Friday, October 28, 2005

"Your body's beautiful the problem is the context we've been in"

WARNING! This post is a long one. Take your bathroom break, get a snack, settle in. It also might not be recommended reading if 1) you wish to have a lighthearted evening or day, 2) you've been feeling down lately, or 3) you've recently gone off your Prozac.

Still here? Bit of a masochist, are you?

Okay, then. I'm off to watch the 2nd DVD of Lost and try to pretend I didn't just post this.

When did I first become aware that my body wasn’t all that it should be? No, that’s not right…that my body was more than it should be?

I don’t know the exact age, but I was young…maybe 4 or 5 years old. My next door neighbor and de facto best friend, BabyJehovahWitness, had a blow up pool in her backyard. She and I spent many a day lounging, and jumping, and splashing in the heat and humidity of a Minnesota summer. I don’t know why I first realized it, but one day I noticed that my belly stuck out in front of me in a way that BJW’s did not. I didn’t like it – somehow knew this was not a good thing. I remember wrapping a towel around my body when I had to walk home.

I had a different body shape than the women in my immediate family. It’s evident from even young pictures of me with them. I was rounder than my sister who was stretched out and lanky, even when a child. And my mother, well my mother was underweight for much of my early childhood. She tells me she weighed 135 when she was at her heaviest pregnant, and she’s at least 5’7”. She really does not look healthy in many pictures I have of her, but she never dieted. She just smoked like a fiend, and had a “dainty” appetite.

I was a cute kid, who turned into an awkward, chubby kid in grade school. And it’s here that I first learned that this discomfort that I’d felt about my body could get translated into something more. I think the first incident was a playground cruelty. I was sitting outside during recess. I didn’t realize that anyone was behind me – until I heard the snickering. I turned and the two boys (I didn’t even know who they were…maybe they were in a later grade) ran away, leaving an awful drawing of my arse – a charicature meant to capture size. I was humiliated. I tore up the picture into little bits and threw it in the public trashcan, so no one could find it.

A couple of years later, I came back into class after lunch to find a note on my desk. It was triangular. The side facing up had a crude pig drawn on it…the back had the word fatso printed in caps. I don’t know who decided to torture me that day, although my guess is that it was a kid I now know was pretty disturbed. I didn’t tell my teacher, parents, or my friends about this.

It was around the same time that I started to notice boys, and, even at 11 and 12, some kids were playing boyfriend-girlfriend. I was game…I thought…but shy. My friend ChaosGirl, was my conduit to whatever boy I thought caught my fancy. She wrote him a note to tell him I liked him, and did he want to be my boyfriend. The note came back, via his friend, that he would be my boyfriend, if CG would agree to dance naked for him. I remember again the humiliation, but just once in my childhood, I didn’t hide. I told CG I wanted him to come tell me this to my face. And, yes, it does get worse, because rather than be shamed by this, he thought it a great joke.

These childish pranks hurt worse than, but were strongly reinforced by the comments of my elders…Sister telling me that, at 12, I should lose weight or I wouldn’t have any friends in middle school. CrazyMom (a neighborhood mother), again when I was about 11 or 12, feeling the need to point out that I had an ass, and suggesting that I should start jogging.

And then there was my father, who when I went to middle school started to get freaked out about my body as well – I don’t think he’s ever dealt with his daughters being sexual beings. I was told, when experimenting with my mother’s makeup that I looked like a whore, and he didn’t want to see me wearing make-up again. And then, when showing off a stylish outfit (a mini skirt and tank top which, in comparison with today’s fashions, was completely modest), I was told, I looked like a prostitute, and I couldn’t leave the house dressed like that.

And do I count the nutrition class that my doctor assigned me to…where it turned out that I was actually the thinnest kid there, but where I began to believe I was bigger. Or how I had to start shopping in the adult sizes once I hit puberty – never a Junior’s size for me – and the tears which often accompanied the ride home from clothes shopping.

I can look at all this and understand why it was that I wouldn’t wear shorts from the time I was about 12 until 15 – even in the awful heat of summer. I understand now why the clothing I preferred in high school caused my parents to comment that I was a bag lady…they were huge and baggy. I would even raid my father’s closet for his sweaters…and my favorite was an old overcoat he had worn to death. I just wanted to hide my body.

I thought there was little good about my body…and given that I hid myself, I never got positive reinforcement from my peers, either. I was never asked out on a date. Even my high school prom date I asked. My first kiss was from a boy, Eyes, who had just 5 minutes previously been making out with my then best friend…only transferring his affections when she had to leave.

I remember when someone first suggested that I needed to learn to love myself. I was completely bewildered. How did one learn to do that? How could I not hate my body? It was easier that no one see it.

I was 23 when I wore a bathing suit on a public beach for the first time since puberty without either shorts or a t-shirt covering it. I’ve come a long way since then, obviously, but I still struggle with those kernels of hate and self-doubt.

There is a poem called “Imagine a Woman.” The first 2 lines of the third stanza reads: “Imagine a woman in love with her own body. A woman who believes her body is enough, just as it is.” I spent many years where I couldn’t imagine this woman as me, but I’m getting there. I’m getting there.


red one said...

