Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Rethinking Body

I must admit that I grew up as a vain person. I don't know where, or how, it started but I cannot remember a time when I was not at least a little obsessed with my appearance. I have run the gamut from being thin, maybe beautiful, to being fat and invisible; I have relied on my looks to avoid trouble and get what I wanted, and I have struggled to adapt to using my mind when my body failed. I have been both the girl that sits judging who is suitable to wear what skirt length and the one who has felt the burn of humiliation when hearing that I have been found to be "too fat" for that dress. And I have spent nearly a decade grappling with my passion for photographing beautiful women, exclusively fashion, and my distaste for an industry that hates my body-- tells me to hide myself away.

In St. Louis I imagined that this was just the way of life, that society judged you based on your size, your car, the labels you display. In St. Louis I believed that my only hope of fitting in resided in my ability to fit in to clothing from the right designers. That the only way to attract a desirable man was to have a "smokin' hot" body to go along with my "pretty face."

And it was, in many ways, true. In St. Louis I had more friends, more opportunities, more positive attention, and more potential for success when I was thin. As a thin woman I could find a job in an hour or less. I had the attention of most single men, and the ability to excite and influence the people around me with my ideas. In St. Louis, when "fat," I was invisible among a crowd. People felt free to discuss my anatomy and figure flaws within my hearing distance. Men treated me like "one of the guys" and I was an a-sexual entity in their eyes. Looking back, I am not at all surprised at how shy and reclusive I became as a fat woman... it was an understandable response to a world that was ashamed of me.

Strangely enough, the place that is often lauded as being the most shallow and materialistic is where I've found out that looks don't have to matter. Perhaps it is the special quality of Silicon Valley; the intense concentration of intellect and intellectually focused people. Perhaps it is the natural beauty that so lushly surrounds our days, the amazing variety of ethnicities and cultures, the liberal/progressive mindset, or just the mild climate that encourages us to relax... For whatever reason, Southbay is nothing like the St. Louis I came from.

Having spent a bit over 1/2 a year here has changed me quite a lot. I no longer feel awkward and unattractive every time I leave the house. I no longer hear anyone make comments about how pretty I could be "if only I lost wieght." I no longer get pitying and condescending looks from strangers and I am no longer an outcast for my looks or invisible as a woman. Here, I am a normal, attractive, woman to strangers and judged by my ideas and thoughts when getting introduced. For the first time I fit in.

As I settle in to this new culture and finally find the freedom to shake off the yoke of "body," I am rethinking the shame and pride that has so heavily influenced my life up to now. For, in my newfound freedom I have come to see that beauty is a much broader thing than what the fashion world tells us it is. I can now find beauty in my self, even though I wear a size 14. I can also find beauty in others, in women who (like myself) have failed to achieve an ideal body size.

Beyond this, though, I have come to realize that my whole perspective about body has been badly distorted and diseased by a culture that valued looks over health and mainly judged women based on their ability to conform to "feminine standards" that effectively devalued and disabled them as human beings.

For the truth is that a healthy body is niether skinny nor fat. The healthy woman is softly rounded and strong; she has the muscles and stamina to do what she wants and also the softly embracing body to comfort the people she loves. A healthy woman is not the tiny, fragile, thing that needs a sweater when it falls below 85 degrees, who catches every bug she comes into contact with, and exists on a diet of ego strokng and caffeine.

What is healthy is something that each of us can find; it is the place where we feel good, where we can comfortably do the thngs we want to do and push our limits without fear. It is the size that stays healthy, when we rarely get ill, when our body stops being a burden we carry or manipulate but is our vehicle to freedom and joy.

And, for the vast majority of women, the healthiest size is not skinny.

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