Tag Archive | body image

Pretty, with a but

So the gentleman who owns the store next to my office stopped me on the street as I was walking back from getting coffee, ostensibly to apologize for calling me Sarah as I walked into work that morning. I said, “Don’t worry about it. Everyone always calls me the wrong name. Usually Sarah or Rachel. All those Old Testament wives.” I went on my merry way but he stopped me again. He had something else to say. I think it’s important that I preface this story by saying that this guy really was not trying to hit on me, which in some ways makes it all worse. Okay, I’ll continue. Here’s what he said.

“You know, actually, I’ve been meaning to ask you. You, I think, are the perfect image of a full-figured woman. I’m just wondering what you think about that. Do you feel good about yourself?”

Now, this dude says awkward and strange things to me and my co-workers all the time. He’s a lonely divorcee who owns a suit shop that never gets any business, so Lord knows what thoughts twirl around his brain all day while he’s surrounded by all that linen and no other humans. But, this was beyond the standard unusual comment. He seemed earnest, like he wanted to learn something about body confidence. I was taken aback, and not super interested in having that conversation, so I tried to end it and leave.

“Um, yeah, I’m pretty confident in myself.”

“That’s good because, you really are perfect exactly how you are and I know a lot of men put pressure on women to lose weight and be skinny, but you really shouldn’t change. You’re like a perfect image of a full-figured woman. I know you’re married, but I hope your husband feels so too.”

Ladies, we’ve all been here, right? In one form or another? We’ve all found ourselves confronted by a man who feels entitled to comment on our bodies even when it’s inappropriate, back-handed, and unprofessional. I meant it as a compliment, they say when we call them on their behavior. And the little feminist pixie that lives inside me turns red and screams because she’s too exhausted to take the time to educate this ignorant man on why it is inappropriate to comment on the body of a person, pretty much ever, but especially when that person works next door to you. And that pixie is also frustrated because she knows that this man really does believe he’s being noble, and perhaps in a twisted way he is. He sees the pressure put on women to be skinny, lose weight, please a man, and he is making a statement to a woman who does not fit that mold to say that she is perfect the way she is and should not succumb to that societal pressure. So how can I be mad? But I am. I am mad. The pixie is mad. Because even though he meant it as a compliment, it made me feel like shit. Which then makes me feel like a failure because it feels like a test as to whether or not I truly have body confidence and when given that test I failed because on the inside I totally collapse as if I’m twelve years old all over again and just got called chubby on the playground. So I’m mad at the man, I’ve failed my inner feminist pixie, and I’ve reverted to the child I was when I was bullied. I don’t have the fortitude to make this a teachable moment. I’m too sad. Now do you see why it’s basically never a good idea to comment on someone’s body? Hot-button is a phrase that doesn’t begin to paint the picture.

Just when I start to think, hey, I think all this body confidence I’ve been working on is really paying off. I’m starting to feel like a confident woman. Not a fat woman, not a curvy woman or a skinny woman or a woman on a diet. Just a woman. Cool. It’s nice to just be a person.

And then, poof.

Along comes a well-intended old man to remind me that no, you are not just a woman. You will never be perceived as just a woman. You are a “full-figured” woman. You are pretty—for a curvy girl. You will never just be pretty. You will always be pretty with a modifier.

I feel so average sometimes that I actually feel invisible. It’s appropriate that this whole confrontation began because the man got my name wrong. It happens ALL. THE. TIME. I usually have to meet someone at least three times before they remember me—not remember my name, remember me at all—and when they finally do remember me they then get my name wrong. Sarah, Rachel, Heidi. These are names I’ve been called this week alone. Everything but Rebecca, who is invisible. I’ve tried to embrace it, my average-ness. There’s a benefit to disappearing into the wallpaper. You get to see very interesting things when people don’t really know you’re there. I also always know that when I have an instinct about something I’m probably right because I’ve learned that part of being average is having unextraordinary opinions. If I think something, chances are thousands of other people have thought it as well, so I’m not alone in my ideas and can generally trust them to have some backing. I’m not an outlier. I’m not an iconoclast. I’m not a trailblazer. I’ve embraced the benefits of being ordinary. It’s led to me being a strong administrator and a creative writer. I like being an invisible pair of hands that makes cool things happen from behind the curtain. But then conversations like this come about and make me feel like the only things that do make me visible are things that are negative. Like being “curvy” or “full-figured.” What does that even mean? The world around this issue is changing a little bit. But not really. Not really. Plus-size models are still plus-size; they’re not just models and I’m not sure they ever will be. They will always be models with a modifier.

The emotional waves settle. My head comforts my heart and I accept that perception is reality. I can’t control how people perceive me therefore I can’t control their reality. I can only control how I perceive myself, so my reality is that I’m just a woman. A woman who struggles from time to time with body image, but is mostly over it. A woman who struggles every day with eating healthy. A woman who runs marathons and loves dance parties. Who is on Weight Watchers but loves carrot cake. Who has a husband who thinks I’m pretty. Period.

