Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Sing the Body Pathetic

I recently finished a cute, lace up cardigan from French Girl Knits called "Wrenna". I had to modify the pattern since I used a different yarn, but the end result is quite pleasing, and I was pretty excited to wear it today for the first time. The sweater is black, so I paired it with a pale lavender tank top, grey jeans, and grey ballet flats, and felt very pleased with myself for being so stylish. (I also only had a lavender ribbon to use for the lacing, so it worked quite well.) My hair is pretty much at the perfect length right now, and it has been behaving very nicely these last few weeks.

Then I got to work, and had two separate people ask me if I was pregnant. (If you are wondering, I am not.) I blame this squarely on the empire waist tank top: Empire waists do nothing for a shape like mine, because they fall in a way that emphasizes the widest part of my body while ignoring the parts that taper. Like my actual waist. It is a terrible look for me--I guess I thought that the inherent cuteness and good shape of the Wrenna would counteract the tank top. No such luck.

What's most surprising about this, I guess, is how upset I am as a result. I've done my fair share of feminist theory, and I know all about body politics and the like; I don't think you can be a feminist on the internet without coming in to contact with these ideas at some point or other. One of my favourite units to teach back in my high school teachin' days was the critical media studies unit on gender in the media. (Plus I'm a knitter, and there's nothing like being actively involved in making your own clothing to make you understand how totally arbitrary sizing and notions of body shape are.) I try my best to advocate accepting your body as it is, and acknowledging our cultural standards of beauty as problematic and unrealistic. I know how difficult popular culture makes navigating this world if you don't fit into these preconceived notions of what a woman's shape should be, but I guess I've always sort of thought that I was above all that.

It turns out I'm not above it at all. The pregnancy question has me obsessing over my weight. I keep wondering, Am I fat? I sneak glances at myself in the windows in the hallways at work; I examine my reflection in the mirrors in the washroom; I bemoan the lack of a full-length mirror at home where I can see my whole body.

I know I'm not fat. I know I'm not skinny, either, and I know that I really shouldn't weigh much less than what I weigh right now.* My body isn't shaped to be much smaller than it is right now: My hips are always going to be wide; I'm always going to be chesty; I am always going to be curvy. (I'm pretty sure this comes from my dad's family--the M----rs all have crazy metabolisms. Thanks a lot, Dad's genetic line!) I don't think my body is perfect (there are loads of things about it that I don't love, but that's another essay for another time) but there's certainly nothing wrong with it. So why, then, am I all in a tizzy over this idea that I look like I could be pregnant (which my mind has turned, by extention, into looking fat)?

It's just interesting to me, I guess, to come into such close contact with my own failings. I'm quite surprised that this upsets me that much, but it does. I don't know that I'd go quite so far as to call it hypocrisy on my part, but some days it really feels like the older I get, the more I discover that I keep falling short of the person I like to think that I am.

*I kept writing additional sentences to qualify this statement, about how I have winter weight and could stand to lose 5-10 lbs., but have opted to avoid saying those since I have a normal weight for my height/age and a normal BMI. Funny how even as I say that I'm happy with my body, I'm still nitpicking the details, isn't it?


Sparky said...

I had similar comments made when I started gaining weight. I wasn't, and am still not, pregnant; my thyroid is shot (I'm now at the facial hair stage... fun!). And I still to this day can't get over the audacity of people asking if I was pregnant. Was it because I thought it was rude of them to point out that I'd gained a few inches (what is now 60 lbs and climbing...)? Maybe.

I think it's because we so fear being fat, because gaining weight without reason (pregnancy being an evolutionarily "good" reason to pack on the poundage) means that we're losing something. Losing weight is associated with control, at least in my mind, and gaining weight meant spinning out of control, and I wasn't offended so much by someone pointing out that I was fat, was getting fat, or was getting fatter, but by the fact that they noticed that I was losing control.

We associate fat with things that don't make sense. Status, money, motivation/laziness... And all of those things are sensitive buttons for modern women. Maybe the hurt feelings about being asked if you're pregnant are really about something else.

Though, maybe those hurt feelings are just what they are, and that's ok too.

fineskylark said...

You're right on the money, I think. At least part of my hurt/anger is that getting engaged/getting older has meant an unending barrage of "So why aren't you having babies yet?"; it is definitely an issue that presses my buttons.

I also feel like I'm losing my identity as I get older; I did so much stuff when I was in school that I kind of don't know what to do with myself now that I'm not a student anymore and don't have all these social outlets. Fat=lazy/inactive, maybe? Definitely more to think about...