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More rambling on being the “wrong shape”

May 8, 2013

I’ve been fighting a lot against getting the ED triggered lately, even though I’m actually pretty bony for me right now.

I don’t even remember what I was trying to photograph there–it looks like an accidental shot–but yeah. My collarbones don’t usually stand out that much.

 

The hypermobility/EDS skin type will apparently make your veins show through more, but this is how much subcutaneous fat is on my legs. It’s actually kind of startling these days, catching a glance at those veins.
I’m also glad that there was *not* the emphasis on “thigh gap” 25 years ago, because even having lost a lot of muscle mass too, the way I’m built my thighs still touch when I’m standing! It makes me sad how many younger people are driving themselves around the bend with just that one thing that’s totally unattainable for an awful lot of people. And that’s just one focus among many.

(That’s also how much hair I’ve got on my legs, BTW, since I stopped shaving them several years ago. First because it hurt my back to do it, then I never started again after nobody even seemed to notice the difference. My biodad had/probably still has like six chest hairs, and I obviously took after him with that too. Lots of carefully instilled insecurity about body hair, too, so that even AFAB people who don’t have much are made to feel like nasty hairy critters by default. :( It’s ridiculous, even for people who do have more.)

As I was telling Mr. U the other day, I think I’d do better just to try to work myself up to getting probably some insulin and meds, rather than keep trying (however gradually) to majorly restrict any macronutrient. That is just not looking so healthy for me, in a number of ways. (From my responses, I have also wondered for some time if I’ve actually got one of the “1.5” variations instead of any of the usual under the Type 2 umbrella. I did the best ever on a combo of long-acting insulin and Januvia, which stimulates insulin release, when I was back in the US.) The subtype I’ve got, and a number of my relatives have, at least seems to behave more that way. AFAICT, that can also have a celiac-related autoimmune trigger like Type 1. My mom also probably had the “gestational diabetes” that never went away, even though they weren’t even bothering to test for it back then.

At any rate, I ran across a few videos last night that both amused me and made me feel a bit better about being totally “wrong-shaped”. I may not see it every day anymore (which is, indeed, part of the problem), but I’m far from alone in the kind of “wrongness”.

 

Cherokee Stick Ball

As mentioned in the next video, the game also got used in past to settle disputes instead of actual fighting. And it wasn’t all men doing it.

 

Cherokee Stick ball

I found this one hilarious not just because they seemed to be doing more half-assed wrestling around* than actually running around after the ball (and whacking each other with the sticks, of course)–but because even the couple of guys who opted for belts couldn’t keep their britches up to save their lives. :) I don’t think they were even going “Hey, Burly Dude, you should play stickball!”; there are just an awful lot of people with that basic build. Like, erm, most of my family.

Another thing that stood out here, which has driven me crazy most of my life now? Our bellies just don’t do flat. Not only because if you have an ounce of fat on your body, that’s where it’s going, but even if it’s all muscle it ends up looking like the six-pack is turned around the wrong way. My uncle just about choked to death laughing when I pointed that out to one of his kids, who has gotten into weight lifting and was expressing some displeasure with his abs a few years back; they’ll only stick out more if you build them up. My uncle was also always made to feel bad about being built that way and encouraged to diet, with the eating disorders running along with the OCD in my grandmother’s family of people built like that (often over 6 feet, too, so they weigh a lot). My grandmother put herself in the hospital one time with it**, and placed a lot of pressure on the rest of us. No matter how much I starved myself when I was younger, my stomach always stuck out. That may have something to do with having a rib cage that comes down so relatively low. (Also a definite limit to how small your waist is capable of getting!) Even though I realize now that there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it is still so far off the current ideal and “wrong”.

That was all guys. Don’t their sisters magically have  a totally different basic type of physique? Not so much, because it makes no freaking sense. Humans are not that dimorphic.

 

Cherokee Indian Dance – Cherokee Village-NC

 

But, yeah, those are good reminders that there is something wrong with the idea that somehow whole groups of people (and their individual members) can be inherently “wrong-shaped”. That may be far from the current ideal of what anyone is “supposed” to look like, but that says more about the unattainable ideals getting pushed (often for profit) than anything else. And I keep repeating similar things not just for my own sake, but in hopes that it might help someone else who is getting crushed by the ideals to get a little different perspective. But, yeah, it does help to keep reminding myself, too.

This stuff can even be a problem for people who are built to a smaller scale overall, as I was reminded by a post that honestly made me cry, and that I hadn’t figured out a good opportunity to work in before:  Weight Loss Conundrum

Like most females, I grew up with an extremely distorted body image. Three of the biggest reasons for this is simple genetics. Because I’m of mixed Tsalagi (Cherokee) heritage, I have physical traits that differed substantially from my friends who aren’t. One of the big ones is my rib cage is completely round and larger than most. It’s always been this way. I have very narrow shoulders, but mondo ribs and a very short waistline (my bottom rib basically sits directly on top of my hipbone).

