Am I “worth it”? Well, yes and no.

Hello, Shapelings! This is A Sarah, reporting from amidst a sea of boxes. (Well, actually it’s more of a puddle of boxes at this point, hooray!)

As usual, a lengthy preamble and personal anecdote: As I’ve mentioned before, we recently moved to a different area of the country, and I’m just now starting my first faculty job. Because I’m young and female – and because I’ve been peppered with advice over the years about What! Not! To! Do! If! You’re! A! Young! Female! Faculty! Member! — I’ve been paying closer-than-usual attention to my self-presentation, knowing that my colleagues and students are forming first impressions that will be hard to undo later.

Attention to self-presentation, honestly, still fills me with anxiety and dread; I feel as though I’m always “on” and can never relax, and I berate myself whenever I do something that accidentally gives away power or otherwise gives the impression I wasn’t going for. That said, I have found that, this time around, I’m able to relegate some pieces of advice to the list of Things I’ve Decided Not To Care About Because They Aren’t Worth It To Me To Try And Change At The Moment.

So, for example, if it’s really true (as I heard once) that one cannot be young and female and warm and friendly in class and be taken seriously… well, then, too bad for me and my institution, because my default warmth and friendliness is not something I’m willing to spend time changing. For the record, I don’t actually think that rule holds true — though I can squint and see where it comes from. But my point is: even if it IS true that I must never smile while teaching? The amount of effort and emotional energy it would require for me to change my personality so thoroughly would leave me with nothing left for my students, my colleagues, my family, my friends, or my own well-being. Which would not be my fault, and which would suck. But people’s lives are complicated. One person may have the energy and circumstances and privilege that enable them to do something that would exhaust another person. Personality transplant, under oppressively gendered circumstances, in exchange for success in the academy? Not a tradeoff I can make. Someone else probably can; not me.

On the other hand, there’s apologizing. I tend to apologize too much. I learned early on that it was a way to keep people from being mad at me when I wanted something they didn’t think I should want or didn’t understand, or my personality didn’t appeal to them, or I was smarter than they found congenial. As an adult, this habit no longer serves me well; and it is of course a function of sexism that I ever acquired it in the first place. In my new job, am I willing to try and keep my gendered habit of apologizing in check? Well… yeah, I can do that. That’s an area where, for me, a modest amount of effort actually results in some noticeable change; but maybe more importantly, I actually find it life-enhancing to remind myself periodically that, no, I have nothing to be sorry for. I suppose it’s a kind of self-improvement (in the sense that it improves my life); but for me, it doesn’t require any kind of punitive understanding that I was BAAAAD before and now I’m trying to get GOOOOOD.

In a different category, I think, is dressing up for work. Which I’m also able to do fairly easily, and which I currently do, because it seems to go a long way toward causing people to perceive me as a competent colleague and teacher. Of course this ability — less so, I think, than not apologizing so damn much — is clearly a function of my class privilege and thin privilege. (I’m not thin, but it’s fairly easy to find US size 14 women’s business wear.) And so I sit uneasily with that, wondering what exactly I’m colluding with by dressing up, wishing that it weren’t so, and telling myself that old story about how I’ll do this to get tenure and then work to change things. But right now, dressing up is a tradeoff I’m willing to make, and I’ll keep reevaluating.

Anyway, making these kinds of conscious tradeoffs with respect to self-presentation — where I decide what things might make my life easier and better, without requiring of me huge amounts of energy or a script of self-loathing — has got me thinking about a little phrase you hear from time to time, usually when someone is trying to encourage you to devote huge amounts of your time and energy to the self-improvement scheme they want you to embark upon.

“You’re worth it.”

Like many Weight Watchers alumni, I once heard, and used, the phrase “worth it” in connection with dieting. I proclaimed I was “worth the effort” (not to mention the considerable financial expense and time drain) of staying on program. I’m “putting myself first,” I said. I’m “doing this for me.” I’m “taking charge of my life,” and so on and so on and on and on and on. And of course, all of these sentiments are just repetitions of what we all hear on diet commercials — albeit phrased, not in dainty “I” statements, but in brash imperatives, needling interrogatives, and pious testimonials. Put yourself first! Take charge of your life! I did it for myself! Aren’t you worth it?

And, Jiminy Christmas, what a ridiculously messed-up sentiment.

On the one hand, it’s ridiculous on the very face of it — in ways that we could all probably articulate without much trouble. I mean, really, Weight Watchers meeting leader? I’m “worth” the time and hassle of impressing people who wouldn’t like me otherwise (because, goody, they’re the ones whose favor I want!)? And I continue to be “worth” that effort even when the chance that it will have the desired effect is close to zero and it takes a major toll on my sense of well-being? I’m “worth” a self-defeating and time-consuming regimen undertaken for the purpose of gaining the approval of people who don’t see value in me as I am now? AWESOME, thanks!

But there are two deeper, and possibly even-more-ridiculous aspects to “You’re worth it” that I hadn’t really thought through before… both of which bear on self-presentation and intersectionality. So the idea I’m currently playing around with is the idea that, hidden in all the fake-empowerment “worth it” nonsense are two dangerous and disingenuous – and somewhat contradictory – sentiments that need to be exposed. Here’s my best first guess at what they are, but by all means let’s clarify them further in the comments:

Sentiment 1: Attention: Women In General. We, the spokespeople of the dominant culture, know best how you should negotiate the obstacles you encounter by virtue of being female in a sexist society.”

With the blanket assessment that weight loss — a very specific kind of attention to self-presentation — should strike you as being something “worth” your time and energy, these spokespeople presume to know your circumstances enough to dictate what kind of tradeoffs you should make in your life. Now: that’s temporarily leaving aside the fact that (as we all know) dieting almost never results in lasting weight loss!! But hey, you know, let’s say that it did. Let’s say dieting was one way to reliably improve your chance at being seen as more competent or attractive or valuable — within a system that codes women as being less valuable than men, less competent than men, and existing to look pretty to men.

Even if dieting “worked,” who are they to dictate which obstacles are most worth your attention right now? PARTICULARLY when the obstacles you have to steer your way around were PUT IN PLACE BY ONE OR MORE SYSTEMS OF OPPRESSION which… oh, hey!… they speak for! Bah. Spokespeople, you have no damn clue what I have to negotiate, any more than I have a clue what the woman next to me is negotiating or the trade-offs she’s able and willing to make. (Unless she tells me, in which case it would be nice if I’d shut up and listen and not pronounce about what she should do to become new and improved.) To the extent that I’m able even to influence the way I’m perceived by others: how do YOU know that my time and energy isn’t better spent on some other way of dealing with this shit? I’ll tell you what that time and energy is “worth,” thank you… IF I ever even decide that YOU are worth my time, which I just mightn’t.

Of course, it’s not reeeally all women who are “worth it,” is it? On a different frequency than the above announcement (directed, ostensibly, to women in general), comes this announcement to a select few:

Sentiment 2. “Attention, Very Specific Group of Women: See those unworthy people who can’t spend hours a day at the gym or hundreds of dollars on a weight loss program? Take my word that we can identify them by their fatness. Ew, right? What’s wrong with them, that they don’t have extra cash and time to spend working out? Show, with your thin body, that you’re someone who is “worth” money and time.”

Now, this one has of course bubbled up from the pits of hell. It basically says: Hey, you (presumed middle- or upper-class woman)! You are “worth it” exactly because there are others who aren’t, and you’re different from them. Anyone with eyes and discerning taste can tell the difference, amirite? Plus, all that money and leisure time that enables gym-going and calorie-counting and meeting-attending to be a viable option for you? You had it coming, because you are just soooooo worth it. Being worth it means you never have to consider that, maybe, just maybe, you got some of those perks by being born into them, and not through your own morally perfect decisions. So yeah, go ahead and draw ridiculous analogies — like saying that some people spend money on shoes (OMG SO SAAAD!), but YOU choose to spend your time on your health (as if you couldn’t also buy designer shoes if you wanted them!) No, it’s all FAIR AND SQUARE WHAT PRIVILEGE LA LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!

As Paul Campos, among others, has noted:

“Americans are obsessed with fat because fatness has become a symbol for poverty, downward mobility, nonwhiteness and socially marginal status in general. Fear and hatred of fat has very little to do with the health risks associated with being “overweight” and “obese” (which are wholly imaginary and highly exaggerated, respectively), and everything to do with the symbolic meanings that thin and fat bodies have in this culture.

The fundamental strategy of the war on fat is to universalize the attitudes of middle- and upper-class white American women toward weight, food, dieting and exercise.” (emphasis mine)

(As if you really needed a current example of this very phenomenon.)

So I think that’s where a chirpy “You’re worth it!” eventually lands us. Any tension between the (faux-universally-applicable) first sentiment and the (very-specifically-targeted) second sentiment is resolved, if we translate it thus:

“I don’t know who you are or what your life is like. But I’m pretty sure that we, the spokespeople of the dominant culture, can pronounce authoritatively upon what you need to care about — and even on how you should best negotiate the oppressive systems we help sustain. And, in that vein, we have agreed that you should want to be a thin white straight cis femme moneyed woman, who takes what we say as authoritative, and who tries to improve herself for our sakes. You’re worth it! You’re welcome!”

That’s my best, and very wordy, guess. What do you think, Shapelings? Is this the real work that “You’re worth it!” is doing? Are there other things it’s doing? How do you decide whether and how to care about self-presentation? What’s the best way to think about being “worth it”? Alternately, feel free just to talk about how “worth it” you REALLY are — just because you’re awesome, and not because of the degree to which you meet someone else’s oppressive standards.

[cue Mister Rogers theme]

[No, really, we’re watching Mister Rogers at our house]

137 thoughts on “Am I “worth it”? Well, yes and no.”

  1. Interesting A Sarah. The “you’re worth it” meme has always bugged me but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

    My first instinct is that many of us (I) grew up with messages that we are (I am) supposed to be taking care of others and the “You’re worth it!” was a reminder that we are worth taking care of as well.

    In AA, that phrase is repeated frequently and I think because among addicts, perhaps we’ve done some things that make us feel unworthy of recovery and therefore, the reminder at the end of every single meeting is a reminder that despite doing some things we might be ashamed of, we are worth the effort of recovery.

    Then again, the whole “you’re worth it” sounds so incredibly condescending as if someone who is superior is granting me some of their worthiness fairy dust…

    I don’t know…I’ll wait to see what everyone else has to say. Thanks for the thought provoking post!

  2. we have agreed that you should want to be a thin white straight cis femme moneyed woman, who takes what we say as authoritative, and who tries to improve herself for our sakes.

    Really, you should have been born a man if you ACTUALLY wanted to make anything of yourself. Since you chose not to, you are relegated to following our commands.

  3. I love this post, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the discussion develop. It reminded me of another strain of rhetoric that might be implicit in the “you’re worth it” statements: the “Treat yourself!” statement. I think we see this more in diet food and beauty product ads (“treat yourself” to a yogurt that tastes like cinnamon buns, rather than cinnamon buns themselves). In college, some friends and I used to joke about “treating ourselves” to the most mundane things, like a cup of coffee, as a reaction to those commercials. What I think those particular messages say — which is related to this post, I swear — is that women should view these things which are actually impositions on their lives (the supposed obligation to be skinny and conventionally pretty) as luxuries (the yogurt, the pedicure). That’s not to say that they can’t be fun — I enjoy a pedicure myself! — but that we are asked to “treat” ourselves to the very things that perpetuate our oppression. It’s a way of, as you say, universalizing upper-class values by reframing them as “worth it” for middle and working-class women.

  4. Re: young female warm friendliness in the university classroom:

    I’ve found I manage to make it work, and I have yet to be consumed by hoards of disrespectful students. Funny thing, when you treat students as people and not as wayward feral dogs in serious need of a cold shoulder, they tend to be more able to behave humanely.

    It’s almost as if you can build a healthy learning environment by putting people at ease and focussing on ideas instead of intimidation.

  5. This is also one of my big gripes with What Not To Wear (Which I love and DVR almost everyday even if I’ve already seen the episode ten times because omg Stacey & Clinton)

    They often invoke this sort of self-righteous “we know better than you and do what we say because YOU’RE WORTH IT” that while not explicitly anti-woman makes me uncofortable. But then they talk about OMGSHOEZ and so I am lulled back into security.

    Not to derail into a convo about WNTW, but I do think that the “you’re worth it” meme is so all around women that it can be hard to really pull apart, which you of course did beautifully.

    Afterthought, are men ever told they’re worth it? I’m not trying to be glib, I mean it, I can’t think of a single marketing effort geared toward men that espouses the you’re worth it line. Do men automatically assume themselves to be worth it? Are men better equipped to see through the falseness of using “you’re worth it” to sell them something that sucks? I’m not sure.

  6. I hardly have my thoughts on this issue sorted out, but I’ve been thinking it lately.

    the rotund has a post that, among other things, talks about the idea of being “worth it”

    and a friend of mine quoted this recently: “To believe that you deserve everything is a terrible sin.” -Hanna Krall

    As Marianne said, I don’t know that being “worth” something and “deserving” something are equivalent ideas, but I don’t think they’re far off. The one echoes the other. And talking about what people deserve makes me nervous. For one thing, most of the people who believe that what someone “deserves” bears any real relation to what they actually end up with are those very privileged people who have the resources to, you know, get things they believe they deserve. Probably not a surprise that diet advertisements call on the idea, considering that great Campos quote.

    For another, well, what does every person deserve? What is any person worth? I don’t know, and I don’t know how to figure that out, and I don’t quite trust people who claim to have all those answers. I think being confident you have that sort of thing figured out is dangerous.

