By Amy Medvick
It was a year ago— no, a little more— that season when no matter what, you feel chilly outdoors but hot indoors. A friend wanted to meet for drinks. I felt reclusive but the duties of friendship roused me, made me drink tea and dress. The liminal weather made it hard: pants or skirt’n’tights, sweater or jacket? My desire to hide, which ebbs and flows, was strong and further complicated things. At times I am filled with the irrational sensation that I am expanding, that my ass and belly can’t be contained but desperately need to be else I separate into blobs and float apart like water in the vacuum of space.
Actually, I’ll be a little more forthright: it’s called a Fat Day. It’s that day when you wake and wonder how you managed to fit in your clothes all those days before, when someone asks if you are pregnant because, despite having lost 25lbs, you couldn’t cope without crawling into that maternity-wear-looking thing you wear on Fat Days. That day when you imagine that everyone is distracted and off-put by your sudden sprouting of belly or double chin, when you remind yourself that you really need to stop eating bread, like, forever, starting tomorrow.
There are two ways to deal with a Fat Day—you either Let It Flow or Rein It In.
If I’m just going to work or staying home, or joining the company of family, close friends and/or hippies, then Letting It Flow is just fine. Leggings with elastic waistbands, loose blouses, empire-waist dresses, those magical drapey sweater-things that don’t do up at the front but just dangle ambiguously. These clothes don’t always feel like me, but they are comfy and so I’m not constantly reminded of myself.
But if I’m going out, knowing I’ll be seen and assessed, perhaps recognized from a gig, and ever carrying that secret wish that tonight I’ll attract a mate, then I simply have to Rein It In. That corset of skinny jeans and tight black t-shirts, that examining of myself in the mirror until I find the one posture I deem flattering, resolving to only stand that way all night, my back muscles protesting at the thought.
BUT. I do have one article of clothing that is a lifesaver: The Blazer. A simple black blazer, two buttons, no frills. It is one of the most useful things I own, on par with a good kitchen knife or a computer. It’s professional enough to wear to work, but with a bright coloured dress has a confident casualness that I can take to a party, no problem. It has a way of flattening the belly, accentuating the bust, but also squaring the shoulders, saying Yes, I am shaped the way you want a woman to be shaped, and I also mean BUSINESS!
So, on that night of liminal weather and fluctuating body image, I donned The Blazer, shielding from scrutiny that uncomfortable line where my pants meet my shirt, and went to meet my friend at our local hipster watering hole.
Now, I want to stop for a sec, because I have something to say. If, perchance, you are an ignorant asshole, you might be thinking, Shit, this fat chick talks too much. I bet she never gets laid. If you are a compassionate person, you may be thinking, Someone needs to tell this girl she’s beautiful just the way she is, inside and out or She will be so much happier when she stops judging herself by impossible supermodel standards. Well, you’re both wrong. The first, because you are an ignorant asshole. The second, because I can tell you: I’ve heard and done and been all that. But, it’s just not that simple.
See, strip away the clothing—not to mention the scrutiny of our fat-hating society– and I actually think I’m pretty hot stuff. My legs are short but have an excellent shape, my ass is a nice intermediate size that can satisfy a wide variety of tastes in ass-size, my skin is freakin’ soft, one big silky sense organ, and my tits, though smallish, are quite frankly perfect, and always get rave reviews at their unveiling. The only thing I’m not sold on is my belly, but hey—what can you do, eh? No one’s perfect. But all in all, when I look at the naked ensemble in the mirror, I think, Damn, I’m like a really short Greek goddess. If we still wore the clothes women did back in those days (and most of the world’s cultures that don’t share the West’s Fat-o-Fobia still do), then I would the ballin’ belle-of-the-ball.
But, I live in a world of skinny jeans and quadruple push-up under-wire bras and waist-cinching belts to give you that hourglass silhouette (except they don’t, it just looks like I have a thing there around my non-hourglass belly). These clothes just don’t fit my body. If I wear the clothes that do fit me, I can’t fully participate in fashion the way my creativity and role as a “hip musician” require me to. I can almost smell the judgement that labels me as some sort of muu-muu-wearing pariah when I Let It Flow. So often I Rein It In, squeezed into wired bras and tight pants, uncomfortable and failing at a contest I never wanted to win, so that I look plugged into pop culture, the kind of girl you want to hang with, whose band you want to go see. I cling to those rare pieces that are hip, render me acceptable looking, and are actually comfortable, and I think, If these people could only see me NAKED!!!
As for where a thin body will get you with men, well… that’s all malarkey. My Year of Promiscuity was undertaken at a size 10 on a 5’2” frame. I’ve suffered prolonged sex-droughts at a size 6. I’ve taken many lovers, men with many wonderful traits. Some were beautiful themselves, others great appreciators of beauty, and most have thought me beautiful and said so. I haven’t always agreed with them, but I’ve had to conclude they were sincere. The alternative is that they were all in on an elaborate conspiracy to make me feel beautiful when I’m not, which is a scenario that I’ve actually considered and then dismissed as being unlikely. The simplest conclusion is that there are very desirable men out there who think I am beautiful, whether because of my fat or despite it, I don’t know.
But alongside those men are others. The perfect example is a guy who was ostensibly the most physically unattractive man I have ever taken to bed. I was nonetheless attracted to him because, until the following occurred, I was enjoying his company and hadn’t given a coherent thought to his looks. It just didn’t impact the value I assigned him as a human being or one-night lover. He was telling a story about meeting a girl at the park: “She was beautiful, really beautiful, you know, skinny, and she came and started talking to me.”
