Friday, February 27, 2009

All apologies

Many people seem to think fat people need to apologize simply for being fat. Some of them are fat people themselves.

I like tie-dyes, batiks, and bright colors. I don't purposely wear things that make me look like a pumpkin--horizontal stripes have not been a part of my wardrobe repertoire for quite some time--but neither am I afraid of color. I do try to wear colors that are good for me, fun accessories, etc. I've often been complimented on my fashion sense as an adult, which is still a bit of a jolt for me since I was the kid with the clothes from a garage sale (before that was cool) or the ugly K-mart fall-aparts. In my real adult life, I'm a T-shirts and jeans person by nature. (I do believe in good hygiene at all times, and foundation garments in public. Makeup, however, is optional.)

So on this day a couple of years ago, I was wearing a nice, not inexpensive, batik outfit from Junonia, a button-up shirt with matching pants. It was red, more toward the wine end of the color wheel than the Santa end. The coworker--who was at least my size, if not larger--said, "You know, I could just never wear anything like that," hastening to add, "but it looks fine on YOU."

My response was immediate: "I wear whatever appeals to me, what I feel comfortable in. I don't feel like I have to apologize."

I could have been offended, and I certainly had a knee-jerk flicker of that, but ultimately her statement brought forth my compassion. I was also really proud of myself, because I knew I meant what I said, and because it showed me I had come a long way. I know what it's like to hide in the navy blue or black sack (I still do it sometimes); women of all sizes joke about their "fat pants", and most of us have *at least* one pair. But it's one thing to have "fat pants" for your own comfort; it's quite another to feel as though you have to be dressed or presented in a certain, impossibly perfect way as an apology to the world at large.

Today, I happened to be wearing a bright tie-dyed shirt. I went to the pharmacy to pick up some prescription-strength vitamin D and some sugar-free candy. I saw the pharmacist give me that look, that "you should be in a big black trenchcoat, you fat hog" look. (She was fat herself.) It's that whole, "Don't just hate the way *you* look, be sure and spread it around" thing women are so programmed and socialized to do in this country from the time we are little girls--that catty, bitchy, competitive bullshit I've never had any time or patience for. (It goes without saying there were no feelings of compassion from me today!)

Apologizing for being fat goes far beyond the clothes we choose. A lot of fat people develop great senses of humor, not only as a coping mechanism, but as a way of being accepted. I know I certainly did, and have, and sometimes still do. (I consider humor the most healthy coping mechanism I have.) Growing up, on some level, I believed that I had to be charming and funny in order to be accepted, because I wasn't pretty in the right way (and I was smart and poor with a screwed-up family whose business everyone seemed to know). This is something I still deal with. Sometimes large women seem to be everybody's buddy or everybody's sister or everybody's mother figure. There seems to be an unwritten code that fat women are just going to take what is offered (bad romantic relationships, wishy-washy friendships, etc.) because they are fat and that's all they can get. Unfortunately, a lot of fat people buy into this.

There was a time when I bought into it--I was certainly programmed by those around me and my culture to buy into it, after all--and in low moments, I still wrestle with it. A lot of my life, I wouldn't wear a dress, and I did make a great effort to hide. I put up with more than I should have from people. I felt like I had to apologize simply for breathing oxygen and not being every other human being's idea of "hot". In my late teens, I got tired of feeling that way all the time, and I worked on it for years; it didn't happen overnight. I kept my good friends close, let the flaky ones go, and I found out there are good people (even men!) that judge me for what I am and do rather than what I appear to be. I learned to say things like, "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree." And mean it. It's okay for me to be a real person with moods and needs and dislikes, whether or not I'm fat.

And I have nothing to apologize for.

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This blog focuses largely on a personal journey to and through weight-loss surgery. It's also about reading, writing, animals, photography, love, humor, music, thinking out loud, and memes. In other
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