I have started, stopped, edited, restarted this post over the past few months. Today I acknowledge that I will never find a way to write about this in a concise, several-paragraph blog entry and to continue to try would be stifling this thing that has existed forever but is always evolving, always somehow exactly the same. This isn’t the beginning or the end and I couldn’t find either no matter how hard I’d try.
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Early into my relationship with Ryan, I found out that I had been talked about by someone that, having never met me, described me, the new girlfriend, as “young and chubby”. End statement.
The “young” is fine. It’s relative only by comparison, and while I suppose some people mean it to imply “stupid, inexperienced, ignorant, not to be taken seriously”, in this case there is a full 10 years between me and the person who made the statement. I am, in that respect, young(er). Okay.
“Chubby” is trickier. I want to say it’s not. I want to say growing up in a household with a brave and strong mother, a punk rock/feminist music scene that embraced Riot Grrl and discouraged body image disorders, graduating from a Women’s College with a minor in gender studies and the honor of being the student speaker at my graduation, being fully involved in a progressive/body positive/women positive subculture and lifestyle would make me simply… not care about something like that.
You would think.
I feel completely and utterly ashamed to admit to myself, let alone others, how much time is spent worrying that somehow my appearance will directly affect who I am and how others see me.
It’s not all bad. I have come to embrace, and even really like, parts of my body that previously caused so much grief. I learned early on: I’m not blonde, the closest I’ll ever get to a tan is if my freckles run together, I’m built like my father which means what I lack in the length of my legs I make up for in a way that leads my Mom to say things like, “You know Jaim, from the back you look like a Kardashian sister!” I like big, dark hair and colorful tattoos and hips and thighs, and that’s me.
I’m not sure if I’ve made peace with those parts because of or in spite of the fact that those are my genes, and I better get used to ’em, but the white flag of surrender has been waved.
Until, of course, something in my mind fires a sneak attack and burns that fucking flag to ash.
Here’s the thing: With all of my heart, I know that a person’s appearance does not equal their worth. I think all body types are beauitful, but not as beautiful as a person’s spirit or heart. I don’t think someone labeled “fat” is gross, lazy or any of the other negative implications that come with it, and certainly not less than.
I was enraged when, a few years ago at my bookstore job, a mother turned away books about Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, Betsy Ross, and Frida Kahlo because her daughter would say they “aren’t pretty enough” to write about for a book report. I have studied Betty Friedan and Jean Kilbourne. I grew up reading Ms. magazine and Bust! I thought Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” happened 30 years too late, but better late than never.
I know that who we are and what we do is always more important than the things we have or how we look.
I’d like to walk into a room without immediately comparing myself to every other woman and letting that determine how I’ll feel about myself for the night. I want to stop feeling that because someone else is pretty with features different than mine, it means I am less pretty (and thus less, in general). I want to watch a movie, look at a magazine or website, or generally exist without the constant worry in my head that suddenly the whole world will come to a startling halt to point, and laugh, and judge.
“I don’t understand, Jaime. You are the least shallow person I know, and yet, this… this is really, really shallow thinking”, Ryan tells me when I try to talk it out. He’s right. It’s embarrassing. It completely goes against everything I believe in my heart to be true – for other people. No. For every other person on the earth, except me. For me and me only, it’s entirely rational. Why do I do that?
A couple of months ago, some ladies and I started having meetings to discuss these very issues. I was shocked (yet somehow sadly comforted) to know I wasn’t the only one thinking this way. These woman are smart, creative, own successful interesting businesses based on their passions, contribute to the community, have very women-positive/feminist ethics, and frankly, they’re gorgeous.
We sit around, drinking wine and eating tabouli salads, trying to figure out WHAT IS GOING ON HERE and how, with lives that are so full of loving people and wonderful friends and getting paid to do what we love and all of that, all of the really truly important stuff covered, feeling “ugly” can ruin a day. “None of us would ever allow someone we love to be talked about in the ways we talk about ourselves”, a concept that we all agree is true. In fact, just imagining that someone would speak about our mothers, sisters, daughters or friends makes some of the group clench their fists and tell in gory detail what they’d likely do to that person (which would be the very opposite of “pretty”).
I wish I could say that together we found the magic pill, THE THING that will rid us of insecurity and body-obsession forever and ever! We haven’t. But I do know: When I leave, I always feel better. Not for the griping, the complaining, the airing of grievances, but to be in the company of such truly lovely people and that, despite talking about ugly feelings for several hours, remind me of what real beauty is.
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The afternoon I found out about the “young and chubby” comment, it hit hard. Is that what people think when they see me? Is that what I am, who I am? That’s me summed up?
I felt sick to my stomach and was thisclose to calling in sick at the bookstore, convinced I couldn’t go in public because somehow my existence was offensive.
The holiday season had just begun, and every year the store does a book drive: Buy a new book and it is donated to the organization chosen that year, always one where children that may not own books will get to take it home. If you choose, you can fill out a tag, “TO and FROM” and write your name on the FROM line.
There were barely any donations the entire night, when finally a couple in their mid-twenties decided to buy a book as a donation. They took care in selecting a special one, “Our daughter loves this and I’m sure another child will, too” they said with big smiles as I offered them to tag to fill out.
After they left, I realized that on the FROM line, instead of writing first names like “Danny and Megan”, they wrote:
someone who loves you
Chills ran all over my skin and in that second all the feelings of self-doubt drained from me, from my body, from my body that is me and that is mine. The body that is okay just as it is, which I know and somehow forget over and over. But these people, these wonderful people passed through at just the right moment to help me remember: love is all we have.
And that includes the love and respect we give ourselves.