Wednesday, June 7, 2017

#TheySaid the Most Asinine Body-Shaming Things

I very rarely tweet. Twitter is not my favorite social media, but every once in a while I'll join a Twitter feed if the hashtag matters to me. #TheySaid is about body-shaming and the lifelong impact it has on people.

My all-time favorite, by my father, was "If you gain any more weight, we'll have to go to Omar the Tentmaker for your clothes." I was twelve years old, just hitting puberty, and hit the superfecta of being fat, acne-prone, nearsighted, and wearing braces. I fought back, and for my pains, was stuck with a psychologist whose brilliant deduction was that if I lost weight, through an "organized program" such as Weight Watchers or a children's fat camp, everything would be okay. She's a very respected child psychologist...whom I fired when I was thirteen, of my own volition, because my weight was not the root of my issues; it was my father's alcoholism, which she preferred to ignore in deference to his cfmedical degree.

My mother told me that no boys would ever date me because I was fat. She refused to buy me clothing because "all the bigger clothes are so poorly made, and they cost more- I can buy your (slender) sister more clothes with less money"-there were underprivileged kids in my school who had larger wardrobes than mine. Mom (who, don't get me wrong, I loved dearly and still struggle with this because of it) put me in a high-power girdle at the age of twelve, not long after the Omar the Tentmaker crack by Dad. She viewed it as a waste of money to give me too many clothes, and as an adult, I am a clotheshorse and clothing hoarder...and there's a direct correlation. When she finally edged up into a plus size herself, I did the legwork to dress her in the expensive clothes to which she was accustomed. In that era, doing so required an almost arcane knowledge of where to shop- and although I didn't have much money for it myself, I became an expert sale-troller at the more upmarket places that sold plus clothing. She was embarrassed, ashamed of "letting herself go", and after a particularly exasperating day of dealing with this, she said, "Well, of course you know how to do this! You've always BEEN fat!"

(Yes, Mom; yes, I have. Lucky you, you only got fat when you were older. At least you had a shot at a normal life, unlike me.)

Weight Watchers, led by our local TV preacher, was a nightmare. One week, while on my period, I showed a gain at weigh-in, and he laid into me like I had just sacrificed an infant to Satan in the town square. I was twelve. I was the only teenager there. It was humiliating. I'd hit my limit with him, so I screamed, "I HAVE MY PERIOD! I'M RETAINING WATER! ARE YOU STUPID???"  I have a strong dislike of Weight Watchers to this day, and not coincidentally, this particular preacher, as a result.

A boy from my church once said to me, "I don't know how you can get off the ground in those ballet lessons you take, because you're so fat." He's 6'2"; I'm 5'6"; I executed a perfect grande jete au tournant from a flat stance and broke his nose. When he told his parents how it happened, they made him call the house and apologize (this was the olden days- now, my parents would be sued and criminal assault charges would be filed against me). Nobody who witnessed it ever challenged me about that shit again.

Another particularly fun thing, the summer before my senior year, was being broken up with because I didn't 'put out'- fat girls, according to him, should be desperate enough to call any boy a boyfriend that they'd do ANYTHING to keep him. He'd already found two fatter girls in his Upward Bound program who were both sleeping with him, for that reason; we'd been dating for a solid year, so I took it a bit badly. I slapped him so hard that I dislocated my shoulder.

(So yes, I had anger-management issues, but they were usually fairly justified. I didn't go around beating the crap out of people who didn't deserve it.)

The boy I dated after that one broke up with me at my prom because he wanted to take a thinner girl from his school to their prom. I didn't know that until I was dating one of his friends in college, whose parting shot during our breakup was (after I'd lost 90 pounds on Optifast in three months) "You're a nice girl, but you still need to lose a lot of weight." He was obese himself, which I pointed out, and to which he responded, "Guys can be fat. Girls can't. I didn't make the rules, that's just how it is."

(Ten years later, it dawned on him that he'd been really shitty to me, and I give him props for tracking me down through the alumni directory to apologize. We're still friends.) 

