Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Issues! Get your issues right here!

No Thanks! I'm on a diet.
I've done a lot of thinking about this, especially lately. There have been many, many Paleo lady bloggers talking about this. I don't know if it's just the perfect storm, or what. But seriously. The unattainable (by most) feminine ideal has obviously been percolating through more than a few heads lately. And for good reason. 

I believe in health. Health is the reason I am careful about what I put into my body. Feeling like you're worth it shouldn't be a hurdle, but sometimes, it is.

I ran across a post at one of my favorite sites, The Hairpin, today. It isn't a "Paleo post", but the spirit is the same. Love your body. Respect and care for it. Give it what it needs, and it will give you what you need: a place for your mind to exist, and your soul to inhabit. There are as many different magical formulas for this as there are people in the universe. When I get into a weird obsessive rut, it helps me to realize that all I can do is my best, and worrying about the diameter of my upper arms is strictly a First World Problem. And if someone out there in my daily travels has an issue with it, well, it's their issue.

Of course, they might say something about it. That happens occasionally. These people tend to fall into three categories.

1. Men.
2. Small children.
3. The well-meaning.

So men. HI! You guys (in general) have had many things to say about my body (and the bodies of every other woman I know) over the years. Some of them were even positive, in a non-demeaning way. Thanks for that, and for using your words in complete sentences. However, points are automatically deducted if whatever you wanted to share was screamed from a moving vehicle or contained some kind of animal noise, or if you drooled. To those guys who called me Double Bubble in high school? I wonder if my wish that you would all die of chronic dysentery ever came true. Ahem.

If you're paying a compliment, sincerity counts. Saying that you're concerned about my health when you are actually concerned about what your friends will think about the size of my derriere? Yes, women have figured that one out. It's like that line about going to Hooters because they have the best chicken wings. But I digress.

A couple of personal examples. I used to love to go out dancing. Sadly, men who like to go out dancing (clarification- straight men) typically think that women at clubs are "on the market". So when someone at the bar offered me a drink, I declined politely. He asked me what my problem was, and I said, truthfully: "Sorry, I have a boyfriend, and I don't accept drinks from guys I don't know." Which is when he said to me, in what I presume was his most withering tone, "Fat Bitch!"

I was appalled, and angry. Normally, I would have just taken off.  But from somewhere inside me, a voice roared, "That's right! Fat Bitch who TURNED YOU DOWN." He was the one who ended up slinking off.   
 As someone who is typically tongue-tied and furious when I am confronted like that- it was a brief and shining moment, let me tell you!

On the other hand, I would say the most positive (and amusing) interaction I have ever had in this arena with a man I didn't know, happened on my trip to Morocco.

Now, if you have never been to Morocco, it is beautiful, exotic, and foreign. It is also like walking through a construction site in the 1970's. The verbal sexual harassment was constant, and completely unrelenting. I was stopped at a store in the souk, looking at heaven knows what. If I know myself, it was probably a purse. Two men: one older, and one younger, were standing nearby, and the young one (A modern hipster in skinny jeans and huge sunglasses) started in. "Hey Baby!" and on, and on. I am assuming the gentleman he was with was his father. He stood there in his long white robe, looked at his son disapprovingly for a minute, and held up a hand for silence. Then he turned to me, smiled, and said, "You have a beautiful nose, Mademoiselle." And looked at his gaping son as if to say, "There, THAT'S how it's done!" And with a regal wave, they walked away. And to this day, that remains the only compliment on my nose I have ever received. Originality (not to mention class) counts for a lot.

Young children: they are curious, and they have questions. They actually hear a lot of things, and see even more. They know their mommies are dieting. I've had them pat me experimentally, to see what I feel like. It's strange and humbling to have children ask you about your body. If there's anything that dredges up every body image issue you've ever had, that would be it.They ask me why I am fat, and I explain that everyone is different- some people are short, some people are bigger than other people- the world would be boring if we were all the same, right? (Luckily, I have never had one disagree!)

I've read them books about ice cream, only to have them raise their hands and say, "Ice cream makes you fat." It's happened so often, I have a canned response. "A little bit of ice cream is OK. That's why it's called a treat! But too much of ANYTHING probably isn't good for you. Has anyone here ever eaten too much of something? How did that make your body feel?" Little kids want to understand and discuss it. Which would occasionally get me into situations when five-year-olds would discuss my body dispassionately, right in front of me. Little girls arguing about the size of your ass is something everyone should have to remain poker-faced through, at least once.

Little Girl 1: "Lady Grok, your butt is big!"
Little Girl 2: (indignantly) "No it is not! Lady Grok's butt is just the right size for Lady Grok!"
Me: (holding back violent laughter) "Thank you, ladies."
Little Girl 2: "No, really! I saw a lady who had a really BIG bottom when I went with my mommy to get a pedicure! It was like...like this!!!!" And she held out her hands to each side, as far as they would go. And then continued, "If your bottom was like that, you would have to have a SPECIAL CHAIR." 

When girls get a little older, they have learned that it's not polite to ask. They also start to internalize the constant scrutiny around them. The result? Once upon a time, I had to try to reason with 8-9 year old girls in a class I was teaching. We were learning about internal organs, and traced the outlines of their bodies on butcher paper, so we could cut out paper organs and place them in the correct spots on the drawing. One girl traced her friend's outline a few inches bigger than she actually was- just to be obnoxious. Once I had refereed THAT, the same girl re-drew her own waist so it was actually too narrow for the child-sized organs to fit inside. 

This same girl talked constantly about the fat content of the snacks we had, and mentioned dieting all the time- and bullied the other little girls about what they ate, too.  After biting my tongue for awhile, I sat down with four of the girls and had a chat. I had to be hyper-vigilant about my own personal body issues the entire time. I think my main points were 1. You need these organs to be healthy and survive. If there were no room for them, what do you think would happen to you? 2. Is it better to me thin and sick, or to be a little bigger and healthy, with a body that works? 3. Aren't there more exciting and interesting things to talk about besides how many calories are in everything?  Then we talked about how much space our brain takes up in our heads. Would we want a smaller brain so our head could be smaller? 

It starts way earlier than we would think, and it's just so insidious and so, so sad. And we all know where it comes from. 

And as for the "well-meaning"- "You have such a pretty face..." (strategic pause)

That just sucks. It sucks!! I want to chisel exactly HOW much it sucks into the side of a mountain.A tall one.


  1. I agree with the sincerity part. Even though I know most people mean well they do come off sounding fake.

    I applaud your ability to make a teachable moment out of the young girls insecurities. I'm sure she'll remember the point you were making.

    btw I'm glad you started a blog. I have been getting a kick out of your posts!

  2. Thanks Juju! I am enjoying getting back into writing again. I missed it!

    I hope they do remember it. Living where I do, there just aren't a lot of bigger people, so I try my best to be a good example. And yes, I still laugh to myself when I remember the "relative butt size" conversation.