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Nibbling at the body shame

June 26, 2012

This is a draft I mothballed a few weeks ago, for some likely obvious reasons. But, I was reminded of it again by a couple of things, including going for another sun and water carrying session this afternoon. ATM, I find myself in the absurd position of waiting out a sudden cloudburst to continue carrying water, though it was time for a rest anyway. 😉

Even though the new upstairs neighbors decided to help me with their Lexus:

I can just about squeeze between the back of the car and the wall. Pretty obvious, from the sloshed water. 🙂

Did I mention the soaring housing prices and galloping gentrification hereabouts? Yeah. On one recent trip to the park with the dog, I counted five Jags alone. (More cars and their antitheft devices. I particularly like the contrast with the plumbing van in one of them, more what you used to see in this neighborhood. And, as you can see there, it’s all kinda dinky bog standard post-War British houses.) We’ve been letting another neighbor keep his RV there because we don’t have a car yet; Mr. U did finally get a provisional license and is planning to buy one from somebody at work, though. Bet the other neighbor is thrilled at how they’ve been blocking it in, too. I’m not going to complain much, though, because the abusive, puppy-kicking POS who was living up there is GONE and no longer setting me off so that I want to beat him with a bat. No hyperbole there, unfortunately; one of the reasons I was spending a lot of time in the GTA-verse there for a while, as a substitute for really going up there with a stick.

But, on to the post.

We’ve had several warm, sunny afternoons in a row, especially for this climate. 😉

So, I decided to take advantage of it, and kill several birds with one stone: get plants watered, catch some rays, and hopefully help build some strength back up by lugging the watering can* around the house from the new aquarium water butt. (Also, video of the Plant-devouring Carpmonsters mentioned there.)

In my oh-so-stylish sunny-day gardening combo of a sports bra and shorts that turned out short enough that I only wear them to catch more UV while gardening–plus the sacral and ankle** braces.

Yes, I ventured off our walled patio to make multiple trips around the house with most of my torso uncovered, with the water butt facing a busy street with lots of pedestrian traffic. And my head did not explode from the body shame, or anything like that. Nobody pointed and laughed; nobody even seemed to notice or care. (I was a bit surprised at the lack of from-the-street harassment, actually.) Also, I caught a couple of glimpses in the patio door, and didn’t automatically want to vomit.

So, another bird taken down? Working some on the damned body shame.

The patio door still has a lot of plaster dust on it from the work on the house, plus the hosepipe ban. But, it still reflects.

Yes, I have a big torso and limbs that have gotten very skinny by comparison, with muscle wasting both from the vitamin D deficiency/osteomalacia and years of enforced lack of exercise from that.

Yes, I’ve got the Rib Cage of Doom, and absolutely no butt or hips beyond whatever muscle is there. (Great look with that bulging over the brace, too. *wry smile*) Not just my shoulders, but my actual rib cage, is wider. And, thanks to the past endocrine problems, my torso looks like I’ve had a baby or three when I haven’t, with the loose skin and stretch marks.

Not the best shot to illustrate, as it turned out with the lighting, but I may be upset sometimes because Giant Torso, even when the ribs at the top of my chest are visible. I also get upset sometimes because it still matters to me, on some level, that Giant Torso is mostly ribs with very little fat (or muscle, at this point) over them. Still, Giant Torso is not going to get any smaller.

But, as I keep trying to tell myself:

‘[T]here is no one right body shape, no body shape that is “better” or “worse.”’

I used to worry about this crap a lot.  I used to think if I could just have a more hourglass shape, even a fat hourglass shape, things would be better. It’s sort of like a variant of the fantasy of being thin paradigm.  I thought if I were a sexy hourglass instead of an upside-down triangle/apple, then clothes would fit better/guys would like me more/I’d win the lottery/etc. etc.

It wasn’t until I started doing an exercise program called T-Tapp back in 2006 that I learned about different body structures.  I realized then that people built like me, with torsos that are so short that their rib cages nearly touch their hip bones, always have big waists compared to the rest of their bodies. And by the way, I’m not saying that you need an excuse to be whatever size you are.  I’m just saying that realizing that my body shape and structure weren’t weird or bad or whatever helped me get out of the idea that I should be trying to change it.  It made me realize that there is no one right body shape, no body shape that is “better” or “worse.” There is no such thing as “figure flaws.” Rather than striving for a different body, I finally realized that my body was what I’ve got, so I might as well enjoy it.

(My own torso is actually proportionately long, but the ribs come down far. There’s probably an extra pair, since one relative saw a doctor who actually offered to remove those excess ribs for her, because they were no doubt causing problems! Yeah, she never went back there.)

