In the past few weeks, I have enjoyed squeezing a number of summertime activities into my life before heading back to the grindstone of fall semester. (By the way kind readers, as classes start tomorrow, the frequency of my posts may diminish… But, I will do my best to keep “kicking ass” in the blogosphere).*
While soaking up sun at the beach, whizzing down slides at water parks, swimming at public pools, and being spun upside down and backwards at theme parks, I have appreciated the wonderful diversity and beauty of all the different bodies that populate this planet.
I love body watching at the beach, but not the kind of bodies that popular culture deems ideal. No, in fact the bikini clad bodies with long blonde hair or the board short wearing six-packs that cavort in groups while tossing Frisbees are not the bodies that bring me the most joy. Rather, I like those bodies that our culture deems imperfect, undesirable, as too fat, too hairy, too pale, too wrinkly – I like to see these bodies in all their different swimsuits and sunwear enjoying the surf and sand. I am saddened when such a body feels the need to hide itself under a sarong or when is visibly worried about being out in public. I hate to see such a body wearing what is obviously an attempt to hide. I love it when all the ‘Othered bodies’ refuse to buy into the bodily hatred our culture doles out by obviously enjoying letting it all hang out at the beach.
At water parks and swimming pools, even more bodily diversity is often apparent as these tend to be family hangouts rather than quasi-pick up places for the young and hot to strut their stuff (it seems even at ‘family beaches’ it is hard to get away from the feel of California beaches as pick up joints). And, at water parks and pools, pretty much everyone is in a bathing suit because that is all you can wear if you wish to ride the slides or dip in the water. In fact, these places should be a required experience for the crazy designers and advertisement big wigs out there who stubbornly perpetuate the idea of ideal sizes and average height/weight. As such places attest, bodies (no matter their age) are radically diverse. Now, while this truism does not hold up so well at certain public pools (I was in Palm Springs once at a pool where a friend and I were playing “Try to spot the real boobs” due to the overwhelming presence of surgically modified uber-tan fat-free bodies posing poolside), for the most part, a public space populated by swim-clad wearing bodies will reveal a fact that people like to deny: bodies come in all shapes and sizes.
At a beautiful outdoor pool overlooking the Puget Sound I swam at this summer while in Seattle, I witnessed two memorable body moments. Unfortunately, neither of them were positive. In the first, a boy of about six pulled off his shorts and underwear poolside so as to change into his swimsuit. Upon seeing him, his father became irate and started shouting “What is wrong with you boy?!? Get your clothes back on!!!” Then, he began to verbally abuse the woman with him (who appeared far too young to be the boy’s mother but seemed to be the father’s girlfriend). He questioned her judgment, asked her what was wrong with her to let the boy do that, yelled at her for letting the boy embarrass him in public. A general sense of dread spread over the sun chairs. I could collectively sense others wondering if they should say something, if they should pretend they couldn’t hear, if they dared to step into a ‘private matter’ when the man ‘in charge’ was obviously extremely angry and was not short on muscles to back up that anger. As the yelling went on, I myself wondered what to do. I have stepped in before in similar settings with mixed results. (Once, I phoned 911 when a man was beating a woman outside a gas station only to be chased down the street by the woman as she was so angry I ‘lied’ to the police about her boyfriend). Cringing inside for the naked little boy and the woman (and hating the father), I got up to walk towards them not knowing what I would say or do. However, before I got there, the boy grabbed his stuff and ran to the bathroom, and the woman did the same. The man, all smug in his self righteous king of the castle manner, laid back in his chair and gave his other children a look that said “you better not give me no shit neither.” I wanted to say something, I wanted to call him out on his assholery, but I didn’t. Frankly, he scared me. And to think that all this was over a six year old boy being so excited to get in the pool that he bared his butt poolside. Who the frig cares?!? The dad obviously did – he acted as this brief show of nudity was a catastrophic emasculating episode.
