Why I’m ripping the minus sign off my calculator: the mathematics of women and body image issues

Guest post by Kandy Harris
calculator koozie

I’ve been thinking a lot about math lately. Not fancy equations, but the math of being a woman.

My whole life has been about taking things out of my life in order to make it better. Subtracting weight. Removing blemishes. Getting rid of the appearance of cellulite and stretch marks. Reducing belly fat. Banishing negative thoughts. Taking this or that out of my diet. Ignoring my needs, lessening them for the convenience of others. Literally lowering the volume of my voice because too many people have scolded me for being too loud.

How many of you are vigorously shaking your head with me right now? I am not a special snowflake. My tendency to subtract puts me in really good company, because most women I know do the exact same thing. Always taking things out, making themselves smaller, less-than, and yet often still expected to be all things to all people at every goddamn minute of the day.

To say I’m fed up with it is a gross understatement. The biggest regrets of my life involve me making myself less than I am EVERY SINGLE TIME. Pardon my French, or don’t because I don’t give a shit, Fuck That.

I’m through subtracting. I’m ripping that button off my calculator and getting cozy with the addition symbol. I’m going to talk as loudly as I want, and you should, too.

Talk in a funny voice. Make lots of vocal fry. (I hear people get really angry about that for some reason, so do that one a lot.) Stop removing things from your diet and start adding things in. (You probably need more vegetables anyway. Add those in ways that taste really good and only eat the ones you like.) Add ice cream back into your life. (If you like it! If not, I’m not sure what you’re living for, but to each their own.) Make things that are ugly just for the sake of adding something new to the world without giving a flying fuck about what it looks like. Add in two-piece bathing suits. Add your blemishes back in, and yes, that includes cellulite, stretch marks, crooked teeth, wrinkles, gray hair, and crow’s feet. Stop subtracting parts your face by airbrushing it for a selfie.

People. Are airbrushing. Selfies. I felt like that needed repeating.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying it’s bad to subtract the people and situations from your life that are hazardous for your mental and physical well-being. We all get that we need to do that, right?

No, I’m talking about the insidious, constant removal of aspects of our personalities and bodies in order to be… what? I don’t know what math you’re using, but my math says that if you continue to subtract, you’ll eventually be left with nothing. Will we finally be happy then? Will everyone, at long last, accept us for who we are? If we are devoid of all original parts, will we suddenly become beings of pure light existing only for the pleasure of everyone else’s sensibilities?

Um, no. We’ll just be nothing.


Here’s a rare selfie of me after a brisk walk around Falling Water. I’m covered in sweat and DEET, un-showered, red-faced, and messy.

I’m all those things in real life, too, and oodles more.

I’m lots of everything. Lots and tons and scores of things. Almost too many to add up.

Comments on Why I’m ripping the minus sign off my calculator: the mathematics of women and body image issues

  1. Thank you!! This is exactly what has been bothering me lately and you expressed it perfectly!

    Also, thank you for the selfie. My face does exactly the same thing, it always has and it has bugged me for ages. It’s so nice to know I’m not the only one that goes bright red after a brisk walk!

  2. This – and you! – and beautiful, brave, and strong inside and out! I needed to hear these words today and know I will look back to them again as a positive reminder of how I want to spend my days. Thank you!!

  3. I love this article in its entirety. Thank you for writing it! It’s inspiring and something every woman needs to hear.

    But – can we just take a minute to admire that knit calculator cozy? Freaking adorable. Excuse me while I go find a calculator to knit a cozy for.

  4. Yup, you got it! There was a time in my life where I reduced myself almost down to nothing, and, while I wouldn’t recommend it, the process of building myself back up and rediscovering a love for life, laughing, and myself has been incredible. There are days when I still don’t feel it, but I’m pretty awesome!

  5. Interesting that, as an introvert, I tend to get exactly the opposite advice. I should speak up, smile more often, make more of a fuss about my hair/clothes/whatever, socialize more… You get the idea.

    • Oh, yes…the “smile more” thing…

      But in general, I totally get what the author is saying. The constant feeling that I need to change in order to be accepted is exhausting. This sentence definitely resonated with me: “I don’t know what math you’re using, but my math says that if you continue to subtract, you’ll eventually be left with nothing.”

      • I think this is very telling. Be loud, we’re told to tone it down. Be introverted and quiet, we’re told to speak up and “socialize” more. No matter what we do, we can’t win. Might as well do whatever the fuck we want.

        • Do wherever the fuck we want, be whoever the fuck we want, and get over caring what the rest of the world thinks about it – maybe the hardest part.

          You could start a twitter/fb campaign, #unairbrushed 😛

  6. I needed to hear this so badly. I feel like this post was a great big accepting hug from you, wonderful internet stranger, to me (and all of us). THANK YOU!

  7. This idea of pleasure/perfection is not an old one. The idea is simple: strive towards a better you or delve into hedonism. Either is an acceptable use of your time. Understand the consequences behind each choice though, especially in the long term. I think what has been making it difficult for you to strive for the perfection of oneself is that you were doing it for the wrong reasons. You were doing it for others in the first place. Consider doing it for yourself instead. You may be pleasantly surprised.

  8. Thank you for writing this! I have been feeling the same way lately and have been feeling down for it. It’s hard when you are constantly accommodating for other people (or feeling like you have to). This line really resonated with me: “Ignoring my needs, lessening them for the convenience of others.” I’ve often done this in relationships because I feel in order to have them be successful, I need to make myself as easy to be with as possible. That is something I’ve been working on over the last few years. It’s okay to unapologetically be yourself. I’ve learned that we are allowed to like things and not like things, even things our partners do and that it’s perfectly okay to vocalize it!

    Subtracting things from myself lately has really gotten me down. I am so glad I read this because I felt like I was the only person that felt this way!

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