  7. Yes! This thing!

    Also, re SM’s comment – Julie Burchill (a columnist who I mainly detest, but who once in a while gets it ABSOLUTELY RIGHT, baffling me no end) has written quite often about the phenomenon of women being encouraged to “pamper themselves” and how this essentially boils down to “oh for god’s sake, have a wash!” She also wrote one piece in which she went with a friend who was a cleaner to have a “spa day” and noted that while she (middle class, fairly well off journalist) found it all a bit poncy and pointless, it was bloody lovely for her friend who actually, you know, does hard physical work all day, which is unfortunately exactly the kind of woman who can’t usually afford all this kind of thing.

    I tend to try to dress reasonably well at work (though currently I am really not very well and this pretty much amounts to “I don’t actively stink or have stained clothes”) but I mostly think that “I’m worth it” in the sense of “I am prepared to look smart so you [higher-ups who are rarely but rather unpredictably in the office] don’t automatically think badly of me because of my clothes, provided you bloody well remember that I am actually jolly useful to you” which, for the most part, they do.

    I’m off to treat myself to a nice glass of water, now.

  8. I think what “You’re worth it!” really communicates — especially in the context of your post — is not the inherent worth of all people as sharing in basic humanity. What it communicates, instead, is that the people who do make the efforts they dictate are the worthy ones. Those are two totally different things. One appreciates universality; the other divides and privileges (selectively).

    So “You’re worth it!” is not actually “You, a human being, are worth it!” but “You, a worthy being who has filled the prerequisites of worthiness that we set forth, are worthy of the worthiness we bestow upon you for it! And now you get to gloat over everybody else. Hoorah!”

  9. Oh may A Sarah, this is such a hot button for me!

    Whenever I see a L’Oreal commercial (L’Oreal: because you’re worth it.) I wonder if L’Oreal is french for shoviefoot up the ass of the guy who came up with this slogan.

    Because that would TOTALLY be worth my time.

    Seriously, I’m worth spending money on things to conceal my flaws and cost me additional time in the morning? Gee Thanks, Fuckwad.

    I find the idea of having to reassure someone that they are “worth it” whatever the fuck “it” is at a given point pretty repugnant. The sentiment it is always conveyed to me is that we require someone’s permission to do things for ourselves. We need someone else to tell us that we are worth spending that extra $.50 on Loreal instead of whatever the other option is, or that we are worthy of repeatedly failing to diet.

    Of course we are worth those things! We are worth way more than those things because those things are fucking worthless!

    I just want everyone to know that I removed at least 10 other gratuitous instances of the f word from this comment.

  10. I disagree. The whole “You’re Worth It” mantra is for the people who don’t think they are worth more than others. They don’t feel that they are worth items that would make them feel pretty/smart/healthy/happy because they feel useless, or unimportant, or ugly, or dumb, or whatever.

    The phrase being associated with a weight loss company has tainted it towards the thin mantra, but the phrase itself bears repeating because there are so many people who don’t feel that their self worth is high enough to justify a $50 pair of shoes or a full price hard back book or simple things like that.

    Hate the company, not the phrase.

  11. I didn’t even finish reading the article…I got to the part about how are they to decide which obstacles are deserving of your time and started to cry. Thank you A Sarah, you have no idea how much this means to me right now.

  12. okay, i haven’t even made it through the 2nd paragraph and i’m already fuming. i had a professor in college (who i adored, btw, so this is no criticism of him) who regularly came to class looking like a homeless person. he had a collection of GIANT stained t-shirts that he wore with either crazy-farmer overalls or equally GIANT sweatpants. i honestly don’t know if he was tenured or not, but i can’t see even my tenured women profs being allowed to get away with that kind of presentation. it just makes me cringe to think about that and then hear about you (or any woman in academia/elsewhere) having to spend so much time worrying about this shit.

  13. This post made my brain hurt. In a good way.

    To me, the are bit in You’re Worth It is preemptive; really, it should be You Would Be Worth It (if you bought our product/did what we told you to).

    Also, telling women to diet or use unnecessary, unwanted, or painful products as a form of self-care is kind of Tom Sawyerish: GO PAINT THAT FENCE IT’S TOTALLY FUN YOU’RE WORTH IT

  14. Just a thought, to come at this from another angle–could it be that “You’re worth it” became ubiquitous simply because it works as a sales tool–works precisely because women are rarely explicitly told they’re worth much of anything, and most especially the least privileged of us?

    Lovely, thoughtful post as usual, A Sarah.

  15. Lexy–

    Re: men being “worth it”. I think it ties into the idea that women are busy being SuperMom while their husbands are incompetent buffoons ala the sitcom-and-commerical family. Because women are expected to take on so many responsibilities within the home and outside of it, there’s the image of the overworked mom who doesn’t have time for anything for herself. If they DO have time for themselves, then they’re bad lazy mothers who sit around all day eating bon bons, unless they’re doing something that they’ve been reassured they’re “worth.”

  16. I tend to be extremely friendly with my students. In fact, 90% of my student reviews consist entirely of the words “nice” and “friendly,” with “funny” sometimes thrown in. It’s not very helpful feedback, but I’m not complaining much.

    I’ve found that, even if you have a few students who will try to push you on things, if you are a young, warm, friendly female, a lot of times you’ll end up with another weird gendered dynamic, with other students getting really protective of you. I’ve had that happen a few times, where a few students–both male and female–have seen it as their duty to stop other students from pushing or being disrespectful. I’m actually interested to see what happens this coming term, because I’ve only taught one semester while pregnant before, and my students were really weirdly protective of me that semester, but also came with me more than they ever had before with issues that had nothing to do with my class (both academic and personal), and I don’t know if it’s because they suddenly were seeing me as some kind of mother figure, or if being pregnant just made me seem more like a human being than a teacher normally does and so they felt I could relate to them. In any case, it’s interesting, and I just like watching interesting classroom dynamics play out, assuming they don’t start undermining what’s going on in the classroom.

    I don’t know what to think about “you’re worth it.” One the one hand, our culture is so self-obsessed that I kind of hate anything that makes people focus even more on themselves and what they think they deserve. On the other hand, we at the same time expect women to be completely self-sacrificing, so taking time to recognize your own worth is good. But, on the third hand, I’m living in a country where we apparently don’t think that every single individual is at least worth a place to live, a good education, enough food to survive on, and good health care, so I think that until we get that straightened out, we shouldn’t worry too much about all the extra stuff we might be “worth.”

    I was a UU for a while before deciding I missed the pageantry of my Catholic upbringing and became an Episcopalian, so when I think about people and worth, it’s the inherent worth and dignity of every person that comes to my mind, and anything that makes “worth” less than that–like being “worth” losing ten pounds or enjoying a key lime pie yogurt–makes me cringe a bit. It’s hard for me to think about what I’m worth or people are worth outside of a theological context. On the one hand I think we are all of infinite worth; on the other hand, I’m not sure any of us somehow “deserves” the kinds of luxuries that we’re being told by marketers we are “worth” or should “treat ourselves” to. So I just don’t know, beyond feeling that any time I’m pondering what I’m worth, I need to realize that everybody else? Is worth just as much, whether they are fat or thin or rich or poor or gay or straight or whatever. And that seems to be exactly what the “you’re worth it” marketing campaigns don’t want people to believe.

  17. YES! It’s the Tom Sawyer thing. “You totally deserve this chalky chocolate square! It’s so sinful, but just this once, go ahead!”

    Also, the vast majority of my college professors were friendly and approachable. In community college, a women’s college, and at a larger university. All the ones I remember fondly were warm, or at least made an effort to be friendly.

  18. The first paragraph, I mean. I agree with A Sarah regarding the phrase itself, which explicitly says that someone other than you can tell you what you are (and aren’t) worth.

  19. Oh, hey, I should say (and not just because I’m concerned that I may one day be outed at work as A Sarah) that my colleagues are really rather abounding in clue. A lot of these negotiations have to do with the academy in general and the advice one gets. At my institution, as far as dressing up, near as I can tell it’s expected of men and women. (Well, I mean, people with tenure can say “screw that” with no consequence, but it’s noted, anyway.)

    Re: men not getting told they’re “worth it”… hm, that’s a really good point. Seems men’s worth as men isn’t really at issue, such that it needs to be paid lip service.

    Battery’s about to die…

  20. I’ve never given any thought to that phrase. It’s just one of those ‘adspeak’ type things that I don’t tend to dwell on unless it really jumps out at me in it’s idiocy.

    Now that I’m thinking about it, I think it’s a sort of counter balance for everything that the companies who use it are pushing. The entire premise of the diet/beauty/fashion industry is to make you feel like you are lacking something. You’re not thin enough, you’re not pretty enough, you’re not stylish enough, you’re basically a piece of crap so buy our thing and you’ll improve your sorry self.

    With all that implied bashing, the phrase ‘you’re worth it’ is sort of like your critical crazy grandma saying ‘but I still love you, let me give you some advice…’ after telling you all the ways you’re failing at life.

    So I don’t know that it specifically caters to a priveleged class in and of itself, because each individual woman regardelss of class is going to have her personal insecurity that some beauty product will address, and so this little ‘encouraging’ phrase probably speaks to a lot of classes of women in similar, if not identical, ways.

    But maybe that’s what you’re already saying. LOL

    *rereading post & scratching head*

  21. I feel like “You’re worth it!” also tries to subtly co-opt feminist ideas (although I don’t think I can necessarily explain why). Something like, “Guess what, we think you’re a person too and should be treated like one”.

    Also, I’m interested in whether people think “I am enough” is kind of like “I’m worth it”. It seems in at least one way, it’s not because it’s not suggesting that in order to be enough you have to buy x or y or z but then I still have a creepy feeling about it at times (depending on the context and whatnot).

  22. My experience in the classroom has been similar to Elizabeth Twist’s. You can be friendly and witty and not totally outdated and have high standards and be well-respected by students. Presenting at academic conferences is a whole other ballgame, though. At least in Philosophy.

    I do think that the “you’re worth it” meme started as a backlash against the expectation that women would always sacrifice and put everyone else’s needs first. It’s just that it’s been appropriated by capitalists, just like everything else. Maybe if we reclaimed it to apply to self-determination and deciding for ouselves what’s respectable and beautiful and healthy and worthwhile, that would bring the phrase back to an acceptable meaning.

    Critical thinking? I’m worth it. Learning not to be enslaved by my culture’s ridiculous beauty standards? I’m worth it. Valuing myself for my thoughts and actions and ideals and compassion? I’m worth it.

  23. OK, I get it. I do think that ‘you’re worth it’ targets a specific group of priveleged women more than others.

    I had never gotten that implication before, but I can totally see how it’s a wink/nudge (albeit a snide one) to women who are *this close* to ‘perfection’ so why not invest in yourself just a wee bit more?

    I think this is almost the same reason I had more diet crazy thinner friends than diet crazy fat friends when I was in high school/college. The thinner ones actually had a shot in hell of looking like a cultually accepted fashion model so they starved themselves twice as hard as my fat friends, who I guess knew they were farther away from the ‘ideal’.


  24. I have found the “you’re worth it!” slogan offensive for a long time, but I’m not really sure it has any -meaning- (when applied by those who are trying to sell us something) beyond “Hmm, we think this will help us take your money.” It seems like marketing-speak to “assist” me with getting beyond my natural and logical thought process, which goes something like: “Ooh shiny! But…if I purchase that for myself, then there will not be enough money to pay the electricity bill this month. And my family’s well-being is somewhat dependent on our continuing access to electricity. Huh, I guess it’s just not worth it.”

    That’s where BUT YOU’RE WORTH IT! jumps in. It’s a poke at my selfishness…the same kind of selfishness everyone has.

    And I guess the offensiveness of the statement comes, for me, from our commercial overlords’ motivation–they want me to abandon reason and responsibility so that they can profit. They appeal to my worse nature in order to grub after my money. They want to hurt my family, and me, for their own gain–not hurt in a cultural-context way, but in an immediate let-them-starve-as-long-as-they-buy-our-stuff way.

    Which is not to say that there aren’t subtexts. Just I don’t really think the subtexts are what’s important, so much as the actual intention of the marketing-speak.

    For comparison’s sake, I solely support a family of five on a HUD-defined “low income,” sans outside assistance–and have done so for ten years now. And though it doesn’t work on me, because I’m basically ornery, I think the “you’re worth it!” message has powerful resonance for those who are struggling financially and face a lot of drudgery in their lives. Because seriously, the tiniest little treats really ARE treats at this income level. (Stuff like ordering a latte every couple of weeks, buying a single garment at Target, a new pair of $15 dollar shoes, going out to see a movie–these are decisions I must -weigh- because none of these things are truly necessary.)

  25. Put yourself first! Take charge of your life! I did it for myself! Aren’t you worth it?

    The message is aimed, I’ve always thought, at the lower middle/middle class woman for whom the subscriptions and fees for WW or other similar programs would represent substantial sums, and thus take up not only whatever extra they might have, but also eat into money that would otherwise go to discretionary purchases for the household. Thus, an aspect of it is that it would be a self-indulgent (selfish) expenditure, something for you alone, because you’re worth it.

  26. This piece really struck me. I have felt “what is my value” as an existential question. An in the middle-of-the-night, soul-searching, “what is my purpose,” “am I loved,” “do I matter,” “am I GOOD/BAAD,” big-picture kind of question.

    And in uber-capitalist society, this existential/spiritual question is given a commodified answer. Like “I’m worth X Dollars worth of lipstick.” ew

    The phrase seems to half-answer this big spiritual need to be valued and matter, but then switches in a salesmodel. “I’m worthwhile” is replace with “I’m worth ThisProductThatOnlyWorthyPeopleHave”

  27. With all that implied bashing, the phrase ‘you’re worth it’ is sort of like your critical crazy grandma saying ‘but I still love you, let me give you some advice…’ after telling you all the ways you’re failing at life.

