electric boogaloo

Weight Weight, don’t tell me.

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.

posted by electric boogaloo in Journal and have Comments (11)

11 Responses to “Weight Weight, don’t tell me.”

  1. I am often unaware of my body.

    I’ve never really been thin though. :/ Although looking at pictures I was a lot thinner than I thought I was in high school.

    Which seems to contradict what I said above– but the thing is, my conception of my body hasn’t much changed since then but I care a lot less about wearing a bikini and my body HAS changed…

    Blah.
    Looking forward to later post.

  2. Wow. Something to chew on. It must have changed more gradually for me. What I’ve noticed more is the disappearance of the unwelcome attention from men. (I have bigger boobs, so maybe that explains it.)

    Of course one ingredient of that well-rewarded appearance is ‘white’ skin. My son is Black and Latino, very cute, and 10 years old. His appearance is going to change from adorable kid to ‘dangerous teen boy’, perhaps very suddenly, perhaps soon. I’m worried about how that will feel to him.

  3. electric boogaloo says:

    Yeah, Sue, that unwanted attention thing could be a whole other post. I glossed over it because it’s still uncomfortable to think about.

    I’m still re-reading and editing/adding to this one. Interesting to think about how the same shift applies to guys.

  4. Anne says:

    Ugh, I know what you mean about the “amusement” in people’s faces (usually older men) when they would listen to me. I actually just left a job last year (in my late 30’s!) because my boss, an early baby boomer was such a complete male chauvinist–I think that’s the first time I’ve ever had to actually write that word, is that the way it’s spelled? Although I was in my mid-30’s and had almost a decade of experience in my field, he still treated me like a student the entire time I worked for him, and made comments about women in front of me that still, 13 months later, have me shaking my head in disbelief.

    Admittedly, it has been nice in the past to be treated well, given extra cookies and so on, due to my appearance but frankly, I’m happy that my “child invisibility shield” has allowed me to be less on-guard all the time now. I’ll sacrifice the extra cookies for the being-left-alone.

  5. Marcia says:

    LOVED this. Thank you for sharing it. I have had a similar experience.

    I am conscious of my mixed up feelings – and about training myself in self-love – regarding my “pregnant” belly. When people ask me about my due date, I smile, pat my belly a few times and say, “nope – It’s all me”.

  6. Ellie says:

    I liked this reflection. I think it is very difficult for us to truly know how others see us, or what they actually see. Whenever someone takes an iPhone video of me with the kids I find it terribly disconcerting. “is that really what I look like?” I’ll whisper to my daughter and, bemused, she’ll say “yes.”

    My issue (situation? Reality?) wasn’t the thin girl happily given free cookies; it was the beautiful girl women didn’t want to be friends with and men … Yeah. Men – always married, usually middle-aged, always white – very definitely wanted to be ‘friends’ with. Which has always been such a weird strange disconcerting sad thing to carry.

    Just a few weeks ago at church one of the older ladies (someone I know from various committee work who always seemed very nice and genteel) came up to my 13yo daughter after the service and said to her: “darlin’, you are going to Stop Traffic in a few years oh my goodness I just had to tell you that: you will Stop Traffic.”

    And my daughter, staring, not sure it was okay to laugh, stuttered out, “o-o-okay?!”

    And I hate that it’s begun, becuase I have always had to live through that too, women telling me things like that.

    Oh the belly. The post-prgnancy baby belly that doesn’t ever really go away. I remember being a baby-mad 8yo, asking one of my mother’s friends when she was due and ehr assuring me that she wasn’t having a baby. And I was utterly mortified. I wanted to melt into nonexistance.

    But just recently at church there was a woman who sure did look pregnant: her belly was growing appropriately over time and finally I asked … And it turned out that no, no she wasn’t pregnant but she was so very grateful that people asked her if she was because it made her realize that maybe her belly was a little something more than a normal mama belly and went to the doctor. Turned out she had an enormous tumor.

    Apologies for rambling; you inspired me :-) thanks for this post, thought provoking indeed ….

  7. Patti D. H. says:

    Just wait until you get your first grey hairs creeping in. Then you get “age-ism” on top of “weight-ism”. I’ve been told all my life how I look much younger than my age, so I’m still trying to adjust to this new phenomenon of of people treating me in a different (i.e., negative) way when they now perceive me as being “old” because I’ve let my dyed hair grow out enough for the encroaching grey to show. :-(

  8. Such a timely post. Thank you for sharing. (and in response to Patti D.’s comment— YIKES I got greys too! :( Sadly, I started sprouting them at the unnatural age of 13 and my three pregnancies have only added streaks like wildfire to the few original strands.

  9. Petra says:

    Hi, a bit off topic, but just want to let you know I featured you shop on my blog (http://bagofpretty.blogspot.hu/2012/09/clever-clog-or-nerd.html). You are funny:) Thank you.

  10. Ann says:

    This makes me think of Liz Lemon’s boyfriend doctor on 30 Rock who was so ridiculously good-looking that he just automatically received all sorts of perks that he was completely oblivious to – and incidentally, was completely incompetent, never having had to actually perform. My husband teases me that I have this same dynamic – I’m tall, white, thin, and for years had long hair. I cut it all off (*really* short) last year, and was shocked (SHOCKED!) when the construction worker didn’t hold the gate for me as I ran towards him… and about a million other little changes and slights. Women really liked the short hair, though.
    As for me, it’s good to be more aware of the inherent privilege of looking a certain way. But like Liz Lemon’s boyfriend, I find it hard to give up the notion that people are just nice! Or flexible! And they’d be that way to anybody… Right? After all, it’d be a better world if everybody got the free cookie.

  11. squirl says:

    The best thing would be if no one would judge/comment. The next best thing would be that we didn’t give a crap about their judgments/comments. :-)

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