At this point I think it is safe to say I have become a total Jia Tolentino fangirl. (Jia, you’re amazing!) Her articles are thought-provoking and so on-point, I can’t help but share another.
A couple weeks ago her essay Athleisure, barre and kale: the tyranny of the ideal woman was published in The Guardian, and I have been thinking about it ever since. I highly recommend taking a few minutes out of your day to read and ruminate.
“Figuring out how to “get better” at being a woman is a ridiculous and often amoral project – a subset of the larger, equally ridiculous, equally amoral project of learning to get better at life under accelerated capitalism. In these pursuits, most pleasures end up being traps, and every public-facing demand escalates in perpetuity. Satisfaction remains, under the terms of the system, necessarily out of reach.”
With the expectations of womanhood becoming more insane at every turn, in this era of Instagram and curated feeds and “lifestyle” branding, have we optimized ourselves out of the possibility for genuine contentment? I myself find it very difficult to feel satisfied and contented, but perhaps it has less to do with any personal failings to “choose happiness” and much more to do with the insidious all-encompassing hamster wheel society has convinced us is necessary. And at the particularly insidious intersection of capitalism and patriarchy, it becomes even harder.
If capitalism didn’t ingrain in us that we always need more, better, pricier things to signify success, or if the patriarchy didn’t force us to gauge our worth by our attractiveness, youthfulness, and willingness to accommodate, aka our “fuckability”… what then? Tolentino is correct, I think, that the ultimate question is to ask what we ourselves really want, whether within or despite the systems we live in. What will make us content? What will let us feel whole and happy? Perhaps that becomes the most difficult thing of all — to find out what our own real desires are, rather than simply wanting to be desired, admired, and optimized.