I once dated this guy who always told me how cute I was. Not once did he ever tell me I was beautiful, sexy, or attractive; I was cute.
He dumped me for a slender, traditionally pretty girl, and I found out later he was basically sleeping with me just to get laid until the “real thing” came along, “real thing” in this case meaning “not a fat girl.” Thankfully I wasn’t any more emotionally invested in him than he was in me – not that it didn’t sting, but I didn’t exactly pine for the guy.
Things like that are why I’ve always hated the term “cute” when applied to me. I’m not a puppy, and I’m not a seven-year-old. “Cute” felt like sloppy seconds to “beautiful,” kind of like telling a fat girl she has “such a pretty face” is a way of saying “the rest of you is unacceptable, but hey, at least you’ve got something going for you.”
I have, however, had certain realizations about a) people’s opinions of me, b) my opinion of myself, and c) the actual reality of my physical existence as opposed to the idealized unrealistic version of me that people seem to think is out there somewhere waiting for me to put down the Samoas and
give sell my soul to Jillian Michaels.
I realized that my body is fat, and it’s going to stay that way. Even if I were to diet my way down to 150, which would be at the upper limit of acceptability for my height according to the insurance companies who created those charts, I would have to fight every day for the rest of my life not to gain the weight back, and given the 95% failure rate of weight loss over the long term, it’s not likely I would be able to maintain that level of obsession for a lifetime. I would be a miserable, calorie-counting-addicted wreck; I know this because I’ve done it before. After eight months of misery I lost about 40 pounds, and very nearly lost my mind in the process…and I was still 100 pounds overweight. I gained it back in three months. That’s all it took – and I didn’t even go nuts with food, I just stopped counting calories.
And even if I somehow became suitably thin, I would still have bad teeth and a funny nose and bushy eyebrows and I would probably get extremely wrinkly because when people lose a lot of weight their skin gets loose and floppy and they age so fast. My looks would still be my looks no matter what unless I dropped tens of thousands of dollars getting myself cut up and reassembled into a more “beautiful” version of womanhood.
Even “beautiful” women aren’t beautiful enough in our society. They have to be airbrushed and digitally altered to be “perfect.” So we’re not just idolizing unrealistic standards, we’re idolizing women that don’t freaking exist. If they have to shave off Angelina’s thighs, what hope do the rest of us have?
We’ve also arrived at a weird place in society where body size is equated with ideas of attractiveness, health, and moral value. The variety of accusations heaped on fat people says a lot about us as a culture: fat people are considered ugly, and lazy, and weak-willed. Even though just being thin is not a reliable indicator of good health, people assume that fat people cannot possibly be healthy, and health has taken on these bizarre overtones where being healthy means you’re a good person who is in tune with all this cosmic crap about balance…and being fat means you obviously eat too much and are therefore stealing food from poor people and destroying the planet. You see this a lot in the vegan community as well – the fat hate there is astounding. It’s even become a way of drawing people into the fold: tell them that going veg is good for animals, workers, and the Earth, and you get sneered at, but tell them it’s a weight-loss guarantee and Oprah’s banging down your door.
Unless I walk up to you, punch you in the face, and take your sandwich, what I eat is neither your problem nor your business. My health is not your concern, so don’t pretend you’re concerned about my health when what you really want to say is “You’re fat and that makes you unacceptable to me.”
My point here is that I had to make peace with the fact that I’m a rounded-off girl in an angular world. That doesn’t mean I have no control over my health, and it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t nourish and move my body, but it does mean I had to let go of the notion that punishing myself for being “cute” would make me “beautiful.”
I have realized that there are worse things than being cute. I wasn’t very good at being a kid – I was withdrawn and depressive even when I wore my pinafores and Mary Janes – so I never really got to be silly. I had a crazy active imagination, but I didn’t enjoy the girly things that I was “supposed to.” Now, in my 30s, I’ve taken to wearing my hair in pigtails. I have fallen in love with striped knee socks and t-shirts boasting cartoon characters. I like things with cupcakes on them and things that combine hearts and skulls. I’m even starting to kind of like pink things, though my shriveled Scorpio heart doesn’t want to admit it. I have a pair of sparkly Skechers and I wear big floppy jeans, and I have decided that, fuck it, I am cute.
I wear comfortable clothes. I don’t especially care if they make me look thinner, though I do like things that fit well enough that they don’t ride up or bunch in awkward places. Luckily my day job has next to no dress code, so I can show up for work in my Maleficent “Mistress of All Evil” tee and have visible tattoos and streaky hair and nobody bats an eye. Writing is another career without much of a dress code – if you work at home you can rock out in your underwear. I am also fortunate enough to live in Austin, where dressing like a lunatic is sort of expected.
Oddly, I have noticed that since I started dressing like I don’t give a crap what people think, I don’t get the stink eye nearly as much as I used to when I was trying to pass for a normal-sized girl. That isn’t just a matter of fatness, however; if you’re walking around awkward in your own skin, people are going to unconsciously respond to that. You can be the most gorgeous thing on the planet and if you hate your body it will show. Confidence can earn you a lot of mileage.
Here’s a challenge for you: Put on an outfit that you feel 100% yourself in, no matter how weird it is, and walk into a coffee shop like you own the place. Keep your posture upright and smile at people who look at you. Let them know that you aren’t afraid of what they think, and that your worth as a human being is not dependent on whether or not they’d shag you. See how people treat you when you don’t slink around like a kicked puppy – even if you don’t feel confident, try acting like you do, just to see what happens.
I won’t say that I’m always in a good place when it comes to how I look. That would be damn near impossible given that I’m a human female living in America in 2011. However, I am learning what’s important in life, and it’s not looking like the girl in the yogurt commercial. (Especially since I hate yogurt. If yogurt makes you dance and spin around on the beach, well, more power to you, but I think I’ll back away slowly.)
What’s important in life is living. I choose to live my life, not the one other people think I should want, whether that’s through loving my body in all her glorious imperfection or choosing not to reproduce or becoming a vegan or being a writer. To quote Margaret Cho,
I am not gonna die because I failed as someone else. I am gonna succeed as myself. And I’m gonna stay here and rock the mike until the next Korean-American, fag hag, shit starter, girl comic, trash talker comes up and takes my place!
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