Excellent, excellent post, which helped reinforce this idea when I ran across it. You might want to read the whole thing.

See also an excellent post from The Fat Nutritionist:  Pictures of you.

And your first reaction on seeing a photograph of your body will be one of shock, possibly horror, and an indefinable sense that Your Body is Wrong.

The secret, of course, is that there is no Right Body, no matter how hard our culture tries to define one. There is no Platonic Body floating in indisputable ether — only real bodies that exist in the real world, available in an extravagant assortment of shapes, colours, sizes, and conformations. None of them wrong or right. All of them just are.

And now I can understand that the experience of cognitive dissonance and disgust with how my body looks is an artifact of my cultural training, not a Real and Inescapable Truth About Me, requiring a dramatic gesture of repentant food restriction and mortification of the flesh through exercise.

Also, as the first comment on the “Figure Flaws” post I quoted first points out, this ideal very few of us can ever even come close to matching in any way can also be racist as hell. Not only is it totally impossible to change your basic body shape, the very expectation that you must try contains so much nasty stuff that it’s hard to unpack. And saying no to internalized racism there is maybe a good idea for your own health–physical, mental, spiritual, the whole package.

New: Now, I’m realizing more and more that I’ve got an extra OCD component going there, unfortunately. (More on that later, most likely, but I used to think that you could only have full-blown OCD going on if you were doing a lot of compulsive hand-washing, etc. Not so. More of my relatives seem to have it full-blown than I thought, besides me. I do have some weird external compulsive behavior, but mostly drive myself mad with the mental loops.) Things have improved a lot, but that is still a problem which is waiting to start up at the drop of a hat.

I know it’s irrational, but I still even half-expect Mr. U to run away screaming when I take off my clothes. I mean, we’ve been living together for over 8 years now, and he has never indicated that he thinks there is anything wrong with my looks at all. He seems to enjoy looking at me naked. On my first trip to visit, he didn’t run screaming; actually, we spent as much as possible of the first few days in bed–or, since the ostensible reason for the trip was crashing with him for CCDE, a pup tent. (I probably wouldn’t have made the transatlantic trip at no small financial hardship, if that had been my main reason though! And here we are on the left, actually, from Björn’s gallery.) More smiling than running away involved, at any point over all the intervening years. But, still these thoughts about being hideously unattractive pop up.

I was also reminded of this draft again today, because I had left the album public on Picasa so that I could use the photos here without bothering to upload them to WordPress too. (The box with our web server is down.) I’d pretty much forgotten about it, but then yesterday some random dude on G+ decided he needed to comment, with basically “hubba hubba from Norway!”. Surprised it took that long, actually, because it’s just so totally normal to add people for games and then peruse their Picasa albums just in case you can find some photos of them dressed appropriately for working in hot weather… 😐 My immediate impulse was to switch the permissions to private, which wiped out the actual comment, but it’s back to public now. I’m not the one with a problem here.

But, creepiness factor aside, that reminded me again of how much of people’s perceptions around these things are shaped by culture. Frankly, it helped send me into a bit of an OCD tailspin before, getting some of the kinds of feedback I have gotten about my body shape and size in Greater London. Including aggressive “sirring” from a couple of guys who, in retrospect, apparently read me as trans* mostly because I was taller with bigger shoulders, and my body language is not a good match with British femme styles I have seen. (Not hard to manage with basic physical size, at the risk of sounding rude. I’m maybe 5’7″, after shrinking at least an inch from the osteomalacia. 5’7″ is average British male height.) And the occasional weird looks and whispering when using public restrooms, which makes me even angrier at what actual trans* and less gender-expection-conforming people have to deal with on a regular basis. At least I have never felt in any kind of physical danger from policing jerks, and am on firm legal ground. (What the hell is wrong with some people?!) It’s not usually that open and extreme, but there are few enough people built or who carry themselves anything like me hereabouts that it seems to attract some xenophobic reactions.

Whereas, yeah, you don’t have to go to Latin America (like a commenter on one of the linked posts) to find that a build like mine looks normal; Southwest Virginia and surrounding areas will suffice. (Selu…) I kept getting hit on the last time I spent any time back home. Not that placing that much value on other people’s reactions is helpful overall (much less the generalizing), IME I apparently also look just fine to a number of Germans and Scandinavians. When we were in Stockholm, I kept getting hit on to a darkly funny extent, by people who assumed I spoke Swedish. One guy even waited for Mr. U to go off to the bathroom, to come over and suggest I ditch Mr. Beardy and go for coffee with him. I may not be able to string together more than a few words myself (ah, the gap between expressive and receptive language!), but that was not hard to understand. Big contrast in expectations, perceptions, and reactions, is the point.

