Unless it comes up in conversation, I forget that I have a body and that other people can see it. While we’re standing there talking in person, there’s only the stuff that’s me recognizing the stuff that’s them. It’s one of those areas where my brain feels like it has gray cotton in it and I can’t seem to think about it as sharply as everyone else. Even though of course I have a body and of course it looks like something, it startles me every time it comes up.
Do you know what you really look like? Is it possible to know? I don’t even know whether or not it matters. What matters, since we are social animals, is how other people respond. I’m a half-blind thing flying around using sonar to form a composite picture of myself based on people’s responses. That feedback changes the landscape, sometimes in a good way and sometimes not.
Early on, I gathered that I was tall. And younger than I felt. Strangers commented on my freakishly thin frame. People would say “You have great skin” and almost twenty years later I still don’t know what that means, but people said it. From the sound of things, I had no boobs in the place where boobs were supposed to sit. My eyes were dark brown, mean and black sometimes. And there was all this hair, long thick hair that people rudely defended and chained themselves to like an endangered tree any time I started to cut it off.
When you are young and tall and thin and you don’t need a bra, clothes shopping is quick. Wait for Ross to have a sale, go try on a bunch, take home the ones that are cute and comfortable. The time saved while shopping must have freed up a ton of extra energy because lots of seemingly unrelated things were easy. Interview for job? Hired. Interview for scolarship? Get scholarship. Say stuff in class? Good grades in class. Thirsty? A coke magically appears.
I avoided sex-type of attention, but beyond well meaning flirty boys and overtly lecherous professors, there is a whole friendly world that’s glad to see the tall, thin young girl with long hair.
In my mid-twenties I still hadn’t caught on, but something about the amused way people listened was frustrating. I just wanted to argue with creativity and logic, not long hair and lip gloss. I bought overalls. Cut my hair. Wore glasses. A little weight gain. Didn’t matter. Young thin female can do almost any awful or unfashionable thing and people are still willing to help, glad you stopped by, can I get you a Coke? But I’m the one with gray cotton in my head, right, so I thought I was genuinely persuasive, that the world was mostly fair, and that everyone walked through the world asking and getting.
Then I got pregnant and the sonar went nuts — feedback overload. Suddenly I was extremely aware of having a physical body but it wasn’t bad. Every way my body stretched and swelled was evidence of the greatest show on earth.
After the baby was out, the body that was left behind was weird. Things were out of place, and some stuff had expanded in ways that didn’t seem right. No matter, I was still ME, floating around doing whatever without thinking about my body as much more than a vehicle. People wanted to talk to the baby more than boring old me anyhow.
One fine day I was in the mall, and I cheerfully asked the Mrs.Fields guy for two peanut butter cookies, please and thank you. He picked them out of the display case and told me the price. I counted out my cash and realized ohhh wait, I don’t have quite enough, argh so embarrassing, I’m really sorry! And then — you won’t believe this. He put one of the cookies back. Away from me. It was very confusing. Wait, what are you doing? But I’m being friendly! Why aren’t you saying don’t worry about it? What has been going on all these years? Because, but, wait. This means… oh god.
That was the moment. My time of free-cookie level cuteness was over. This concludes your twenties,
young lady, thank you and we hope you enjoyed your time in first class western society.
I was invited (quietly, via sonar) to join The Association of Regular Females, which is only for women who are unhappy with their physical bodies. Member benefits include hearing about diet plans, being invited to go shopping, and not having female strangers walk up and say “Oh my god, I hate you.”
As a 30-something with a child, I was also given the Invisibility Shield which allows me to walk around in public unnoticed by men.
But still, I live in my own head and I forget. Time happened, another baby happened and again during that pregnancy I was fascinated by the bigger me, distorted by a growing kid. Pregnant in the summer is glorious — I was free to wear little dresses and a bathing suit without worrying about having a bit of a gut. But then that baby was born, and the fun of people asking about my pregnancy went away. They still asked, but it wasn’t fun anymore. And every time someone asks it startled me to remember that other people could see my body; I’m not just a floating head taking my kids to class or my dog to the park. I’d say oh, no, I’m not pregnant, and then they would writhe around on the ground apologizing and run away to hide in shame for asking and I’d feel bad for creating this awkward social situation. It was my fault for having this shape.
I cannot be the first person who ever considered having another child just so it would stop being awful when people asked about my pregnant belly? Of course, that’s a temporary solution. The key would be to stay pregnant constantly until you look obviously too old to have babies, at which point people will think you have some sort of tumor and probably won’t ask about it. But Kevin said no, that’s not a “good enough reason” to bring a child into the world. Whatever. Fine. My next idea was to agree with people so they wouldn’t be embarrassed. Why yes, I am pregnant! When am I due? I’m due June 14th. Wait, is that 11 months away? Sorry, I’m not good at dates. I scrapped that idea. Too complicated to do the rolling math.
Then I hit on the perfect response: the next time someone asks “When are you due?” I am going to tell them “Next week, actually. Almost there!” and then — are you ready for this? — they will be amazed and will compliment me on how little I am. Everyone wins!
But no one has asked since last spring. I have finally gained enough that it’s clear that I’m the boring, moral failing, American suburbanite kind of fat and not the exciting, miraculous human pregnancy kind of fat. Or if they do think I’m pregnant, they suspect it’s triplets and one is tragically gestating in each of my upper arms and it’s too sad so no one is willing to ask about that.