Living in Bulgaria, I think that my major issue with body acceptance revolves around accepting my own body. I have not experienced catcalling or disgusted looks on the street. No one comments on what I wear, except to mention that they like my bright colored shoes or the particular shade of shirt I am wearing.
Although I know that many women get constantly critiqued by the older women in their families and although the boys tend to post constant pictures of size 0-1 women wearing little or nothing on Facebook, the body shaming has not really touched me. I have an awesome husband who finds me just as attractive now as the day we met. My mother-in-law does not discuss weight with me- whether I should gain or lose. More or less, no one cares how much I weigh or what I look like.
I suppose, in some ways, that is the good part of being a married mother in Bulgaria. The external stress to look a certain way is gone. I have ‘earned the right’ to be bigger. The wide hips and the extra padding is just part of being a mother.
But despite the acceptance of my size by others, I still have a difficult time with it. I have internalized the concept of thinness. And although I have never been particularly skinny, I still have a lot of self-loathing that I need to work through at my current weight. I realize now that a lot of my self-worth was wrapped up in my youth, my body, and my sexuality. Getting older, being a mother, having few flirtatious outlets beyond my husband, and keeping my pregnancy weight for two years has combined to do a number on my self-esteem.
The other day I read this article, written by an old acquaintance of mine, about being a “good fatty.” It outlines the rules that large people internalize and are often held to by those around them. It made me realize that although I didn’t think I held other large people to those rules, as soon as I gained some weight, I started to hold myself to those rules.
For example: Dressing Impeccably.
I never really cared about fashion before. My outfits were always thrown together. A hodge-podge of materials and styles. Yet I used to enjoy shopping. Putting together looks. Now, shopping for clothing is a dread of mine. One that I feel that I need to do constantly because I almost never feel comfortable in my clothing.
I went shopping for clothes today. I realized that I follow all sorts of rules that I used to not follow. The material has to be supportive enough to contain my fat. To squish it in towards me. It has to be sharp- bordering on fancy. Yet understated, because I don’t want people to stare. It has to cover without being baggy. It has to show just enough of the sexual kind of skin— cleavage, not stomach. It is exhausting.
I realize that now I feel the need to tell people I am exercising. Before, I could run 30km and not tell anyone except my running buddy. Now, if I get out for a run or lift weights, I want everyone to know… as if to say- “see, I am trying, don’t judge me.”
It makes me wonder if these rules that I follow now used to be there before I gained this weight. If somewhere deep inside me, I was expecting other people to follow these rules based on their size and body type. I always thought I didn’t care- that I didn’t notice. Perhaps I didn’t. But I don’t believe it any more. Societies rules penetrate us more deeply than any of us can grasp, and it is important to reflect on them and challenge them. Constantly.