Sunday, February 13, 2011

Shame on me

I am a woman, a mother, a teacher.  I am a compassionate person, an intelligent person, a vibrant and funny person.  But most importantly--to everyone else, at least--I am a fat person.  This is the lens that colors everything else about me, that skews all other accomplishments and joy in my life, and that deepens the bitterness and sorrow in my life.  My children don't love me less because I'm fat; my husband doesn't love me less because I'm fat; my students don't learn  less from me because I'm fat.  And yet--somehow--my attributes become drawbacks because I'm fat.  People say, "it's too bad...she's got a pretty face," because a pretty face is wasted on this body.  People say, "she's smart, but..." clearly expressing regret that intelligence was wasted on this body as well.  In the end, nothing else matters: everything comes down to the extent to which my body meets--or, to be more precise, fails to meet--social expectations of beauty. 

How can I help but internalize the way others see me?  I walk around with hunched shoulders, afraid that good posture will only serve to emphasize my excess weight.  I apologize constantly, even if I've done nothing wrong; even, in fact, if the wrong has been done to me.  Sorry you bumped into me--I am fat, so I am clearly wrong.  I was clearly in the way.  I don't have a space to occupy for which I do not have to apologize.  I shouldn't be here.  Even when I am not apologizing, my tone is such that everyone thinks that I am--when I explain to my students why we are doing a difficult assignment, they tell me "it's okay," as if I have asked for their forgiveness.  I am always the object of pity because I am always first an object of disgust. 

Shame keeps me from leaving the house.  From making new friends.  From buying nice clothes.  Shame makes me avoid mirrors at all costs.  Shame keeps me from being wholly human.  And yet there is no way to be myself without being myself in this culture, a culture which sees me as an example of excess, of a failure of self-control, a woman not to be--a woman who makes other women feel good about themselves. 

There is, however, enough shame to go around.  As a culture we have, not surprisingly, taken the easy way out.  I am marked by my weight as out of control, as someone who cannot exercise restraint.  My method of coping with stress--ironically, including the stress of self-hatred--is to eat.  How do others deal with their stress?  Drinking a little too much?  Being a little too unkind to their children?  Being underhanded and cruel to others who might consider them friends?  Buying everything they can to prove how good they are?  My weakness can be seen on my body, but it does not make me weaker than anyone else.  It just gives everyone else an excuse not to work on their own weakness, to hide it from themselves because it is so easily hidden from everyone else.  There is enough shame for them, too.

1 comment:

  1. Is it okay if I comment on these posts? I don't want to sully a pristine blog. (Seriously ... I'm not sure if this is a space for response or not ... and you should feel free to delete this.)

    But, I have to say: this writing is just beautiful. I feel it as much as I intellectually understand it. And, it feels real: honest, unflinching, shame and all. I'm especially moved by the last paragraph, which states so emphatically and persuasively what we all unconsciously know, probably, but what so few people are willing to admit. People hate fat people--even if those fat people are themselves--because they make visible what many of us want so desperately to be INvisible: fear, self-doubt, weakness and unfulfilled want of all kinds.

    But, I also must offer a counter. I ask this not as a friend or even a fellow sufferer but simply as a close reader (and, supposedly, an expert one). You ask: "How can I help but internalize the way others see me?" I ask in return, "Is it possible, instead, that you are externalizing the way you see yourself?" For, it seems to me that the feelings you describe here are real and, as such, are terrifying and powerful. But, I'm not convinced (perhaps because of my own blinders) that those with whom you interact are seeing you always through the prism of their feelings about your body. I'm guessing that some, if not many, of them aren't even registering your body, at least not as frequently as you think.

    And then I think, Who the hell am I kidding? I, too, have forced myself to seem cheerful, so at least I'm the jolly fat girl and not the grumpy fat girl. I've tried to use "fat" as a neutral term to rob it of its negative power, but even my five-year-old daughter already (dear god) seems to know better (or worse, actually). I've celebrated the things this body has done only to despite it in the same breath for not doing these things more gracefully.

    P.S. Believe you me, sister, good posture can only help. It makes the stomach look smaller, the boobs look higher, and the back fat look less, well, like back fat. :)