If that wasn’t bad enough, I’m extremely chesty. By age 12, I was a B cup. By 16 an F which I remain to this day. Believe me, I’m not bragging by any means. I’m extremely self conscious about it and part of the reason I started wearing corsets was to minimize them. The one thing people never talk about is when you’re large on top, you always look three to four times heavier than other women. People assume you’re always heavier, too, and they pick on you a lot when you’re a little kid and young woman. I’ve been asked by fans why I don’t write bustier heroines and this is why. It’s been such an issue for me over the years, that I don’t want to deal with it on paper, too (I’m too busy dealing with other issues I have :). In college, my measurements were 38-23-32. Now you know why I used to wrap my torso with an Ace bandage before I ran or did any physical activity. Sports bras really don’t work for larger sizes.

My next issue that I inherited from my family is that I walk on my tiptoes and always have. This resulted in making my calves larger than most (and given me shortened Achilles tendons). Jeans and boots have never fit that part of my body well, not even when I was a size 0. The benefit is I can bench press about 300 pounds with my legs and I have muscles on them that a weightlifter would envy, but they are legs only a weightlifter would envy :)

Which gets me to the last issue, I carry a lot, and I mean a lot, of muscle weight and always have. My entire life, I have been extremely active as my very skinny yet muscled brother can attest to (I can walk/run him under the table). My mother used to say that touching my legs and arms was like touching granite. Because of all the stuff I do, even at my heaviest I have never jiggled or had an ounce of cellulite anywhere on my body. Yet all of the above is a recipe for shoot-my-lard-butt-cause-I-think-I’m-bigger-than-a-house self image that plagues me to this day.

When I wore a size 0 and no that’s not a typo, I weighed in at a staggering 135-140 pounds (I’m 5′ 2″ in height). According to all medical and BMI reports, I should weigh 108-121 (my mother was 5′ 5″ and weighed 110 yet she wore a size 10 while I was in a 0). Now you would think that my common sense would have kicked in and I’d have been okay with my weight when I wore a 0 in jeans, right? Nope.

TL;DR: She developed problems with actually putting on more weight from restricting food way too much, because physiological responses to food insecurity. My own bare skeleton wouldn’t fit in clothing sizes anywhere near that small–a 12 is the smallest I have managed on the bottom at anywhere near adult size, while actively starving myself. I wear a 34-36″ waist in men’s jeans now, and don’t think I could wear much if any smaller now even if I did starve myself some more. I definitely can’t fit into smaller than an 18 or 20 on top, because ribs plus Rack of Doom. (OTOH, I would never wear a bra if people didn’t act like jerks about it, especially when you wear upward of a D cup.) People always also underestimate my weight visually, then get shocked when they see the numbers, even when I was fat.

But, that’s how “wrong” having a barrel chest and some muscle mass are if you’re up against the “ideal” expectations for women these days. The emphasis on numbers over actual health does a lot of harm to a lot of people.

I am still stating some numbers here, for a better idea of what I’m talking about. Not attaching moral value to them, nor trying to obsess over them.

As I mentioned earlier, it also doesn’t help that where I’m living now, I very rarely see anyone built even remotely like me. And that’s with the diversity of Greater London. (We do live in the least diverse borough, however, which skews old, relatively wealthy, and very White British.) I’m not even that big back home, but bigger than an awful lot of men I see on the street here. My actual ribcage is a full 10″ bigger–about a third bigger–than the average British woman’s, besides being taller.  I really do stand out, to some extent. That isn’t necessarily good for someone who has some skewed “shoot-my-lard-butt-cause-I-think-I’m-bigger-than-a-house” body image problems going, to begin with. (Yes, I’m a buttless wonder, but “lard ass” is so ingrained a slur that I’ve gotten to hear it a lot anyway.)

I also think that this is probably turned into more of a problem for people read as women. (Other than being one reason I have gotten “sirred” on multiple occasions, but more on that at some later point.) The expectations are that different. I do know of one case where a male acquaintance, who is a Highland Scot (maybe there are more people built similarly there), got diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and his doctor immediately started going on about his BMI and how he would be killing himself if he didn’t immediately lose huge amounts of weight. The guy is built like an obviously muscular fireplug. His wife had to get rather aggressive, insisting that he be sent for body composition analysis before they treated weight loss as The Cure. Sure enough, he had like 5% body fat, and that actually shut the doctor up. But, that is one of the few cases I know of where the wider range of “allowed” body types didn’t work out better for a man who was visibly not fat. (Getting treated that way when you really are fat is not any better. But, people can usually tell the difference better between a muscular, stocky man without much fat, and one who does have more fat. Women who are not willowy are viewed as fat by default.) It’s not just medical professionals–though that can turn into a pretty bad problem–it’s also the general public.