    Yes, this!

    And I’m with you on the spa thing earlier in the thread. Having a fancy hot bath and massage sounds lovely. It’s something I’ve always kind of wanted to treat myself to, though I’m not sure how much more luxurious it would actually be than it would to find a plug that fits in my tub and get some fancy bath oil. But you want me to pay you how much money to rip the hair out of my delicate bits?! That is not the fun sort of pain. And my eyebrows look just fine the way they are, thankyouverymuch.

  28. lah579, I think that’s brilliant, and exactly why the phrase, when used in marketing, bothers me so much. It is doing just what you say: putting a price tag on what individuals are worth, and seeing human value as pretty much equivalent to monetary value. The idea of having worth is ignored and replaced by the idea of being worth x amount of something.

  29. I think my biggest problem with the “worth it” idea is that it seems inherently connected to an economic metaphor — “worth it” seems intertwined with a commodification of women. When we’re told “you’re worth it” we’re being told that our value is high, sure, but as A Sarah pointed out, that means that someone else is assigning our value — and more disturbing to me, it also means that we are told we are objects of exchange, that may have a high value or a low value but that are fundamentally OBJECTS. Sort of like, “If you can fit into those pants then you are worth five goats, but if you can fit into these pants you are worth ten goats.”

  30. this existential/spiritual question is given a commodified answer. Like “I’m worth X Dollars worth of lipstick.” ew

    And to make it worse, it’s not necessarily something I’d want to buy in the first place.

  31. “worth it” seems intertwined with a commodification of women

    Absolutely. It’s saying we don’t just have worth, period; instead, we’re worth some tangible amount. The worth is tied to some external thing–the “it”–instead of being something inherent in just being a person.

    And I think it’s not just a commodification of women, but a commercialization of all aspects of life, where we really can only see value in terms of economic value.

  32. @ Rachel–I think you hit on what bugs me in this thread–yes, when *marketers* use it, “I’m worth it” is offensive–because they are co-opting something that so many women I know, including myself, need to hear. Many men do, too, in my experience, perhaps because I prefer to keep the gentler specimens around me.

    So many of my well-off friends will make sure their daughters have even more new and expensive clothes, while wearing worn out or ill-fitting or otherwise significantly less attractive clothing. I do believe that WNTW makes a great point: so many of the participants could look so much better, and can afford to, and want to, but don’t know how to, and more significantly, won’t give themselves permission to. They want to look better. They just don’t think they are worth the money or time. So they eat or drink or buy crap…..

    Dressing well is empowering. I don’t mean dressing expensively. I can put together a decent outfit at Walmart–the George line is well-made and affordable.Goodwill also has nice stuff, unless you are a special size like tall….Most anyone can afford a few nice outfits, rather than a closet full of crap.

    If you truly feel great as you are, go with God. I think so many I encounter do not. A lot of this can be laid at the doorstep of marketers seeking to create a need they can fill, and a patriarchal visually-oriented society. Some comfort might be recovered, though, by simply working the mantra that it’s okay to take care of yourself, to treat yourself well, to dress in a way that makes you feel good about yourself, and to get help if you don’t know what that way is.

    but then I’m a southerner…..maybe we’re just different down here.

  33. How about “Feminism . . . you’re worth it!”

    About the classroom vibe, I would totally stay true to your personality because students can see through pretense in a heartbeat. I have found, however, that being friendly and kind and compassionate sometimes leads to students thinking I’ll be an easy grader and then they get back their first papers and WHAM.

  34. YES. This phrase pushes my buttons but until now, I didn’t understand why. It’s a condescending pat on the head and a judgmental kick in the ass at the same time…and that’s for the people who are privileged enough to be included in the “worth it” group. Plus, what are you “worth?” Improving. YOU only partially suck…unlike the irredeemable unprivileged people over in the corner. YOU can be CORRECTED!

    Not sure what I said there that wasn’t a shorter, less original paraphrase of A Sarah’s post but I guess I was just working it through. Thanks, A Sarah…

    And I think the L’Oreal ads, at least the ones with Heather Locklear, actually featured the tag line “Because I’M worth it.” I’m not sure if that’s better or worse: at least she’s taking (scripted) ownership of her own “worthiness,” but the implied end of the sentence is “…and you’re not.” Plus, she’s still “worth” nothing more than artificially blond, un-gray hair in that ad…..

  35. I don’t really have much to say about the “you’re worth it” thing. Honestly, it makes me a little queasy. It stinks of useless products and services being peddled to women who can’t afford them.

    Please don’t feel guilty about wearing nice clothes. I wear a 16/18W and can fit into plus-sized department store suits. I’m sure I look just as good in them as you do in your straight sized versions. And you know what? If I couldn’t fit into a 14W-24W and suits were appropriate for my job, I’d have them custom made. Dressing well (not just stylishly, but in a way that will read as “impressive”) is a lot harder to do if you’re large, but it’s also more important.

    Business formal/semiformal is a powerful uniform, and it can overwrite a lot of the negative connotations of a larger body size. It’s not appropriate for every job, but when it is, it’s a way to claim privilege that works for everyone who can afford a $500 suit: any color, any size, any gender.

    Traditional business clothes are also a way to express respect for continuity and to communicate clearly. Two generations ago, people dressed well to put themselves, their families, their cultures, and their professions in a positive light. Today, many privileged people dress in a way that, on the surface, makes them look poor or even homeless. However, they can be easily identified by those in the know by brands, hairstyles, accents, etc. In my opinion, Nothing, NOTHING is more pretentious than faking poverty to be cool or left-wing. Notice who does it: largely middle(+) class white men.

  36. I have to comment about the clothes being available for a size 14 but not for larger sizes. Back in 1982 I was an employment counselor and a woman came into our office with amazing skills. I could easily have placed her with a substantial raise. All she had to do was walk across the street and buy an interview suit.

    Now, at that point I was wearing plus sizes, and I knew what the store across the street sold because I shopped there and it was the era of the Dress for Success skirted suit.

    AND I was a larger size than she was.

    It has been 25 years. It is easier to find suitable clothes than it used to be. I’ll admit that it is easier if you are 3X or less and even easier if you are a standard XL. But the clothes are there.

  37. The thing that bothers me the most about “you’re worth it” (and I have not read any of the comments, I just wanted to get this down before my ADD made me forget what I was thinking, so someone might already have said this same thing) is the passive-aggressive implication that if you don’t choose to do whatever bullshit thing the ad is schilling, it’s because deep down you don’t have any self-esteem.

  38. In the L’oreal context, “I’m Worth It” is a clever campaign to get women to think they need shiny, colored hair to look good, and hey, you should definitely pay money for this product that you don’t really need, because you’re WORTH it.

    The diet industry got ahold of that idea and ran with it.

  39. To add even more in regards to the second bit, in recovery for anorexia, we talk about this quite a bit. There’s a horrible, horrible egotistical high that comes with being able to deny yourself all the “pleasures” that other people allow themselves to have-and most people, I think, don’t think of themselves as “allowing” themselves to eat-but anorexia is horror-whackoville for the mind. It’s so twisted and ironic, because the people who the marketers claims are truly “deserving” and have spent all of their money, time, and effort (and lost all their friends and sanity, I migh add) on achieving thinness are only doing so, because they truly, truly hate themselves and are slowly killing themselves.

  40. I know this is only tangential to the main thread of the discussion? But, egad, I *wish* I could successfully come off as warm and friendly in the classroom. All my Inner Resources, as it were, are open and affectionate and funny and dare I say motherly. But like many a philosopher, I can be really awkward about exhibiting the affection I feel for my students. I feel like I come across either as aloof and off-putting or like I’m trying too hard.


    I’m sure socialization as a woman is one major reason I feel so bad about this. Like, I have to be warm and inviting! I *have* to! Because otherwise I’ll seem arrogant and unfeminine!

    Also, I sincerely hope feminism doesn’t mean ‘no dressing up.’ Because I find dressing up waaay too much fun to give up. And I sincerely hope the academy’s notion of dressing up doesn’t preclude doing so quirkily. Because if I got to dress up every day but wasn’t allowed to do it after my own fashion? I think I would languish and die.

  41. I’m of two minds about the “I’m worth it,” phrase.

    On one hand, this is something I remind myself of frequently. In the past, I had a constant soundtrack in my mind that told me that I was worth nothing until I was thin. I did all the patriarchy mandated maintenance, lest I become even more unacceptable, but I put up with a lot of crap from myself and from other people and situations because somewhere along the way I became convinced that was my lot in life.

    Now, I know that it isn’t, but you just don’t get rid of that sort of self-hatred overnight. So I do have to remind myself that it is worth it for me to do anything I truly want to (whether or not I can afford it, well, that’s a separate issue). It is worth it for me to set a budget for new clothes because I feel uncomfortable in my old ones, it is worth it for me to speak up when I feel a friend is taking advantage, etc.

    But that really, in my mind, is entirely different than the “you’re worth it” we are sold in advertising. That kind of “you’re worth it” is part of what made me feel I wasn’t worth anything in the first place because what it basically means is ‘you are worthy enough to live up to our standards,’ as you said in you second example. Since I was willing to try to be thin, I was worth spending money on Weight Watchers, a new exercise DVD, a pair of jeans that I can’t sit down in that make my ass look smaller, a box of hair dye…whatever. I was worth whipping into acceptable shape.

    And that really is the difference. I think those of us now who try to remind ourselves that we are worth something, are trying remember that we are worth taking care of; we are worthy of the kind of kindness and attention we want, not the kind that someone else wants us to have.

  42. Oh and also, on the how to treat your students end of it, I would just do whatever comes naturally to you because either way you can’t win with those who aren’t inclined to believe women need some sort of special instruction on how to behave in the classroom. If you are warm and friendly, you will be a doormat in their eyes, and if you are firm and distant and demanding of respect, you will be a bitch. So you might as well just do what you want and be who you are, and to hell with them.

  43. Now, at that point I was wearing plus sizes, and I knew what the store across the street sold because I shopped there and it was the era of the Dress for Success skirted suit.
    AND I was a larger size than she was.
    It has been 25 years. It is easier to find suitable clothes than it used to be. I’ll admit that it is easier if you are 3X or less and even easier if you are a standard XL. But the clothes are there.

    So, because you worked across the street from a plus-sized store in 1982, it’s easy for all fat women to find professional clothes? Really?

  44. This is a very, very smart post. The “worth it” mantra feeds into the idea that what you have, you get because you earned and deserve it. So what happens with something like privilege, which may be your birthright but isn’t your due? Oh, take a nice bath and don’t think about those hard things — you’re worth it!

  45. I could easily have placed her with a substantial raise. All she had to do was walk across the street and buy an interview suit.

    Now, at that point I was wearing plus sizes, and I knew what the store across the street sold because I shopped there and it was the era of the Dress for Success skirted suit.

    Wow, too bad she couldn’t get that raise so she could afford a suit.

  46. I wear a size 14 and not all of the careersuits in department stores or other places fit me like a glove. For one thing, since most women’s jackets and blazers have two buttons the bottom tends to flare out a bit instead of laying flat because of my stomach and 16 is waay too baggy. And alterations are waay too expensive for my budget.

    Stella, how did you know the woman was smaller then you, did you ask or did she tell you her dress size? Otherwise you don’t really have any way of knowing, for certain.

  47. Jae gets at what I was thinking, which is that the marketed ideas of what makes you worthy tend to be those things that distract you from recognizing your *actual* worth.

    We *are* all worth it — worth nurturing, loving, respecting, honoring. But nurturing, love, respect, and honor take courage and time, and it sometimes seems like a much quicker fix to buy some lipstick and pretend you’re honoring yourself.

    But I think almost any individual action could fit into either category, the “I’m honoring myself” category or the “I’m ignoring my real needs in favor of a quick-fix” category. Buying clothes that fit, for example, could be a radical act of someone who’s decided that her body is “worth it,” or it could be a way for someone to avoid having to deal with her real problems by distracting herself with new clothes.

    Our worth is inherent. It’s a question of how aware of it we are.

  48. Some people like myself are on Weight Watchers to feel healthier, aside from the perspective of loosing weight. I’m not going to say anymore than that, because I understand why fat acceptance is anti-diet.

    I’m just saying, it’s a bit much to suggest the only reason people go to Weight Watchers is to lose weight. That might be the perspective goal, they claim as a part of it. It’s not like they will throw you out if you don’t loose weight though. Following the points system helps me feel less tired and have more energy. I’m sorry if that means I’m dishonoring the fat acceptance movement, or whatever.

  49. Jackie – Most of us on here have tried WW at some point in our lives (some of us multiple times) and, while I understand that your personal reasons are for health, it is most certainly not a bit much to suggest that people go to WW to lose weight. WWis a diet, no matter what their marketing department says it.

    I am most certainly not belittling the benefits you receive from WW so please don’t take this as a flame of any sort, but most people who join WW for health reasons join because a doctor has told them that they need to lose weight to improve their health.

    So yes, first and foremost, people join WW to lose weight.

  50. I don’t want to argue with you, but aren’t fat acceptance and diet companies are mutually exclusive? The primary purpose of Weight Watchers is weight loss, that cannot be denied. The secondary purpose is not health. It is also weight loss. (Unless of course you consider weight loss and health to be synonymous.) Sure they won’t kick you out if you don’t lose weight (they wouldn’t have very many customers left if they did) but are they going to throw a little party for you when you maintain weight or, god forbid, gain? No. That said, I totally hear you on the need for structure with meals and exercise, which I think(?) is what you’re trying to say you get out of it – I kept using the points system (loosely) for quite a while after I stopped dieting because I was terrified that I would EAT THE WORLD if I didn’t. And it’s not easy to get over that, I know. But dude, are you shilling WW on a thread that’s all about how harmful and insidious the “you’re worth it” mantra of weight loss companies is?

