Today I feel fat. Sausage-esque, puffy, bursting at seams I didn’t even know this clothing had. My breasts are lumpy and my upper arms look like they belong to a weightlifter who long since abandoned the gym for more hedonistic pursuits. I retreat to the bathroom every five minutes to tug at the waist of my skirt or the shoulders of my button-down in the hopes that angling my clothing this way or that will hide the horrors of my physical form. I’m trying to give myself all the usual pep talks, which involve explaining away the feeling with PMS, latke-hangovers, and birth control, but they are mostly failing. I have even tried to invoke that old treatment adage that “fat is not a feeling,” but I never believed that one. I think fat is absolutely a feeling, one that is accompanied by a physical sensation, a la anxiety. I can even describe it for you: it feels like nausea, anger, and a crawling sensation on the skin. Jumpiness and lethargy at the same time, with a dash of agoraphobia. It is miserable, and none of my usual ammo seems to be working. Nothing, except reminding myself of the fact that I’ve outlawed “fat talk” and backsliding into anorexic thought patterns for myself.
There's something kind of nice about using the word 'real' to describe something in a time when so much seems unreal. But using the word 'real' to describe women, to me, is all wrong. Well I should say, it's gone wrong. While the phrase 'real women' is used in a number of context to acknowledge the rich diverseness among women, thanks to our appearance obsessed culture, it usually comes back to how they look. Based on this idea a real woman can be short, tall, plus-size, average, black, brown, white, middle-aged, senior and so on. Sounds great in its own way but unfortunately it's become a catch-all phrase, or label as I like to call it, used to refer to any woman that isn't youthful or of fashion model proportions.
A few months ago I went to the art installation of The New School University student, Nuralia. It was called, Don't Be A Puppet / Love Yourself, and delved into the topic of eating disorders, specifically Bulimia. The first part of the installation had real online posts from people on eating disorder forums.
“You’re so thin. Are you a dancer?” a fellow intern asked after looking me up and down. I had just turned 21 and was starting my first summer internship in the accessories closet at a major women’s magazine. I was awkward. I was going through overwhelming life changes. I was sad. I was emaciated.
My body–or what was left of it_soon became the envy of fellow interns. Obsessively counting calories and finding new ways to limit food intake gave me a false sense of power over my life, which I felt was quickly spiraling out of control. I didn’t have a trust fund or designer clothing, but I had my body, a body I would try to starve into perfection.
Spending 14-hour days running errands and organizing the fashion closet accelerated my weight loss. I pushed through headaches and dizziness to haul heavy bags across town and carefully photograph and organize jewelry, shoes, and handbags. At times, I almost forgot that I was running on a sugar-free Jello, coffee, and a bagel with the dough ripped out of it. I used to call my sister in a panic when I ate a granola bar.
Every day the word “fat” shows up and it is always uninvited. When I was last home from school in June, I brought up Kim Kardashian during a family dinner. I hadn’t even completed my thought about how disgusting I found the media’s emphasis on her weight gain during her pregnancy, before my mother interrupted me: “Yeah. She got really fat.” I paused and looked at my father, hoping that he would start a riot on my behalf; he just mumbled his medical opinion under his breath, saying, “You know, it’s very unhealthy for the baby to gain that much weight. Could be Eclampsia, which is very serious.”
I'm never been someone who uses makeup to any real extent. Actually, I never learned how to apply it when the pre-teen window of opportunity to do so was wide open. As a result, it rarely dawns on me to put any on before I leave the house and truth be told I'm just a bit lazy about it. A little of blush, a little mascara, some clear lip gloss. Most of what I own is probably past its use date. Let me be clear, I take no issue with women wearing makeup nor do I believe that she must have a poor body or self image just because she uses it. I get it, some women just really like it. When I can remember to put it on I like it too...sometimes. I personally know quite a few women who rely on their makeup routine to the extent that they won't leave the house without it. That's where the title of this blog comes from, you know that commonly uttered expression, 'I have to put my face on'.
“Damn, heifer…” As I exit an upscale supermarket last week, my body size is apparently so remarkable that it is mentioned, if barely audibly, by the store’s security guard.
I should be horribly offended. Right? That’s what my friends say when I recount the incident to them later. “What did you DO?” they ask, wide-eyed and furious by proxy. And though I appreciate their outrage, the truth is that I did nothing. But my lack of response, contrary to what one might think, didn’t stem from feeling intimidated or embarrassed. Actually, I felt little at all, and I consider my indifference the proud result of therapy, practice at loving myself, and ironically, weight gain.
I remember looking in the full-length mirror, dressed up for a nightclub and saying to my twin sister, “I’m so beautiful. I’m so hot." I was probably around 16-years-old. My beauty felt like an achievement, like something I was really proud of, like an accomplishment. I still question my fascination with my appearance and don’t find that it’s a topic that is discussed amongst women, even in feminist circles. It’s very common to hear about women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies; women’s positive interest with their appearance is rarely discussed.
It feels like a taboo subject, something I shouldn't be discussing. Ok, I know what you're thinking—most women aren’t happy with the way they look like and I should be celebrating it rather than analyzing it, but I think that what appears on the surface as something really great can also feel rather complicated on the inside.
You may have heard or read that Turkish Airlines implemented a ban on wearing red lipstick or nail polish because it was said to undermine the “visual integrity” of the airline. Whether it does or doesn't do this, it's pretty clear that red isn't associated with purity in this situation. I disagree with the ban for my own feminist reasons but always think it is wise to consider the cultural context in which such decisions are made (and in this case overturned as a result of pressure). In my search for other articles about Turkish Airlines I found a second and contrasting example of the use of red (and flight attendants, coincidentally).
Whenever I catch a glance of myself in a store window as I walk past, I'm surprised. I've been an amputee for thirteen years – ever since I was diagnosed with bone cancer at age fifteen. Still, in my head, I think I walk just like everyone else. The full-length windows show me differently. I have a slight limp. My hip dips as I walk. My prosthetic socket is visible through the side of my jeans and squishes up one butt cheek. I'm fascinated by this stranger everyone else sees. Even now, there are so few differently-able people in the media that I will sometimes walk back and forth trying to image what I look like to other people. A process that becomes more complicated when I am wearing shorts or a dress.
I dislike the way my prosthetic leg looks most when it is off. I roll it under the bed at night. I cover it with a towel by the pool. It looks lifeless, dead. I am reminded that one day it will be left behind when I die. It will be someone's job to take a piece of me to be dismantled and donated to landmine victims overseas. The actual appearance of the titanium pole, plastic foot, and springs don't bother me as much as the way other people stare. I can feel it when you touch me. I can also feel the way a friend freezes the first time they do it and are afraid they've done something wrong. Their body language communicates their debate of whether or not to take their hand away.
In this culture of images, our currency is made up of envious or admiring glances. Advertising encourages us to be the center of attention but only for the right reasons. I've become accustom to the way people look at my body as they try to figure out is wrong. I'm not used to the nasty looks people give me when I am with my girlfriend.
When I first came out a year ago, a female friend commented, “so you like ugly girls.” She immediately tried to pass it off as a joke. We were flipping through Facebook profiles of the girls I had crushes on. In some ways, I am so grateful to her for her insensitive slip-up. Her accidental honesty made me realize I was trying to blend in and pass for a beauty norm I didn't even find attractive. Real punishments exist for falling off the grid of accepted standards. Yet, real freedom comes from trusting your own vision.