*This piece is in response to Rihanna’s Perspective on Her Weight Changed How I Think on Manrepeller.com.
It’s about a week before Halloween Weekend 2017 (a usually very important holiday for me) and I am without a costume. I have plans to go to a big party, but no motivation to begin planning a costume. I’ve noticed in the recent heatwave that all my miniskirts and shorts are suddenly too tight in certain areas. After struggling trying to shimmy into a few different garments, I give up. My ass is larger than it was at the beginning of the summer and my waistline is certainly not it’s fairly trim usual self. I look at myself in the mirror and feel like shit. I say to myself that maybe I just won’t go. I begin to process the external factors that could be causing this; moving home, stress eating, inconsistent mental health, etc. A couple days later the friend I’m going to the party with sends me texts with her own costume ideas and I still don’t feel inspired to get creative with a costume- which is an area where I normally thrive. Thoughts of self-loathing start invading my head like, “you can’t wear a cute costume, you’re two sizes bigger than normal” or “your fat ass won’t fit into anything.” These are the kinds of verbal self abuse that fill my head when I gain weight because that is how I’ve learned to view my body. As an attractive able bodied, white woman, my worth lies in my physical appearance- and more specifically my weight (or at least that’s the fucked up version of the truth that I’ve been taught).
Fast forward to the day of the party, I decide to at least try to scrap some cliché costume options together. I come up with a cat/cheetah hybrid (very original I know) by throwing on a body suit, with my go-to faux leather skirt. As I begin trying to pull on the skirt, I get frustrated because it doesn’t slide as easily on as it had in the past, in fact, once I wrestle it on and pull up the zipper, I can hardly breathe. I look in the mirror seeing a completely distorted version of myself from what’s actually there. I send a photo of the outfit to my friend and she says it looks great. I thank her, but the evil dark voice inside my head says, “she’s just saying that to make you feel good.”
Later that night, I’m at her house and we’re getting ready. I’m getting in my groove a little bit, slowly regaining some of the mojo I seemed to have lost as of late. I slay a cool cat makeup look and then begin to pull on my fishnets, body suit and then the anxiety-inducing faux leather skirt. I again look at myself in the mirror with the full look and am still questioning if I look okay, insecurity clouding my judgement. I turn to my friend and ask what she thinks. She says, “you look great. Don’t you feel hot? I thought you always felt confident?” I told her no, I haven’t been feeling very confident lately and she was taken aback, this is fairly out of character for me. I normally revel in my own vanity and female divinity that I own so well, but lately that just hasn’t been there for me.
One of the first times I realized that my body was special or desirable in a sexual way to the white cis colonized male mind, I was probably a Sophomore in high school and my friend’s boyfriend made a comment about my butt while I was wearing a skin tight one piece bathing suit before a water polo game. It was my uniform, I was an athlete about to get a pool and brutally wrestle other players while attempting to stay afloat, I couldn’t believe I was being sexualized. I was so uncomfortable after the comment was made, but then it gave me a bit of confidence because it validated my worth and gave me a power I didn’t necessarily have to work for. During that game I was so painfully aware of how my body looked that it probably affected how I actually played, in fact I know it did. These types of comments continued in high school, I spent time hanging out with older girls who encouraged me to go to college parties with them where I was conditioned to be just another “hot girl.” This is how I learned to base my encounters with men around, I could use my body and looks as tools without having to put my emotions on the line. It was easier to act like a fantasy girl than a real woman that they might reject. This lasted for many years later (I’ll go into detail in another blog post). Comments from male strangers about my body became common place upon entering college at Chico State. I thought virtually any attention like this was “good” because I thought it meant I was desirable and ultimately worthy of the space marked female. Chico was the first place I got cat called for being “thick,” I was so out of touch, I didn’t even know what it meant at the time. All I knew was that this comment came after I had gained about 30 lbs. from my freshmen year and I was truly unhappy with myself.