Another factor I hadn’t thought of so explicitly, for that extra touch of “bull in a china shop” feeling, brought up in a comment from Carol Chambers, on THE SPACE WE NEED at Fat Heffalump:

HOWEVER, I can completely relate to the consciousness about how much space my body is taking up, especially when weaving through restaurant tables, having to let the seatbelt out all the way on a plane, etc. The worst is sitting on the ground with the kids while my daughter’s class sings to us while other parents sit in the tiny kiddie chairs. (I finally tested one out–tentatively–but even though it didn’t break, I’m always conscious of how much of my bottom is extending from either side.) How much space I’m taking up has been almost a subconscious voice in my head for as long as I can remember. This worry has even shaped the way I gesticulate and move my body (not very freely).

I have lived in the UK and the limited amount of space available was astonishing to me as a naive 24-year-old. I have perceived a difference between the crowded Northeastern states and southern ones, especially Texas, when it comes to space as well. I would be interested to know empirically how much cultural factors from country to country or even state to state within the US actually make a difference with fat-shaming, and how much the availability of space affects people’s attitudes. If that is not in the recommended book, I’d like to read about it somewhere.

Yeah. I keep having to try to fold my shoulders in, and try not to knock things over, because things are just that much more cramped here than I’m used to encountering. I doubt this helps, and I am now wondering about ” how much the availability of space affects people’s attitudes”. Most of the overt fat-shaming (actually fat or not) I have run into has been in medical settings, but staring and funny looks have been more common. It’s hard to tell exactly why, most of the time, but yeah. I’m definitely not imagining it.

I have to say that Stockholm didn’t feel nearly as crowded, and I didn’t feel particularly conspicuously outsized when visiting.  No idea if/how those things might be related. The personal space differences probably helped, too:

SWEDISH RULES (It wouldn’t let me embed the video starting at 2:00 for that part, but I had to laugh at the whole thing anyway.)

The Swedish version is closer to what I’m used to, in most circumstances.

On the whole, it’s probably a good thing that I ended up marrying someone who is bigger than I am, in an almost stereotypical Burly Viking kind of way. (And who also doesn’t care about my weight, unless I lose an unhealthy amount from being sick or something.)

My mom used to say that she felt horribly self-conscious, living with my biodad who was/is like 5’7″ and naturally very skinny to the point that he kept getting advised to gain weight (though also proportioned with big shoulders, etc.)–but, I think that came more from his using her existing insecurities as a weapon in the emotional abuse. He was afraid to try to hit her again after the first time she broke a stoneware mixing bowl over his head, because that was what was at hand. But yeah, that just made him sneakier with the abusive behavior. So he not-so-subtly kept bashing her over the head with her weight. I am glad to report that I have, indeed, turned into as big a fat bitch as my mother, as predicted when I was eight or nine. I really don’t want to live with someone like that, but it might still bring out my insecurities more just living with someone who makes me feel hulking. (Probably her, too, but plenty more was going on there.) I have found that I do feel more comfortable around more bearish men.

To put it more explicitly: this kind of emotional abuse with people’s size used as a bludgeon is way too common at a societal level, and is part of the bigger abuse and bullying culture.

 

Amon Amarth – The Pursuit Of Vikings (Summer Breeze Fest.) Beware the timing fail at about 2:45 that set my teeth on edge. ;)

Another reason I had to get tickled at videos from Amon Amarth is that Johan Hegg, the singer, is almost a ringer for Mr. U. From what I’ve seen, that is not an unusual basic type in Sweden, but it’s still kind of funny. Mr. U actually has longer (and greyer) hair now, and his arms and shoulders are bigger (mostly because he has to work out some to keep his shoulders from dislocating!), but the resemblance is striking. They even have the same slightly funky beard growth pattern. It’s more amusing because Mr. U is about as likely to go “Odin!” metal as to grow another half a foot or so to match Hegg’s height. (About 6’8″, IIRC.) He prefers Kate Bush and Enya, and is very geeky in a good if very non-metal way. The incongruity there is pretty obviously funnier if you know him. :)

Also, male or no, I’d hate to think of the cognitive dissonance the weight of either one of them would cause in some of the British doctors I’ve seen. As it is, Mr. U has repeatedly half-joked about taking a cheap flight back to Sweden to buy trousers and socks that actually fit, because he’s harder to fit here than I am. (He does buy both every time he goes to the US for work, or with me.) It’s even harder than it should be to find something in a long enough inseam and big enough waist in the “big and tall” shops he’s looked in; apparently, you can be bigger around than average or tall–and, yeah, he just looks a “normal” size by my standards. A 42-34 shouldn’t be that rare a size. Finding an Orvis branch in London did help, for cargo pants, etc. See also: The UK: clothing utopia for smallish fat women, though that does apparently work out a lot better for that blogger’s build:

Let me tell you, most British clothes are cut more generously in the hips and chest than North American clothes. Women with pear and hourglass shapes, take note. They also seem to be proportioned for shorter women. I’m 5′-4″ or 5′-5″, and I never wear petites in the UK. I wear “mediums” or “shorts.” Yes, they have four inseams on most women’s trousers: tall, medium, short and petite. The petites are actually made for women who are around 5′ tall, not for women who are really medium height, like me.