Which brings me to Hopkins. When I was on the run-up to my gastric sleeve, he primly looked at me one night and said, "I think it's 'cheating' to lose weight that way." I surveyed him coolly and said, "Oh, that's right, you haven't always been fat, so you don't get it." That was the last time he ever mentioned it, and by the way, he's around five hundred pounds and a Type II diabetic. But, as Bill, the dude in the preceding paragraphs pointed out, "Guys can be fat." That's different, you know.

At my sister's wedding reception, my father, who was howlingly drunk, turned and gestured to me, "Well, I'll never have to do this again!" His friend, a surgeon and father of four, protested on my behalf. Dad rebutted with, "JUST LOOK AT HER! Nobody's going to marry HER!" Dad's best friend, who was my doctor at the time, also witnessed this, and signed off immediately on my paperwork to have the LapBand. It was probably one of the most mortifying experiences of my adult life.

I was twenty-three years, nothing had changed since the "Omar the Tentmaker Incident". Nothing.

#TheySaid whatever the hell they wanted to, and it was "the truth" or "for my own good" or "because we love you, honey". I say, "**** that noise." I'm in therapy and that's one of the things that I'll never unravel if I live to be a thousand. Taste your words twice before they leave your lips, because once said, they can never be unsaid...and they're zero-calorie, so you won't gain weight from it.

Friday, June 2, 2017

It Could Have Been a Meet-Cute, Alas

Many years ago, I was on a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, with three friends. We were there for Fourth of July weekend. There's a pier on the battery that has porch swings and ceiling's one of my favorite places there, and we decided to run down there from our hotel around 11 o'clock one night.

As we were about to cross the street to the park, a young man came out on the balcony of the hotel at the corner, and started singing "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina". About halfway through, he lost the lyrics, so what's a theatre kid supposed to do? Help a brotha out.

I turned toward the hotel and delivered the next line, much to the embarrassment of my friends. So yes, I was standing in the streets of Charleston, singing show tunes with a drunk guy who was five floors above me in a very expensive hotel suite.

Just as we finished the song, his friends retrieved him from the balcony. We waved to each other, and I continued to the park with my friends.

It was just one of those moments. For me it was a tiny little scrap of magic, but it never bore fruit, of course. I always wondered who he was. I'm pretty sure he was somewhat younger than me; I was thirty, and I had the impression that he was in his twenties.

You can't orchestrate those moments. They either happen organically, or they don't. Here I am, still hoping for some spark. Magic is in such short supply these days, isn't it?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Four Years Later

Four years ago, on Towel Day (May 25th, for non-Douglas Adams fans), I had dinner with the boy on whom I had an entirely fruitless crush in high school and attended an improv show by my friend Stefan's troupe immediately thereafter.

The thing is, Hopkins delivered the smackdown the night that he graduated from high school. He considered it the coup de grace, and assumed that I would accept it as such. He missed a fundamental point about me way back when: don't ever tell me what to do.

Telling me to forget him and get on with my life was a mistake. Obviously I didn't. When I think about this at any length, though, I come back around to the idea that I never moved past it.

I was used to rejection already, by the ripe old age of seventeen. I was used to being told that fat girls were only good for practice and it was the only way anyone would want to have sex with us (and being dumped when I said no). I was used to being ridiculed if anyone found out that I might have some vague inkling of a crush on them. I was used to being treated as a thing, and not a person. I learned to plaster a smile on my face and pretend that I had a relatively normal teenage life, but the truth was that most of my dating experience was a carefully-crafted illusion designed to make it look that way.

I chose someone who matched me for intellect, but who also was as shallow as the next guy about appearances. He would gladly have chased a girl with the brains of a shoe as long as she was conventional-looking and average weight, just like the rest of them. I buried my disappointment and wrapped my heart in barbed wire and ice. I continued going through the motions, hoping I might find someone who liked me enough to overlook my "deficits".

So here I am, almost fifty and alone: unable to crawl out onto a limb and allow myself to feel...unwilling to endure the humiliation of rejection again.