  51. In the only diet attempt I made in the last 8 years or so, I briefly did the WW core program. And, I have to say, it IS a pretty darn healthy way to eat. I did feel good, and I did have more energy. And, I continue to follow many of the guidelines of that diet (although not as restrictively).

    But, the focus with WW is on weight loss. That’s why I ended up just incorporating what worked into my life and leaving the rest. The way progress is tracked on WW is by the weight you lose, not by how much energy you have or how much your health has improved. I certainly wouldn’t say that somebody couldn’t be following their core plan (I don’t know about the other plans) because it made them feel healthier and happier and more energetic, because it’s a pretty darn healthy diet and could indeed make you feel all of those things. But, that would be an individual using the program for their own ends, since the stated, primary goal of WW is weight loss.

  52. “it’s a bit much to suggest the only reason people go to Weight Watchers is to lose weight.”

    Are you serious? Why else would anyone go? It is a weight loss system. They have weigh-ins.

    Not eating foods that make you feel like crap is a great plan. But you are paying a weight loss system to tell you to do it, and to weigh you. It costs a great deal less in money and self-respect to just not eat foods that make you feel like crap.

    “It’s not like they will throw you out if you don’t loose weight though.”

    Of course they won’t. They’ll be perfectly happy to keep taking your money.

    It’s totally your right to go to Weight Watchers but for maude’s sake, don’t insult anyone’s intelligence by denying it’s about weight.

  53. i always loved the warm and friendly lectures :) maybe you wont beat as much knowledge into the heads of those who don’t really give a damn anyway, but students who go to the class looking to learn, who already want to apply themselves and do their best will appreciate being treated like a person and will (hopefully) respect you for the respect that you give to them. in the end it’s university and if you require your teacher to be a hard ass to get you to pay attention, what are you doing there at all?

    once when i was in a 3rd year undergrad genetics class, a women turned around and saw me putting on some lipstick, she promptly rolled her eyes and said “well… you’d better make sure you find yourself an office job then”. this was a women who knew i was in an advanced program, who knew i regularly topped classes, and yet her advice is i should find myself an office job where i can cater to my vanity… because why else would i put on lipstick?

    i have a friend, and she’s absolutely brilliant, one day i put mascara on her already beautiful lashes, she loved it, but was suddenly horrified that we then had to go to a class where we met with different scientists each weeks, she thought they wouldn’t take her seriously as a scientist, because she was wearing some makeup. i find that really very sad (not to mention what must they have thought of me!), someone as intelligent as this women is shouldn’t be feeling like they have to worry about people judging them for looking pretty of all things! and the saddest part is, she was probably right.

    i figure “dressing up” for work doesn’t always mean wearing a suit, people in a certain setting sometimes look down on women who they judge as taking “too much” care of their appearance. It’s as if wearing something nice to the lab for a thrilling day of DNA extractions means you must automatically put your female vanity above science and intellectual pursuits and so couldn’t possibly do your work to a satisfactory level. most women i know dress very casually and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, if what they’re wearing is what they’re comfortable in then that’s great. If i’m wearing a skirt and a nice top i love, and i have my hair braided and some lipstick on… well i’m comfortable too and i’m still doing my job. If i need to pull on some pants and get my hands dirty, i will and i’ll have fun doing it.

    in many work environments it seems that someone has set the rule as “women must wear this level of formal attire to be taken seriously”, kind of like “your worth it” is code for “if you were worth it, you’d do this”. but what i see is something more like; women are suppose to hide the fact that they’re female at all, women are as good as men because they can pretend to be men, and if you don’t follow the rules then i suppose you’re seen as committing the sin of thinking your worth too much. maybe it’s just my university (i can hope, since i’m thinking of finding a new one for the next stage of my career), but i can imagine a number of other fields which would have similar attitudes.

  54. Well, and I didn’t in fact say that the only reason people go to Weight Watchers is to lose weight. Nowhere in the post is there a statement that logically excludes the possibility of someone walking into WW meetings for secret quality control, or because they just like counting points and paying money for fun, or because they really want to see plastic model slabs of fat, or as a sociology research project.

    The product that WW is selling, though, is weight loss. We know this from the before and after pictures, the weigh-ins, the cheers when you lose weight, the “goal weight” that they give you which is less than your current weight, and all the times in their materials that “lose” and “weight” occur together in the same sentence adjacent to each other. In the same way that, you know, sure, you could use graham crackers as an exfoliator, or to make a paste, or as a modeling material for your diorama project, but it’s being sold as a food.

    This disclaimer is absent in the original post because it did not occur to me, even once, that this would be a point of controversy.

  55. I completely am blown away by this frame and am having sort of an emotional set of firecrackers go off.

    I have a mild positive response (in the emotional sense) equally to these phrases:

    “Treat yourself to a spa day.”


    “Treat yourself to a nice glass of water. (Cup of coffee/Pair of Clean Socks)”

    And thinking on it, it’s like the “treat yourself” part says “go ahead and enjoy a moment for and to and of yourself, because otherwise, most of your day is trying to defuse/understand/explain/react/conform to social queues.” Or caretake others. Or whatever.

    Which is a pretty sad thing to have in my emotional makeup, given my brain and most of the rest of the emotional me thinks it’s pretty awful that I should be need to be given permission to enjoy something as mundane as a glass of water and be in the moment. As a caregiver, treating myself to a glass of water really means be in the moment and not trying to juggle the next 10 things in sequence. Not being constantly AWARE of the external.

    Of course in context, this “Treat Yourself” becomes the answer to the way society makes us observers to ourselves. “Be here now, for your own enjoyment.” I think this is what I’m responding to.

    So what I’m thinking is this: that need to allow permission for the moment, for being present and not juggling other things, well, that’s something more than just me is experiencing. That focus on the self, in the grounding of attention into one’s body rather than as an object in the world – of beauty or, I think for many women as they age, as UTILITY – well, that’s that delicious thing we’re fighting for when we exercise for us and not for acceptable thighs.

    Right. Treat yourself to a cup of coffee is something they DO say to moms, actually…

    You’ve hit spot on on the way that desire is used for marketing, and how it creates more of that distance and set of obstacles.

    But that set of obstacles to the moment, man, that’s pervasive (patriarchy) – I mean, it is patriarchy, but ignoring the thorn and instead looking at us as women, it’s such a common *response*, a common pain, that desire for … well, a room of one’s own, yeah. Or a glass of water of one’s own. Not for shoulds, but just because.

  56. Lori, I 99.9% agree, but I think it’s important to recognise that what is “healthy” is not the same for everyone. For example, I felt like shit when I was on WW full time (not just loosely following the point system, I mean totally into it). I lost a lot of weight that my body couldn’t afford to lose, and it was awful. (Which I think means that WW “worked” for me – after all, I *did* lose the most weight of anyone in my group.) I’m sure that there are plenty of people who’ve had your experience of feeling healthy, which is awesome, but it’s not necessarily A Healthy Way To Eat in the universal sense. Y’know?

  57. “…you just don’t get rid of that sort of self-hatred overnight. So I do have to remind myself that it is worth it for me to do anything I truly want to (whether or not I can afford it, well, that’s a separate issue). It is worth it for me to set a budget for new clothes because I feel uncomfortable in my old ones, it is worth it for me to speak up when I feel a friend is taking advantage, etc.”

    Agreed, Jae. I’m a newbie to FA, prone to depression, and have an invisible disability with all the mental crap that comes along for that ride. I have to remind myself fairly often that I am not worthless and the insidious little voice in my head telling me, “You are a worthless parasite on the ass of the world and you suck!” is wrong.

    For example, new clothes. I officially chucked WW out the window several months ago, and its grip on my life had been loosening for some time before that. I had managed to lose quite a bit of weight- as in, WW leader’s pet “Look at Electrogirl, she lost 60 lbs. on our program!”- so naturally I’ve been gradually gaining it back as my body strives to find its balance again. It’s incredibly hard to keep my cool when I open the closet and the awesome T-shirts I bought last year don’t fit, the cute capris can’t even get near my hips because OMG Thunderthighs O’ Doom… well, I’m sure most of you have been here. Clothes shopping is an epic test of will and sanity. “Size 18?! Oh my gods, one more size and I’ll be locked out of my favorite store. The medium shirts don’t fit, I wear a large now? Please please please let the weight gain stop here, how fat am I going to get, I don’t want to go back to where I used to be, I don’t deserve nice things anymore because I am a fat ugly slob now…”

    Okay, this is getting really hard and I’m starting to cry. Point being, sometimes I need a friend when I have to buy new clothes, someone to tell me that I’m still a good person and I’m still worthy of clothes that fit.

  58. Also, not to be a complete commentwhore or anything, but LOL at A Sarah’s comment about multi purpose graham crackers.

  59. Annie, ITA. I wouldn’t recommend that way of eating to everyone. For me, the focus of the core plan on whole grains and lots of protein was healthy change, and one I kept (even though I lose almost no weight on the program). I do realize that it isn’t The Healthiest Diet in some universal sense.

    I was just trying to agree with Jackie that, while people may indeed follow the same style of eating WW promotes for health, that’s not really why WW is there.

  60. Lori: ah, gotcha. :)

    Electrogirl: *giant hugs* I am right there with you.

    I threw out my favorite pair of jeans last week. I haven’t actually be able to fit into them for years (they’re a size 2, which I am definitely not even close to anymore) but I just kept expecting that I would go back down to that size, that the next diet would work permanently, that once again I would be tiny enough to fit into (and look good in) the most flattering pair of pants ever. But it’s never going to happen. I’m not a failure, I’m just worth way more than diets and tiny pants and misery. And so is everyone. That’s not what L’oreal and WW is telling us – they’re saying that we’re never going to be good enough to be happy, the best we can hope for is firming cream and crash diets.

    So basically what I’m saying is, A Sarah, thank you for this brilliant post that I am still mulling over out loud. You can tell that it’s making me think, because I’m paraphrasing stupidly – that’s kinda what I do when people make me think. Thank you.

  61. Our worth is inherent. It’s a question of how aware of it we are.

    Absolutely. And part of what I hate about the “you’re worth it” stuff is that it seems to conflate awareness of one’s own worth with the amount of money one spends on oneself. (Don’t you hate it when you use a “one” in a sentence and then get stuck using it like two more times after?) As somebody mentioned above, then we get into the idea that, if a woman dares to go out without makeup, or doesn’t pay much attention to how she dresses, or would prefer to spend the day in the library than at a spa (yes, I am a dork who would choose the library over the spa probably 9 times out of 10), it must indicate that she lacks self-esteem, as if the only way a woman can prove she is psychologically healthy is by conforming as closely as possibly to certain external standards of beauty.

    I’m just particularly sensitive about this as somebody who is relatively oblivious to appearance, both my own and others. I’m the person who honestly will not notice if somebody wears the same thing four days in a row, until somebody points it out to me, or will not notice until somebody else mentions it that my own husband shaved off his beard. We don’t have a full-length mirror in our house, I own three or four pairs of shoes, and I can’t remember the last time I wore make-up. (My husband is equally oblivious to appearance, and can’t tell you what color hair his parents have. We make a good pair.) I’ve had times where I’ve felt like I should make an attempt to be stylish or try to dress in particularly attractive ways, and have ended up having a not-fun day shopping, $150 less in my bank account, and clothes in my closet that I never actually bother to wear. I let my hair grow until it drives me crazy, then get a foot or so cut off so it’s short, and don’t bat an eyelash because it’s just hair, for goodness sake. I don’t think any of this is particularly virtuous. But, I also don’t think it indicates a lack of self-worth.

    So while I think it’s awesome that there are so many fashionable fat women, I’m not one of them, and I think that’s okay, too. And I do resent the implication we get from so many sides that women who do not wear fashionable or “flattering” clothes, or who don’t spend much money or time on their appearance, or who don’t give a damn about looking attractive, are somehow doing or feeling something wrong. Because there are plenty of things I’m happy to treat myself to, like a lovely skein of yarn or a new book. But a mani and a pedi, or a new hair color, or a new dress, just don’t make my list of things that will bring a sense of joy or pleasure into my life.

    Anyway, I lost my train of thought, but I just hate this idea that our awareness of what we are worth is directly tied to how much money we spend on clothing and beauty products and diet programs, and that if we don’t spend the amount that we’re expected to, we’re somehow not demonstrating sufficient self-esteem.

  62. Thank you, A Sarah–I was an adjunct, now a grad student/instructor, gearing up to be a ‘real’ faculty member (translation: I can make you call me doctor if I don’t like you! Mwahaha!), and it can be a tricky sort of professional, social, and intellectual dance. I feel better teaching when I’ve dressed up to do so, because in my world, that means I also got up on time, had some coffee, and have managed to walk into class with my head on straight and at least some idea of what we’re doing that day. (And you CAN be young, friendly, female, and taken seriously–I just saw a new hire do it last year. Faced with a competitive faculty and notoriously confrontational graduate students, no less. She rocked.) But…I do wonder why I feel the need to do the hair/makeup/clothes nonsense when so many male colleagues get to be all kinds of sloppy and that’s just a mark of their intellectual creative quirkiness. (Grr.) This’ll be really fun to talk about when I get to teach women and gender studies classes in a year or so.

    Re. “You’re worth it”…I also pretty much equate that with “You deserve it,” and “deserve” can be a really dangerous verb in the wrong hands. I’m worth what? Not knowing what my own natural hair color is since I’ve spent so long making it lighter and covering grays? Jamming my feet into shoes that are neither comfortable nor particularly affordable because they’re fashionable and that ‘shows I care about myself’? Risking screwing up my system with phen-fen (yeah, I was one of those) to take a few pounds off?