I fall within the size range she’s talking about , even now. As an inverted triangle, I just mostly have to buy men’s pants, which is the same old for me. Unlike Mr. U, finding a long enough inseam isn’t a problem for me, being close to average British male height! (I need around a 29, while Mr. Long Legs needs preferably a 34.) It works out pretty well for tops, though, and in some brands I can even buy a large to fit through the chest. Shoulders are trickier, overall, but that was also true buying clothes in the US.

And, to close, here’s an exchange I had to laugh at last night, which looks so very, very wrong out of context:

Him: Eat salad. Me: :P

Him: Eat salad. Me: :P

 

The context, which is actually very dull: I bought some bagged salad, and then decided we didn’t need it with the rest of last night’s supper. Since he was heading off on another business trip today, I hoped I would remember to eat it myself before it went bad. His answer: offer to send me reminders, then actually do it for the lulz. :)

Now that I think about it, I will really close with a link to a post I ran across yesterday: Why I Don’t Diet – An Ode to My Father | More Cabaret

My father was born larger than life, to a family of larger than life people. DNA sequencing showed we are almost entirely Viking stock, no great surprise given the height and breadth of our bodies…

His last night in hospice, I sat by him in his room, his head resting on my shoulder. He was so small. His formerly massive legs had wasted to small sticks – like a child’s legs attached to a man’s body. He was a shadow of himself.

Nurses came and told me they wanted to resettle him in bed. He was partially supported by my body, and they were afraid I wasn’t strong enough to hold him. They were afraid he would fall. They brought four orderlies to help reposition him. Four strangers to move him since he was so big.

I told them no, that would not be necessary. I leaned over and gently lifted him off the bed, repositioning him so that now I cradled him, his entire weight supported by my body. I am more than strong enough, I informed them.

My father spent his years fighting his size, wishing he was smaller, weaker, less of a giant. He was taught to hate his body, and he was ashamed of the amount of space he took up. But he passed his strength to me, and I won’t squander my inheritance. I will not let myself be diminished.

I am my father’s daughter. I too am a giant, built of strength and flesh. And I am strong enough to carry myself and others, even when they can’t carry themselves.

That one brought back some memories. *sigh* The home hospice team actually called in some burly guy who (amusingly) turned out to be one of her cousins to stay with my mom while we ran errands, in case somebody needed to pick her up out of the floor or something. The difference: nobody else doubted my abilities there, and I did break.

And I hope to be able to feel that way inside, all the way down, one of these days.

 

_____________

* That was apparently an exhibition match in an unusually small space–and as the announcer was pointing out, every town has a different style. That was a team from Big Cove, plus one Choctaw guy. (Who blended right in.) I only watched about half the video, so I don’t know what they were doing later. I’ve still never seen a stickball game that looked quite like that before. ;) Granted, nobody has played it where I grew up since at least my grandparents’ generation–my Papaw apparently used to as a kid–but yeah.

** And, at last check, would still insist that it was the best she’d ever looked in her life, though she felt awful. Yep. Her mother, who lived off two tablespoons of leftovers per meal*** and Ex-Lax, actually pretended she didn’t know my five-year-old uncle (her grandson) at some kind of gathering, because she was so embarrassed by his size. Not a good situation at all, no.

*** Yes, she would apparently regularly cook a big meal for everyone else, then eat a few bites of leftovers herself. Pretty classic, and very sad. She also died young, and I doubt the chronic severe malnutrition helped her body resist the cancer.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Amy permalink
    May 12, 2013 4:18 pm

    Being an inverted triangle myself with a large ribcage, I have always longed for “the right shape,” a willowy, small ribcage and curved hips. I’m glad to see you writing about this “wrong shape” “right shape” thinking that has become ingrained in culture.

    If it is any consolation, I once put on a button-down sweater and asked my pear-shaped sister (yeah, we definitely took after different sides of the family) if I looked too much like a boy. She said “no,” then gazed downward, and added “I wish I had little hips like yours.” Whenever I start to beat myself up for my top-heavy body type, I remember that someone who looks “right” thought it was beautiful :)

    Take care of yourself!

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