Part I—The Basics
Chapter 1: The FAQ
Are You a Beginner?
How Much Self-Loathing Is Enough?
Self-Love—Friend or Foe?
Perpetual Motion Self-Loathing
The Free Pass
Chapter 2: The Building Blocks of Self-Loathing
Self-Loathing’s Seven Essential
Questions (and Their Answers )
Chapter 3: Self-Loathing’s No-Brainer—The Body
Men Can Do It Too
Part II—The Material World
Chapter 4: Celebrity Culture
People Who Need People
Chapter 5: The Fashionable Self-Loather
Don’ts, Dos, and Dids
Chapter 6: Food for Self-Loathing
Dining Out with Civilized People
Part III—Interactive Self-Loathing
Chapter 7: Self-Loathing Sex!
Chapter 8: Love and Other Romantic Involvements
Fishing for Love
Getting Hooked on Love
Chapter 9: The Self-Loather’s Family Album
The Self-Loathing of Minors
Self-Loathing Quality Time for Adults
Self-Loathing and Marriage
Chapter 10: Workplace Self-Loathing
Chapter 11: The Social Self-Loather
Part IV—The Self-Loathing Elite
Chapter 12: Self-Loathing Dabbles in the Arts
The Performing Arts—Theater, Dance, and Music
Chapter 13: The Spiritual Self-Loather
Chapter 14: All in Your Mind
Ancient Philosophy and Self-Loathing
Chapter 15: Endgame
“ . . . thou canst not think worse of me than I do of myself.”
—The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), Robert Burton
Being your own worst critic, as Robert Burton realized, is something to boast about, because no one else knows enough about you to loathe you as well as you can. Bragging rights aside, if you have ever experienced as much as a twinge of self-loathing, you probably didn’t want to call attention to it; you may even have loathed yourself a little for feeling it.
But properly done, the desire to jump out of your skin into something more comfortable can goad you on to great acts of self-improvement, make you much more compelling to both lovers and paparazzi, and bring you far more success than you feel you deserve.
The trick is to do it right. That means putting your self-loathing to work for you, so that whether you are trying to hide it or flaunt it, escape the pain of it, or to see how much of it you can stomach, you use your self-loathing to make life more interesting.
Luckily, new avenues for self-loathers abound: DIY porn, warts-and-all high-definition TV, obesity epidemics, not to mention government-sanctioned torture and omigod-we’ve-killed-our-ecosphere chic—none of these high-potential fields were open to self-loathers a decade ago. And you can still access the classic paths to self-loathing, like mistaking your hostess for her mother or drinking your marriage into oblivion.
Yet most beginners quickly discover that successful self-loathing isn’t as easy as it looks. Extracting a masterpiece of self-contempt from one’s social gaffe or inability to stay sober (or faithful) is an art; and, as with any art, raw talent isn’t enough: you must study your craft and its traditions if you expect to have your squirming self-doubt taken seriously. Yet no one (until now) has offered the novice any formal instruction in the basics of self-loathing, let alone the techniques of the masters.
Self-Loathing for Beginners aims to meet that need. Drawing upon numerous disciplines—from neuroscience to the E! Channel—it will help you style your self-loathing so that you can lend poignancy to the inevitable trials of life and make your lighter side (if you have one) pop, even against a boring pastel background.
Should you hope to rid yourself of self-loathing or turn it froma leopard into a lap dog, this book is not for you. But if you agree that anything worth doing is worth doing with awareness and enthusiasm, I can help you to develop your self-loathing potential more economically and painlessly than any of the competing methods, including periodontal work. So if you miss the vogue for loving your self-loathing, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.
From Self-Loathing’s No-Brainer—The Body
Whether a Heidi Klum or a Dame Edith, an attentive self-loather will find her body an endless source of material. A recent survey published in Grazia magazine revealed that 98% of women hate their bodies, and concluded that the average British woman worries about her body every 15 minutes, which is to say 66 times a day if she’s getting her beauty rest and 74 times a day when she’s up all night worrying about who really wrote Macbeth.
Your Questions Answered
Women loathe so many things about their bodies and its parts that we’re going to take questions about the easiest—called “The Six Favorites”—first. Then we’ll insert a subsection on men’s bodily self-loathing, returning to women’s most intense body issues—known as “The Four Ghastlies”—once the men have rolled over and gone to sleep.
Favorite #1: Size
Q: What’s the best approach to hating my size?