    Occhiblu said it better than I could have:

    “We *are* all worth it — worth nurturing, loving, respecting, honoring. But nurturing, love, respect, and honor take courage and time, and it sometimes seems like a much quicker fix to buy some lipstick and pretend you’re honoring yourself.”

    Brava divas.

  63. I’ve probably mentioned this before, re: women in academia, but I have a friend who is both very young and very young looking, and when she went on the job market, she wore a fake pair of glasses, in the hopes of being taken more seriously. (And this is a woman with a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies, so she realized how absurd it was.)

    And she got one of the jobs she interviewed for wearing the glasses and decided, in order to be taken REALLY seriously, to have her faculty picture taken with her glasses on. And then (sort of like when Ross on Friends had to pretend to have a British accent for a while), she spent the first few weeks of the term wearing the fake glasses everywhere, before phasing them out.

    Anyway, I’m not sure if anyone on campus actually did take her more seriously wearing the glasses, but I thought it was hysterically funny.

  64. the passive-aggressive implication that if you don’t choose to do whatever bullshit thing the ad is schilling, it’s because deep down you don’t have any self-esteem.


    I hate that now I’m trying to ditch the whole dieting mindset, most people will think it’s because I have self-esteem issues or something and don’t think I’m worth “taking care of myself”.

    No, I don’t think I’m worth dieting. I think I’m worth loving myself as I am.

  65. the passive-aggressive implication that if you don’t choose to do whatever bullshit thing the ad is schilling, it’s because deep down you don’t have any self-esteem.
    This really hacks me off, as well as the similar idea that others have mentioned that “we” are worth it because “we” have the potential to succeed.

    I’m worth it because if I buy hair dye, my hair will actually go the colour on the packet, I can afford the dye, I’m not allergic to it, I have the time and the energy and the physical dexterity to use it. I’m worth it because if I diet I have the time and energy to do it properly so I lose weight AND I’ll become one of the beautiful people. I’m worth it because I have the potential for become “beautiful”.

    If I refuse to diet, or don’t die my hair (or wax my legs or go on spa weekends or or or or or) it’s obviously because I’ve realised that potential was never there. I’m not worth it because if I try it will only be like a pig trying on lipstick.

    That’s why it’s such a hateful crock of shit

  66. The thing is that every idea that women have come up with to counter patriarchy about self-worth or strength or empowerment has been co-opted by advertisers or the supporters of patriarchy to turn it into some way to support the status quo. You’re empowered if you choose to pole dance because you chose it of your own free will. You’re strong because you can handle the second shift. And you’re worth every dime you spend on making sure you look just like someone who sincerely believes that only pretty women are any good at all.

  67. I am having the apology problem to a huge, huge extent just now. I moved and I’m trying to get unpacked and sorted out, and work is stressful, and my reaction seems to be to collapse in on myself and meet absolutely none of my needs because if I say what *I* want or need then — gasp! — people may not like me. Or something. I just can’t get myself to be assertive just now, I don’t know why, and it is really fucking getting me down. I can’t make myself believe my feelings are just as important/more important, at all, in any situation.

    most of your day is trying to defuse/understand/explain/react/conform to social queues.” Or caretake others. Or whatever.

    Yeah. That.

    Whenever I see a L’Oreal commercial (L’Oreal: because you’re worth it.) I wonder if L’Oreal is french for shoviefoot up the ass of the guy who came up with this slogan.

    I reflexively respond to the “You’re worth it!” with “I’m worth more than that”.

  68. A Sarah, I think you nailed it with this:
    Sentiment 2. “Attention, Very Specific Group of Women: See those unworthy people who can’t spend hours a day at the gym or hundreds of dollars on a weight loss program? Take my word that we can identify them by their fatness. Ew, right? What’s wrong with them, that they don’t have extra cash and time to spend working out? Show, with your thin body, that you’re someone who is “worth” money and time.”

    Here’s where I feel my privilege as a potential member of that very specific group of women. Conceivably, I could spend money on a weight loss program (other than the time I spend awake in the middle of the night, I don’t have hours to spend at the gym — and I don’t live in a large enough house to use exercise equipment that wouldn’t jar the rest of the family awake if I were to use it at 4 am).

    I do struggle with this idea that I could someday pass for acceptably attractive if I just lost enough weight — but that’s because I cling to this notion that I would be “normal” if I were not so large, and the reality is I wouldn’t ever be.

    I try not to focus so much on my individual worth, but on our collective worth, I guess, and that’s how I get to my individual worth, on my better days. I don’t think, when I get the occasional soy decaf grande latte with sugar-free cinamon dolce syrup, that “I’m worth it.” I think it will help me get through my day.

    I got this compliment the other day — “Your passion for what you do comes across beautifully.” Awesome. I don’t think my worth is tied to my passion, or how it comes across, but that was nice to hear.

  69. Also, I sincerely hope feminism doesn’t mean ‘no dressing up.’

    It doesn’t. Never, ever, ever. Part of feminism (and FA) is wearing what you want because you want to.

    This is why today I’m dressed all in shades of purple, including a below-the-knee length pencil skirt, regardless of the fact I have big fat hips and fuzzy legs. Because I wanted to. :)

  70. Back in the early ’80s, I remember having a conversation with my mom about how L’Oreal’s slogan was the only female-positive advertising tactic out there. And, compared to the, “You should do this-or-that because you suck at what you’re doing now” tactics of most of the cleaning product companies out there (Hello, Sarah Haskins), she was probably right.

    But, at the end of the day, it is still an advertisement. Still trying to make you want something you may not have already have wanted.

    In the end, I think that, today, the success of that slogan/tagline–and how many taglines last DECADES, ladies?–is more of a pointer to a central part of late twentieth-century feminism than anything else.

    First, we decide that it’s OK to announce our self-worth.

    Then, we have to find a way to disassociate that with what the dominant culture thinks “worth” is.

  71. Electrogirl, I’m sure this is cold comfort, but I just wanted to say I have definitely been there. I have stood in more dressing rooms on the verge of tears, telling myself I was a complete failure just for not fitting into a pair of jeans.

    Even now it comes up. Just the other day I was thinking about a pair of black corduroy pants that I gave to the Goodwill recently. I only bought them last winter, but after gaining a little weight they would not comfortably fit and I was beating myself up over it. What helped a little, was when I started asking myself questions. Who says I should stay the same size constantly? What’s so terrible about not fitting a pair of pants? Who profits from making me believe it is terrible? That sort of thing.

    Obviously there are practical considerations that would make this situation troublesome: not having the money for new clothes, being sized out of stores, and so on. But the idea that we are personal failures because we have to buy a large instead of a medium? Someone, somewhere is profiting off of us believing that. Whether it is by making us feel like we should join WW or buy a gym membership or by keeping us so preoccupied with our weight that we don’t feel we can fight back against real injustices, it is in someone else’s interest that we hate on ourselves.

    And of course knowing that doesn’t stop it, but it can help.

    (((net hugs)))

  72. Something I actually had to say last year in my department at school because if I didn’t it was going to eat my brain and kill me: “Just because you can’t see my nipples doesn’t mean I’m not freaking intelligent!”


    My experience with academic dress and behavior is that in the classroom, anything goes. No, really. I know my stuff, lecture without notes, and am really more confident up there in front of my students than I am anywhere else. It’s probably the ONLY time I don’t think about body issues, the only time I don’t doubt myself, and the only time I feel like I’m not being judged on a lot of the little piddling crap like my underwear lines that I even worry about in line buying groceries. I wish I could be the person I am with my students everywhere. I’m working on it.

    Thus, when I taught at a less formal school (I’m working at one right now that requires business professional) I wore t-shirts and jeans. I’m young, friendly, and somewhat sassy. I loved wearing English teacher joke shirts that I’ve been collecting from threadless.com. When we did a unit on video game theory I wore my “Pwnies” shirt from Think Geek with pride. Furthermore, I got great results from the students and great student evaluations. Of course, I’ve been at this for awhile and the first time I was up in front of a classroom I was 21 (eek! and I tried to dress super-professionally and it felt horrendously dishonest…)

    Anyway, around the department I’m finishing my PhD in is another matter. I’ve never found someplace to be so sexist in my entire freaking life. The graduate student girls that the male professors find the smartest and most engaging are giggly, wear shirts you can see their nipples through (gauzy ones so you can literally see through them, not just “it’s too cold in here” bumps), and starve themselves. One chick is doing special yoga and pilates to lose her boobs. Ever since she stopped eating they can’t shut up about her.

    When I have to get things done, I intentionally wear clothes that show off my boobs. It feels stridently non-feminist of me, but then again–is it really non-feminist to show 3 inches of cleavage and get invited to apply for a fellowship? Especially if you wouldn’t have received the application sans-cleavage? And you know it? Isn’t that part of choice, and all that jazz? Exactly what is the young academic supposed to do in this sort of situation?

    Wearing business clothes would not, as best as I can tell, be a good medium between club wear (I’ve never seen sequins, but the short skirts, tight shirts, and super high heels certainly fit) and t-shirts and jeans. After all, the professors actually make fun of people who dress that way. *sigh again*

    I was shocked, actually, to find out that some of these same people really respect my research. I’ve done my best these past few years to conduct myself professionally, stay out of the drama, I found a job even though I haven’t finished yet, and I think my project is cool and important. But you know, I never expected to hear it much since I’m not in the “in crowd” and I’m not particularly hot. I get good feedback at conferences, but to hear it from people that don’t seem to judge women on those criteria? Huh, it surprised me a lot. Maybe I’m doing something right after all. Despite the fact that the girls that cake on make up and wear short skirts get teaching awards and fellowships, maybe there really is something to doing good research after all…

    So I suppose what I’m saying is that dress is complicated and stupid. My current work environment is entirely professional and it feels good to just not have to worry about it. Throw on suit, go to work. It does throw up an initial wall between my normally bubbly personality and my students but hey… I can work around that….

  73. AnotherKate-“It’s a condescending pat on the head and a judgmental kick in the ass at the same time” YES YES YES.

    I keep thinking about this one particularly offensive ad for a razor or a shaving cream that says “this is YOUR time” or some similar bag of crap. Time to make your legs silky smooth! Time to become acceptable in the eyes of teh menz! Time to work on that patriarchally entrenched completely unnecessary leg shaving thing! It’s YOUR time! Enjoy scraping the natural body hair off of your body with a razor. It’s all about you, baby. Right.

    Haven’t shaved my legs or armpits since 2005 and that was for my wedding day. Because I’m worth it! Won’t spend $50 on a face cream because I like my face the way it is. I’m worth that! My self-esteem does not have a price tag attached.

    A Sarah, very thinky and good post. And great comments too. This community is good food. And we’re ALL worth it.

  74. Some people like myself are on Weight Watchers to feel healthier, aside from the perspective of loosing weight. I’m not going to say anymore than that, because I understand why fat acceptance is anti-diet.
    I’m just saying, it’s a bit much to suggest the only reason people go to Weight Watchers is to lose weight. That might be the perspective goal, they claim as a part of it. It’s not like they will throw you out if you don’t loose weight though. Following the points system helps me feel less tired and have more energy. I’m sorry if that means I’m dishonoring the fat acceptance movement, or whatever.

    Jackie, you have got to be kidding me. You have received so many ban warnings here for spouting privileged bullshit, and then you come in and shill for fucking Weight Watchers? This is your final ban warning, on this thread or ever. You say one more thing that even remotely smacks of bullshit and you are out.

  75. You say one more thing that even remotely smacks of bullshit and you are out.

    Oh, why wait? Jackie’s had more than ample warning already.

  76. It is weird how the “you’re worth it” campaigning kind of equates deserving basic care with deserving pampering and luxury. Because you ARE worth it when it comes to having that glass of water, or not feeling like shit about yourself. Everyone deserves water and self-esteem!

    Women have to conform to a rigid, demanding set of expectations and demands, and their bodies constantly have to be properly decorated and prepared for public consumption, and those things are exhausting and draining and take constant, nonstop work. And they’re still never good enough, we never measure up or quite cut it. So advertisers then work that angle — you’re tired? not taking care of yourself because you constantly have to take care of everyone else? not spending any money on yourself, ever, because that’s selfish and wrong and because your husband doesn’t give you a big enough allowance for it? Stop neglecting yourself! You’re worth it! Take care of yourself!

    And I mean, they’re right. Hell, I think everyone does deserve a bit of pampering once in a while, as a means of self-care. (Though I mean pampering in the sense of doing something you truly enjoy and that really does make you feel great, not necessarily something expensive. Like taking a bath, or going for a walk.) What’s sneaky is that the advertising then turns that legitimate need — to stop constantly trying to please everyone else and take care of yourself a bit, too — on its face, to sell you products that perpetuate the very same system that put you in that situation in the first place. It’s seriously fucked up.

  77. Oh, and YES yes yes, you can dress up and be a feminist, and YES you can have a quirky style as a professor. I can’t really think of a place that usually would be more acceptable, actually.

    Despite the fact that the girls that cake on make up and wear short skirts get teaching awards and fellowships, maybe there really is something to doing good research after all…

    Jill Anne, your whole comment makes me… uncomfortable. You’re really hating on thin women who dress conventionally. It’s entirely possible they earned their accomplishments on their intellectual merits, even if the faculty are sexist assholes. The giggly ones with boobs could actually be the smartest. And even if the faculty ARE horribly sexist, and even if those women did not deserve the things they earned, why are you speaking so disparagingly about the women because of it? The blame is entirely on the male faculty.

  78. And I mean, they’re right. Hell, I think everyone does deserve a bit of pampering once in a while, as a means of self-care. (Though I mean pampering in the sense of doing something you truly enjoy and that really does make you feel great, not necessarily something expensive. Like taking a bath, or going for a walk.)

