It’s been a light blogging summer. I think I’ve had trouble because I’ve been in my own head a lot more than usual. My usual blogging modus operandi is to take my personal life experience and try to tie it in with politics or pop culture or theory; it’s pretty standard personal-is-political type feminism 101 shit. But lately I can’t seem to get out of my own head and see how what I’m feeling and experiencing isn’t just my own idiosyncratic drama, but part of larger patterns of social interaction.
I got married about three weeks ago. I didn’t know that getting married was going to cause me body anxiety. Body anxiety so intense I’m not even really sure that I’ve fully processed it. As a fat chick, I am well aware of the MUSTLOSEWEIGHTBEFOREWEDDING cultural imperative. I was aware of this before I ever knew what Fat Acceptance was. And I knew before I ever got engaged that I would be doing no such thing. Frankly, I wasn’t even tempted. I know people who have gone on serious diets in the year or so before they get married, women who have attended “boot camp,” and companies who have made a lot of money off of fueling those anxieties. I wanted no part of it. When the woman who helped me try on a dress asked me if I was planning on losing weight before the wedding, I said no. In fact, I started weighing myself to make sure I wasn’t losing (or gaining) weight because I wanted the dress to fit, I did not want to have to get alterations (due to laziness).
So, I was pretty fine with my body. Fine with being a fat bride. Fine with the fact that I was wearing a strapless dress which showed off my, yes, arms — which are considered unacceptably fat by many people. Until it actually happened.
Suddenly, my appearance was way more important than it had ever been. I’m certain that I couldn’t count how many people complimented me on my appearance. On my dress, my shoes, my hair, my makeup, my jewelry. I did not get any criticism, thank God. I only got tons and tons of compliments from everyone there. And the compliments keep rolling in on the photos I posted on Facebook. I was about to say “not that I mind them,” but the fact is, I do mind them. Not because I think people are ill-intentioned or because I find compliments embarrassing. But because it was so apparent to me that my looking beautiful, or sexy, or whatever, was an important component of the event. It was a feature. My appearance was part of the entertainment, and so matter what I did, if I went along with the cultural prescription by getting dolled up, I was going to be rewarded with oohs and ahhs.
My partner? I didn’t hear anyone say anything about his appearance. Even though he looked terribly handsome. I didn’t see any comments on Facebook. And I asked him just now if anyone complimented his appearance and he said “I don’t recall.” The truth is that it didn’t matter what he looked like. That stark difference, between my appearance mattering a lot and his mattering almost not at all, kind of made me want to be invisible. Because weddings are a pageant and, little did I realize until I got there, I was on display. And I was not doing anything. I was not singing, or acting, or giving a persuasive speech, or trying a case, or teaching a class, or any of the other things I usually do when I am standing in front of a group of people and everyone is looking at me.
And I admit, I wanted to look beautiful. I wanted to look sexy. What surprised me was how important it was to everyone else that I looked beautiful and sexy. That mattered to them. That made them happy. That made them feel good. Not only was it hard to take the compliments because I was surprised by the volume of them, but because I had trouble believing them. Am I insecure? Sure. But I’m also realistic. And I know that I live in a fat-hating culture where being fat is not okay and being unabashedly fat is worse.
So, I will admit, as embarrassing as this is, that when people tell me they like they way I look, I secretly want to just not be noticed. Because the more people notice my appearance, the more I worry that they are thinking something like, “she is really pretty. It’s too bad she’s fat.” Which is, in fact, something that multiple people have said about me before. Like I was a disappointment to the human race by not living up to my god-given potential to be fuckable.
So there’s that. Then there’s my recently-revived exercise program, fueled on by an online group of runners who are tracking their miles and keeping each other motivated. I don’t believe in weight loss, but I do believe in fitness, and I am the most out of shape that I’ve been maybe ever. I am trying to get fit, and feel good, and oh my God exercising until you are sweaty and panting and red in the face feels so good. But then I get harassed, and I feel like crap. Like when I’m running in my neighborhood and men are making kissy noises at me and calling me sexy, and then when I confront them and tell them that’s not acceptable they shout at me and laugh maniacally and call me a “fat fucking pig,” over and over.
It’s days like that that make it hard to believe people when they compliment my appearance. Behind the very fact that my appearance is important is a cultural hostility toward women’s bodily autonomy that I can’t shake, no matter how nice it seems.