A: Oh, come on! You know this one. Simply decide that you, or parts of you, are too large or too small. Breasts, buttocks, hips, belly, nose, and thighs are particularly prized by women given to partial self-loathing. When you are too hurried or lazy to itemize sections of your body to loathe, loathing your overall weight is a great time-saver. Hating your weight also triggers disgust with yourself for devouring the foods you crave (see Part II, Chapter 6), so that eating them yields a double helping of self-loathing in the time it takes to prepare just one. Additionally, studies show “fat talk” is an effective bonding ritual you can perform with women of every subculture, class, or marital status, including Diana Ross, Roseanne Barr, Renée Zellweger, and Calista Flockhart to name just a few. Simply bring up the topic of weight, vocalize your self-loathing, and you’ll get all the excitement of intense female competition without the tears. An “I’m too horribly fat” contest is one of the few you can win without exciting envy.
The trick with hating your overall size, and, in fact, the secret behind many self-loathing success stories, is to be droll about the loathsomeness potential of your height or width before meaner people have time to draw a bead on it. “Built for comfort, not for speed” is an over-used but otherwise handy template, because it advertises not only your discomfort with your excess flesh, but also your ability to handle the discomfort without a lot of help. Try “Built for comfort, not for compliments,” if you are unhappy with your width, or, “I was going to wear stilettos, but I wanted to be able to tell you from an ant,” if you are over 5’11”. If you’re skinny, go heavy on the schtick, with lines like, “Yes, you think I’m skinny now; but when I was six, my mother used to mistake me for a piece of fettuccine. I’d wake up with Alfredo sauce all over me. And the dog would have to lick it off before I could go to school.” Self-deprecatory humor should be delivered deadpan, or with a faint smile, the objective being to declare your vulnerability without seeming to wallow in it. If none of these techniques work for you, do what most women do and pretend to be interested in others.
Favorite #2: Shape
Q: Are there any special tricks I need to know if I want to hate my shape?
A: Yes. Now that J. Lo has made big booty fashionable, bemoaning your “fat ass” may not work you up to the pitch of revulsion you’re after, and you’ll have to concentrate on your rear end’s more subtle demerits like its lack of loft or the sine of its curves. Since hating the shape of your ass now demands something close to a degree in engineering, you might want to make your job easier by (1) disparaging the shape of another body part or area while (2) using competitive comparisons. For example, “Hers looks like melons, but mine look like goat testicles,” or, “Your upper arms may look like sticks, but mine look like drumsticks.”
In this liberal age, you are now permitted to envy boys as well, provided you do it with maximum gender bending, as in: “My husband looks better in my bustier than I do,” and “I’d give up sex with women if I could have Brad Pitt’s hips.”
Favorite #3: Proportions
Q: What if I love all my various parts, but still want to loathe my body?
A: Let science come to your rescue. Numerous studies show that people are most strongly attracted to physical symmetry, so find asymmetry in any of your matched parts and you’re good to go.
Is one of your breasts inconveniently perfect? No worries, as long as the other one isn’t. The asymmetry suggests to the mate-seeking part of observers’ animal brains that something isn’t quite right with you. It’s an opinion that, despite your better judgment, the feedback-dependent self-loather in you will instantly adopt.
And what if the kinky John (“Hairspray”) Waters or sophisticated Diana Vreeland areas of your brain prefer the poignancy of flawed-beauty-verging-on-the-grotesque? No worries again. Those sections of your brain can easily despise both the beer-swilling frat boy of your animal brain—with its yearning for symmetrical, matchy-matchy “prettiness”—and the feedback-dependent part of you that actually cares what beer-swilling frat boys think.
The proportion of your body parts can repulse you in other ways. Use your words. Tell yourself, for example: “My head looks like a grapefruit perched on a redwood tree stump,” or, “If I was a foot and a half taller, my tits would make me look like Pamela Anderson instead of the fucking Venus of Willendorf !” If you’re coming up empty, improvise something along the lines of, “I look like somebody finally tried to splice Julia Robert’s head onto a Chihuahua.”
Favorite #4: Hair
Q: If my hair is sleek and falls well, is there any hope for me?
A: Try to arrange a bad haircut, an overcooked dye job, or disastrous perm—all easily and inexpensively obtained at nearly any neighborhood salon. Otherwise, a dip in a chlorine pool followed by a lazy day in the sun should do the trick.
Meanwhile, here are 25 things to loathe your hair for not being:
10. A richer red
11. Full of “natural highlights”
12. Full of “vibrant” color
22. Easy to style and maintain
23. More plentiful on your head than under your arms or on your upper lip
24. Somebody else’s
Favorite #5: Face
Q: Which is more self-loathing, wearing a burqa to hide my face or getting a complete facial transplant?
A: That depends on whose face you sew on. But women who want to avoid acquiring a face-donor’s flaws along with her strong points are ordering new facial features à la carte, using People magazine as their catalogue. In 2007, according to The Beverly Hills Institute of Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery, the most requested items included: Scarlett Johansson’s lips; Sienna Miller’s eyes; Jessica Alba’s nose; Ziyi Zhang’s cheeks; and Oprah Winfrey’s charge card.