    I agree to an extent except I don’t think doing things you truly enjoy should be saved for “once in a while.” . But maybe I’m just privileged enough to not have a ton of responsibility, but I do things that I truly enjoy every day.

    Enjoying yourself should be something you do whenever you can without neglecting responsibilities. And by responsibilities I mean things that really need to get done, not things that we feel guilty about not doing because society says a good mother/wife/woman would do them.

    Taking time to do things you love in your life is not pampering, it is, in my opinion, a necessity. It is something we get to do every day, not because “we’re worth it” but because we are. I think we have a right as human beings to seize opportunities for happiness, real selfish happiness whenever we want.

    And the fact that we even need to assert that is fucked up.

  79. Well, yes. Maybe there are people out there that don’t need more than one nice little thing during the day to keep their spirits up, so maybe what I’m suggesting is not that universal. But there are definitely some of us that work really hard and are exhausted at the end of every day, and we have to use the weekends to get more work done or run all those errands, and it isn’t restful. That little thing every day is necessary and important, and you’re right, it isn’t pampering. But occasionally we need something vacation-like to keep our heads from exploding. Even if it’s just an hour of a Saturday doing something for ourselves, and that DOES feel like an indulgence — and in part it’s because women are told they’re selfish if they take part in any self-care, and in part it’s because we’re in a puritanical society that vilifies any activity that isn’t utilitarian or self-sacrificing.

    You’re right that having to assert that you need time for yourself is fucked up. Saying I’m “worth” having basic rights is silly, but it doesn’t make it not true. Everyone is worth that.

  80. The “you’re worth it!” and “treat yourself!” (thanks Sweet Machine) fiddlefaddle draws on the implication that by default we are NOT worth it and we should NOT treat ourselves. And that apparently those impositions ARE luxuries. Only those with cash to burn can diet and buy pseudo-treat yogurt! The rest of us little people have to make do with… with what?

    I’ve never thought to seek it out (because I started hanging around here!), but I’ve never gotten a clear answer when I point out to people that I’m broke as heck and my food buying is based off of how far I can make my dollar go, and not how low-calorie everything is. Is there a “Broke-Ass Person’s Diet”? Or does being thrifty while also conforming to the body standard violate the terms of the consumer culture? No, wait, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. This isn’t the place. This isn’t the time.

    Being “worth it” is something I’ve certainly bought into before. Not only am I “worth” buying that makeup I saw on TV, I CAN do it! I’m capable of it! Via the power of my wallet I am JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!!! I’ve gotta be honest with myself and admit that so much of my marching to the beat of my own drum was initially inspired by sour feelings towards all the other folk that could Have Nice Things. Between being fat and growing up in the middle of nowhere, even when I did have a few dollars to rub together there was nothing to spend it on. No nice clothes, no recent trends… well hell, all that stuff’s for SHEEP, darnit! SHEEP! BAAAAAA!!! Screw you, one affluent girl who had fancy boots from Toronto! SCREW YOU!!!


    It’s good to believe that we’re worthy of nice things and worthy of proper treatment. But that’s not really what this coded-up “worth it” is actually getting at. They’ve stolen a perfectly good idea, those freakin’ advertisers.

  81. I don’t really put any blame on the women themselves, per se, but I thought my comment was getting a little long to get into the following story. But hey, it’s a new comment so here goes nothing:

    In one case, the male faculty let a student get away with treating students absolutely egregiously. She was a bad teacher, not because she was a woman or dressed seductively, but because she was a bad TEACHER. I was also under the impression she was pretty smart since the faculty respected her, so I could sort of understand why they let her get away with yelling at students, telling them they suck, etc. I mean, in a research university if you are good at research and get published students don’t matter.

    That is until it was discovered that she had plagiarized the part of her dissertation that was completed, and god knows maybe some of her published articles too. She was asked to leave so it wouldn’t go on her permanent record. Again, the male faculty stuck up for her. If this had been almost anyone else I don’t know that that would have happened.

    My anger really comes from the mistreatment of students and the disrespect of research protocols. I’m sorry that came across in my writing–I really, REALLY don’t think that anybody should be allowed to continue in school who does these things. I think that hurting students should absolutely be reason for dismissal, no matter who you are (especially pre-tenure or during grad school).

    I also am angry that my program allowed such things to go on because they are blinded by the way they judge women. That’s just… utter crap. I’d really like to see everybody judged by the strength of their teaching, research, and service, period. Because of this (and there have been other incidents, though none quite that bad) the entire program is weakened in the eyes of the field as a whole.

    I’m not entirely without fault here either–I gladly admit to abusing the privilege I’m given when I dress in low cut tops and tight pants or short skirts. BUT I don’t move that into the classroom.

  82. I mean, Lampdevil, I think you absolutely have worth that affords you the basic human right of eating well. If poverty means you aren’t realizing that, that’s wrong and it’s too bad. But yeah, the advertisers have stolen that basic realization of everyone’s right to enjoy their lives, and turned it into a way to keep propagating a system that fosters inequality, punishes self-enjoyment, and labels any attempts to enjoy yourself sinful indulgence.

  83. Re: workwear

    I find the entire concept infuriating and bordering on classist at times. In the most extreme example, is there going to be a huge difference between me doing data entry in a halter top and gold lam-e hot pants than if I were wearing an Armani suit? No, of course not. I will put out the same amount and quality of work no matter what I’m wearing. It comes down to the fact that people will treat you differently based on what you have on, and it sucks.

    At my current job, I’m technically overdressed in comparison to the people I’m required to interact with on a regular basis, but I’m not in any position of power/authority as I am basically a receptionist for a software training facility. The people who teach and take the classes often show up in jeans, polo shirts, and things of that nature. Whereas I can only wear jeans during our monthly inventory, which is being slowly phased out due to automation. Most of the time, I’m in black slacks, a super-dressy blouse, and heels. I can’t show up in anything less because I’ll look “sloppy and unprofessional”.

    I’m not aspiring for a promotion. I don’t want to be an executive’s “Girl Friday”. I just want a decent paycheck and a job that doesn’t make me want to bang my head into a wall on a daily basis, so why should I have to spend two weeks’ pay on a wardrobe I truly hate owning? Don’t you think I have enough societal bullshit being held against me being a fat woman of color?

  84. Every single one of us is “worth” having good food eating well, Volcanista! I’m on board with that. And it’s a freakin’ shame that so many people simply can’t. Not only does nutritious food need to be inexpensive and available, but young folk need to actually have cooking skills taught alongside other life skills, and there needs to be an un-demonization of food and… I’m veering off-topic. But ah, in a perfect world…

    Who said upthread that opting out of fashion-and-fooferaw is not a sign of low self esteem? That resonates with me. Myself, I’ve always denied myself nice clothes and makeup and good hair cuts because I felt unworthy and outcast. I’m embracing it now, because I genuinely enjoy it. It’s good for me, and what’s good for me won’t necessarily work for someone else. I’m cool with that. But during the big honkin’ uproar over at the WATRD discussion, someone dinged me with “But Lampdevil, by not dieting, you must hate yourself! Don’t hate yourself, deary!” (And then “you’re worth it!” floated to the top of my mind and I had to clap a hand over my mouth to keep from snort-sputtering with ironic laughter.)

    Dammit, these guys have co-opted self-esteem, too! Get outta our positive terms, jerkwads!

  85. But maybe I’m just privileged enough to not have a ton of responsibility, but I do things that I truly enjoy every day.

    I’m so glad to hear you say this, because honestly this is something I always feel kind of guilty about. Maybe that’s part of the problem with these “you’re worth it” campaigns, too. They create the idea that unless you are spending all of your time and energy doing things for other people–presumably things you don’t enjoy doing or find very fulfilling–and so only end up with little stolen moments of “guilty pleasures” for yourself, you’re doing something wrong. I have a lot of time during the day to do things I enjoy. My son is 5 and doesn’t need my constant attention any more. It takes me like an hour, at most, to do the things that need to be done around the house each day. When I’m teaching, that maybe adds another 2 hours of work to my day, but, in the end, I’m still left with loads of time to do what I want. I honestly can’t remember the last day when I didn’t do something I truly enjoyed.

    Re: clothes and professionalism again, I did an informal “no jeans” experiment a few semesters ago. I’m part-time faculty, so nobody really cares and it doesn’t seem to matter what I wear to work, so it’s really up to me how “professional” I dress. I generally do most of my teaching in jeans and t-shirts and a ponytail, but I decided that term to experiment with dressing less casually and seeing what happened. (I had happened upon a great sale at Lane Bryant, picked up like 6 pairs of nice pants for $100, and so was eager to use them!) I found that, while my students treated me less like a peer/friend, they didn’t necessarily treat me more like an authority figure. They were less likely to stay after class to show me a funny video they found on YouTube, but they weren’t any less likely to complain about the grade I gave them. So, for me, it was a one-semester experiment. I kind of felt like I was “in costume” most of the term anyway. Now I usually dress a bit more professionally the first 2-3 classes, just to have a bit of that professional distance at the beginning, but then don’t really worry about what I’m wearing the rest of the term.

  86. Great post.

    The “worth it” concept seems, as you pointed out, to be steeped in the idea of claiming your (universal you) privilege, over the heads of others. It’s a highly capitalistic idea – “Look out, they’re going to take what you deserve! You earned this, don’t let them take it away from you!” And hence, it becomes yet another mechanism for othering people, setting yourself above those deemed lesser.

    And FWIW, as an undergrad, I identify with the professors who exhibit “default warmth and friendliness” far more than those professors that seem more standoffish. I’ve noticed a correlation in the amount I take from the class – the more personable I find the professor, the better I feel about my performance in the class. This seems to transcend sex of the professor and subject matter of the class, so I’m of the opinion you already seem to have formed – those rules are archaic bullshit steeped in a patriarchal tea.

  87. I’ve not had time to read the whole comments thread, unfortunately but one point:

    The way it’s used in these sorts of messages indicates worth as a direct measure of value, rather than inherent worth. It’s back to the same-old, same-old economic view of women that has been passed down through the centuries. We’re chattel to be accorded a certain value, by and large by male society. Sure, you’ll rarely hear anybody say “hey, she’s worth 20 camels” any more but sure as shit you’ll hear them talk about how a woman is worth the trouble of a dinner and a movie, or worth waiting for, or rates an 8 etc.

    And it’s even more insidious in cases like this because this asks us to set that price ourselves, to perpetuate the very mindset which deems women fit to be recognised only if they meet a certain ideal commensurate with their potential value on the open market. Today’s marketplace may be very different but the “you’re worth it” mentality comes from something of a dark place, I reckon.

    A prostitute is worth however much a man is willing to pay. And you and I are worth what? However much we’re willing to pay to sacrifice our bodies in the quest for ideals which least support our best interest? nice little twist there, no?

  88. The “you’re worth it” slogan drove me crazy when that supermarket brand of shampoo adopted it. It made me think of going to the supermarket and count pennies, comparing the price of different brands of cheap basic food and figuring out if I’d buy shampoo today, or next week. I’m worth a lot more than shampoo, thankyouverymuch, I just can’t afford yours.

    And this post reminds me of a frecuent phenomenon in Spanish: the identification of “taking care of yourself” with dieting. Does anything similar happen in English?

  89. he had a collection of GIANT stained t-shirts that he wore with either crazy-farmer overalls or equally GIANT sweatpants. i honestly don’t know if he was tenured or not, but i can’t see even my tenured women profs being allowed to get away with that kind of presentation

    I’m not sure why a tenured male prof should get away with wearing dirty clothes. There is a difference between being casual and being a slob. Wearing dirty, inappropriate clothes shows a lack of respect for the students and for the position.

    BTW, I am no more forgiving of students who dress like homeless people, either. Homeless people don’t have easy access to washing machines and are often mentally ill. What’s the students’ excuse?

    The irony of it all is that the poor indigenous women I worked with in Chile wouldn’t have been caught dead in dirty, torn clothes. They didn’t have indoor plumbing or electricity, but they found a way to bathe daily (in COLD water — not sure I could do that) and to be well groomed and clean. They wore the same clothes over and over, but those clothes were clean.

  90. the passive-aggressive implication that if you don’t choose to do whatever bullshit thing the ad is schilling, it’s because deep down you don’t have any self-esteem.

    I have *definitely* gotten this from various people about my refusal to diet. Like, if I just believed in myself, and loved myself more, I would have the strength and willpower to change myself for the “better”, and they were so sad for me that I felt so negatively about myself.

    Which is so crazy for me, because FA and giving up dieting has made me feel so much more positively about myself, it just boggles the mind that others read it as negative. To be fair, doctors’ offices + weight discussion = tears for me, no matter what my frame of mind, so I can’t blame anyone for making the leap from tears to negative feelings. But I just have a hard time with the logic of “I feel so positively about myself, I want to change! And have there be less of me! Because I’m worth it!” Y’know what I’m worth? Love, respect, adequate food and water, and taking up the space I take up with my body. Probably some other things, too.

  91. A few people have mentioned the “taking care of yourself” angle and it hit me that it’s kind of a code for weight loss. As the opposite of “letting yourself go”.

    Eating fresh, well-prepared nutritious food in satisfying quantities, moving my body around as much as I feel is right without falling over the line into exercise bulimia (an old, old friend) and doing fun leisure activities I enjoy IS taking care of myself. It’s also letting myself go do stuff I like. If I were WLDing or WLEing, I would NOT be taking care of myself, I’d be falling back into old dysfunctional behaviors.


