I am a plus-sized woman. There is no hiding that. Although being large was the bane of my youth, at 58 I’ve come to terms with what is. I’ve spent a large portion of my life on a diet merry-go-round that only made me dizzy. It was a cycle of being horrified by what I saw in the mirror, restricting my eating and then slowly going back to my old ways and previous weight.
Sometimes I wonder, “What if there is no changing my body?” For years I’ve tried to shrink myself to a more acceptable size without any long term success. Could I be predisposed to be this way? That seems like a real possibility when I look at my family tree. I come from a long line of big women. I recently came across a photograph of my great-grandmother in the 1930’s. Her life was filled with hard physical labor and unprocessed food. She lived today’s formula for being slender. Yet despite all of that her body was fat, and I’m built just like her.
“And I know my creator didn’t make no mistakes on me. My feet, my thighs, my lips, my eyes, I’m loving what I see.” ~India Arie, Video
Perhaps being ample sized isn’t optimal, but I’ve come to the conclusion that just may be who I am. I’m in the process of doing an, “I love myself” experiment. Instead of looking in the mirror in disgust, I bless my body. I wear the beauty of my ancestors. I affirm that my physicality is the perfect vehicle to manifest my life’s purpose. Not only do I have the soul of an artist, I have the fine motor skills to transcribe my vision onto paper. My eyes and brain work together perfectly to mix the subtle colors I envision for my paintings. My body is healthy and energetic. I have good skin and pretty eyes. Most of all, I’m grateful that it had the miraculous ability to grow and give birth to my three children.
So far my self-love experiment has been very healing. I’ve found the voice in my head is much more cruel than the outside world – for the most part. The other day while having lunch with a friend, I felt a sting from her words that I’ve experienced from others before. Lizzie (not her real name) revealed to me that she was worried about her daughter. She was afraid that her little girl would grow up with Lizzie’s sister’s metabolism and not hers. Lizzie, an effortless size four was horrified at the thought of her daughter ever having bigger hips and a curvier derrière. I assured her she had nothing to worry about and our discussion moved on to other matters.
When I returned home, I couldn’t shake my feelings of low self-worth. When Lizzy confided in me, she totally disregarded that I embody the destiny she dreads for her daughter. Instead of speaking up on my own behalf, I pushed down my outrage. No wonder I felt bad. I couldn’t understand Lizzie’s unawareness of how her concerns would affect me. She was so considerate in other areas of her life. How come she couldn’t see the body I live in is what she considers a fate worse than death? In my silence, I had sold myself out.
“I have no right, by anything I do or say, to demean a human being in his own eyes. What matters is not what I think of him; it is what he thinks of himself. To undermine a man’s self-respect is a sin.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I remember watching the The View when it first aired. Joy Behar ridiculed Ted Kennedy’s paunch by showing a picture of him boating shirtless. Plus-sized Star Jones sat next to Joy as she got her laughs at the then senator’s expense. I couldn’t believe it. How could Joy not comprehend that the cruel humor she poured over Ted Kennedy washed over Star too? I left a message about Ms. Behar’s insensitivity on the telephone hotline The View had set up at the time. To the show’s credit, I never heard any of their hosts engage in that kind of crassness again.
Looking back, I wish I had had the clarity to stand up to Lizzie’s remarks that diminished me. This kind of of prejudice is oh-so-subtle but still hurtful. It is part of the overall marginalization of women of size. If it happens again, I will shed some light on how her lack of consideration makes me feel. I am no longer bound to a body standard that is eerily close to a Barbie doll. I want to be seen and appreciated for who I am. Being plus-sized does not mean I’m invisible or, deaf either, for that matter.
Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com