Friday, May 18, 2007

a rant on body image

Last night I attended the going away party for my friend Sarah, who works in film and is now moving to L.A. While I was there, a woman and her husband arrived at the party. They come up to the table where I'm sitting, where the food is.

"Are you naturally that skinny?" she asks me. Mind you, I've never met this person before or been introduced.

With half a dozen people waiting on my answer, I couldn't say what I was really thinking, which was, "Are you naturally that effing stupid and ugly?"

What did she want me to say? She wanted me to say, "As a matter of fact, I've struggled for years with anorexia, and I am a deeply unhealthy and unhappy person who secretly envies people like you who are about fifteen to twenty pounds above your target weight, despite the rampant imagery in advertising and entertainment which promotes my body type." Because this woman feels it is somehow unfair that someone like me could go around with a mostly ideal body; I must have cheated. I must be starving myself. Please, she thinks. Please, let her be miserable, because I am.

Sorry. I was eating a brownie and drinking a Shiner Bock during this conversation, so I don't know what she realistically expected. Mind you, this was a very small brownie, and I only had two that night, to go along with my single beer. (Yegads, it's anorexia, it must be.)

I am five-foot-ten because it's in my genes and my momma fed me lots of milk and good food. I am something around 120 pounds (five to ten pounds above your average supermodel's weight) because -- let's face the hard truth -- I eat healthy food with only a little dessert, and I run and lift weights.

I know you want to believe I'm not healthy, but the fact is, I am more or less okay. Which leads us to the topic of exercise. When most people who are above their target weight talk about how hard they work out, they are talking about going for a brisk walk. I'm talking about the years I spent running track and field which included enough hard-core workouts to pretty much kill my right knee by the age of twenty-eight. We're talking sweat everywhere, collapse at the end of the workout, so sore you can barely walk to class workouts. You don't know hard work till you've done 250-150 sprints six times in one practice.

Which is what the human body and its metabolism generally expect after living in an agrarian society for most of our shared history, when you worked your fingers to the bone because you did that or starved, and you carried enough fat on you to make it through at least some bad harvests.

I don't till fields now, but I run, and I pump iron. Adjust, lady.

(My fellah, who is about six and a half feet tall, gets some equivalent of this from strangers who feel the need to point out his height like he's a circus freak. We're talking, "You must be from outer space you're so tall!" There's no blame assigned in those comments, but they aren't polite.)

Flame away, friends. Flame away. But before you go off and talk about my body weight in front of several other people as if it's your business to insult me because you feel you've been gyped by your genetic code... stop yourself. Wait till we've been properly introduced. Get to know me a little. Then we can talk about it like civilized people, and I hope you can find what you need so you can come to terms with your body type, too.


ihearttheastros said...

I'm above my target weight, so in a way I understand what this woman was probably feeling. But I'd never go up to someone and say that to them. My self-esteem issues should stay just that; mine.

Marci said...

People are ridiculous. Just ridiculous. I've often wondered how people can make such insensitive comments, and I'm sure you hit it right on.

Oh, and hearing you describe those workouts? That really made me miss them! From about seventh grad through my sophomore year in college, I thought it was normal to be sore all day, everyday. What fun!

Cobbalicious said...

Marci, I'm there with ya, sister. (And you'll probably do it to yourself again next season when the knee's better.) :)

I'd say none of us, myself included, are ever at our physical ideal unless we're working that hard.