  92. “What! Not! To! Do! If! You’re! A! Young! Female! Faculty! Member! ”

    This reminds me of a seminar I had to attend while working for a state regulatory agency, where the presenter told the female field agents that they should take a man with them the first time they inspected a facility, so that the facility managers would be more likely to take them seriously. Yeah. Seriously. Someone will always have advice that says success will be easier if you conform to the expectations of you as a woman or alter your presentation to mimic a man as closely as possible in all aspects. Personally the one professor I remember above all others in my life wore a different pair of day-glo Crocs each day of the week, with jeans and a cotton work shirt. She engaged the students in conversation and debate, was approachable and human, told stories from her own life relevent to the discussion, and was the first person to introduce me to the knapsack of privilege and to really explain the ramifications of institutionalized prejudice. Her classes in Sociology and Cultural Anthropology were (and probably still are) the first blocks to fill up and get a waiting list before other classes were even filled. I think that how a professor dresses has less to do with impressing the students and more to do with impressing other faculty members. I really believe most students only care how well you teach; not how you look.

  93. Class factotum – it’s an expression of privilege.

    If you can get away with wearing stained, “low-class” clothing – which overalls and sweatpants are definitely considered low-class – and still be treated decently, it’s because they have the race/gender/tenure/language/whatever clout to do it.

    People who don’t have that built-in privilege have to spend more time and money on clothes, hair, purses, cleanliness, perfume, etc. to avoid being treated badly.

  94. I wanted to say something, but I feel as though it’s already been said, and much better than I could ever. So simply, thank you for this post and all the amazing comments. I’m very glad this blog is so commited to discussing priviledge in all its forms and I’m proud to be a part of this community.

  95. I also got the “What! Not! To! Do!” lecture when I was a (young, female) grad student who was just starting teaching. The professor who was explaining it acknowledged the inherent sexism of the system, that as young women, we were less likely to be taken seriously and would have to go the extra mile. I have not actually found that to be true in my experience, at my institution – and I’m teaching now (as an adjunct) at the same school where I received that advice.

    What I do find interesting is that most of the department dresses pretty casually – all but one of the male professors and instructors tend to wear jeans or other casual pants and sweaters, or Hawaiian shirts, or even t-shirts from time to time. The female professors and instructors under 35 dress this way, as does our one significantly older female professor (I believe she’s in her late 60s). However, a number of our female professors between 35 and 60, including the one who gave us the “What!Not!To! Do!” speech, do tend to dress much more formally and severely, though still in a way that is strongly gendered female – the severe black suits have long slightly flowy skirts, the shiny black shoes tend to be pointy, and long delicate pendants are common. I found that really fascinating, especially given the age and gender breakdown. I hope it means that the rules are changing in practice, if not always in transmission.

  96. All this talk about clothing codes for college profs has me remembering one of the oddest moments in my years as Ph.D. student/adjunct instructor. I was having my regular semester teaching evaluation, and the tenured professor reviewing me said that my mannerisms and clothes were too “mannish and authoritative.” Which struck me as an odd criticism — especially because I was wearing flowy pallazzo pants and a short-sleeved sweater at the time of the review. (Hey, this was the mid-90s when that was The Thing To Wear.)

    She suggested that I spend less time walking around the classroom to engaging/encourage dialogue and instead perch on the edge of the big table at the front of the classroom. Which struck me as a really odd piece of advice — especially since that was quite literally her only concrete suggestion for me to improve my teaching.

    Ah, memories…..

  97. Wow, I wish I had as much success with my dress and demeanor in the classroom as many of the other young female academics on here describe. I think it really depends on where you work and the culture among the students. I taught at a big state school where they enjoyed my candor and humor and dress was more casual. Then I went to a tenure track position in a liberal arts college where women are under-represented (as they are in my field generally) and the students lynched me for “dressing inappropriately” and for my “bad attitude”. I am death fatz, as a colleague in another department, and we both got many of the same kinds of comments–especially about our clothes. I changed my dress to frumpy baggy clothes and stopped being nice or informal to the underclassmen in particular and suddenly all those bad comments were replaced with student praise. It was exhausting to change my personality in the classroom–but I want this job to work so that’s what I had to do. I never thought this would be a problem for me–especially after the state school experience, but I think these old ideas really still are kicking hard at some schools.
    Not to make anyone “scared” only to be more aware than I was since I was totally shocked by my experience.

  98. This one’s really interested me, as a female academic. I’ve definitely noticed the gender disparity in my academies; that is, male profs can get away with less formal dress than females can, although in justice I should add that a LOT of people around here teach in jeans, male and female.

    As a not-so-young female faculty member (tenure year coming up!), though, I don’t teach in jeans. Around the time I moved from grad student to adjunct, and even more so once I finally got on the tenure track, I made a conscious decision that those days were done. These days, I devote more time and thought than most academics would find appropriate to clothes and image. I enjoy this, but this thread has made me wonder which factors most influenced that decision. To what extent is it patriarchy that’s made me believe that dressing as well as we comfortably can, men or women, is a way of respecting ourselves? Probably some. Maybe a lot.

    And yet. And yet. And yet. Even allowing that patriarchy’s in everybody’s water, and that I’ve drunk my share of it, I really believe that devoting some thought to dress can say we respect ourselves, that we’ve thought about what “ourselves” means. I believe that since we’re going to be judged on a superficial thing like image no matter what we do–since it’s not like we really circumvent the system if we refuse to think about it–it’s common sense (and kind of fun) to make it work for us. Since we know that first impressions are lasting, as A Sarah mentioned, it makes sense to plan them a little. Since we have to put something on, why shouldn’t it be something that expresses the best parts of ourselves, the things we want it to express? If students are more willing to listen what they’re paying us to tell them if we wear a tie, and if the tie elides us right around certain classroom struggles, and if we don’t, ourselves, personally hate and loathe ties (if we do, different story), what, except the desire to flip the world the bird, would keep us from putting on a tie? (Disclosure: I’m a woman. I love to wear ties, in part because it’s one way to encourage people to think about gender without ever saying a word.)

    Also, as a sexual being, I like it when people–men or women–dress. Not dress to the nines, not dress to the pain, not dress to the crazy, not stockings and heels as a matter of course, not blow-drying your hair if it looks just fine without…but that borderline that might be described as “enough.” A flattering hairstyle, rather than barber-shop hack job. Clothes that are as comfortable and well-fitting as we can afford. Clothes that are as becoming as a reasonable amount of thought can make them. Clothes that make us look more like ourselves, rather than less like ourselves–if we’re lucky enough to be able to find and afford those clothes, NOT wearing them feels to me like a wasted opportunity, like not titling a poem. The little Goths in my classes, they know this; it’s costume, sure, and it’s rebellion, sure, and it’s conventional rebellion, also sure…but as a look, as evidence of thinking about who we are, it’s definitely a notch above throwing on whatever comes first to their hands in the morning. As a look, it’s several notches above Suburban Khaki. It’s about trying to make the outside reflect the inside. I like that. Those creative dressers that Sweet Machine highlighted a few days ago–I liked that a LOT. (As a mostly-straight girl, I especially like it when men, who have so much less pressure to think about image, show that they do anyway. )

    So, yeah. I like it when what people wear says that they think of themselves as sexual or attractive people, that they know something about who they are, that they’re willing to put that out there, and, yes, that they care what I and others think of them. Are they obliged to, do they have to, do they owe it to me or anyone else? Certainly not…but if they choose to, I still like it. I do think it says “self-respect,” and, even more importantly, ‘self-awareness.” Even in the vale of patriarchy.

  99. Okay, much shorter version of all that rambling above: if what we wear says, “fuck off, I don’t care what you think,” we have the right to say that, absolutely. But it shouldn’t surprise us if people then react like we’ve just told them to fuck off, either. That prof in the dirty shirt and overalls? Maybe he can get away with it, but he shouldn’t ever kid himself that people can’t read what he’s wearing.

  100. MezzoSherri,

    Wow, that is so odd – I had almost the reverse of that happen to me in grad school – I was giving my final presentation in the Comp pedagogies course we took before being set loose to teach (introducing a unit plan we had designed) and I hopped up on the table to sit rather than stand behind the podium. The class of fellow grad students started laughing -when I stopped to ask if my fly was open or something else bizarre had occurred, my peers and prof indicated that it was just the absurdity of someone sitting on a table that amused them.

    Now, I alternate between sitting on tables, pacing about gesticulating madly, and leaning on the podium. My students seem to take it in stride.


    Wow, I’ve typed and deleted about 4 different replies now to your comment (specifically the notion of displaying sexuality through dress). It’s thought provoking, although it seems problematic in the contexts of teacher-student relations – I, personally, am a little creeped out at the prospect of my students evaluating me as a sexual being (though I know it happens sometimes anyhow). I’d also like to point out that not dressing in a fashion that identifies one as a sexual person is not necessarily indicative of a lack of self respect. One can respect one’s intellect, body, and self without feeling the urge to be read as attractive or sexual as well as clean and well-groomed.

    Admittedly I have a giant chip on my shoulder about expectations that as a woman I be decorative and pleasing to look at as well as (or worse, instead of) a competent professional doing the job I was hired to do. I know that was totally not what you were implying, just wanted to acknowledge that it may be influencing the way I read your comment.

  101. “You’re worth it”

    Translation: “Why, YOU [potential sucker] giving your hard-earned money to US [corporation] in exchange for products of dubious value is for *your* benefit, of course. We’re looking out for YOU! We’re altruists! This face cream is our way of *giving back*!” Yeah, right.

    Good call on this post — a worthy deconstruction!


  102. The What Not to Wear thing for professionalism is starting to remind me of the what to wear for TV thread. You get loads of conflicting advice that you’re supposed to navigate just like the windy Virgin/Whore river. Be attractive, but not sexual, but not too attractive! Wear authoritative clothing without giving the appearance of usurping any male authority. Be personable but professionally distant.

    *eyeroll* The things I remember about my professors were, in order, how clearly they expressed their ideas, and whether they were interested in the subject matter. I remember doing poorly in the classes where the professors did not engage emotionally with the class. I think, knowing what you’re teaching and imparting that with a passion is all that really matters. At the very least, it’s all that should matter.

  103. Re: the spa thing.

    No matter how relaxing it might be, I don’t think I’m worth making another woman of my class wait on me hand and foot. All I can think of is, what did she want to be when she grew up? Yanking pubes out of stranger’s bikini area is no little girl’s dream, after all. That woman, she’s just as worthy of having that dream, and I’m not more worthy than her to exploit her need of a paycheck just so I can feel “worth it.”

    Probably if I’d never fallen down the class ladder I would never have realized that being “worth it” comes at the expense of other women.

  104. (By the way, my above post wasn’t meant to put down self-care, pleasure, enjoyment or any of that — that’s good! Our Puritanical society unfortunately tells people they need to “earn” happiness [or think they’ve earned it, via privilege, as others pointed out], and that’s not so.

    Instead, I just meant to echo how the marketing-corrupted “you’re worth it” phrase is just another example of “up is down, yes is no” bullshit.)

  105. Can someone want to lose weight, and even maybe lose weight and keep it off, and have their eyes open to all the stupid reasons why many women DO want to lose weight and try ‘dieting’ and ‘fail’ (all dumb words) and why Society is dumb and the unfair privileges bestowed upon thin people – is it just bad that someone wants to and does lose weight and is a HAES advocate and fat positive?

  106. All I can think of is, what did she want to be when she grew up? Yanking pubes out of stranger’s bikini area is no little girl’s dream, after all.

    There’s a vivid image for ya. But I would like to gently chime in that some little girls have likely dreamed of being “hairdressers” and whatnot. An esthetician is a perfectly valid job to have. My mom’s a friend with a fantastic one and she makes pretty good bank rippin’ hair off of people.

    On one hand, there’s a hint of exploitation of the “lower” folk when it comes to a spa day. On the other, I bristle at the implication that such work IS “lower” in some fashion. A job is a job is a job, and while some tasks may be more or less demanding or pay better or worse, at the end of the day it’s still a job and the person doing it deserves respect.

    I’ve spent time scrabbling around the lower and middle rungs of the class ladder. If someone wants to pay me a fair wage to rub their feet and bring them fluffy robes and wax their hoo-hoo and do it in a pleasant fashion, then darnit, it’s a job. And better than some jobs I’ve had in the past.

  107. An esthetician is a perfectly valid job to have.

    I know a lot of little girls who want to be estheticians. They like the “gross” as well as the glamor. (Some of them pop zits and whatnot with their friends after lunch. Try not to picture it.) It’s an underpaid, female-dominated (hah), helping profession, but some people really enjoy making other people feel relaxed and special.

  108. Yanking pubes out of stranger’s bikini area is no little girl’s dream, after all.

    While I’m mostly in agreement with what you’re saying — and I am so fucking uncomfortable in any pampering/preening situation because of it (even the hairdressers, FFS) — as Lampdevil says, some girls do sincerely dream of being a beautician when they grow up. I’d imagine plucking, waxing and tweezing are the less-fun aspects of that job, like burning myself, cleaning toilets, carrying trays that hurt my back and being nice to sleazy bastards are the less-fun parts of mine.

  109. Estheticians’ opinion of their job probably varies a great deal, since they’re, y’know, people. IME, some folks love the whole grooming-other-people deal. I enjoy painting nails on anyone who will let me. My family’s hairstylist is both incredibly skilled and rich enough that she would never have to cut hair again if she didn’t want to. On the other hand, all of the ‘beautifying’ professions are hard and often nasty work that usually involves dubious chemicals, so I bet a great many estheticians fucking hate their jobs.

    At the end of the day, it’s a job. Estheticians get paid to perform a service. Some like it, some hate it, just like with most jobs out there. The fact that they get paid to groom other people isn’t a shameful or bad thing.


