Monday, January 10, 2011
memoirs of a fat woman
I have been thinking about fatness, and of being fat as part of my experience of womanhood. The thought came to me after a shower, I was thinking of gardening and some exciting opportunities that I might have this summer to do some community gardening. I thought about my little trial garden last summer and digging out the turf, and pushing dirt in a borrowed wheel barrow. It was hard work, and it occurred to me that it would require some physical fitness on my part to be an effective community gardener. This was not such an unwelcome or intimidating thought because I feel like we (my partner and I) are at a place where we can incrementally make space for giving towards our physical health and wellness.
My contemplations were bitter sweet as I remembered a summer when I was about 22 years old, I was home in small town Ontario from University and wanted to get “in shape” so I took to running early in the morning around country blocks. I loved the soft dirt on the side of the road and fresh air, and even though the burning sensation in my lungs and throat was hell, there was something life giving about challenging myself and being able every morning to run for longer and longer increments. The nature was amazing. I would run to our Church building out in the country, and do my stretches by the entrance while watching the horses grazing in the fields next to the church compound. It all was mostly good.
A thought came to me and rather surprised me as I stood in my towel thinking about revisiting a life of running, I thought; but what will happen to my fat body? I don’t want to lose my body!
Before I drive you to dismiss this little essay on the gloriousness of being fat as obnoxious or inauthentic, I should express that it has been a long and dreadful journey towards receiving the gift of loving and being rather passionate about my body. I think it has to do with the mysterious healing walkabout that I have found myself on, drawn here by a Creator who knit me in my mother’s womb. So I am grateful to be here.
The deep interest I take in my womanhood extends into a deep interest in the body that encases that womanhood. I remember taking a Women’s Studies course in my fifth year of an extended undergrad experience. I took it long distance from a wonderful woman professor out West. Talking to this Prairie woman on the phone a couple times a week was perhaps one of the most transformative experiences of my life. One essay I read in that course articulated what my own relationship to my body had been in a way that for me was releasing. There was discussion of how we women try to escape our own bodies, and how the disordered obsession of losing weight is one of the most telling expressions of an internalized oppression.
Now this may not be everyone’s experience, maybe to some counting calories and trying to shed pounds is a life giving thing, but I know for myself by the time I was reading these words I had lived a young adulthood that included the tortured existence of wanting to alter my body. So it was refreshing, to hear a different perspective than the noisy dominant cultural message that demanded of me that I had to be thin in order to be beautiful.
I love being and feeling beautiful. So this is far from a “the outside doesn’t matter, it’s what’s inside that counts” appeal. I love pretty things, it comes in waves but I do love clothes and colours. I think I also love being sexy but I’m still reflecting on what that means because sexiness is valorized culturally to such a degree that it becomes difficult to identify an inwardly resonating meaning and experience of sexiness. But when I have experienced/felt authentic and good sexiness I have loved that place. I think that something just as unhealthy as trying to escape my body is denying the reality of my body, and I have lived in both spaces; spaces of self-depreciating attempts of escape, and spaces of oblivious and neglectful denial. In moments of weakness I do revisit those spaces from time to time, but they are not my home anymore.
When I refer to myself as a fat woman, it occurred to me that in this culture, being fat, or being described as fat is not a very neutral thing. If I call a woman a red-head for example, it’s just the colour of her hair. If I call a woman fat, it is almost an abusive word. So I could say full figured, or curvy, but the thing is I am fat, and I don’t mean that in a self-depreciating way, any more than if I said I was thin. I am not the fattest or obese, but I do feel like I’m a bit fat.
I am starting to learn the difference between beauty and culturally constructed standards of beauty. There is beauty in the latter but beauty itself cannot be reduced to or totally trapped within it. So while my beauty and that of many women and men may or may not fit into these cultural standards of beauty, it remains just the same.
Culturally defined beauty is a funny thing, and somehow I have always found myself a bit out of favour. I was a thin little girl and quite late to blossom, in a culture where curves were very much celebrated by everyone and most importantly boys. I was still a bit thin when I came to the west but in my late adolescent years began to develop curves and more curves that bring me where I am today. I remember being frustrated at feeling a bit invisible next to flat bellied girls as a young adult in college. The parts of me that are competitive and prideful, resented this deeply. The part of me that allows my own value to be dictated by the social attention was wounded and tortured by this and thus the running and horse watching in the country.
