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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

a lesson i learned at least 15 years ago

...or Story Time with Andrea!

One of the formative experiences in my thinking about body image occurred some time in the late 90s/early 00s. Sorry I can't be more specific than that, but I'm old and the years just blend together. I do know this occurred on a Saturday afternoon because that is intrinsic to our story. So don't say I'm not giving you specific details like a good journalist. God.

Where was I? Okay.  I was at Haymarket in Boston, waiting for a bus.  It was late afternoon, maybe 4-ish? As I stood there, just people watching***, two Hispanic women, probably in their early 30s, came up from the subway. One was unremarkable enough that I don't remember anything about her appearance other than that she was around the same age as her companion. The other was barely 5 foot tall and--I'm not excellent at guessing weight but--well over two hundred pounds. Perhaps 250.  Short and heavy enough that she had that look some people do of being completely round. Now, that is not that remarkable. There are short people and tall people, fat people and skinny people.  All kinds to make a world, as my mom would say.

What was remarkable was how this lady was attired: a black lycra tube dress that barely covered either her cleavage or her butt. I watched her and her friend walk past me and across the street with a mixture of fascination and horror. First of all, there was this sense that just one tiny wrong move and I was going to see a boob pop out or, on the other end, (as Patsy Stone would say) "...and all the world's your gynecologist." Secondly, I couldn't help my bemusement (ignorant, I know now) that tube dresses came in that size. Finally? Where on earth were they going dressed like that at 4pm on a Saturday? This was a club/party/big date dress if I ever saw one.

^^^Tube dress example for any male readers who stop by. (I learned my lesson after the time 2 out of 3 male friends had *no* idea what a romper is.)

But after a few seconds, those feelings slipped away and what I realized was that this woman--chatting animatedly and smiling with her friend--not only had no feelings of self-consciousness about her body, she also gave off a vibe of being supremely confident. This was not the kind of woman who dressed scantily in some kind of desperate attempt to gain attention. There was nothing about that in her body language.  She just seemed happy and comfortable and like she and her friend were having just the best day. And to me, it seemed like she obviously felt hot in her own skin, any deviance between her own body and societal/media norms notwithstanding.  And it occurred to me that as much as this woman almost certainly felt hot and beautiful, she most likely had a husband/lover/several suitors who thought she was sexy as hell too.  I dunno why I made that leap. In retrospect, it seems pretty unfeminist of me, this idea that one has to have the approval of a partner to feel beautiful. Nevertheless, it all made this sort of huge impression on me. It was maybe the first time I was able to divorce in my mind that someone had to look the way society tells us is ideal in order to feel beautiful or to have other people find them sexy.  This woman was sexy.

Even if I disagree with her fashion choices.

All this bubbled up in my memory today after reading a comment on someone else's blog, taking issue with a fitness author saying that after you followed her plan you would be "hot and confident" and therefore implying that as you are now you should probably be insecure and ashamed of yourself. To which I also say bah! And feh! And other interjections that end in h. The lady in the tube dress taught me you don't have to be conventionally beautiful to be confident but that being confident probably makes you hot. Pretty good for being in my field of vision for 90 seconds and never speaking to me, huh?


***see? it was a long time ago back when our primitive cell phones did not allow us to peruse the internet at all times

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