So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

01 December, 2007

Bodies 4: Seeing Clearly (Is the Rain Gone?)

I've been thinking a lot about self-image, body image, stuff like that lately. The state of relationships to food and health and similar stuff.

I'm in a funny state about a lot of this stuff; I missed the adolescent indoctrination period into proper body image, partly by having the luck to mostly fall within the norms of the socially acceptable and thus not getting policed on it, partly by being a completely fucking oblivious nerd. When I was about twenty, I was introduced to the real world, and it stung.

What I first ran into was backlash. People who felt that the best way to support the heavier/curvier women they preferred was to proclaim them the only real women, capable of handling the affection of a real man without breaking. Women in particular who directed insults, hostility, and hatred at people with different body types, snide comments about what they were or were not eating, generalised cattiness. People who blew off people with my narrow build and slight breasts as only likely to be attractive to closeted gay men.

(The fact that I have a crazy ex who was, as far as I can tell, a closeted gay man, who was notably more attracted to me than his other partner at the time, who has a much more earth-mothery and thus overtly feminine build, and treated her even worse than he treated me, complete with, as I understand it, some level of insults to her attractiveness? Not helpful on that last one's front.)

I spent a little while -- when I wasn't busy cringeing -- familiarising myself with the size acceptance movement, sensitising myself to the issues around weight, developing a nice little head of annoyance about the way weight and health issues are treated. Expanding my awareness a little. Starting to actually pay attention to the cultural chaff that I had sort of ducked much of my life.

Large parts of it are still Bulletins From Outer Space for me, observing the way utterly ordinary-sized people go through the little ritual dance of the "mustn't have cookie, it's shameful" thing before eating, or who feel the need to reduce their weight. And so rarely talk about it in terms of body performance or needs -- not even a "When I weighed ten pounds less I felt better/more energetic/etc." The ritual declarations of hatred for people who aren't engaging in this process. I wind up uncomfortable in these discussions, the rattling off of Weight Watchers stuff, the obligatory offerings of shame, the ... sheer alienation of it all to me, this standard-feminine social ritual that I can't comprehend.

Mostly can't comprehend.

One of those times I was sort of torn and bleeding from being on the edges of one of these things, I had a terrifying moment, looking in the mirror, and going, "I see someone perfectly ordinary in size. And all these ordinary-sized people I know are desperately needing to diet, are concerned about their calorie intake, are doing all these things. What am I not seeing? Do I need to fix something? Do I need to change?" All of that social shame-programming and neuroticism that I missed suddenly manifesting, kicking in, chasing some illusory ideal that goes straight down the road to completely delusional body-image.

My hips finally finished broadening out in my mid-twenties, ish. And occasionally I'm struck with this sense that my body isn't the shape I expect it -- not the wrong shape, but broader, not the narrower sexless form that I had for so long. And I remember my parents telling me that they hit a point where they could gain weight at around thirty, and my breadth of hip is comparable, I think, to my mother's, a sensible place for it to be. It's all bone structure -- with it came a shifting about of flesh that means I'm inadequately padded in a couple of places, especially if I drop a pound or two -- and I recognise that with the rational mind.

The irrational mind looks at me in sweats and tee in the mirrors at the studio where I study tai chi and goes off on this railing panic about my goddamn size. Even when I know -- rationally -- that I could do with gaining a few pounds, at least if I could gain it in my ass. The shame machine is there, trying to make me crazy, hooking into the whole cultural edifice I missed out on having as an active part of my psyche and trying to connect it up to the driving horribleness of personal inadequacy. The irrational mind is convinced that this late-developing hips thing is some sort of crisis. The irrational mind cups a hand over the curve of my belly and says, "This thing didn't used to be round like this, right?"

And I sit here with the delusionality trying to take hold, trying to make me obsess, trying to get more focus than the fleeting and rationally dismissable bits of, "But! But!" that I can blow off by pointing out the pointy bits of discernable bone and other reasonable countermeasures, and I don't damn well know what to do about it. On the one hand, because I haven't been wrestling with this shit all my life, I'm fresh and have a much more developed rational facility for shooting the crazy little voices down and such; on the other hand, I spend a lot of time going "Where the hell did this come from? Makes no sense!" And getting even more uncomfortable around the ritual declarations of bad cookie or the discussions of diets or the evaluation of the caloric counts of various dishes, because rather than simply being outside my comprehension, it hits all those insidious buttons that in my head are the heads of that well-larded slope into complete fucking delusionality.

I can't say there's nothing wrong with my body, but what's wrong with my body has not a damn thing to do with my weight. And I can generally take the rational mind and point that out to myself, firm-like, and not get on the train to crazy about it.

But at the same time ... please don't talk to me about your diet.

Associated recommended reading: The Fantasy of Being Thin.


Trinity said...

"People who felt that the best way to support the heavier/curvier women they preferred was to proclaim them the only real women, capable of handling the affection of a real man without breaking."

Yeah, I always felt weird about that one too. I mean, I do think I have privilege being thin... but I'm a top. It's really not fun for someone to say "You're gonna break!" because, well, first, why is this person presuming that he's getting inside me and allowed to try to *split me in half*, as if not only my worth is bound up in something I don't much want to do, but I won't even have any, because "real sex", which I am, of course, fake and un-female (in a way that doesn't respect, say, my masculinity or genderqueerness, which might be fine) would kill me? Why is that reassuring?

