It’s not what you think, although I am a renowned potty mouth.
And it’s not even what I’ve written about before in many ways – feminism. Although it is in some ways.
It’s about self esteem. It’s about being self conscious. It’s about life, and love, and what I wore.
It’s about being … fat.
I had been thinking about writing this even before the latest skirmish in the fat wars. Not the "obesity” wars, which are all about keeping our children healthy, Michelle Obama, the war on food insecurity and food deserts, economic privilege and social gaps – all guised in the mantra that we are trying to be more healthy as a nation.
No, the fat wars. In which one complete and total bully, who is 61-years-old and still hasn’t figured out that words hurt, or that being the tallest, the skinniest, the most beautiful is not what our children should be striving for in this world, has decided that his clothing should not be modeled by anyone over a size Medium.
This is what Abercrombie CEO Mark Jeffries has said about his stores: “We go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong.”
In other words, no one fat. No one who needs a Large or, god forbid, and Extra Large size. You will not find them at Abercrombie. He has been quoted as saying that he doesn't want fat chicks shopping in his store. Really.
Besides the fact that the few times I have been in one of those stores I have wanted to run out screaming, because the music is so loud and they pump perfume thoughout and they are clearly not targeted at anyone “old” either (with which I’m fine), I find his remarks so insidious and harmful, I don’t know where to begin.
Should stores target to particular markets? Yes. Should they know their audience? Yes (see “old” above.) Should marketers use ploys to direct the traffic they want in their stores and on their websites? Sure, go ahead. I understand that this is a business model that works, and I live in a capitalist country.
But to outwardly (and inwardly, because apparently working in one of these bastions of skinny-dom is no picnic either) affirm that you don’t want fat people in your store smacks of rank bullying and discrimination. It is hurtful. It is ugly. Remove the word “fat” and insert an ethnic group into that statement. It is beyond the pale.
I have been thinking about this issue a great deal lately, as I have crossed over to the age and time in a woman’s life when losing a pound has become a monumental task. I had the wonder and delight of losing 20 pounds pretty easily a couple of years ago, and sure enough, they crept back on, plus five. And now I’m struggling more mightily than I ever have before.
I am 30 pounds overweight (which is generous – my doctor would argue for 40.) My BMI reads as borderline obese. My mother always said I carried my extra weight well, and I still do, (and of course there’s Spanx) but nevertheless, you can tell. I am round, I am busty, and I am, for all intents and purposes in today’s society, fat. Clothes don’t fit me properly, especially jeans, as my weight sits in my middle. I am at the extreme large end of women’s sizes. I have embarrassing cleavage, which is nearly impossible to cover up. And the pounds just keep creeping on.
I think about my weight every minute of every day. I remember hearing that men think about sex about that often, and I laughed, not believing that anyone’s brain could be so stuffed with one thought. But the simple fact is, mine is as well, just a more depressing subject. I can’t shake it. It colors everything I do. I’m reminded of it when I get dressed, when I work out, when I walk down the street, when I think about meals for me and my family, and when I go to bed.
Insecurity about my body started early. I was a somewhat tall and slender but well-developed young teen. Boys snickered and jeered. Men wolf called on the street. My mother, all of 95-pounds soaking wet, would wonder aloud whether I was going to be “big.” Suddenly, my body was no longer my own – it was up for scrutiny, commentary, notice, all in the guise of flattery (except for my mother), but all it did was make me embarrassed and want to hide it.
I wore flowy hippie clothes and overalls back then.
Today, the social opprobrium around being heavy is fierce, and styles are less forgiving. There are days when I feel like I shouldn’t be allowed outside – which I know is irrational, but I cannot help but feel society’s eyes still watching, and now, with condemnation rather than approval. It is indeed a heavy load to bear.
I know that there are people who are heavier than I am, who feel much more comfortable in their skin. And I know that there are people who are smaller who feel big and ugly. The media compounds our insecurities a hundred fold, most especially when clothing sellers allow hurtful and idiotic thinking to guide their sales.
Today, as a woman in middle age, I know a few more tricks to hide behind. The fact is, better-shaped clothing is a better fit. Vee and scoop necks train the eyes upward to neck and face. No turtlenecks for me. High heels also help – I look taller, feel more powerful and stronger.
Black tights are good. So are black pants, black skirts and black tops. And black jackets. Dark grey and chocolate brown work too, but honestly, not as well.
Forget summer white t-shirts, the staple of my youth.
And forget photographs – I despise the way I look with yet another 10 pounds added to my frame and my chin.
I am miserable, thinking about my weight incessantly. And yet, it is SUCH hard work losing it. It takes discipline. It takes the elimination of a life-long sweet tooth. It takes intense concentration on nothing but food, and your intake, and then ignoring your hunger pangs and your desires, and that just seems so unfair. I have work to do, children to raise, a life to live. The energy it takes to lose weight is so enormous, and I want to do other things.
I work out regularly. I make and serve healthy meals to my family. I eat salads. I eat kale. I like vegetables and fruit. Just not as much as I like chocolate. So I eat both.
Life at the upper end of the size chart is hard. And in today’s world, with fat-ism the latest “ism” in acceptable ostracization techniques, one can’t help but think about it 24-hours-a day. You always wonder if that person in the elevator who sees you with your mid-afternoon M&Ms is thinking, she really doesn’t need those.
And of course I don’t. But need and want are different things. And it is difficult to change habits, no matter how much bio-feedback you do and how much psychotherapy you have and how much you pay to Weight Watchers for their mobile app.
So when the bullying starts with an idiot like Jeffries, my dander gets up. It’s bad enough I’m self-flagellating, but when a grown man thinks it’s ok to make teenage girls think they’re not worthy of his clothing, I have to act.
First thing is to make sure my daughter knows about his ugly words and hideous tactics. Then think about whether we get rid of what we already have in her closet, or just boycott (girlcott?) the store.
Then I need to think about my own neuroses around this issue. I hate wasting so much brain power worrying about my weight all the time. I want to fit into my clothes comfortably and reasonably, and be healthy and fit and able to take care of myself and my family for a long time to come. I don’t need to be an Abercrombie-sized micro-human, just normal and healthy and happy.
So maybe that’s the answer. Normal, happy, healthy. Stop weighing myself every single morning, letting the numbers dictate my mood. Start eating less on the sweet end of things, and try to make the greens outbalance the fats. Not a diet. Not an obsession.
I’ll check in with you soon about my progress. For now, I have some social justice work around a certain store to take care of.