The other memorable body moment involved seeing a girl of perhaps 14 wearing cumbersome gingham outfit that resembled a swimsuit from another century that consisted of long bloomers, a sleeved top, and a Holly Hobbit style bonnet. I happened to spy the cover of the book she was reading, something like How to be an Obedient Woman. Now, I of course have no idea why she and all the women with her were dressed like this, or what the idea of ‘obedience’ meant to them, but judging from their attire, it seemed to involve keeping one’s body covered, even when swimming. While the choice to do so would be one thing, the title of the book suggested another – that being an ‘obedient female,’ a ‘good girl,’ meant one should deny the fleshy parts of existence. I am not sure why this group of women struck me so much, or why I felt so saddened by their dress code. Although I agree people should be able to choose how they cover (or do not cover) their bodies, I have a sort of gut reaction to bodies that appear to be excessively covered in order to hide what are deemed as ‘defective’ parts. In some cases, the defectiveness seems to be associated with being a female body. In others, it is due to inhabiting a body that differs from the ‘ideal.’ In either scenario, I am saddened when people appear visibly uncomfortable or embarrassed about their own unique embodiment. (Mind you, I am not a fan of major boobcrack or buttcrack display in public spaces either – mainly because such let-it-all -hang-out antics tend to play into an objectifying “I am just meat for your enjoyment” paradigm.)
This Saturday while riding as many extreme roller coasters as possible in very hot Valencia, California, I did more musing on the variability of bodies. Most people wore short shorts and tank tops due to the 90plus degree weather. Some were thin, some were fat, some were hairy, some were wrinkly. One thing I noticed while jammed in close proximity to other bodies in line is that even thin, toned bodies have the so called “cottage cheese” look to their thighs and/or “tummy rolls.” These fleshy parts are natural. They are not gross or ugly but only perceived as such because we live in a culture that profits off of making people hate their bodies. If it was ok to have jiggly thighs, varicose veins, tummy pouches, and love handles, how would corporations rake in the dough on cellulite creams, diet pills, age-defying potions, and Botox injections? I was pleased that the heat prompted the fleshy display of so many different types of bodies and this got me thinking about a fat-hating conversation I heard earlier this summer.
While at dinner at a relative’s house, someone brought up the news that airlines might start charging passengers by their weight. Now, my family is not known for having “skinny genes,” quite the contrary in fact, but a number of people piped in about this being a good idea. One of the more skinny obsessed in attendance suggested she should get a discount due to her low weight. Judging by the comment thread here, lots of people agree that charging by weight is a good idea. However, if you consider that what we weigh is a complex combination of genetics, metabolism, age, diet, and, now more than ever, how we are force fed high fructose corn syrup, it doesn’t seem fair to reward those who can eat trainloads of food and weigh in at 110 while punishing those whose bellies expand if they merely look at a cookie. Seems to make about as much sense as charging for skin color.
Yet, as the people at the dinner table bemoaned “It’s so uncomfortable when you are crammed next to a fat person that spills over into your seat.” Yeah, will imagine how it feels to be that fat person. Do you think s/he likes to not “fit” in our world, to be reminded that if you are over a certain weight/height you don’t belong? Flights are uncomfortable full stop. Yes, it is hard to be crammed in next to so many other bodies, but give me a fat seat companion over an annoying one any day – or over a kid kicking my seat the entire flight while her/his parent snores away in oblivion.
Seems to me a better solution would be for airlines to offer a few rows with less seats and more leg/body room. If you are taller or fatter or merely want to stretch out, maybe these seats could cost a bit more (but not double, and not the price of first class). I know this is not very feasible in our profit is all culture, but is a dehumanizing weigh in at the check in counter really the best airlines can come up with? This would give being “overweight” an entirely new spin. I can just imagine alarms going off at the check in scales and the accompanying shouts: “This one is over weight by 20!” “This fatty is over by 50!”
What the heck does that term really mean anyway? Over what weight? How can a person ever possibly be over the weight of their own body? They can be over the weight culture deems normal, over the weight doctors peddle as healthy, over the weight diet gurus suggest one needs to be at, over the weight considered attractive by a thin obsessed society, but certainly not over the weight their own body naturally stabilizes at. Now, factors like high fructose corn syrup and dangerous dieting lead to a weight that might be over the set point of one’s body – but this is due to culture practices that pump food full of junk while expecting people to be as thin as possible and, in so doing, promote crazy dieting/eating habits. Ridiculous.
This is why I don’t use the term overweight. I think it’s is an idiotic brainwashing three syllable mind-numbing term. It should be banished from the lexicon. I also hate obese. Medicalized hogwash. The term I like is fat. If we embraced the term, perhaps we could embrace fat on our own bodies. Cuz most bodies have it somewhere – even those thin little bodies in teeny tiny shorts have fat somewheres. Fat is human. Bones are for skeletons – you know, when you are dead. So, let’s get over the whole stupid weight thing and embrace the fact that our bodies are made of flesh, and bone, and FAT.
*A big fat thanks to Eric Stoller and Womanist Musings for each giving me a “Kick Ass Blogger” award.