About a year later, when I moved home, I lost that weight and then some by obsessively writing down everything I ate militantly abiding to a points program. There were so many nights where I had already used my daily points allowance before dinner time and agonized about how hungry I was but didn’t want to go over the limit. I lost weight fast. Similar to a diet competition I had done in my senior year of high school with some friends to try to only eat about 700 calories per day. This was the time I considered an Iced Carmel Macciatto a “meal.”
Everyone complimented me on this new weight loss as though it were one of my biggest accomplishments. I had just turned 20, and found that this new ability I was gaining because of my physical appearance was empowering. I was then a size medium/small in the waist, 6 in dress size and 28 in pants. I looked thin and long and I liked it because I was getting attention and special treatment for the way I looked. It helped me land a job as a hostess having had no prior experience, it helped me get good grades and gave me a fair number of guys to turn down- after all, I couldn’t focus on anything else but keeping my weight under control, right?
After that year, I went to study abroad in Spain for the summer. It was there that I was reminded how much I enjoyed food and indulging (mainly on bread and wine). I met a friend who opened my eyes to a new view of my own body. On a train ride to a friend’s country home for the weekend, she described me having an hourglass figure likened to the sensual goddesses in greek mythology. My softness and gentle curves were beautiful. I had never heard my body talked about in this way and I certainly had never thought of it like that.
Fast forward to about two years later (I was 22), a couple friends turned me onto the idea of plus size modeling. I was about a size 8 at the time, not technically considered plus, but definitely not a “straight” model (sizes 0-4), nevertheless I decided to pursue it. A friend shoot some basic photos of me in different poses, I wrote down my measurements and sent them off to a few agencies. One popular agency in LA who preached inclusion and acceptance completely ignored me, while another in the UK got back to me quickly and said that although they thought I was “gorgeous,” I just wasn’t the right fit. I took this literally as my body was inadequate in some way. I had already failed at being a normal size model and now I couldn’t live up to this requirement either. I was a mess, but retreated inward not talking to friends or my boyfriend at the time about it. At the same time I was wondering, where was the space for the in betweens? For the women who have curves, but our hips aren’t wide enough and our legs are not long enough and our bellys are just not flat enough?
At the time I was struggling to finish my last full year of college, and really wasn’t finding a real sense of purpose in any aspect of my life. So I thought I’d go with relying on my looks, an obvious choice given my track record. I was dating a materialistic artist who had an affinity for for pretty things- I apparently was just another “pretty thing.” He would manipulate what I wore, how I did my makeup, wore my hair and even sometimes what I was eating.
I have been defined my entire life by these influxes and changes in my weight. Virtually every important or pivotal moment I have associated with what my body looked like at the time. I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time but haven’t really had the motivation until reading about Rihanna’s own perspective on her weight, she has been talked about heavily in the media over the past several months because of her recent weight gain. In which her response is that she, “has had the pleasure of a fluctuating body type.” The word pleasure, never crossed my mind in relation to weight gain which I, like so many other women have traditionally been taught is completely negative and devalues you as a human being. I realized that I too have the pleasure of a fluctuating body type and I can certainly learn to work with the in-between moments and sizes. The pants size 12 does not define me and adversely, neither does a 6. I know where I feel my best, and it is certainly not now but I have to learn to appreciate and take care of my body at various stages.
One thing this article talks about that really struck a chord with me is that 59% of black women describe themselves as beautiful compared with 32% of Hispanic women and 25% of white women. More black women also agreed with the statement, “I am happy the way that I am,” when they looked in the mirror. “Growing up, black women are taught you’re strong, you’re beautiful, you’re smart, you’re enough.” These are survival tactics in a world that doesn’t appreciate #BlackGirlMagic like it should.
Of the many things white women steal from black culture, we could really take a page from this. If white women work to relearn their worth and teach girls from the get go that they are whole and beautiful just the way we are, these statistics wouldn’t be so startling. Progress is tangible and I think we can really make it happen. I’m going to do it, starting with me.