like I'm all over the place on this issue, it's because I'm struggling to understand the influence of THIS culture upon my body and my person, and I will probably grapple with these issues for a long while.

This is such a pressing issue for me for several reasons:

As a practicing psychotherapist, I have seen and continue to see women with body image distortions all the time, whether culturally-based or originating in childhood abuse, for example. I am driven to read and continue to deepen my understanding of why these distortions are so prevalent. Men have body distortions, too, but I think women have more at stake. Women are so identified with the body - childbearing, menstruation, breasts - but, I believe, from my tiny experience in Buenos Aires, women are so much more identified with the body HERE, or maybe I've just become super sensitive to how women are perceived. Good god, just turn on local TV and flip through Gente or some other celebrity-watching magazine, and you'll see what I mean.

My beef is not with the idea of having surgery; rather, it is with reasons WHY people go so willingly and with great enthusiasm under the knife. What is the ideal one tries to live up to? Our own ideal? But what exactly influences our image or images of the ideal? Most people want to look like someone else (yes, I'll have Julia's lips, Jennifer's hair, etc.) which may explain the reason why many people with plastic surgery end up looking the same to me.

BUT, if it makes one look and feel better, people say (including me), why the heck not? Everyone should have the freedom should do what they want with their bodies. True. I really DO believe this, though it may not sound like it. I have even been planning my future boob lift, doing a test-run in front of the bathroom mirror by shifting upward the skin above my breasts and gazing upon temporarily perky boobage. Then I think, geez louise, breasts are SUPPOSED to make their slow journey toward our knees as time goes by. But then I see Nacha Guevara in a local production of "The Graduate" with 25 year old boobs on her 60-ish year old body, and it makes me go hmmmm.... Something else that makes me go hmmmm is a Southeast Asian woman dying her hair blond and getting blue contacts (I have seen it. Life in L.A.), but WHY pick blond hair and blue eyes? Perhaps to seem more exotic than her normal Southeast Asian self by turning herself into a Eurasian? Freedom of choice? Do we really have a choice? If you CAN do it and WANT to do it, they why not? Would a white Argentine go have nose surgery to have a flatter, more "indigeno", nose like mine? If not, WHY not? I really don't know the answers, but I'm asking the questions...and I think the questions are just as complex and loaded as are the answers.

I also struggle with my own exoticism here. It's a label that the Argentines have given me. EXOTIC...not necessarily pretty or beautiful, but exotic. What does that mean? Exotic new plant species found on a recently discovered, uninhabited island? Like one of those women in a Gaugin painting? Beautiful, yet silently hanging on a wall? Exotic like one of those wierd colored dogs their creating in Japan? To me, this word smacks of different, other, "them" and not "us", a curiosity, a novelty-again something to be observed.

Then there's my shape. Well, I have short legs, an average sized bosom and don't really have a small waist, but here I am in pilates in mad pursuit of one. I consider myself an intelligent, discerning individual, not prone to give into cultural pressures, but I have inadvertently and inevitably, so it seems, been sucked in. What I do in response, once I snap out of my urge to fit in, is to open my closet to look at my crazy collection of vintage clothing from thrift shop days in the U.S. and tell my hairstylist to cut my hair really short. I become, once again, unabashedly, different, but in an organic way, in a manner which originates in me and not the culture. And then I feel great, whip up some peanut butter cookies, and go dance.

All of this has sort of made me re-evaluate and explore my own idea of femininity and what it means to be a woman. North Americans, for example, are not feminine, from the comments I have collected from Argentine men. We are too opinionated, too ready go after what we want, too independent, and too eager to EAT. I have heard from more than one Argentine woman that she doesn't eat at all or she eats very little, and they say it with pride. When I say I love to eat, they look at me like I have 3 heads. You mean, you don't have a salad for lunch?! What do you mean you eat those little cookie things that come with your coffee?!

Here's an interesting anecdote I heard from a North American male friend/tourist in Buenos Aires: He goes to the gym to work out and comments to an Argentine friend who is also working out there that the women are so slim in this country. The Argentine says it's because they don't eat, but, unfortunately, they're always in a bad mood. My friend asks which would he rather have: a slim woman who doesn't eat and is in a bad mood, or someone in a good mood, eats, and is not slim. Well, hands down the answer was a slim woman who doesn't eat and is in a bad mood.

I guess it's different for me, having lived here for a little over 2 years straight. In general, I don't hear all this from women who come here for tango fixes for weeks or several months, but, living here, moving around in the culture and listening to Argentines, I definitely think that the collective psyche, if you want to call it that, has more of an opportunity to impress powerful images and beliefs upon you. Perhaps I was more immune to it in the States because of my social group, a bunch of iconoclastic, outside-the-box thinkers, so these were non-issues for me. But move a person to a place where one just starting to form a social group, or, as a friend of mine put it, looking for one's tribe, where even WORDS have gender and gender roles are more clearly delineated (with tango, it becomes a little messier, and I'll be writing about this in the future), and I think one becomes a little bit more sensitive to this type of bombardment.

This is now THE END of Weight and the Milonguera, thankyouverymuch, but feel free to continue commenting.

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