An invented Hallmark holiday that glorifies coupledom is ridiculous, but the reminder to celebrate love in all its forms is a nice thing, says Jenn Leyva.
I remember Valentine’s Day in high school. Girls would open their lockers to find surprise gifts—flowers, giant cards, balloons, chocolates. Adorned with grandiose gifts, they would walk around all day with their boyfriends, alerting everyone of their status. I never said anything to anyone, but I so desperately wanted in. I remember going to open my locker and hoping that I would find some surprise display of affection. My locker was always as I left it, and my heart would sink just a little bit. At 14 I was already nostalgic for the yesteryears of teacher mandated Valentine equality.
I think back on this, and I’m struck by how illogical all of this is. No one knew my locker combination, and I didn’t even want flowers or balloons. Maybe some chocolate, but my dad would buy me a box of Sees anyway. I thought I wanted to be loved, or even just liked. But what I really wanted was to be accepted. In the strict hierarchies of public high schools in my upper-middle class suburban neighborhood, the popular girls got these gifts from the popular guys, and so I wanted them too.
As a self-described angry feminist, you’d think I’d be against Valentine’s Day. Damn that Hallmark bullshit to hell, and let it rot. There is certainly a part of me that feels this way. It’s more than just the sting of high school rejection—the thoughtless consumption of crap marketed for the sole purpose of fulfilling some artificial need is disgusting. I hate the commercials subtly reminding everyone that your Valentine has expectations. I hate watching people buy last minute tchotchkes at the drugstore. I hate the displays in stores singing their siren song of obligation.
There is a part of me that is angry, rightfully so. I’m angry that our culture puts too much value in coupledom. Romantic relationships are not like job promotions, publishing contracts, or graduations. They are not accomplishments for which we deserve presents. The reward of a relationship is the relationship itself. And yet everywhere I look it’s all about finding a partner and thus achieving some sort of acceptable status. It’s gross, and I’m so sick of it.
I’m angry at capitalism. I’m frustrated with the ways in which we are taught false scarcity. We are taught to buy more because there isn’t enough—buy now! Buy more! This extends into our personal lives too. Have you heard about the dearth of date-able men? You know, men aren’t graduating college and getting good jobs like women are, so women have to be hyper-vigilant about finding and keeping a man.
Except there is no scarcity. There are plenty of people out and about in this world to fulfill our social needs. We don’t have to limit ourselves with monogamy. We don’t have to limit ourselves with some gender divide.
And while capitalism is bullshit, we still deserve nice things. As fluffy as it sounds, celebrating love is a nice thing—indeed, love is a transformative thing. As bell hooks wrote, “To love well is the task in all meaningful relationships, not just romantic bonds.”
I’m not sure what I’m going to be doing this Valentine’s Day. I’m definitely not going to buy useless crap out of some invented obligation to feed the insatiable appetite of capitalism. I don’t plan on sulking, but sometimes it just feels so good to revel in how awful all of this nonsense is. I don’t want a giant teddy bear and roses from the popular dudes, but I wouldn’t turn down a box of Sees from my dad.
What I really want to do this Valentine’s Day is be more intentional about how I create and nurture loving relationships. I want to trust myself and my friends enough to ask for what I need and what I want. I want to let people know how much I care about them, even when it’s difficult and scary. I want to give my time and attention to people who love me instead of worrying about trying to fit in. I want to love in a way that heals, in a way that is transformative.
When Jenn Leyva was 16, her dad told her that he’d buy her a car if she lost weight. She cried, finished her calculus homework, and is now a New York-based fat activist and recent graduate of Columbia, where she studied biochemistry. She authors Fat Smart And Pretty, a fat blog about social justice, feminism, science, health, and fa(t)shion.