He'd still chase a woman with the brains of a shoe, as long as she wasn't fat like me. I'm 'fine to talk to, but who'd want to sleep with (me)?' is kind of the way this works.

There's a picture floating around out there of us in an audience, conversing as we sit together, and when I see it, I wonder, "Why not me?", and then I think, "Why in the hell do I keep doing this to myself?" Maybe because I learned to accept that the pat on the head is as good as it gets- well, I don't really accept it, but that's what it is.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Table for One, Please

A recently-widowed acquaintance, who is not someone I consider thin-skinned at all, went to a restaurant by herself. The hostess practically rolled her eyes when the lady asked for a table for one, and even asked, "Only one?" as if the business of a solo diner is too insignificant for them to grant the privilege of dining there. The point is, the widow had her bereavement driven home by an inconsiderate person. I think the hostess would have been pretty embarrassed had the widow said to her, "YES, MY HUSBAND DIED A MONTH AGO, AND NOW I AM DINING BY MYSELF."

I've been on my own for a bit over a year now, not by choice, and not because anyone died. My boyfriend walked out on me for another woman he'd been seeing behind my back for almost a year at that point. I haven't returned to many of the restaurants that we used to frequent, unless they were places where I dined before I met him. I haven't been back to the local steakhouse, or the pizza pub. I did attempt the Italian place one town over on two different occasions, but I just can't bring myself to go back.

Dining alone happens for myriad reasons. Like the widow, one's partner has died; or like me, my relationship ended and there's no one with whom I can dine. Some people are just grabbing a bite when others in their immediate circle aren't available. There are those who choose to be by themselves, who like their privacy, and for whom dining with others might be unpleasant or stressful. We still have money to spend on food, and the restaurant experience. I, too, was once the one waiting tables- I get that it won't be a big tab, but I am still going to spend would you rather have my one-top, or no one at your tables?

I have to push myself to go inside a restaurant and sit by myself. Most of the time, I chicken out, go through a fast-food drive-thru, and eat in my car. The upshot is that I'd rather be lonely in my car than stared at in a restaurant (in case you are unaware, fat people invite that attention in any space where there's food involved). It's just one more instance when I wonder if this is it, and my routine will revolve around loneliness for the rest of my life.

If I didn't wake up with a cat lying on my legs in the morning, I'd probably be in even greater despair.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Only the Scenery Changes

The problem with being the big fish in the small pond is that if you decide to jump to a pond with more fish like yourself, you're just one more fish.

My mother told me that when I dragged myself out of bed the day after high school graduation in 1986, AKA the Morning After My World Collapsed. The rather melodramatic hail and farewell speech to which Hopkins had treated me was still rattling around in my head as I lethargically ate my bowl of cereal sometime approaching noon that day. I looked like ten miles of bad road, having cried myself to sleep when I finally gave up and came in the house around five a.m. .

I left for college that summer with vengeance in my heart. I came home with an attitude that manifested almost immediately in band practice, when I told the drum major to go to hell, in front of God and everybody. When she rushed off the podium to confront me, I set my drum on the ground and told her, "None of you people matter. All I have to do is get through the next eight months and then you don't exist anymore."

Band was the most important thing in my life. What I had done would have gotten me suspended from school under the previous director. The new band director shrugged it off, reset the drill, and told me to take a few minutes to collect myself. During the next water break, my friends rushed to talk me out of quitting, something unthinkable and horrifying that had never crossed my mind before.

The funny thing is that I meant it. Hopkins was gone and I didn't give a damn what anybody thought anymore.

(Of course, at that point it was August and he was still in town, but he might as well have been dead and buried, for what he'd said to me on that fateful night.)

For the rest of the school year, I took zero prisoners and gave zero foxes, which was made geometrically more difficult by my sister's sudden challenge to the popularity pecking order as a mere freshman. I subscribed to a scorched earth policy that firebombed anybody who dared step on the trigger.

I didn't care anymore.

Either fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one's perspective, I care too much to be that reckless these days. While Hopkins is nominally in my life again, I am weary of hearing how the parade has passed him by, when he marched right over me without looking back a long time ago.