  110. I was trying to raise the issue that estheticians are in the lower income bracket, and that I don’t feel comfortable with the obvious class differences between their clientelle and them. I have no objection to the job, but most estheticians aren’t earning $50k or more per year, and the women they are “pampering” are. I don’t like how that distinction is made invisible by some sweeping declaration of being “worth it”.

    Maybe I’m wrong and there are people who absolutely love being in service industry jobs, they’re still paid for shit. And while we’re pointing it out, service industry jobs that pay for shit are still primarily worked by women, while men have more lucrative career options.

    That’s why I’m uncomfortable, it has nothing to do with what they do for a living. I used to sell shoes, I’d have women comment about how you couldn’t pay them enough to touch feet. Touching feet never bothered me because I don’t find it degrading, but making less than $10k a year waiting on mostly middle class white women who treated me like serf was galling.

  111. I’ ve had a pedicure exactly once because I was so uncomforable with the literal position I was in with respect to the position the pedicurist was in. Don’t think I’ll ever do that again.

  112. I reflexively respond to the “You’re worth it!” with “I’m worth more than that”.


    The part about this meme that freaks me out, though, is not just that I’m being told that what I’m worth is a lot of substandard crap and self-hate, but that it’s so pervasive. We’ve been swimming our whole lives in the idea that we’re not worth anything just for being people, and I at least am so desperate to find a reason to be valued, since my inherent personhood isn’t enough, that I have in the past taken anything offered as a sign of my “worth”… and that includes my class, my intelligence, and yeah, my “self-control” (codeword: successful restriction and self-shrinkage).

    And even now that I believe fervently that it’s damaging, insidious nonsense, as all your sharp minds have dismantled this bullshit before my eyes, there’s still this squirming little voice, the same one that adds up the calories in my sandwich and sighs over anything one-size-smaller, saying, “but l’zhiu! aren’t you worth it?”

    Caitlin said it first, but: I’m worth a hell of a lot more than that.

  113. @A Sarah: FWIW, as someone who is still making the transition between graduate school and a professional life (and in a wardrobe-conservative milieu), I can give you a hint on nicely cut, classic but not boring jackets: <a href="“>JC Penney’s corduroy blazers. It is a store that I have traditionally associated with too much polyester and shopping with my grandmother, but I have absolutely fallen in love with these jackets, which they seem to put out every fall (with slight variations in design). They are well-made, and you can just toss them in the washing machine. There isn’t any ironing required because the little bit of spandex in the fabric, and the natural texture of corduroy keeps them from looking rumpled. I freaking love these jackets.

    I’m picky about details, so I replace the buttons on mine — going from cheap plasticky things to leather or metal buttons (which are easily found at any fabric store) makes a surprisingly big difference.

  114. I am uncomfortable with the idea that employing any people in service professions is unethical because it’s demeaning. I’m sure there are situations where that’s true, but there are so many where it’s not. I’m just really not sure about that.

  115. Service professions are not inherently demeaning. Hard work is hard work, whatever it is that you’re doing. But service professions are the jobs that don’t pay as well, that don’t require lots of fancy degrees, that people will look down upon… It’s a big honkin’ class/race/privilege thing. Crap rolls downhill. Life is hard and unsatisfying, and many folk don’t have the ability to address that other than taking it out on the people lower on the ladder.

    I’m not totally sure of the point I want to make. It strikes me as “there there, oh dear, the poor oppressed lower classes”, to get upset that the spa workers are being oppressed. But there’s a grain of truth to the fact that as a society, we treat service workers like crap.

  116. But service professions are the jobs that don’t pay as well, that don’t require lots of fancy degrees, that people will look down upon… It’s a big honkin’ class/race/privilege thing.

    And a gender thing, in many ways. Although there are not as many as there once were, there are still some occupations that largely employ men that pay very well without requiring a college degree or college education. I may be overlooking something, but I can’t think of a single traditionally female-dominated profession that doesn’t require a degree that pays well.

    I don’t think there’s anything demeaning about service work, but I do agree there’s something unjust about service jobs usually paying very little relative to other jobs (particularly those held by men) that require similar time, effort, and experience.

  117. I was seduced by WWs “you’re worth it!” campaign coupled with “it’s not a diet, it’s a life-style change.”

    I was convinced that I was fat because of low self-esteem. Yes, I actually believed that I subconsciously put on weight ON PURPOSE so that people would treat me as a worthless human being.

    When I heard, “you’re worth it!” I heard, “you are worth a dignified existence.” It was personal. I repeated this mantra to myself as I became a seriously angry person while on the “life-style change.”

    I realized it’s not “you” that’s worth it. It’s the ideal “you” at the end of the process. Now what I hear is, “you’re not really worth it yet, but pay to follow these steps for life, and you will be worth it someday!”

    I also realized that I never had low self-esteem. I wonder if someone assuming I have low self-esteem is her way of telling me that I should have low self-esteem.

  118. 1) The whole worth thing seems to imply that women warrant some additional rating of their value — that is, men have the inherent value of a human life. Women rate slightly less but can raise their worth with a correct beauty regiment. At least, this is what all those slogans and commercials seem to be telling us. I mean, really, I’m not going to debate my personal worth in relation to a shampoo bottle. I might buy it,, but I will not question whether I’m good enough for it.

    2) Academic dress — I wore jeans and tshirts all the way to tenure, on general principle. Now, I like to dress up; it seems to be a well accepted fact that it is impossible for a woman to dress in a neutral way, so I’m now all about structured jackets and ruffles and crazy tights with canvas boots. Pigeonhole *that*, students and colleagues.

  119. God, yes. This blog is so amazing, and this post is one of the most amazing that I have read here. It is a very condescending attitude-it’s basically telling women that “You, lowly female, are WORTH a WHOLE BOTTLE OF SHAMPOO/DIET PROGRAM/VIBRATING MASCARA WAND! Isn’t it exciting? Look at us, validating your otherwise worthless existence! Aren’t we BENEVOLENT?” And my reaction is to tell them to STFU and get their archaic patriarchal crap out of my life.

    As to the academic dress question, it interests me even though it doesn’t apply to me in the same sense it does to a lot of women on here. So, I’m coming from the other side of the classroom. I’m 17 and actually start my senior year of high school in just a couple of weeks. I’ve been looking forward to college and have begun trying to amass my college wardrobe. I make a lot of my own clothes, and I have what might be referred to as a quirky sense of style. I made myself some dresses for a summer camp in crazy cotton prints (one has turtles, two have frogs, that kinda thing.) At first, I loved these dresses unconditionally, and thought they were awesome because they were so quintessentially me. But when I came home, doubts started to surface- were they too childish? Will people not take me seriously? Will professors dismiss my work because they thought an 18-year-old crazy enough to wear a dress with bees printed on it was infantile? Or the medieval/Victorian-style stuff I love-will I come across as some pathetic person in costume? I’ve tried to tell myself it doesn’t really matter, but I’m still afraid that it somehow will. I am sincerely hoping that college professors don’t care what students wear as long as they get their work in-but experiences I have had with regular school teachers has taught me to be wary. (Once when I wore a long velvet skirt to school, a male teacher made a crack about going to history class, not dressing like something out of history; another time a female teacher chastised me for wearing a black outfit, because I looked “too funereal” and might “depress the other students.” I only wish I was making this shit up.)
    And Kathy, I think I love you for the pigeonhole comment.

  120. A Sarah, this juxtaposition of the double interpretations of “I’m worth it” is a brilliant one.

    I come from one of those “publish or perish” families, and I don’t know what department you’re working in, but I’d file this away for – at least prep for future publication …?

  121. But service professions are the jobs that don’t pay as well, that don’t require lots of fancy degrees, that people will look down upon…

    A few years ago, I was making $16,000 a year working at a private school (full-time), “fancy” degree and all. Now I’m making much more in the public school system, but nowhere near $50,000 that apparently separates working class people from exploiting assholes. A few times a year I go to a local spa and get my nails done, chat with the esthetician (who, incidentally, has to be certified and does her own professional development), and feel decadent for an hour or so.

    I know that women are being exploited in salons and spas that operate like sweatshops. I know from first hand experience that women are being exploited in pretty much every profession. Perhaps in utopia there would be no service professionals, but I’m more inclined to think that they would be well-paid and well-respected.

    And honestly, I don’t know anyone who’s survived the school system without realizing that a school cannot function without the custodians, the clerks, the cafeteria workers, the teachers, and the admin people all being on board.

  122. Funny. The reason I quit dieting all those years ago (long before I figured out that diets don’t work, or that being fat doesn’t make me worth less) is because it “wasn’t worth it”. I weighed the time and effort (and money) of counting every morsel of food that goes into my mouth, and being constantly anxious about it, against the dozens of other things I could be doing with that time. And I looked at the target weight and calculated how long it would take me to get there. In retrospect that was a better choice than I realized, because the closer I got to that target weight, the harder and more anxious my life would be.

  123. I was convinced that I was fat because of low self-esteem. Yes, I actually believed that I subconsciously put on weight ON PURPOSE so that people would treat me as a worthless human being.

    OMG I had this too, albeit in a slightly different way. I was convinced that I subconciously put on weight so that I would be less intimidating to other women, taken more serisouly professionally, and a multitude of other things.

    Now that I think about it, wtf? But at the time, it seemed like there must be a reason – after all, no-one is JUST FAT are they? So I must be subconciously eating baby donuts left and right.

    Yeahno. And thank goodness for SP, which helped me realise it.

  124. Jamie! Jamie! For the love of god wear what you want. College is pretty much the best place for that kind of thing because everyone’s exploring who they are (at least if they’re doing it right), and even if it weren’t, your clothes sound fantastic and “ they were so quintessentially me” is an amazing reason to do/wear ANYTHING.

    Also, if I saw you in those clothes in my class I’d be like “She looks like a really interesting person” and find an excuse to talk to you, and then maybe we would become friends based on your awesome. (It happened to me with a girl who made her own jewellery out of stationery.) Wearing clothes no one else wears is a bit like being fat in that sense — you may narrow your pool of potential friends to those who are actually interested in you as a person, who are the only people worth being friends with anyway.

    In conclusion: wear what you want!

  125. Jaime, Caitlin is right.

    Seriously, having taught college freshmen (I’m a grad student), I couldn’t care less what you wear to class (assuming it wasn’t hateful slogans or something like that, or nakedness, which is unlikely in the climate I was teaching in (too cold!)) as long as you actually show up and take an interest in the class. I doubt any of my profs would, either. I certainly never got comments from profs (as an undergrad or grad) for any of my odd prints or long skirts or vintage clothing. Just to address the (inappropriate, IMO) comments you’ve gotten from your high school teachers.

  126. Oh aye, and re: professors, in my experience if you actually give a shit about your classes you will positively distinguish yourself from the vast majority of students (and I went to a really good university). The people teaching you are going to value enthusiasm for the subject, intelligence and willingness to put in work over everything else (or they should, if they’re doing it right) and they really won’t care what you’re wearing.

  127. Jamie, here’s a third voice chiming in with Caitlin and The Bald Soprano.

    Your age is the absolute best time to experiment with your clothes. (I’m totally jealous that you can make your own.) Your college professors are going to be far different from your high school teachers, trust me- probably far more sophisticated and way less threatened by individuality. (Granted, I agree it’s totally inappropriate for them to comment on your clothes too.) I used to get hassled about my sense of fashion in high school too, and then in college I was kind of surprised when suddenly no one commented on my clothes anymore. (Except to compliment me on occasion.) People have much bigger and better things to focus on.

    Depending on what kind of work you want to pursue, there may be a time when you’ll have to do an overhaul and wear things that are more “grown up,” but ideally that’ll happen on your own terms as well, and not because someone is telling you that you have to or because you fear judgment. And even then, I’m positive that you would still find ways to look grown up but keep your own style, with animal prints or long skirts or whatever it may be. (And honestly, if you do that, I can tell you from personal experience that employers take more notice of people like that than the ones who just wear plain black suits and pull back their hair. I’ve cinched jobs I was already totally qualified for because of, I kid you not, jewelry I was wearing- it made the employers remember me in detail and call me back.)

    The key is just to trust your own instincts, regardless of what other people are telling you.

  128. I have a very large frame. When I was at my thinnest – ribs poking out, hip bones protruding – I was still a size 12.

    Makes me feel like a freak, that I could never, ever be an even remotely socially acceptable size, even if I were to starve myself. Add to this the fact that I am 5’11”, and I dwarf most people I meet in both height and width.

    The “You’re worth it” campaign becomes even more mocking, even more painful, because no matter how hard I try or what I do, I’ll always be a freak.

    Clothes shopping is pure torment.

    As an undergrad – Professors who show passion for what they teach and who care about whether students are understanding the material presented in lecture are teh awesome, no matter what they’re wearing. (Though I’m still hoping to come across one in bell-bottoms.) Regarding students who dress like bums – well, I do that sometimes, because I have social anxiety disorder and it’s all I can do to even leave my house. So I find the baggiest, least revealing clothing I can find (which is often bleach-stained, since most of my baggy clothing used to belong to my huge sibling) and it acts as my armor against people, who utterly terrify me. I feel that if I wear nicer clothing, A) people will see how huge I am, and B) I will draw more attention to myself. I really don’t know if these two assumptions are true, but they help me get through the tough days when I literally shake from fear as I sit in class.

  129. When I started my lectureship at my current uni, the assumption was made that I MUST be a lesbian because I wear flat shoes, have short hair and don’t flirt with the men of the teaching team. Oh, and I’m the only one who is larger than a size 12. What makes it worse is that I’m in a Psychology department.

  130. A Sarah: Fabulous. The whole “worth it” thing is so insidious and I love how you nailed it to the wall. I’m so glad I’ve discovered this site. You ladies rock!!

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