So, you’ll notice I don’t blog much about my physical body, my appearance, etc. This is a choice I make for a variety of extremely personal and complicated reasons. I will try and simplify it, if I can.
I choose not to talk about my physical body not because I am ashamed of it (quite the contrary), but rather because I feel strongly that my body shouldn’t be part of conversation unless I want it to be. My body is not a factor in how I am treated because I do not make it one. When a person deals with me, they deal with my intellect, my wit, my capability. My body and its shape and whatnot is strictly my business. It’s true that I can’t control how you respond to it, but I can sure as hell decide how I react to you, and I can sure as hell not join in with the “my_____ is so____” business that so many women nervously fall back on.
As a woman who is overweight, in other words, as a woman who has so-called physical “flaws” impossible to hide, I’ve been the scapegoat for many a woman’s physical insecurities. Interestingly enough, these encounters have not been with women I count as friends. My friends have all been women who have shared my spirit and who have fought in one way or another for their own beauty’s voice. That’s the thing: a woman has to fight for herself to understand her value, no matter what her body looks like. A woman who is so physically perfect that she never feels insecure is a wild myth. The reason for that is simple: women are told again and again by every kind of media, by a culture that teaches men to commodify women, that no matter what, a woman as she is will never be good enough. She must be changed, added to or distorted in some way. This is a big message, one that would be easy to spot, you’d think. But even if you think you can filter it out and be just fine with yourself, you can’t entirely anticipate how insidious an idea it is. Self-doubt has got to be one of the most underestimated forces driving humanity!
So, a couple of days ago, I had my nephew for most of the day. I was excited to take him with me to Safeway and the Post Office. It’s rare that it would ever be just he and I in the car alone going somewhere, so it felt really special to me. I supplied the music (“Louder, Auntie Katie!”) and controlled the temperature (“Cold wind, please, Auntie Katie”) to his specifications, and we had silly discussion and made wacky noises together. It was wonderful. I even handled 2 potty emergencies pretty well. Given my inexperience with such matters and the difference in our genders, I wasn’t sure how that would go, but he knew what to do. So, when we were in line at the Post Office and he informed me he had to “go pee-pee,” I asked the Post Office staff for the nearest bathroom and got a shrug in return. A shrug. (Some doofus knows nothing about children and their bladders…)
As soon as we were done at the P.O., we rushed to the car and I took us to the closest, most accessible bathroom I could think of, which was at a local fast food place. There was a men’s and a women’s restroom. The ladies’ was full, so Em went into the men’s. “I’ll wait right here!”, I told him. A couple of times, he shouted out to me, “Auntie Katie, are you there?” and I shouted back, completely nonplussed by the dining area full of people.
Once Em was done, and one need was met, another need asserted itself. So we made our way to the couter for a kid’s meal.
The woman behind the counter immediately started talking, calling me “mama”. It was a challenge to keep an eye on Em and process what she was saying to me. (I already had a healthy appreciation for my Mom and my sister-in-law, but this moment brought it home in a new way.) The woman was still talking while Em danced around a bit, jabbering about the toy he was going to get.
Woman: (if I had to guess, she was probably between a size 16-18) “Girl, where did you get that shirt? I LOVE IT.”
Me: (blushing a little at the compliment) “Oh, um, Old Navy. Thank you. (turning aside) Stay close to me, Em, ok?”
Woman: “Oooooh….they sell small girl clothes there now? You know I can’t fit into anything they make at that place! But you got a shirt? Where do they sell small girl clothes?”
Me: “Um, online, I guess.”
Woman: “Oh, I see. You know I love Lane Bryant. I feel so little in that place. hahaha”
Me: “We need a kid’s meal with a cheeseburger….”
So, let me decode that very brief conversation for you. First of all, the shirt I was wearing was a nice, blue henley shirt from Old Navy that I bought in a store. It was not a special size at all. Old Navy sizes can be very strange that way. They seem to fit everyone, sometimes. It has always been that way. But the majority of their clothing would have obviously fit her just fine. The woman’s assertion of disbelief that I could have bought a “normal” sized shirt was ridiculous. It was calculated, as was her use of “small girl clothes” to signify the opposite.
Next she pointed out that she loves to shop at Lane Bryant, which carries sizes 14-28, BUT her point was that the clothes they sell made even her, who was so obviously smaller than me , feel tiny. The whole point of that brief and unnecessary conversation was for this woman to compare herself to me and reassure herself that while she clearly hates her body, AT LEAST IT IS SMALLER THAN MINE. (I challenge any assertion that women are simple creatures. This is nothing, really…)
While Em and I sat at a table by the window, I ignored the insecurity creeping up on me, made an effort to sit up straighter and put my focus on Emery. Later, I thought about what the woman had said and dearly wished I had shut her stupid face down. Instead I took the easy way out and took the bait by saying the shirt was purchased online, buying into the implication that women of my size should shop online where no one else can see. Did I wish I had said “MY HAIR CAN KICK YOUR SORRY, INSECURE ASS AND IT IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS WHERE I BUY MY SHIRTS, WHETHER YOU LIKE THEM OR NOT”? Yes, of course. But I would have been indulging her even more to respond at all. The fact was that the trap was set. The conversation wasn’t with me, it was between her and her insecurities, really. I was the scapegoat.
What makes a woman respond that way? I think before you even finished reading that question, you already have an idea in mind. It’s there in your mind already. There are already specific sources in your life that communicate to you somehow that you’re not okay how you are. I’m not going to generalize them for you because you know what I mean.
Recently, I made a commitment to lose weight and get more fit. I’ve been doing okay at it. (My family has been wonderfully supportive and positive.) My reasons for making this choice have to do with the things I want to do with my body. They are not cosmetic. In fact, I’ve had a lot of anxiety about this choice, worried that I was somehow betraying myself. That may seem strange, but consider it: I’ve defended my right to be what I am for my whole adult life, despite the message everywhere that being overweight is unacceptable. Yet, I’ve decided to change that. Of course there is going to be conflict.
But I was never defending my right to be overweight. I have defended my right to be whatever I am, and that happened to be overweight, and now I defend my choice to do different things with my body because IT IS MY BODY AND IT IS GORGEOUS. You see? This decision and it’s implications have nothing to do with anyone but me. I could give a rat’s ass about fitting into more things at Old Navy. I’ve gotten used to perusing Target’s women’s section, hidden in the back out of view of the “normals” (hahaha), and I actually love Lane Bryant’s clothing because it is well made and it fits my curving bits pretty damn well. But now I have other goals that I need my body to be in top shape for. Exercise hasn’t been a consistent choice for me, and I want to change that.
So there it is.
This is a first for me. I’ve never been open about this kind of thing, so there it is.