I know how much privilege I walk around with as a middle-class, able-bodied, cis, straight, white woman. Crossings like this remind me that what I experience in micro-doses once in awhile, minority groups experience daily and in much more aggressive doses. It’s not right. Perhaps I’ve even been that well-intended person asking someone a question about their life experience that has the affect of making them feel small. I’m going to use this experience to remind me of that, and to remind me to always treat people like people. Not like plus-size people, or disabled people, or ethnic people, or gay people, or trans people. You breathe oxygen and are carbon-based? Cool, then you are people. No modifiers.

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What Running Taught Me About Body Positivity… It’s All In the Mind

The prompt for National Running Day was “I run to _____.” I actually just had a little wave of anxiety as I typed, thinking about sharing the reasons that I run. The reasons are deeply personal, however publicly I talk about running. Personal, and innumerable, so maybe I’ll try to distill it all down to one basic idea. I run to connect my body to my soul.

I grew up an incredibly confident girl on the inside, with incredible self-loathing for her outsides. I hated my body. Hate is a strong word. Not strong enough. I developed at a young age in all the wrong ways according to a hormonal pre-teen. Big butt, thick thighs, flat chest. Boys didn’t like me, girls didn’t relate to me. I wasn’t athletic. I wasn’t skinny. I wasn’t necessarily fat either. I was the word I’ve come to hate more than almost any in the English language – chubby. I was chubby. And it’s not cool to be chubby as a kid.

So I grew up hating my outsides and wishing for new ones, while simultaneously loving life, being social, feeling creative and insightful, and in general enjoying the human soul that was developing as Becky Sigl. I was very conscious of this strange dichotomy. How could I be so confident and so insecure at the same time? Mind-body disconnect. You’ve all felt it.

Along came running. I began running as early as 6th grade but didn’t stick with it in earnest until my college years. During that time I felt more pressure than ever to somehow achieve the body that I THOUGHT would match my awesome inside self (don’t believe everything you think). Safe in my college incubation bubble, I knew that once thrust into the “real world” the clock began. It’s tough for women in Hollywood and if you don’t jump in the Hollywood Double Dutch game when you’re a kid, then you better be ready again when you’re a young twenty-something still young enough to play high school and college. If you miss THAT turnoff and you’re not “smokin’ hot” or super charactery then you may as well wait around until you’re old enough to play the Mom. I realize I sound very cynical and no one is obligated to subscribe to these silly rules. You can pave your own way and you should! But the pressure. It’s brutal.

So there I was, 21, getting ready for the real world, and I thought to myself constantly “I have to lose weight. I have to lose weight. I have to lose weight.” The only time I didn’t think these thoughts was on the running trail. Interesting. I didn’t all of a sudden feel satisfied with my body. I just didn’t give a crap. I was running.

Along comes the real world and wouldn’t you know it, I didn’t magically transform into a 5’10” lithe supermodel or a cute little pixie girl in a size zero. Huh. Go figure. The real world arrived nonetheless and I started to realize how much I truly disliked this game of Hollywood Double Dutch. But I thought I’d still play anyway. I’d still attempt to achieve a body that would match my awesome, spunky, confident, inner self – still repeating the mantra “I have to lose weight” – I started running more consistently.

A funny and unexpected thing happened. I fell in love with my body. The body that in the past 10 years has run 13 half marathons, one marathon, and 2,000 miles to Tahiti. That body. The body that is actually 15 pounds HEAVIER than it was 10 years ago when I started running to lose weight! I love that body. I love it so fiercely. Sure I get a little itchy when I feel a few pounds of new jiggle after the holidays or if I haven’t run for awhile, but I still love the jiggle, however unwelcome. I love it deeply because I’m grateful for it. I know what it can do.

In college I took a philosophy course that focused heavily on the ideas of Iris Murdoch. One of our textbooks was “The Sovereignty of Good.” (I highly recommend it). It is the act of focusing on the Good – art, service, love – that effectuates transcendence. This focusing and taking action lures us outside ourselves. You can’t simply try to be grateful as effectively as when you focus on giving to others which results in a sense of gratitude. You can’t try to understand humanity as well as seeing a great play – the pathos of which evokes an understanding of humanity as a result. A focus on good things brings about Good. The actions make us Good. It’s not so easy to be good for Goodness’ sake. Someone alert Santa.

I couldn’t try to love my body in a vacuum. I just couldn’t. I did try. Hard! I simply did not love it. 10 years of running consistently – focusing my mind on something healthy and active instead of the outcome on my appearance – changed me. It works this way in acting. You want to get out of your own head? Focus on your scene partner. What are you doing to him? Do it. Voila! No more in your head. So too with body positivity as it turns out. You want to love your body? Focus on doing things with it. Be active. Put your body to work. You’ll discover that it’s Good, EXACTLY as it is.

I started running because my 6th grade teacher told me to. I stuck with it in high school and college to try and lose weight, when I suddenly realized it had this potent by-product of making me feel sane. I keep running today not to love my body, but because I love my body. Running, as it turns out, is the bridge between my sparkly, glitter-spackled, spunky, soulful, introspective, confident, awesome, self and the physical vessel I was given to get through life – my body. You get one boat to sail the ocean. Don’t scuttle it. Name it. Take care of it. Decorate it. Love it. Have fun sailing.
I run to connect my soul to my body. I run because it’s spiritual. I run because it’s physical. I run to get out of my head. I run to focus on the Good.

Why do you run?

sparkly self