Favorite #6: Skin
Q: What is the most important thing to hate my skin for not being?
A: Three years old.
With women’s “Six Favorites” under your belt, let’s take a brief intermission and let men hate their bodies for a while before tackling the most emotionally swampy portions of the female.
Men Can Do It Too
The Seven Manly Questions
Manly Question #1
Q: Am I doomed to feel left out of the physical self-loathing festival?
A: Not at all. As a man, your physical self-loathing can run silent but deep. Cut to the chase and begin by giving your penis one or more of these juvenile and belittling names . . .
Manly Question #2
Q: What if I totally love my penis, no matter what I call it?
A: Compare it to others, using this army-issue checklist:
Combat-Tested Penis Comparison Checklist
_____ My penis is too small
(shorter, or thinner than you believe normal—or both).
_____ My penis is too small compared to my father’s
(stepfather’s, mother’s boyfriends’).
_____ My penis is too small compared to the high school quarterback’s
(basketball center’s, head of chess club’s, drill sergeant’s, garbage man’s).
_____ My penis is way too small compared to penises of other races
(religions, ethnic groups) or general expectations concerning my own race
(religion, ethnic group).
_____ My penis is too small compared to the size of my ego.
_____ My penis is too soft.
_____ My penis ejaculates too quickly, or so my (ex-) lovers all claim.
Manly Question #3
Q: Oh, insecurity about the penis. Everybody does that. Can’t I hate my hanging gut? And what about the bagels in back of my neck, and my hip-cheeks?
A: Traditionally, if you want to be “one of the guys,” those things are best left to others to loathe. To stay comfortably in the majority, loathe your receding hairline and bald spot. (According to The Economist, roughly the same number of American men are having their hair “revived” as women are having their breasts “augmented.”) Many men choose to advertise how much they loathe balding by combing wisps of hair over the bare skin atop their heads, by having weird little tufts of hair surgically implanted in the thinning area, or by running for office.
Manly Question #4
Q: What if I would rather hate my muffin-top and these sort of breast thingies than be “one of the guys”?
A: I lied. It’s increasingly manly to fuss and fret about being flabby, blubbery, having a pumpkin butt, all that. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported a 10% increase in male liposuction requests between 2004 and 2005, mostly to reduce the “spare tire.” (As we all know by now, over half of all adult Americans are either overweight or obese.) Men have even begun seeking calf implants, and, according to Popbitch, the U.K. gossip e-rag, the testicle lift is “the in-demand plastic surgery for rich, aging Hollywood men.” So start saving up.
Manly Question #5
Q: How about the hair on my back, my sack, and my crack?
A: If you wax your body hair and you sleep with women, you can loathe yourself for being a metrosexual. Or, if you’re a gay guy who waxes and tries to pass for a metrosexual, you can loathe yourself for being in the closet. Otherwise, wait until the stubble grows in, and hate that. But in most circles, back, sack, and crack hair still fall into the “for others to loathe” category. Still, you can take heart: the masculine knack for uncritical self-acceptance is on its last leg. Male body-anguish is on the rise. And even if you can’t keep up with the times, when you get older, regardless of your sexual orientation, you’ll be able to loathe the hairs that grow out of your ears and nose—especially if you use them to form a comb-over.
Manly Question #6
Q: If I’m great looking now, does that mean that I am going to end up looking like a surprised prune when I’m old, the way Robert Redford, Kenny Rogers and Burt Reynolds do?
A: Only if you can afford all that work.
Manly Question #7
Q: Can’t I hate my body’s secretions, my vomit, excrement, zits, moles, buboes, boogers, warts, farts, suppurating ulcers, dandruff, toe jam, sweat, blood blisters, skin tags, and scabs without considering them parts of my body?
A: What are you, some kind of girl? No way. Even metrosexuals know that the body’s exudations are part of the deal, however transient they may seem. True, your body is more than its pus and earwax, piss, seed, and hard and pay attention, you can forget that. To boyish men who love all their disgusting physical extrusions and emissions because they enjoy the power of making women say “Eeeew!” . . . two words: “Marry me.”
One Last Manly Question
Q: May I loathe the millions of bacteria that live in my gut without which I would die?
A: Because they are separate, if symbiotic life forms, loathing them does not really count as self-loathing. But, since you owe them your life, hating them is a form of ingratitude, and you might want to loathe yourself for that.
is a media tramp who writes and edits for film, television, print, and interactive media. She was a staff writer for the groundbreaking satirical nighttime soap opera, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and has written for a wide array of publications, including Glamour, The Harvard Lampoon, The Realist, The Nation, Nerve, and Newsweek International.