fat phobia, body hair, and all other female body woes

This is nothing new.

While reading “Deeply Problematic” a great feminist blog I just learned about (guess who’s behind on most things?), I was inspired by this post: Between thin and fat: dichotomies, binaries, and the unacknowledged spectrum

Ms. RMJ writes

It’s hard for me to own my thin privilege. I was convinced of my fatness from a very young age. And I do take up a lot of space – much more than women are supposed to. I’m a very tall woman (5’10.5″), and when I was a child, I took it up with confidence and command of my intelligence. I walked alone to and from school without fear.

Until one day, when I was walking home from middle school, reading a book. Doing my daily thing in the winter, bundled up in a coat. Suddenly a man leaned out of a car window and yelled, “DOG!”

I was 12.

It never happened again (because I generally operate with thin privilege) but I never forgot it. It cropped up in the poems and stories I wrote for years and years. My sexual and social growth was already stunted, but this one incident triggered years of insecurity and body hate. That wasn’t the only contributing factor – others included further abuse from classmates (my nickname at one point was “the beast”), and the lovely society we live in. But it’s what started it, began to make me hate the space I took up, allowed others to make me feel that I wasn’t beautiful and didn’t deserve that space.

Ms. RMJ’s story provoked me to wonder, “When was the first time I felt ‘othered’ by my looks?” Any girl, and probably guy (although as a woman I can’t speak for the male gender’s experience with adolescence), can relate to you a story of when someone or something made her realize her thighs were a little wobbly, her boobs were too small, her hair was too flat, her butt too big. Normally, these coming-of-age stories emerge from dreaded middle school days. Mine do, at least.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am eating cake while typing this.

I am Eastern European. This means I am blessed with dark hair and pale skin. Take my use of “blessed” in consideration. Dark hair is beautiful on top of the head, but on the rest of a woman’s pale skin, dark hair is considered an affliction. I can’t remember exactly when I noticed this problem at first, but I do remember my awareness spiraling out of control fast. I remember looking in my bathroom mirror, propping my butt up against the sink to see my lower back, my thighs, the area below my bellybutton, my underarms. It seemed as if over night I had gone from child to hairy Jewish monster.  My WASP friends were pale, but their hair was blond. My best friend was Asian and thus had inherited beautiful caramel skin and zero body hair. I became obsessed, begging my mother to wax every inch of skin that might show accidentally if my shirt rode up too high while sitting at my desk or while changing in the girl’s gym locker room.

And then one fateful day at the salon in Pennsylvania, the wax lady asked if I was there for eyebrow work. This woman was obviously out to shame me into getting more work done to pay her more because I have a difficult time believing any woman can be so stupid as to say to a young girl, “Hey! You’re a hairy one! How about I get rid of all that? When she asked if I needed my eyebrows done, I said “No. I tweeze them.” And in her thick, Russian accent she replied, “You tweeze…all of that?”

That’s how I became a regular. Shamed into submission, the Russian lady with no tact ripped my black hairs out of face, and with deep satisfaction said, “There you go.”

Hair is easy. I know. It grows in, you rip it out using wax, tweezers, razors, or shame. Hair is not as difficult to eliminate as excess weight.

Once I had made it through middle school (sometimes my memory of middle school makes me want to not have children just out of guilt that they may one day have to deal with middle school and adolescence themselves) and entered high school, some interesting changes took place. My hair went from frizzy and unmanageable to curly with volume. My body became soft and round in the right places. I had breasts, hips, and a small waist. Guys who had called me “ugly” or “witch” to my face in middle school were literally asking me to date them. I became confident in my appearance, and at times bordered conceited. It felt justified after my nightmare in middle school; I took out my new “hotness” on guys, never girls, and made them know I never forgot what they said- I mean, how can you expect a girl to date you after you xeroxed a picture of Anne Frank and taped it to my locker. I’m not claiming that there weren’t days of toxic self-loathing or moments of doubt and insecurity. But as a whole, I became a confident young lady in high school.

Fast forward to college graduation and moving to the South. I can’t blame the South for gaining weight, although I do often. It’s my fault that I gained weight due to my lack of motivation to work out and my deep-rooted belief that a diet should be grounded on the philosophy that “I eat whatever the hell I wanna”. And for the first time in my life, I became the ubiquitous girl uncomfortable in her body because of weight.

Although I am “thin-privileged” as Ms. RMJ writes, and love my curvy figure, I feel like most American women; I could stand to lose about ten or fifteen pounds. But I can’t help but worry that I’m comparing my body today as a 24 year old, to the body I once had as a 17 year old. I will never look like her again, just as I will never look like my 24 year old self when I’m 31. And how am I to know what is normal for my body type when I can only compare my looks to the media, the younger Janine, or my friends who are battling their own body issues themselves?

Towards the end of college and the last two years in Mississippi I hid behind a false conceited persona when it came to my appearance. Inwardly, I knew I had gained weight and felt uncomfortable. But outwardly, my game face said “I’m still hot, I don’t need to worry about weight or diet like other frivolous, superficial women.”

And then there were days, and there still are the days, when I would close the zipper of my pencil skirt and admire how snug it sat against my feminine hips. I am very thankful for those days. I am also thankful for having been raised in a home where my mother and father commented often about how beautiful I was. I’m not sure how this all manifested itself. But I pretty sure as far as the rest of my American female counterparts are holding up, I’m doing pretty damn well.

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