...and dread the day/when dreaming/ends...

Monday, April 17, 2017

Thirty Years, and I Haven't Learned

This past Saturday was the prom at my high school. What I remember about my three rounds of prom attendance are: when I was a sophomore, I had a pity date, because the guy I'd been seeing since the previous summer decided to dump me a week before- a senior boy from my church stepped up and took me so the dress my folks had bought wouldn't be "wasted";  my junior year, my date, a boy I'd been dating since the preceding summer (there's a pattern here) hit on several of my friends, talked a little trash about me within earshot of some of the guys from the band and got threatened for it, and was only there because my mother refused to let me break the date in January when I was sure I was over the guy; and, last but not least, my senior year the guy I had been dating for almost a year at that point (see that pattern?) broke up with me at the prom breakfast so he would be free and clear to take a different girl to his own prom.

Prom is the last night of Ballyhoo for some of us. College formals don't involve the level of preparation or dress, and then, if you don't get married, you will never attend another occasion quite like it again as long as you live. Best enjoy it while you can.

Thirty years out, I'm the class spinster, having figured out very early on that I'm not good at compromise- that is to say, I have a breaking point about putting up with being lied to and cheated on. The guy I was dating my sophomore year eventually came out of the closet, but I still remember when his butch female friend stood behind him interjecting brutal put-downs as he broke up with me one morning before first bell. The fact that he's gay, and I know it really was not my fault in any way, shape, or form, took some of the sting out of it in hindsight...but holy crap, it hurt at the time.

As we were driving back from the city on Saturday night, I said something to Hopkins about the kids heading to the after-prom party at the bowling alley in the next town over, and then something in the back of my mind just snapped.  I was so shell-shocked that I blew right past his apartment building and had to turn around to take him back. I couldn't even articulate it, but what flashed through my mind was, "Oh, my God, I'm still making the same mistakes thirty years later. I've never learned anything. Men still pull the same crap on me that teenage boys were back then, and I'm still waiting for Hopkins to notice me. WTF?!? I don't have much longer to live my life and I really, really want to get unstuck."

Is "close" the best I'm ever going to do? Why do I have to go through all these also-rans and close-but-no-cigar auditions for real life? Why do I always fall short? I was waxing nostalgic to Hopkins about a handful of very bad dates I'd gone on, and as I concluded, I said, "But that was all such a long time ago, when I still had hope, you know? Back when I believed that those things might actually work. I don't have the luxury of that self-deception anymore."

Someday I'm going to have to get up on that stage and do my soliloquy, if I don't get cast in a play. Even if I have to deliver my lines and run my scenes alone, I have to leave the rehearsal and move on to the performance. Too bad that I have stage fright...

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Research Says...

CNN published an article today on the idea that monogamy is a thing of the past. Okay, well, not everyone finds an "open relationship" appealing. It's especially unappealing when you've been in what you thought was a monogamous relationship and it turns out that you're not even first among equals.

A man can be as fat as a pig, or ugly as a mud fence, or stupid as a rock, or a combination thereof, but GOD FORBID a fat woman of any stripe would consider herself worthy of his attention. I mean, really, a guy has to have STANDARDS!

(By the way, IRL my first name is Hebrew for 'bitter'. It fits, at least at the moment.)

With the current looming potential for WW III to begin any day now, I wonder what it might have been like had anyone ever considered me worthy of love. Alas.

Well, I do have a kind of love: the kind that means there are a couple of cats in my bed most of the time and two Airedales taking shifts sleeping on the bedside rug. It's the kind that manifests as a small Siamese cat pushing its head under my hand at 3 a.m. because she wants her ears scratched. It's the kind that involves a heavy, long-haired black cat vocally berating me because she's bored, from a spot above my head on the bed pillows. It's my male Airedale leaning on me and looking at me as if I am the greatest thing since sliced bread. It's my female Airedale doing the "Airedale dance" when I come home from work.

Maybe all of that makes me too weird to rate human companionship, but they're pretty much my life, and what keeps me bearable during the hours in which I must interact with humans.