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Elizabeth Plank Headshot

Why Becoming Zeroes Won't Make Us Heroes

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Good news! Forget about the threats of an imminent nuclear war or the fact that your right to contraception has become the new hot political topic. Have you heard? Women finally won the sex war! We've shattered the glass ceiling with our leopard print nine-inch stilettos and we've kissed inequality goodbye with our tiger orgasm lipstick. Women have earned the right to vote, work and wear Spanx in public. Heck, we are a mere 21 cents from closing the pay gap! That's almost enough for a pack of Tic Tacs. Gender inequality solved. Crisis averted. Case closed. Right?

Wrong.

So I'm a white middle-class uber-privileged young lady born and raised in an astonishingly supportive family bursting with positive role models and countless opportunities. Sure there were some disagreements and some screaming matches, mostly over controversial topics such as my right to a belly button ring or who will unload the dishwasher. For the most part, I'm exceptionally lucky. I recently moved to London where I'm on the verge of obtaining a master's degree at one of the best universities in the world. As a gender studies graduate, I've read Foucault and I've "read" Freud. I'm aware of the systems of oppression that operate in our world and I'm equipped to combat them. To many, I'm the product of the longstanding struggle for gender equality. The world is my oyster (that is if only I could stop losing my friggin' Oyster card).

But what if I told you, I dedicate a fair amount of time and energy to thinking about the inordinate size of my behind. What if I told you I thought negatively about my bottom, just as much as I thought about food, friends, self-care and even sex? It's not intentional, it just happens. Every. Single. Day. Shocking, right? Not really.

A study by Glamour magazine suggests that out of 100 women you know, 97 of them have several negative thoughts about their body every day. Not just once, but several. About 13, to be more exact. I'm sure that there are plenty of men who obsess about the size of their biceps -- and my intention is not to exclude them from this discussion -- but I do think we need to have a conversation about the overwhelming majority of women who have developed the nasty little habit of hating their bodies.

Sadly, this is not limited to adult women. The number one wish of girls aged 11 and 17? Justin Bieber flavoured jelly beans? Having a cute glee club teacher that really "gets you"? Majoring in sleepovers? Nope. Losing weight. Even girls as young as three to five years old exhibit signs of this body-hating neurosis: Half of them are worried about their appearance.

The finding this year, that anorexia is a socially contagious disease crystallizes the importance of the debate. Considering that anorexia has a higher death rate than any other mental illness and that nine out of ten victims are female, delaying this conversation is detrimental to women's health.

Ashley Judd has courageously raised her voice following the media's attack on her appearance and labelled the topic of women and bodily criticism, as #TheConversation on Twitter. Her gutsy reaction has highlighted the fact that there is something wrong with our cultural images. Before we change our minds, we need to change what messages we're feeding them. I am hungry for more Ashley Judd being a fearless feminist on Access Hollywood, and instead I'm force fed quantum analysis of the size of Jessica Simpson's belly (it should be exempt from scrutiny if only because it has a friggin' baby in it).

So why is this conversation important? If women are closer than ever to reaching parity in Parliament and on executive boards, are women's insecurities about body image even worthy of attention? Let me answer that question with another question. What is the current ideal size for women? The iconic and elusive size zero. And what is zero, by definition?

Nothing.

If society now expects women to pave their own way, why is it simultaneously suggesting they should take up no physical space at all? Until we fix this inherent contradiction, women with masters' degrees will continue to obsess about their butts, and equality will be that 20 minutes on the treadmill they never seem to have time for.

Let's aspire to be more than zero. Actually, let's aspire to be so audacious, so daring, so bold that no number could even begin to quantify it. Or better yet, let's aim for an extra zero at the end our pay checks, not in the middle of our waist bands.

Most of all, let's stop blaming ourselves for simultaneously wanting to embody the ideal and not being able to achieve it. In the powerful words of Eve Ensler:

"Stop trying to fix your body, it was never broken".