Thursday, December 22, 2005

Perceptions

You’re so damned fat. I saw you across the room and was wondering who would dare wear that outfit -- should have figured it was you! You should go have your body fat checked at that booth over there.

The overweight endure a lifetime of personal insults due to their weight, but imagine an adult making such a blatant statement to another adult while in the presence of a group.

Now, change one word in the first sentence...instead of fat, use skinny.

Skinny. It’s socially acceptable to tell someone she’s skinny. Yet, the word brings-up my adolescent memories of knobby knees and elbows, of bony shoulders, of relentless teasings, of dresses that had to be taken-in due to lack of cleavage, of baggy t-shirts worn to cover up my non-shape. Add to it height that I didn’t want, and I stood up like a piece of spaghetti: the same dimension from every angle, with a curving spine that tried in vain to bring my shoulders closer to the ground. Growing up was an exercise in inadequacy.

The overweight are bombarded with society’s expectations; but advertising doesn’t only tell us to be thin.

It tells us we need curves: a woman should be an hourglass.

Yet hourglass curves and thin just don’t naturally coincide. 11% body fat is probably a percentage a man would want, but in a woman 10-12% is considered essential fat -- just enough to keep organs healthy and functioning. In a woman, 10-12% body fat doesn’t provide enough extra for bodacious, padded curves. 12% was willed to me from my mom and I struggle to maintain that during cycling season. While I was racing, Dad worried that I was anorexic, even though I ate anything that dropped onto my plate.

My shape is totally at home in a group of cyclists though, and wearing lycra upon it requires little more thought than does deciding what to have for breakfast. I rode to work on the day of a work-sponsored health fair and thought nothing of stopping over for my flu shot on the commute home. In that group of teachers, however, I was an oddity and several let me know it: I wondered who’d dare wear that, you should go have your body fat checked, you’re so skinny! And I’d get the cocked-head, what-do-you-have-to-say-for-yourself? look.

I’d forgotten how to respond to “skinny” comments since I don’t hear them as I move about in my off-the-clock life. I tried to be gracious, sometimes factual, but based on the blank looks I got in return I was damned either way. What I wanted to say was: Thank God I’ve got some weight back these days, but thin is viewed by most as something to attain, not something to disdain.

They couldn't hear my brother in the back of my brain jeereing at me: Toothpick!

Screw ‘em.

Fortunately, Dad and Mom passed along his German stubbornness and her Irish fire.

:-]

- The Lithe Old Bag

6 comments:

Ptelea said...

Whether you are lithe or 'curvy'- society, other women and men all too often seem to tell us that we aren't perfect, that we need to change. What we inherit and what we do with what we inherit never seem to be good enough. What is really important is #1 your health - keep it as good as possible, #2 be kind to yourself and love yourself for who you are and #3 learn to ignore the comments of people who don't have your best interests at heart - in other words: 'screw 'em' Good for you!

Trée said...

Interesting post. Whenever I'm at my most lean I often hear the same from those who feel comfortable enough with me to speak their mind. I often wonder what motivates them to speak such hurtful words.

todd said...

As long as you're healthy, it doesn't matter.

nOTSO said...

My wife is 5'10", 135, and looks thinner due to similarly low body fat. It is interesting that people feel free to comment on how skinny she is. I've never asked her if it bothered her, but the next time it comes up I'll have to do that.

Water off a ducks back baby,

Merry Xmas (I hope that's right, but if not, no offense intended), and I haven't forgotten about adventure racing. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adventure_race for a tutorial. The races range from 2 hours to several days.

the old bag said...

Notso, I'm almost exactly the same height and weight.

At my age, I don't have the body-image concerns that I had as a youngster -- I just found the sudden comments odd. Friends know me well and have seen me through the years so the whole issue isn't an issue. We all are shaped the way we're shaped...it just is.

Coworkers so free with their comments were what struck me as odd. Another oddity was that if I said "thanks" I got the half-frown, and if I said "sometimes it's a problem for me" I got the half-frown.

Again, this is not a huge issue, but made me realize the expectations society has for us, male and female. Imagine what the overweight experience.

the old bag said...

re: the Adventure Racing link -- thanks!