Warning: The posts for the next several days are going to feature what could potentially be considered sensitive topics, the kind you don’t bring up at holiday dinners because, you know, Uncle Bill will probably get all fired up and stab someone with a meat fork.
I want to talk to you about bodies – yours and mine – and how we treat them.
More importantly, I want to talk about how we LOOK at them, and what we say about the view.
I hate making statements that start like this, as I feel like it’s a place of pseudo-authority, but here it is anyway: As a woman who has spent the majority of her life hating her body, I understand that the majority of that hatred has been a direct result of internalizing the public notion of what should – and should not -- be seen as beautiful.
Well, I mean, I understand it NOW.
When I was younger, I only knew that carrying extra weight made me loathsome and ugly. I knew because I heard it many times: “It’s really too bad, because she has such a pretty face,” as though anything that was happening with my body negated any potential loveliness in my face. Because you cannot be beautiful if you are overweight. Or -- hell with it, let’s just call it what it is -- Fat.
Does the word “fat” make you uncomfortable? Are you looking away? Let’s say it a few more times, so you can get down with it. In fact, you should try saying it out loud: Fat. Fat. Fat.
Three letters. Not a big deal. Unless, of course, you’re a little girl on a playground, being taunted every day by a group of boys who used to be your friends, because they consider it their civic and moral duty to let you KNOW that you’re fat, in case you’d forgotten to look in the mirror that day. At that point, those three letters become like daggers, and what they actually pierce is your eyes, because you become blind to the reality of yourself and your body; you lose your ability to see anything but indistinct blobs and shapes, none of which are lovely and all of which make you ashamed.
No one should look at herself (or himself, for that matter) in the mirror and, upon perceiving herself, feel ashamed.
The reality is that all bodies are beautiful. All of them. Fat and thin and in between and toned and not toned and whatever colour they might be – all bodies are beautiful. Every one. While certain types may not appeal to your definition of what it means to be attractive – and that’s okay, your preferences are your own – what is not okay is making someone who has a body that does not fit your personal standards feel ugly or as though they are not worthy of being in the public view.
What’s also not okay is challenging someone who is at home in her or his body, who is comfortable and happy, and who believes in her/his own beauty. It’s not up to you to judge or shame them for being proud of who they are. You don’t think someone belongs in that bikini? That’s fine, but know this: She’s not wearing it for you, and making a comment about whether or not she belongs in it – in her hearing – isn’t “helpful” or kind. It’s just mean. It’s also presumptuous, because you are not the fashion police.
It’s also not okay to look at what someone is eating and judge them, as though fat people should only eat at salad bars, and never get to have a candy bar. True story: I was in a Panera in North Carolina, eating soup, when I became very aware of two college-aged women looking at me in horror, because apparently it wasn’t okay for my fat ass to be enjoying a bowl of French Onion deliciousness and a roll when I could have had a SALAD. It wasn’t bad enough that I could see them, judging, but I could also hear them whispering. They weren’t subtle.
It was interesting (and, to be honest, horrifying) because they knew nothing about me except that I was carrying extra weight (I gained quite a bit of weight after my husband left, which – who cares? At least I didn’t drive off a bridge, which was something I considered every day for several months) and that they though it was appropriate to make some sort of public show of their displeasure. As though that single meal was the cause of every extra pound. As though being fat was personally offensive to them. I’m pretty sure I could have kicked a puppy in front of them* and received less of a showing of displeasure.
Because they didn’t see anything about me other than fat. They saw what I, with my usual disordered view of my own body, see: shapeless mass. Ugliness.
The truth of the matter is, though, that my body is not shapeless mass. No body really is, when you think about it. My body is made of curves, some of which are pretty damn impressive. It holds me up and keeps me going. It dances and it likes to laugh and play.
It did so when I was fatter than I am now, it did so when I was thinner than I am now, and it will continue to do so – that’s what bodies DO, and doing so? Makes them beautiful.
All of them.
Not just the thin ones.
So when you look at a body – yours, your loved ones, someone you don’t even know – try to make sure that you see beauty, confidence, a PERSON, and not just a number on a scale. Otherwise, you’re selling everyone in that gaze short – and that, my friends, is a true shame.
*Please know that I would never kick a puppy.