He told me how the universe answered his prayer and let him talk to this dream-girl, her only qualifiers being “beautiful” and “skinny”, and wasn’t he lucky and wasn’t that proof of miracles, and blabitty blah, tossing the word “skinny” off as if it was a currency that I was universally bound to accept as legal tender for beauty. I was too angry to even begin to articulate all the things wrong with that. Like, why, if the only word you can find to describe beauty is “skinny”, did you bother hooking up with me? Why am I supposed to be OK with you reminding me I don’t fit our cultural model of beauty right after we just fucked? How is it that you have no compassion for my unbeauty when you are unbeautiful yourself? I called him on it and he got all insulted: how could I think he was that kind of guy, and this is more likely something in myself that I need to work on, and blah, blah, blah. Inside, I was screaming: It’s not me, it’s our CULTURE! I work on it plenty! Its our fucking culture, which means yes, it’s in me, but it’s in you too, asshole! It’s something in YOU that YOU need to work on!
When I recall these interactions, and the impact they had on my sense of self, positive or negative, I have to think: why does my fat or my beauty even fucking matter?!? It’s a stupid game that says nothing about what I can offer the world or another person. It’s a rendering of myself into a decoration instead of a human. FUCK all this beauty NOISE. That’s the place I have to get to, if just for awhile, before I do the things during which I will be really looked at, like climbing on stage in crazy costumes and singing my guts out, or hitting the beach in that bikini I bought in Ipanema because damn if I’m gonna stay home. I have to get to fuck that beauty noise and just deal with the fat, man.
So this is where we live: a world in which we all know that fat does not always equal ugly and beauty does not always equal skinny and none equal value, but yet there is a conspiracy (the real one, to make us feel ugly when we’re not) in which we all pretend it does. If I want what’s out in that world, like oodles of men and commercial success, to a certain extent I have to play along because everyone else is. That means if I can’t be thin myself (and believe me, I’ve tried, but it conflicts too much with my fondness for sustaining my body with food), then I have to at least acknowledge, via deferent behaviour and compensatory clothing, that it would be better for everyone if I were. Which it wouldn’t be. But we all pretend. Conspiracy!
SO. Like I said, on that Fat Day in early April 2012, The Blazer and I went and met my friend at our little bohemian café-cum-bar. She and I were usually there amongst our own circle, where the girls are mostly twiggy and petite, and we two would exist as the reminders that not all women are shaped that way. But that night, we knew no one. The place was, unusually, packed with almost only women, and this group of women seemed to pretty accurately represent all varieties of bodies. There were some very femme women, and some more androgynous ones too. Trance music made the walls, which were more used to Indie pop, pulse rhythmically. We theorized that we had stumbled upon a lesbian dance party, and there was only one thing to do about it: hit the floor.
I danced with that kind of abandon that comes when you’re not being watched, not caring much what I looked like since these weren’t the folk I normally try to attract. But before long, I grew uncomfortably warm in The Blazer. And though there were no men around, and indeed this seemed like a more accepting crowd than most, I still didn’t want to take it off and admit that I do have a belly to all these people that didn’t already know.
I asked myself why not, since the range of bodies clearly asserted that I was among the small. Indeed, two girls dominated the place, veritable Venuses of Willendorf dressed in nothing but tight body suits and bright-coloured nylons, absolutely unashamed of their abundance. But I already knew that the why didn’t matter, what mattered was that it would feel bad to take it off, bottom line. Instead, I followed my friend outside when she went for a cigarette.
We stood in the chilly air, cooling down and catching up. Other women were out too, talking and smoking, and before long a Venus joined them from inside. She talked and laughed joyfully, shivering in the minimal coverage of thin fabric. As she went back inside, my friend, without any tone of judgement, asked her, “Why are you dressed like this? Aren’t you freezing? Is it a costume or something?”
She paused, with a sparkle in her eye and an impish smile on her mouth. “Tonight,” said the Venus, “is a Celebration of Fat!” Her voice was full of laughter as she gaily and gracefully skipped back inside, light of heart as any sylph.
I stood there, feeling like the rug had been pulled out from under me. A Celebration of Fat? What a temptingly liberating thought! Not demonizing or being neutral about or even fetishizing, but genuinely celebrating fat?
I was filled with a potent mix of feelings: that I was perfect and finally in company with strangers who knew it; that I wasn’t fat enough and most certainly overdressed; then the paranoid worry that somehow my moderate fat would be the Fat that Offends. And my blazer? It was reduced from an endlessly useful scrutiny-shield to an odd personal quirk.
You are likely wondering: did I take off The Blazer and dance, revealing myself and letting my fat be adored? On that Fat Day last year in April, I wasn’t ready. Now I would be, and I wish I could return to that party in Nearly Naked splendour to celebrate what we all have at least a bit of but what is rarely celebrated. I wish I could feel that Venus’ joy in knowing that in this place, for this night, she was loved more the less she hid.
I want to go back because I know that is the real reality, that wild celebration of human variability; but in the meantime, I have to live in this world that fears and despises fat, that requires me to either Let It Flow or Rein It In because Being Naked is still too much for it to deal with. Yes, I live in this conspiratorial world, but in the meantime I will also strive to make sure the people around me know: as for me, whatever you show me you are, whether I like it or not, I will never say you should have remained hidden.
So, maybe sometime soon I will throw my own party to celebrate our fat, stop participating in the conspiracy, and pull the rug out from under an unsuspecting woman trapped in a perpetual Fat Day. Yes, I think I will; and of course, everyone, whatever shape or size, will be invited.