Revenge is a dish best served with spicy peanut noodles— and it tastes like a lot of self-love
By Asha Swann
TW: This story contains mentions of diet culture and body image.
Body hair is the ever-present reminder that humans did not rise into existence through a glass condo elevator. I often find myself wondering if the early homosapien species roaming the Earth six million years ago bullied other apes because their body hair stuck out wrong.
When I was 12, I learned that girls were “supposed to shave” for the first time. A middle school gym class is a cruel place to be when you didn’t even know they made razors for women. As the only girl with bushy legs, I couldn’t help but wonder, at what point did everyone get the memo? Why and how was I somehow left out? I had never seen a woman with hairless legs before. A pool party that summer taught me that yes, it must be kind of freaky how my mom was the only one with hair under her arms and on her legs. Varicose veins? Cellulite and stretch marks? How was it possible that my mother was the only parent at the pool that day who didn’t care?
My mom’s body positivity was not an active one. She was not making a feminist statement, burning her bra, standing atop my middle school playground like the modern-day equivalent of Liberty Leading the People. When I asked why she never shaved, she plainly told me, “I just don’t want to,” as if I had asked her to name groceries rather than save me from middle school humiliation. When I begged her to buy me a razor, she said “You just don’t need one.” That was the summer I stole a men’s razor from the dollar store. I did not have the courage to use it until September.
It took me years to become grateful for this act of passive rebellion. When I finally learned to hate my body, it was because no one else’s mom was like mine. The days I wished my thighs wouldn’t touch are the moments I regret the most. There are too many girls like me, who quit swimming lessons because they would rather vomit than be allowed to take up space in the world.
The summer I quit swim lessons was when I learned that my thighs will ruin every pair of jean shorts. A friend told me when we were sitting at the beach that she’s taking Ex-Lax basically four times a week to get a thigh gap by August. Triangle bikinis were all the rage that summer, and anyone willing to drop $125 on a bikini knew they didn’t come in size fat (AKA pants size 6). I asked her what Ex-Lax was. She said it’s like a cleanse. Her mom always keeps it around. The diet aisle in the drugstore is deceptive. Skinny blonde women holding up XXL pants with bewilderment, how could one woman look so small so fast? I walked down the rows of supplements in secret. There were too many options that a teenager should never have to think about. I had an hour to kill before I would be expected home from swimming lessons. But I frequently ran out of time and left the store empty handed. If you see a teenage girl pacing up and down the diet aisle of a Walmart and see her approach your cash register with a single bottle of Slimfast, you don’t have to let her buy it. Maybe she’ll read the warning label and get too scared to take it, keeping it in a dark corner of her closet until the inevitable stench of expired milk reeks in the August heat. Maybe she’ll drink the whole bottle on the bus home.
I had two worst nightmares in high school: the first was gaining weight. The second was being flat-chested forever. No moment was more humiliating than asking my mom to sew straps onto a strapless dress, and yet I still wondered how many calories were in toothpaste.
How do we know when diet culture has gone too far? Is it when teenage girls compete to lose weight? Are we going too far by telling girls that they should wear corsets at the gym?
Is it when a girl starves herself for five days to fit into a dress on a Friday night?
I wasn’t surprised to see Khloe Kardashian hosting a new show called Revenge Body. Even if you’ve never kept up with the Kardashians, you’ll likely still know the horrific jokes she’s often subject to through the internet, or worse, her sisters. Somehow, everyone in the world is convinced she is the fat, ugly sister. Funnily enough, the joke is on all of you; she’s about to get revenge on her haters, her toxic exes, her internet critics, just by getting skinny. Is it really an act of revenge if someone is getting exactly what they want?
I take revenge on my teenage self by eating a bagel with extra jam. I take revenge on the multi-billion dollar diet industry by actually enjoying my time at the gym. Revenge is a dish best served with spicy peanut noodles.
Body shame has turned into body ambivalence. I don’t have to love my dark red stretch marks, but I can be okay with the fact that they show I have grown. My skin has stretched beyond that of a prepubescent girl at the pool because I’m 24. I’m entitled to growth. I’m required to exist more than I used to because I want to.
I’m proud to be more like my mother every day. I spent the last two summers with hairy legs and forgot to notice a single stare. Tigers don’t earn their stripes: they are born with the markings unique to them, just like a fingerprint. Just like a stretch mark, no two tigers have the exact same lines. Then again, when women spend millions to hate themselves into a hairless, wrinkleless body, maybe it’s worth celebrating the rejections. Maybe shrugging off the idea that our stretch marks should be covered is more meaningful than pretending to love them.
This piece was published in New Wave's Spring 2022 Issue