Locker Room Diaries – An Initial, and Unpleasant, Review
I picked up “Locker Room Diaries: The Naked Truth about Women, Body Image, and Re-Imagining the ‘Perfect’ Body” by Leslie Goldman in a recent browsing of the library, and I have to be honest – I haven’t finished the second chapter, and I’m not sure I can finish this book. I am a compulsive finisher of books and films, always pushing forward in anticipation that the next page or chapter or scene will reveal something worthwhile. I’ve read the complete Wheel of Time series more than once, including those draggy middle books. In this case, however, I don’t think I can bear the obsessive weighing and measuring of women’s bodies in what, one would assume from the title, would be a work precisely about refusing to let numbers rule women’s lives.
In the first chapter, Goldman describes the obsessive scale-related rituals of perpetually gym-going women, and pats herself on the back for no longer being ruled by this particular number. However, the text quickly devolves into a measurement festival, with characters introduced as “an avid Ashtanga yoga practitioner who stands five foot ten and wears a size 8,” “standing six feet and weighing 155 pounds of mostly muscle,” or a “twenty-nine-year old petite (we’re talking size 5 1/2 shoe), multihued blonde…Her exact bra size is 32A…” Continuing the breast measurments, one woman is described as “respectable 36C,” one’s size is described as “perfect,” another “a modest, natural-looking 36B” (on a woman who had implants). Respectable, perfect, and modest are all judgments about these women’s breasts, and their appropriateness – exactly the opposite of what this book purports to tackle.
Making further judgments with regards to breasts (the focus of the second chapter), she describes breasts that stand at attention” as “signify[ing] youth and the promise of a long future” while assuming that “those that swing low bear the signs of infusing life into children, of fighting gravity for decades,” ignoring the real differences between women that begin long before decades and childbirth have passed. Women’s natural breasts are simply shaped differently, and perky vs. pendulous may simply be genetics or size rather than a false dichotomy between the young and full of potential and the old who have “lost the battle.” The author insists that from “barely A to DD,” breasts tell a story, but she seems not have learned how to read and interpret that story with factual accuracy.
While the author is trying to convince us that numbers don’t matter, she introduces us to women first through those very numbers. While insisting that we not be slaves to the scale, she makes it clear that these numbers are fair game for public consumption and judgment, and perhaps even the identification of women, through their prominence in her descriptions of these women. As the title implies, the women profiled in the book tend to be those with the access, resources, and time to spend long hours at local gyms. The effect is not to inspire regular women to be healthy rather than obsessed, but to remind women who don’t spend 5-6 days a week at the gym (as the author lets you know she does) that they could be doing more. After all, if women more dedicated and athletic than they remain unsatisfied with their body image, what hope do they have of being personally satisfied while they are not devoting nearly so much time to calorie calculations and yoga and elliptical machines?
The book feels as though it were written by two separate people, or at least one person who hasn’t truly resolved her body image issues to the extent one would expect from the author of a book described as a “wake-up call.” On one page, she writes, “The scale should not be the enemy. Ben and Jerry’s New York Triple Fudge Chunk isn’t even the enemy.” Yet later she describes a character as “work[ing] out regularly but admittedly ha[ving] a weakness for sub sandwiches and desserts of any kind…” A weakness. Something to be conquered. A flaw. This appears just twenty-one pages after the insistence that desert (in the form of ice cream) is not the enemy. It is this inconsistency that leads me to believe I may not be able to finish reading the book, because I’m not convinced the author believes what she’s saying, or even recognizes the contradictory messages in play in this work. At this moment, I certainly would not recommend it to women who are honestly seeking to overcome their addiction to measurements and perceptions of the “perfect” body.