And I am also reminded of very likely the worst pickup line I have ever heard in my life, about how fond the Old Norse were of big, strong women! (Cue to go on at great length, while leering and squeezing at my arm.) Delivered by a Norwegian acquaintance of Mr. U’s, while he was a guest in our home. Cultural differences or no, extremely drunk or no, I suspect that is also pretty damned rude behavior in Norway. That oh-so-innocent observation was followed by an invitation for us both to hang out with him sometime soon and spend the night (*leer*)–where he was living elsewhere in London, not Oslo–so, yeah. Not so tempting an offer, overall, though Mr. U didn’t hear the rest and apparently took it at face value. I’ve avoided several social occasions where that guy might be since then. The problem was not the proposition itself, but creepy ways of handling things. *shudder*

But, indeed, a lot of this kind of perception is in what you’re expecting to see, AFAICT. And it can also get rough sometimes, when your own perceptions are not necessarily matching up too well with reality.


* It’s full of nutrients, and in spite of April setting a hundred-year record for rain, we’re still under a drought hosepipe ban. (Weeks later: I am not even sure whether we can use the hose or not. But, not wasting water is good.)

** One is periodically unstable (ha, seeing that fluctuations in relaxin seem to be helping!), after I’m pretty sure I ripped the calcaneofibular ligament loose complete with an avulsion fracture last year. Most of the time it’s OK, sometimes it’s not. Yay, hypermobility plus demineralized bones! 😐 I don’t think walking around on it for several days before even getting a brace helped the situation much, no. See also: “I always assume I’m making a mountain out of a molehill with health problems, when this has never actually turned out to be the case. Ever.”

I didn’t even make this recent Autistic Kitten. [Image of a kitten with a slightly tilted head and alternating light blue and purple stripes in the background. Text reads: “Breaks her ankle/walks around on it for days”]

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2012 12:49 am

    Yay for you!!

    (And, yeah, as incredibly difficult as it is to change your body *size*, changing its basic shape is probably even harder. The Fantasy of Being Thin might actually be more attainable than the Fantasy of Being an Hourglass when You’ve Always Been Apple-Shaped, Like Your Mom and Your Grandma and …)

    Seriously, I think it’s really awesome that you can go outside in just a sports bra and shorts. I’ve never been able to bare my stomach, but that has more to do with my extreme tactile defensiveness than with body shame. (Although if there is any part of my body that I’m not crazy about, it would be my stomach. I have NEVER had visible abs, and while I am pretty much OK with this, the thing I like most about my body overall is its musculature, which is not at all evident on my stomach. So that, plus the fact that I can’t stand having anything touch my stomach, has meant it has been covered for pretty much my whole life.) For that reason, I tend to be a little bit “yeah but no” at generally well-intentioned articles about body acceptance that urge you to wear a bikini even if you’re not thin. Yeah, not-thin people being proud of and happy with their bodies is great, but not everyone who loves their body wants to wear a bikini, or would be comfortable wearing one.

    I also have really mixed feelings with the kind of commentary you mentioned getting from the guy in Norway! I get it sometimes, although more often I just get attraction-neutral, “it’s awesome that you’re so strong” comments from guys at the gym or doing physical work with me. It’s those comments that I am most unambiguously happy to receive; the “but I find large, strong women attractive and HERE LET ME TELL YOU MY SEXUAL FANTASY ABOUT BEING DOMINATED BY A LARGE STRONG WOMAN LIKE YOURSELF” version (yes, I have gotten that, almost verbatim, from someone who was actually a rather close friend, so it was more slightly awkward than downright creepy) and the “but you’re not unfeminine at all! Actually I think you’re kind of cute” version both bother me on some level. I think the latter one bothers me most, because not only does it reaffirm that I, a woman, exist to be aesthetically pleasing to men, it also tells me I haven’t done a good enough job of becoming what I want to be, if people still see me as “feminine” enough to be attracted to! Like, the first one oversteps a boundary, but the second one oversteps a boundary AND ALSO sends me into a pretty nasty insecurity spiral.

  2. PlentyOTea permalink
    September 2, 2012 2:50 pm

    The hourglass fantasy has always really bothered me. Most of the women I know are hourglass- or pear-shaped and my inverted-triangle ribs have always been interpreted as “heavy.” Nevermind you can actually see my ribs, but with a shirt on I look like I’m bigger than them. I just imagine I’m pointing a middle finger to those judging 🙂

    Your pictures look great! Congratulations on getting out for some sun. And thank you very much for writing this post. It has helped me take one step closer to accepting my body shape as it is.

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