So far and yet, not really

I am embarrassed to even write this, but I will, because that’s what I do.

Yesterday, I was zipping around a corner on my way home, listening to XM radio, Deep Tracks. Which is the psychedelic/classic rock channel. Because it’s springtime, and for me, nothing says spring like Led Zepplin.

So I’m grooving to Pink Floyd, and I notice one of the tax preparation companies had a guy in an “I want you!” uniform on the corner. Nothing says financial accountability like paying people under the table to dance around in Uncle Sam costumes.

I take a quick look at the him. White, beer gut, bald, couldn’t get the front of his uniform closed because he was too fat, missing the top hat that went with the costume. Sloppy Uncle Sam, totally. Would I trust this guy with my W-2? No f-ing way.

And into my head pops this thought, immediately, after that 3-second visual summation:

“That is really not the type of image they should be using to promote their store.”

Driving along, I caught myself. “Why?” I asked myself.

I had the following internal dialogue.

“Well, because he is fat, and slovenly looking.”

“So?”

“Well, that fat guy’s image implies that the government is greedy, has taken enough of our tax money already.”

“Um, ok?”

“Yeah. Haven’t you ever noticed the regular Uncle Sam is always thin and tall? I mean, what does that say? It says that, fiscally, he is eating just enough of the American tax dollar. In fact, it says if we don’t feed him, he might become almost frail.”

“Um, are you noticing something here?”

“I guess. I guess I am saying that a fat image means greedy and a thin image means deserving.”

“Mmm hmm.”

“And I guess that means I have some internalized fatphobia.”

“Bingo!”

It’s funny how insidious all that is. I’m really struggling with the fat-ism right now. I think because it’s finally pretending to get warm here, which means it’s maybe going to hit 60 degrees here today. That means people will be wearing shorts and t-shirts. It is Wisconsin after all. We grab a sunny, semi-warm day and run with it.

The prospect of more exposed flesh is a bit daunting. What is OK? What is not OK? As do many women, I have body parts that are considered acceptable and unacceptable. This year I am considering not giving myself a full, polished pedicure for the first time in years. Which is a big deal: I didn’t wear sandals until I was 24. My feet are normal looking I suppose, but I hated them for years and refused to expose them to the world. My upper arms are a disaster, but every year I wear tank tops, because what the hell, I like them and they jiggled horrendously even when I managed to starve myself to a size 14. My legs are relatively OK — from the knees down — but years of waitressing, retail and coffee-shop jobs have left me with the family tradition of spider and varicose veins. My own lack of body-sense has me walking into shit non-stop so they bruise like soft fruit regularly as well. I remedy this with self-tanning lotion to mask their motley discolorations. I never expose my stomach, so that’s not an issue. And bathing suits? Well, my upper thighs haven’t seen sunlight in I don’t know how many years. It’s a feat just for me to walk around the house in my underwear.

Every year I shed some stupid “don’t” about myself in the face of warmer weather. “I don’t wear tank tops.” or “I don’t wear sandals.” These mandates that have kept my body appropriately covered, controlled and out of the public eye are repealed year by year as I gain more confidence in myself and my right to feel comfortable in hot weather, despite my fat body. I think part of it has come with age: The older I get, the more I am not in the same playing field as younger women, the less I feel like competing over who is sexiest. The more I simply want to be comfortable, both in my body and in my clothes. When it’s 90 degrees with 98 percent relative humidity, I am not convinced that anyone is winning the cuteness competition, fat or not.

A lot of dieting talk has been swirling around lately, and I am finding myself a bit caught up in it. Maybe it is my fault I am so fat. Maybe if I was simply a better person, if I exercised more, if I ate less, if I did something different, if I was just another person. Because really, for me, being thin is what that is about: being a different person. I cannot even really imagine myself thin. Thinness, or “less fatness” was always a state of impermanence for me; transient, a vagrant body. It was like holding onto fog. The more I hear talk about dieting, about losing weight, about warmer weather, the more my body dysmorphia spikes. It does not help that my IBS is really out of control right now. When my body feels bad, my mind does, too. I see my face with several double chins. My arms look bigger, my hips a wide expanse. Mirrors are my enemy now.

Which allows for that internalized fatphobia to creep in, or creep out, I guess, as I am sure it simply was buried in there and managed to poke its head out of the soil when I wasn’t paying attention.

 

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3 Comments

  1. Twistie said,

    April 15, 2008 at 10:55 am

    Okay, it’s very hard to overcome the messages society sends us and we should absolutely be as honest with ourselves as we can about our struggles with that aspect of acceptance. Hell, there are absolutely days when the mirror is my enemy and I am filled with negative thoughts about my body. Still, I can’t help wondering how much of your reaction to that Uncle Sam wasn’t the fat but the sloppy aspect of him. Would your reaction have been different had he been a fat Uncle Sam in a suit that was complete and fitted him properly? Did it really lead to a revelation or are you reacting to the wrong part of his image because you fear being fatphobic?

    Just some food for thought. After all, nothing says ‘professional’ like some unkempt person in clothes that don’t fit. Fat or thin, that’s not a good image to put out there.

  2. thoughtracer said,

    April 15, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Well, I appreciate what you are trying to say …

    But my internal dialogue was really what was written up there. It was: that guy is fat, and fatness shouldn’t be linked to taxes because the government already takes so many taxes. Fat is greedy, the government is greedy. Isn’t that why they choose a skinny guy, the traditional Uncle Sam image, to distance themselves from the greediness? Thin implies you only take what you need, never more. It didn’t help that the guy was sloppy looking, but I put that on the company — give him a uniform that fits.

    It was also an interesting internal conversation because it highlighted my views on fatness and money. Thin equals lean, sparing, good, environmentally conscious, owning just the right amount of stuff, having a good carbon footprint, investing in sound companies, being of the right socioeconomic class. Fat means taking too much, owning too much, excess, exorbitance, a disgusting display of wealth and capitalism.

  3. Nan said,

    April 15, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    Ditto the thought on the clothing — if the costume had fit properly, would you have even noticed anything out of the ordinary? Once you did notice, though, the associations are interesting. There is a reason why plutocrats are always pictured as fat in editorial cartoons.

    As for body image issues, I’ve figured out the cure for worrying about one’s varicose veins, flabby upper arms, and whatever flaws one thinks one has: spend a few months in the Deep South in the summer. I avoided shorts for years because I have what I think is a weird birth mark on the back of one leg. Moved from the upper Midwest to Georgia, and lost a whole lot of body image inhibitions in the interest of personal comfort. 😉


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