You think you deserve this shame…

By | April 15, 2008


In Me & you & everyone we know Miranda July’s character has “low ankles” & so her shoes always chafe her skin. She believes that it is the (obviously deviant) shape of her ankles, more generally, HER body, that condemns her to a lifetime of ill-fitting shoes & blistered & bleeding feet. When she’s at the department store, a shoe salesmen (who she ends up dating at the end of the film) gestures to her scabby ankles and says: “you think you deserve this pain, but you don’t,” and you can see her character’s whole body lift & lean towards him (like a plant towards the light). She, like many us in this aggressively self-policing Foucauldian panopticon of a society, has never considered that she was experiencing unfair & unnecessary physical & emotional pain as a result of crappy manufacturing, a deficit of fit options, a narrow standard of size/shape/construction that excludes most of the population. Being told that she ought not have to be ashamed or suffer for her particular individual body (part), so directly and matter-of-factly is revelatory & liberating. It is a sort of permission that allows her character to take more risks in love, art & life as the film progresses.

I stepped on a scale recently (with the idea of writing this post in mind) and I am about 245 pounds these days. My measurements – 48-42-55 at 5′3 – put me (in theory) in all sorts of size ranges depending on the clothing company & size chart. In practice, however, I’m wearing a 20/22 on bottom & a 18 on top. I’ve learned through different posts on a variety of blogs in the fatosphere that this (rather arbitrarily) is considered too fat to do things like tan in a tanning bed, go skydiving, & ride one of those teeny tiny miniature ponies. (None of which really feels all that regrettable to me, except for maybe that last part because small ponies – especially the ones that wear sneaker shoes – are very adorable, and I think I’d look most marvelous wearing some sort of cape & crown & riding one throughout my town). I’ve learned, from fat-hating society & industry, that I’m not supposed to feel angry or frustrated about arbitrary manufacture weight limits (or weak-ass ponies… kidding) but rather, that I’m supposed to shame myself & body into submission & slowly disappear until I’m considered a reigned-in & obedient & thin enough person to merit things like a fake bake & a safe jump from an airplane & a bedazzled saddle on a tiny horse. In the aforementioned situations, I know & feel pretty strongly that it isn’t the fault of MY body. While I might feel the pang of increased want brought about in situations of (perceived) deprivation, I realize that (being as we are, entrenched in capitalism and its attending ideologies of privation/saturation) it’s that & mostly only that.

It’s harder, much harder, for me not to feel body shame (& as if I deserve shame for my weight) when I’m putting the kibosh on going to a particular movie theatre (citing bad popcorn, small screens) beloved to my friends because the seats cut off my circulation in my hips after only a few minutes. & wow, do I ever feel like an asshole when I keep calling shotgun on road trips – not because I love the front seat, but because when I try to sit in the back (with two other people) I have to tuck my arms in tight behind me & hold my thighs taut & together, so as not to encroach on everyone else’s space. It is not easy, when I’m out with my writing group – where I happen to be the largest size – at the same popular diner/bakery we go to every week to admit that there is really only one place – the table with one armless bench side – in the whole restaurant that I can sit comfortably because of my size. As much as I am happy to talk about HAES & FA as general rules to live by with my (smaller) friends, I am hesitant to point out the ways my fat complicates things like concerts & movies & restaurants & amusement park rides because when such situations have been thrust upon me – one particularly dark day, while gaming with friends, a wooden chair runner snapped under my foot – the awkwardness of people’s reactions &, to be fair, of my own extreme shame & embarrassment are such that I never want to discuss it again. Much of the time it seems easier for me – and those in my company – if I just get to (or called shotgun on) the workable seating first, thereby avoiding the discussion all together.

A few weeks back, I ran late for Writing Group & my coveted bench spot was already taken. I winced and started to force my ass into the antique chairs with the arms that curve into a horseshoe (as if they were lucky!), arms that hit me at the very widest point of my long-torsoed body, arms that might be said to firmly embrace a smaller person but choke the life out of a fatty like me, & I thought about that scene in You & me & everyone we know. I thought about all the ways I do manage to assert my body & its worth & decided that, smooth social graces be damned, a second of discomfort/awkwardness for me & my companions was INFINITELY more preferable to two to three hours of me experiencing silent & sustained pain (and shame). So I* stood up looked at these women, & said:

“Can I sit on the booth side, because this chair is not rising to the occasion of fitting my most GLORIOUS ass?”

One woman laughed, and one looked surprised, and the third woman apologized, got up and offered me her spot on the booth saying:

“I’m sorry, I should have realized, since *I* [she’s a size 12/14] have to slide myself in and out or the chair comes with me.”

And yeah, I won’t lie, it was definitely kind of awkward for a second there, but surprisingly, I didn’t really feel humiliated.

Actually, I felt relieved and, if I do say so, a little bit empowered knowing that I’ll no longer have to rush to the restaurant for the coveted booth spot. Relieved, that if I’m in this situation with a different group of people, that I, having done it once, certainly have the ability to speak up again. More than that, I feel pretty proud that I was able to face the shame that many corners & sections of society would have me feel about my body and effectively say “No, actually, it’s YOUR tiny chair/attitude/saddle/tanning bed) that is inadequate, and I refuse to take responsibility or feel guilty on your behalf. It’s YOU, tiny chairs/saddles/skydiving instructors & equipment/tanning beds of the world who are falling short by failing to include & ME & all the other gloriously-bebottomed people like me because (among other things) we’re funny & smart & silly & smell pretty damn great. It’s you, who are not “up to standard” & therefore MAJORLY missing out.

* Not being a scene in a charming indie film there was, evidently, no dashing bench salesmen/waitor there, waiting in the wings, to give me absolution and back me up on the crappiness of the seating. But hey, it’s cool, sometimes we gotta do these things OURSELVES and we’re much better for it.

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