But the gift in having endured this kind of unfavourable relationship to culturally defined beauty is that it has drawn me into something of a Dante’s Inferno, where I have undergone a kind of purging that has forced me to come to face with my own as well as the collective fallacies and idolatries* that inform a disordered experience of beauty.
Mount Kilimanjaro on the border of Tanzania and Kenya is beautiful. It is as old as memory and has been crafted by the Ancient of Days and placed in this bosom of Creation. Should the nations and civilizations that arrange themselves around this mountain begin to think it hideous and dangerous and wrong, and then the other people groups that rise centuries later, consider the mountain a wonder to be worshiped, the truth remains that the beauty of the mountain has remained untouched and intact throughout all of these paradigms. Such might be said for the untouchable beauty of the woman’s body that has expressed itself in many colours, waves, wrinkles, folds and contours since the beginning of time.
I knew I had entered into a season of newness in terms of my relationship with my body this summer when I was letting myself float in the waters of the Lake Huron. I had avoided the beach for almost a couple of summers prior and had not been in a bathing suit for maybe longer. I was waiting to be worthy of living by losing the parts of myself that now seemed to be very much in harmony with the beautiful Huron. Folds and waves, and bulges of water now massaged and cradled me; it was like God telling me that this was where I did indeed belong. Let me say that again: My good Creator was whispering to me through the swelling and resting waves of Lake Huron that I belonged.
Belonging is something quite different from a token categorical addendum on America’s Next Top Model known as “plus size model”. Belonging means having a worthy affirmed place and space that is deeply in touch with the fullness and facets of who you are.
It was extra wonderful that I had managed to score a vintage inspired one piece for $20 dollars at the Great Canadian Super Store. I thought it was reminiscent of the 50’s pinup couture that you see on those old seaside pictures plump American girls with the red lipstick and polka dot hair bands.
Returning back to the opening scene of me standing in my towel, the more I thought about it, the more it became clear why I would be hesitant to lose my fat body. Now it is not predetermined that as we begin to pay more attention to our diet and seek out opportunities within our own lifestyle to be active that I will definitely lose my fatness.
Here I would like to mention mention something about my mother that came to me that afternoon in my towel; my mother is a very slender and beautiful woman. My mother came from a family of eleven siblings. There is diversity is shapes and sizes in all my aunts but there is definitely a slender gene that some of her siblings have inherited. My father has all brothers and it is hard to locate a definite body type from memory, but I remember it being said that women in the homestead of my paternal relatives where naturally heavier.
My mother and father had all daughters and we are varied too in our body shapes but more dominantly curvy. So it may perhaps be revealed further into my journey weather my body is the result of a natural gene inherited from my paternal woman relatives or the result of paying little attention to my diet in a context where foods had a lot of sugars and additives and also taking leave of exercise for period of time. I feel it is perhaps both in varying degrees.
But regardless of the contributing factors, normative or misdirected that formed my body, nevertheless it continues to persist in its beauty. Beauty and perfection are two different things, and I am not trying to pass one for the other. There are times that I am frustrated by my body as I am by other parts of my womanhood such as my mothering, but I continue to love and hold both passionately close to my center, they are not perfect, but they are sacred.
On that afternoon I wanted this to be known of my body. That it has been my lived experience of womanhood and has served me tirelessly. This body has suffered and borne joys. It has been as a fat young woman that I have accomplished some significant work for my family and my community. Quite alive and active in my body is a kind of a special brain. It was as a fat expectant woman almost two years ago that I completed a job interview at a down town shelter in significant labour pain, I wanted to stop but my body endured and did not fail me, later that evening in the same room where I stood in my towel, my body,in two pushes, with no medicinal assistance, gave life to a healthy male child of eight pounds and four ounces, I am glad that my full thighs received him. I can't believe that he was created inside this body, my glorious son! My body gives care and makes love and carries me here and there all day long, around the kitchen, on and off the bus, in and out of meetings. So standing in my towel after an afternoon shower, I consider with a sense of appreciation my fat woman body that encases the Image of God, and also encases me.