Oh Spin, I am so sorry you've had to go through all this. This post must have been so hard to write - I'm still not sure what happy way there is to deal with childhood bullying, but to have it reinforced by negative attitudes from your own family and other adults must have made it so much worse.

Those attitudes were, of course, ridiculous and stupid in actual fact. There's not much polite to say about them. But I can imagine it would have been very difficult for you to see this at the time - I hope you can now.

Society as a whole is particularly stupid about body image, I think. Grrr.

If it helps at all, I was actually relieved by your post. Why? Because when I read this:
When did I first become aware that my body wasn’t all that it should be? No, that’s not right…that my body was more than it should be?
my initial thought was that you were going to tell us you had cancer or only half a kidney or something. That would be where I would start thinking you had a problematic body ...

As it is, Spin, you are clearly a beautiful woman - yes, we've seen the pics - and yours is also the body that can lose itself dancing, which is a wonderful thing.

I hope you've stopped pretending you didn't post this - I think putting things about body image out in the light of day, individually and collectively, is a much healthier way of looking at things. The light shines on some of those attitudes that it's so easy to take to heart and shows them up for what they really are - nasty, misguided and stupid. The post was well done, Spin.

I will stop my far too long ramble now and offer a big hug.


cutie said... did you get into MY memories of childhood??? It's sad how kids can be so cruel.

I know.


spinsterwitch said...

Red - thanks for the support. It was a hard thing to write. It's an even harder thing to leave up. But you notice I posted it on a low-traffic day, although yesterday might have been better, but it was way too raw yesterday to post.

Cutie - I know. I think that what I experienced was probably not a common thing. That's why I felt like I had to post it because I felt so isolated in my experience which made me isolate even further. If I'd had peers around this sort of thing when I was younger, I could maybe have had access to some anger which would have helped me fend against it.

Hippy Chick said...

How brave of you to write this post. I relate to all of it and as you know this is an ongoing struggle for me too. It would be so much easier if we could see what others see (now, as adults, the ones who think we are beautiful) and believe it. I will always admire how you don't now hide your body behind baggy stuff as I continue to do, but am trying to break out of, thanks to your example and encouragement. I wish you could see you as I see you. You are truly beautiful.

Hyde said...

I have a lot of the same feelings. Your post left me with a lot on my mind. Still processing... Thanks for posting it.


Charby said...

Wow there's a lot to relate to there!

I'm with Red, at first I thought you were going to tell me you were born with another leg, growing out of your head or something!

P'tit-Loup said...

Great job my dear, expressing all those stuffed feelings. I can only immagine how hard it was to do. I think most of us can relate to having been teased by heartless folks for a variety of reasons. It always hurts, and even more when your family supports what is being said. I agree with Red, our current's societal expectations of what is physically acceptable is notoriously ridiculous. Can you imagine if we lived in the 17th century? Sarah Bernhard use to stuff herself, even her calves, because she was too thin. Why are there expectations to fill. I don't understand why we do not just accept each others.

Favorite lines of current earbug: "You and I are really just the same, Though you might think you're a little bit better, When you fall don't look for me to blame, You hold the key, For the higher you think of me, The better your world will be."
You and I, The Duhks

Ka said...

It's interesting you thought that that post was a downer, because it's truly one of the most inspirational things I've read in a long time. Me and my body, we're not friends, but it's comforting to think we could be some day. You should be very proud of beginning that relationship yourself.

Fred said...

I deal with this not only as a father, but as a teacher.

My oldest thinks she's too fat, and went through a few years of "I hate myself" thinking. She's now active with softball, has dropped 15 pounds, and feels much better.

As a teacher, I see the cruelty kids have towards each other, and I thry every trick I have to make them see the error of their ways. Unfortuantely, I can't be in the hallway where most of it happens.

Thanks for sharing this with us.

the urban fox said...

This is a very powerful post, Spinny. You're perfect just as you are, and I hope that voice soon shouts much louder than the other (wrong) one.

Aravis said...

Spin, I had to sit with this for a couple of days. My weight problems didn't begin until I was an adult, but I went through this sort of teasing and pain as a child just the same. I was a Damn Yankee living in Texas, and was hated for no other reason than that. Beaten up almost every day, things hissed at me as I passed in the hallways, etc. I'd like to say I rose above, but I'm still working through my hurt, anger and feelings of self-worth because of it. So though our issues weren't exactly the same, I know the feelings. Thank-you for sharing this with us, with me. It helps to feel less alone. Though I know of course that I'm not at all alone with this, still it helps to hear other people's stories. You're a beautiful, wonderful woman and I'm happy I've had the chance to get to know you better here.

Flash said...

As a kid that was often referred to as "fatty" I read most of this post with a knowing wince. I do find though that I have grown to accept what I look like.
Incidentally, my best friend still calls me fatty from time to time, just to piss me off.

And I love how English you are becoming... Arse not ass!
Go Spins!

beedragon said...

Every comment I am thinking has already been made, so I will echo the words of cutie and hippychick when I say " did you get into MY memories of childhood??? It's sad how kids can be so cruel. I know." and "I wish you could see you as I see you. You are truly beautiful."