I mean, I get that it can feel good to displace hatred. I know I've said some vicious things about vanilla people -- even about female sexual bottoms when I've felt horribly insecure. So I don't blame them, and if it makes them feel better, why not say it? It really DOES have so little to do with my reality and my body that it makes no sense.

Still, I found that for me with other issues, sneering at more "standard" sexualities really didn't help me regain my pride. It just spread around the same old hate in a new package, maybe a package that was a little helpful to deviants like me, but...

...still, it's not like society loves proud straight female sexual bottoms, either, really. They're sluts or they're whores or they're brainwashed or pandering to men. That doesn't really hit me as the kind of privileged person who oppresses me. It seems like same hate (hatred of females with sexualities of their own, whatever they might be) different day.

And that makes me a little curious. How do we recapture pride when some of this is about fat v. thin, and yet some of it is about hatred of *female bodies* as sexual in any way?

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Thank you for noting that bit -- I'd actually kind of missed how much of that stuff is "Who is permitted to be sexual and how", how much of it is tied up with that sense of ... women's bodies need external sexual verification to be legit.

The enforcement is so *often* sexual-attraction: "that kind of woman won't take the right kind of sex"; "that kind of woman gets the kind of man I want"; "that kind of woman will only get a man I am characterising as defective"; "that kind of woman is only good for this sort of interaction"; "nobody will love you if you look like that". All that bullshit, with sometime bonus other bigotries (like the tacit homophobia and gender-norm-enforcing in 'only a gay man would want you').

I think disentangling the many forces that go into this can only help with, as you say, regaining pride, even if it's a horrible social Gordian knot and too large for any one of us to likely be able to tackle all of it.

Daisy said...

I'm 50, and I've grown to feel entitled to a cookie, dammit, but if I say "Hey, where's the chocolate?" at a gathering of middle-class women of any age, it's often as if I have said "Where's the dick?" or "Where's the pussy?" or something like that. In short, it's DIRTY. I have admitted to a FORBIDDEN DESIRE and it's therefore DIRTY. Seriously, that's the look on their faces; that's the shock I feel in the room. She said she wanted chocolate, OMG! (And yes, I'm chubby but not huge.)

I am always HOPING to give them the feeling that THEY may have permission to eat chocolate, too, but they honestly look too startled and freaked out by admission, to claim the same thing for themselves. Some tentatively will chime in "Sounds good!" but you can see: they feel pretty DARING for chiming it. (see sex analogy, above)

Along these same lines, I think all these FOOD shows on TV, the popular "foodie" explosion, TOP CHEF; all those photo spreads in Food and Wine, Gourmet and SAVEUR magazine, etc... are sort of like porn, then. Right? The FORBIDDEN THING is food, so let's slobber all over it in photographs, pretty coffee-table books and TV shows.

Anyway, you hit a nerve with this post, thanks for sparking conversation and thinking. :)

Dw3t-Hthr said...

A while back on my livejournal I wrote a terribly salacious description of a baked potato ... with butter and cheese and sour cream and scallions and bacon bits ... mmm.

Pretty sure I titled the entry 'food porn'.

And gods forbid you go back for seconds, right? Or don't 'Oh, maybe just a little, no a little less than that' when someone's cutting a piece of pie for you.

And I've been meaning to make cookies for days. Maybe I'll get off my ass and do that.

After I have my spaghetti. WITH CHEESE. AND LOTS OF BUTTER.

CrackerLilo said...

I am a heavier/curvier woman, and a bottom for the most part, and I don't like that "real woman" idea. What I'm going for is a society where we're all seen as "real women."

I have to say, however, that I would probably not have been as sympathetic to thinner womens' concerns had I not, well, fallen in love and lived with one. And I still sometimes want to say, "Don't complain to *me* about not finding womens' pants that your snaky little hips don't swim in!" Makes me wonder where the hope for straight women is.

The worst is that sometimes, a man will try and "complement" us both by what we call "Frankensteining" us. He'll say the perfect woman would have her waist, abs, and skin, my tits, ass, and hair, etc. Why can't he say women of all sizes have beautiful parts, or are just plain beautiful?

Gotta be a better way...

CrackerLilo said...

Oh! I forgot to mention--we *both* get self-conscious in the store, skinny little her and chubby little me, when someone looks at our carts a little too closely! Because either way, some idiot sometimes *does*! I just try not to do that to anyone else.

*rolls eyes to heaven*

Dw3t-Hthr said...

What I'm going for is a society where we're all seen as "real women."

WORD. I wish.

The worst is that sometimes, a man will try and "complement" us both by what we call "Frankensteining" us. He'll say the perfect woman would have her waist, abs, and skin, my tits, ass, and hair, etc. Why can't he say women of all sizes have beautiful parts, or are just plain beautiful?

Because that wouldn't be CREEPY enough.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

And by creepy I mean -- gods forbid that a woman be able to be attractive as a whole thing, or complete of herself without needing some external person to say, "You know, if you rearranged your body parts and swapped some with your wife ...."

CrackerLilo said...

That's it. CREEPY! It's not like it happens all the time, but you can see it does enough that we have a word for it.

L'Ailee once had a very charming straight male student who looked at the pair of us together and finally said, "You're both so pretty, but it's such different *kinds* of pretty." He had been bemoaning his single status. I told him he wouldn't be single for long with that attitude. And I was right!

If there were more like him in this world--not just men, but women too--it would be a nicer place, definitely.