I’m going to tell you about a low point in my life. The truth shall set us free, right?
One day, I saw a friend’s status update on gmail. It said something to the affect of, “Oh, lord, I have cankles. Why??” I’d heard the term cankles before, but I wasn’t really sure what it meant. So, I went to the most scholarly, reliable source of information that I could think of: Urban dictionary. There are many definitions for cankles, and they’re linked here. But, BEWARE: reading them could cause both obsession and binding rage. At least, that’s what it did for me.
The definitions for cankles are overwhelming fat-phobic and sexist. They objectify and devalue women’s bodies, and many of the definitions specifically mention obesity,”fat chicks,” or fat bitches.” Charming, I know. I was outraged when I read these. (I have yet to check out the entry on “cankle dyke” because I think my head will probably explode.)
Yet, for all my outrage and my ability to deconstruct the misogynist bullshit in these definitions, I was suddenly VERY aware of my ankles. The obsession set in quickly. I googled pictures of cankles, trying to discern if mine qualified. I found this charming “Say No To Cankles” ad from Gold’s Gym. Later that night, unable to restrain myself, I asked my partner if I had cankles. He was not aware of cankles as a concept, so I made him google pictures of cankles with me for about 20 minutes before he finally said, “You don’t have cankles” and left the room.
I still don’t know if I have cankles. And yes, that is my leg in the picture above. I’m not asking for validation here, or fishing for you all to say, “Oh no! You don’t have cankles!” My partner said it. It didn’t help. But, it’s not really about whether we actually have them now, is it?
Here’s what’s ridiculous (okay, it’s one of many ridiculous things): I LOVE to bike. I love it. This summer, when my cankles obsession set in, I was cycling a minimum of 50 miles a week. I have had to give up cycling for the time being because my weight is too low right now to sustain it. However, I still do a lot of walking. My legs are *strong*. And yet, I am worried about CANKLES. My weight is too low, and I’m worried that my ankles might be too fat. Or my calves might not be toned enough. REALLY?? All of the women in my family carry their weight (I hate that phrase) in their legs, so I have always been obsessed with them. But I was never obsessed with my ankles until everyone started talking about cankles.
So, yes, the media DOES play a role in eating disorders and body image obsession – at least for me, and I suspect that it’s the case for many others. This is different than saying it’s THE cause of eating disorders. Perhaps it a cause. Perhaps it’s just something that perpetuates them. But, I think we need to really look at the fact that eating disorders MUST be about a lot more than brain chemistry. Again, I don’t know that we can separate the two. I don’t know that we can say biology loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger. Maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe environment is primary. Maybe it’s not. Maybe environment an biology and experience and family are all so intertwined that we just can’t separate them, can’t give primacy to any one of these factors.
It’s not a coincidence that in a time of rising media influence, the vast majority of e.d. sufferers are women.It’s not a coincidence that as unrealistic body ideals get stronger in regard to men’s bodies, the rates of eating disorders are rising in men too. Rates are also rising in areas of the world that have recently been inundated with “Western” media. Though obsession with women’s bodies and thinness is certainly not new, the ability to spread such obsession-inducing terms and campaigns so far and so easily is new. There may be a strong biological component for eating disorders, but we have GOT to examine the world around us, the structures of inequality, the forces of capitalism (want a great way to make money? break down bodies and make people obsess over each tiny part and what they can do to improve them), the role of the media, etc., and I think we are being irresponsible if we don’t. Biology doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Eating disorders don’t exist primarily in women just by chance. Cankles aren’t overwhelmingly gender-specific just because Gold’s Gym felt like making it that way for no particular reason. Yet, the media doesn’t cause eating disorders in everybody, which shows that biology, experience, etc. are obviously also important. We need to keep a holistic, intersectional view here. We can’t disentangle these things – they affect each other, and that necessarily demands that treatment be multi-faceted.
As for me? I’m done. I will not let the media have this part of my body too. My ankles are mine! I’m saying yes to my ankles, cankles, whatever! My ankles are strong. They carry me to and from school each day. They carry me around the biggest university in the country. When the rest of my body is ready, they will help me get back on my bike, where I feel free. I have put my ankles, my body, through so much, and it has not given up on me. I am my body. I am my ankles, and no one gets to degrade them. Who’s with me??
For more spot-on cankles critique, check out Julie Parker’s blog, Beautiful You.
Also, I’m still interested in all of the topics I mentioned in my previous post – I just couldn’t let this go by! But I’d still love to here what you a would like to hear about!