Thursday, August 8, 2013

[xoJane] Yes, people, I know I'm skinny so please quit telling me!

I am skinny.

This I can see from every reflective surface I walk past so please spare me the news commentaries, public service announcements, business memos, full-page classified ads and the current cover of Allure magazine.

I still haven’t figured out why people feel obligated to comment on my lean stature (I’m not only slim but also an inch shy of six feet tall.) or my eating habits or assume it’s even acceptable or welcomed. Mentioning someone’s weight is akin to questioning her age unless she brings it up first. But I don’t.

Yet some people are so nonchalant with their statements, connecting them to irrelevant observations and buttering me up with compliments before blurting out their thoughts.

“Love your hair. Nice outfit. Oh, by the way, do you eat?”
Do you want to get smacked?

But most times they just look for a way to steer the conversation toward my weight. They study me for an open invitation – a gesture or a key word – to swoop in and voice their opinions and concerns.

A few years ago I attended brunch the morning after my friend’s wedding. The buffet was a fabulous spread of made-to-order omelets and waffles, eggs benedict, sausage, an array of pastries, fruits and crisp bacon (woo hoo!) to name a few. I ended up with two plates on my first visit because I have this plate peeve with runny foods disturbing the texture of other foods. As I sat down I felt several pairs of eyes scan my hands. One guest leaned over to the bride, who later told me he asked, “Is she gonna eat all of that?”

Hell yeah. And I could’ve eaten yours, too, had you continued to neglect your dish to stare at mine. Mind your business.

I find it funny that people assume I’m a picky eater on some anti-food campaign. It’s actually quite the opposite. However, I do read labels – for calorie counts. More is ideal. And I eat almost anything (flavorful, that is) but have a proclivity for certain foods over others that have nothing to do with taste. Baked or sautéed chicken and fish are rarely filling unless I scarf down bread with it. Something about the greasy stuff keeps me full and my body from kicking into weight loss mode. So I prefer everything fried.

Of course I must then counterbalance the effects from all the extra fat but I’m not allowed to utter the words “run” or heaven forbid “exercise.” They’re less synonymous with health than they are with dieting and they inadvertently elicit a last-minute intervention.

“You don’t have any weight to lose!”

Well who said anything about losing weight? Can I preserve my heart, please?

It’s easy to respond to the verbal rudeness and tactlessness but things become rather tricky when ignorance decides to ogle and smirk instead. I can’t necessarily fight back with words if none were spoken in the first place. Then I may come across as not only skinny but also confrontational and paranoid.

Years after the brunch incident, after I started to finally gain weight, I was in Gap looking for a few summer pieces when I noticed this couple sitting on a tee shirt display (don’t ask me why) glancing at one another and then sneering at my calves. The first two times I kept browsing and let the shit slide. They were too dumb to realize I could also see them in a mirror. The third time I stopped mid-browse, turned to face them and gave the best what-the-fuck-you-looking-and-laughing-at face I could muster. That became my standard greeting. Not a friendly “Hi. How are you?” in passing but a bit of mocking met with a whole lot of mean mugging.

At this point one may envision a long-limbed, bony creature covered with wafts of cloth based on these folks’ reactions. But I was a tad bit bigger during these encounters. I was much smaller way back in my preteen and college years and people (adults!) were even ruder. 

I recall this one outfit that I absolutely loved – navy and white horizontally-striped bell-bottoms and a coordinating long navy flared top – and I wore it to casual special occasions in lieu of a skirt or dress. It probably wasn’t the most flattering for my frame but I had the crazy notion I could hide in big clothes. It never dawned on me that I’d appear frumpy, unfashionable and even more frail.

I wore that ensemble one night during my freshman year as I walked across campus with three of my new dormmates. We approached a group of guys who weren’t students but lingered on campus trying to attract college girls. One of the guys yelled did I have a particular terminal illness and laughed like he was on stage at the DC Improv.

It was less humor, more humiliation.

It was many, many years before I stopped seeing myself as gangly; although I still had the small frame, I also grew new curves, which only fueled my increasing appetite and pushed me to maintain my figure. Yet those who knew me long-term simply couldn’t (or refused to) acknowledge I wasn’t the same miniscule size I used to be.

“You ain’t no size six!”

Sorry to disappoint you, pretend seamstress. I can’t squeeze into a zero or two. Maybe a four if there’s some stretch in the material.

But why are you questioning my size and why was I debating it?

Perhaps because I’d worked so hard to disassociate myself from my old self, the one that I found less attractive, mainly because my community convinced me that it was. Very few looked like me; everyone else was full-figured. So although no physician ever told me I was unhealthy, I still felt extreme pressure to fatten up. Fast.

There seems to be this comfort, or presumed political correctness, in openly discussing pounds and sizes when these attributes fall on the opposite (lower) end of the weight spectrum. It’s uncouth to bluntly tell a stranger or a loved one to her face she’s too fat (or print on a magazine cover “400 Pounds of Fabulous Fun”) but since everyone apparently wants to be thinner, it’s okay to talk to me about my slimness. I should be grateful or flattered I’m in the latter category but never offended someone mentioned it.

Just know that I am insulted and I was constantly cloaked in a three-piece suit of shame until recent years. And that suit didn’t include shorts, dresses or skirts; it took me nearly 30 years to wear anything that showed my legs. My summer wardrobe consisted of jeans and khakis. Fortunately I could double up in the winter with layers of denim, fleece, wool and corduroy. And it wasn’t to keep warm, either.

Now that I’m 35 pounds heavier, I feel better about my appearance and more able to quickly shut down all the snide remarks that are dished out to me. But I realize I’m still not considered average build. I’ve never stated it nor alluded to it. Ever.

So folks can quit tapping me on the shoulder and whispering in my ear as if they’re sharing some dirty little secret. I see what you see and I already know what you’re about to say. 

This essay was originally published on xoJane.

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