January 25, 2014 3 Comments
This might be one of the reasons I don’t get along with many people and many people find me awkward: I don’t like giving or receiving compliments based on body shape/size. And I don’t think it is because I am super self-conscious or because I don’t notice other people’s bodies or even that I think bodies shouldn’t be noticed. But complimenting bodies immediately establishes a hierarchy of what kind of body, what features, what what curves are acceptable to have.
“Wow you look so skinny!”
Verbal response: “Thanks.”
Mental Response: I’m actually chubby and I thought I looked good. Please stop indicating I would be better off otherwise.
“All that running has been paying off! You look great!”
Verbal response: “Thanks.”
Mental response: “Oh shit, my TMJ and stress symptoms must have become visible, because that’s the only part that feels better since running.”
“That dress makes you look so tiny around the waist!”
Verbal response: “Thanks.”
Mental response: “I’m super uncomfortable right now. Why am I wearing this? Oh wait, because apparently my waist needs to thinned out.”
“Are you on a diet? You’ve totally lost weight?”
Verbal response: “Oh, no. But thanks!”
Mental response: “I haven’t taken a lunch break at work in weeks because I’m over worked and stressed. I’m dying a little every day and nearly passed out from hypoglycemia on Thursday. Thank god for chocolates in my co-worker’s desk. I wish I had chocolate right now. Why is this bitch talking about diets?”
I understand that compliments are generally well intentioned (although I’m sure we have all gotten compliments that are really thinly-veiled digs). And I also understand that there is a tendency to notice bodies and appearance. We are visual creatures. But I can’t helped but get a little irked when this is the first, the automatic, the go-to way to compliment someone. When I hear young girls, teens girls repeatedly getting messages “She’s so cute!” “Oh she is going to be such a looker!” “wow, look out for those boys when she grows up.” I think that is where I hit the ceiling. I grew up with all sisters and had like 3 friends when I was very little, so I don’t know, but do boys get messages like this?
Even as adults I feel like women’s appearances are complimented above all other traits, intelligence, humor, confidence, strength, tenacity. I can use the example of my sisters and I: 1 Ph.D., 1 artist completing her Master’s degree, 1 working on her degree in forensic accounting, and me, finishing up my doctorate in psychology. (We’re fucking badasses, if you haven’t noticed.) But what do we hear when we are together, with friends or family? And even feed to each other? There is never a time to get away from those comments on our bodies and appearance. Why? We’re smart; we’re fucking hilarious; we’re driven and talented; we’re pretty stylish in our own (mostly very different) ways; as previously stated, we’re fucking badass. So why are there always comments on the way we look? They never make me feel good and so I don’t know how I’m supposed to react to them.
I use this example of my family partly because it’s usually when I’m with my sisters that I’m with larger groups of people and these comments are made. Left to my own devices I hang out with a one of like 4 people, boyfriend, best friend, the few school people I can tolerate being around and our conversations lean more toward geekery and beer. And partly because it was during wedding shopping with my sister that this really began to irk me. (Dress shopping is a wonderful way to make you hate yourself and everyone around, but they should be happy a faked a smile the whole weekend. It only worsened my TMJ.)
I have never head any body talk or body compliments that don’t put bodies on a hierarchy. Comments like the ones above make it clear that thinner is better, losing weight is good, and how you got there doesn’t matter. If I look thin because I forgo lunch 5 days a week due to stress, hey I still look thin and that will be complimented. If I am painfully cinched into a dress to the point I can’t eat, Fuck it! I look great! There is value in being thinner, even if that is not natural to your body. Rarely do we compliment people for putting on weight (the exception being in cases where there is concern about major health problems). You will never hear “Oh look at you! You got so pudgy! You look great!” Because any indication that you are not thin is a problem. I once called myself chubby around my research partner. And he immediately defended me, from myself? “No! You’re not chubby, you’re great! You look great!” “umm…No, I am. They sky is blue and I’m chubs. It really is okay.” I actually get annoyed when people defend Jennifer Lawrence with “Oh, she’s not fat! She’s so thin! She’s perfect!” Well, 1) JLaw is perfect, she doesn’t need you to say so. 2) She’s not super thin, she’s not a size 2, and that’s cool. We can acknowledge that, because it’s not a bad thing. If she’s a “plus size” actress, do we need to deny that, or can we kind of embrace it? 3) She’s also smart, funny, wonderfully poorly-spoken, and a badass, let’s talk about that.
I guess I don’t get. I never will get it. Why we need to talk about our bodies so much and do this whole back and forth of validation based on a body type that is named the best. Why we gently encourage one another to have that body; the body is not ours, and for most of use, never will be and never should be. There is no logic behind why we believe that is the “right” body.
I will never get it. If someone does get it, enlighten me. But I will continue in my existing level of awkwardness when it comes to discussion of bodies.