- Category: Feminist Consciousness-Raising
Written by an organizer in Gainesville Women's Liberation for a GWL Consciousness-Raising Study Group in 1996
Topic: Speaking and writing about my own oppression/what is my stake in the movement for change
Weight has always been a source of worry and pain for me. In elementary school I was a liittle overweight. Baby fat, I guess you'd call it, but I don't believe I was ever really medically obese. That's hard for any kid, but especially if you are a girl. I remember the pain of being picked last for teams, being made fun of by other kids, and even being made fun of by the PE teachers. My weight was a constant source of humiliation for me.
Boys who were two or even three times more overweight didn't get picked on as much as I did. In fact, for the few overweight boys in my class, weight was a source of pride or even power, they were bigger than the other boys and that was a GOOD thing. They clowned around about being fat, bragged about how much food they could eat. But for me, a girl, even though I was more chubby than fat, well, it was too horrible to even joke about. A source of shame.
In high school I grew out of chubbiness. But still I felt fat. I wanted to be as thin as the popular and beautiful cheerleaders. I knew some boys who were lifeguards and I wanted them to like me, find me attractive. They would talk about the girls in my class, who was "fat," who had a good body. I'd see them on the beach and they would rank each woman as she walked by, a little bit on breast size, but mostly on how thin she was and how much cellulite she had. Some of them had T-shirts and stickers that said "No fat chicks." I was the platonic friend of more than a few guys, and they talked openly in front of me about how disgusting they thought this or that woman was, all of them normal weight or even on the skinny side. But they thought a woman who was a size 7 or size 9 was fat, and they were quite open about their disgust. Did they think that about me? I thought I was fat, they must, too. Did they think that about me? No wonder I never got any dates, I thought.
When I was 17, I started "dieting" in earnest. This consisted of eating nothing but canteloupe for days. I remember being on a lunch break and staring at an apple. I wanted it so badly. Finally I broke down and ate it. I felt so guilty afterwards, I went into the bathroom and started doing something I never did before, made myself throw up. I kept that up for about 6 months, vomiting whenever I thought I'd overeaten, maybe once every other day. I got down to 112 pounds. I felt really proud, but I still felt fat. I finally quit vomiting regularly. I knew it was dangerous, that if I didn't stop soon I might not be able to stop. But still over the years, I sink back into it sometimes when I'm feeling particularly fat and disgusted with myself. It's embarrassing and I try to hide it when I do it.
Of course the inevitable happened and I started gaining weight back. I couldn't stay 112 pounds without starving myself, and vomiting. As I started growing older and my metabolism slowed, I put on a little more weight. By the time my class reunion rolled around, I was up to 150 pounds. Again, not medically overweight, but by men's standards, fat. I was determined to lose it for my reunion, and, I was ending a long term relationship and I knew if I was going to attract another man I'd have to lose weight. So I started doing Slim-Fast. When I did eat food I made sure it was vegetables, fruit or low fat yogurt. I lost 20 pounds this way. I was surprised at how differently I was treated by men. Men who had paid little attention to me before, now found me fascinating and sought me out at parties. Men at the Jiffy Lube were especially solicitous. It was wonderful to have men flirt with me. Vie for my attention, ask for my phone number. It was also infuriating. I was the same person as when I was 20 pounds heavier. What the hell was going on? It made me disgusted.
Now I'm going out with a guy I'm really crazy about. He only knows the thin me. I worry about gaining the weight back. I know I should exercise, but I hate exercising. I've told him that I've lost a lot of weight. It's sick but I'm proud of it, at the same time it infuriates me that I had to do it. Our sex life is really good and he tells me how much he likes my body. It used to make me feel good but lately it makes me paranoid, like, I better not gain any weight or he won't think I'm beautiful anymore.
I think the reason it now makes me feel bad instead of good is because he has started saying little things. He asked me what size jeans I wore. I got the feeling he was scrutinizing me when I ordered food out. He talked about getting us each a pair of Roller Blades as an anniversary present, a nice present but I got the feeling he wanted to get me on an exercise program. Then one day he asked me if I'd gained any weight. "No, as a matter of fact I've lost weight," I calmly replied. But inside I felt like he'd put a knife in me. I knew I hadn't gained weight but I started to panic. My god! He thinks I'm getting fat! I wondered if he was really thinking what I'd heard my guy friends in high school say when they were ranking women. He's worried I'm going to get fat, he knew I was before, I never should have told him. He really has been watching what I eat like a hawk. Then I felt crushed. Because I knew I would never be able to eat in front of him without worrying, he thinks I'm a pig. In the back of my mind when we are making love I'll wonder if he's secretly turned off by my soft stomach. I won't feel as comfortable naked in front of him (not that I ever felt TOTALLY at ease). And if I do gain weight, maybe he won't make love to me anymore. Do my saggy breasts bother him, too?
Two days later I asked him if he was worried I was going to get fat. There was a long silence. The silence was excruciatingly painful, he admitted that he was. I started crying, sobbing really. Quickly he said, "But it's only because I know how good you feel about yourself since you've lost weight. You know it's normal to gain weight when you're in a relationship... I've put on a little weight..." blah blah, bullshit, lies etc. "What has made you think that?" he asked. I listed all the things. He denied ever asking me if I'd gained weight. "You did! You did!" I told him the time, place, and what we were doing. How nice he could forget. I couldn't. Then he told me that I looked exactly the same as when we first started dating and he thought I had a great body. Did I believe him? "No. I don't," I said. He told me if I did gain weight, of course it wouldn't affect his feeiings for me. Yeah. right.
I explained to him how painful and hard it is when you are a woman, the whole weight thing. "I know you think I'm some kind of strong woman, that male supremacy ' doesn't affect me, but it does, deeply." I told him he should not comment on what I eat that day he'd cautioned me that I was putting mayonnaise on my sandwich. "Oh," he said. "I didn't know if you knew, that's all." "Don't you think I knew it was mayonnaise? I am painfully, acutely aware of every single bit of food I put m my mouth. And I feel guilt and bad about every bite. I don't need you to remind me I'm eating mayonnaise. It makes me feel like shit. Don't try to make me exercise. Don't talk about what I eat. Don't comment on my weight. Because there is no way you can do it that will not hurt me."
So he apologized profusely. Swore he had not meant it that way. Etc. But deep inside I'll always wonder. It has planted a seed of insecurity in me, of doubt and worry. I love him and I want him to think I'm attractive. He says he's in love with me, he is so romantic and passionate. I have better sex with him than I've had with any other man. He's out of town right now and I'm already plotting how I can lose another 5 pounds.
This is one of many reasons I work in the Women's Liberation Movement. I want it to not matter if I gain 10 pounds. I want to be able to do fun things like Roller Blade with my boyfriend without worrying that he secretly wants me to get thin. And even if he didn't think I was setting fat, he's guaranteed that I'll be watching my weight by making comments. Comments which, if they weren't backed up by all the comments and actions of hundreds of men before him, would have been pretty harmless, easy to ignore.
I want to be able to believe him when he says he loves my body. Objectively, I know I look fine. But I know from my experience that the thinner you are, the more attractive men find you, and apparently my new lover is no exception. Understand, he is a feminist "supporter" who likes that I'm a feminist and is pretty progressive on women. It's no good to try to find another man out there who doesn't want a skinny woman. Besides, I want him, why does he have to ruin it with male chauvinism. The only solution is building a movement, to get rid of male supremacy once and for all, so women can get the love we all deserve. I know that the 1960s Women's Liberation Movement made improvements in the dress codes and beauty standards men demanded that we follow. I work in the movement to gain us more freedom now.
DO NOT DUPLICATE OR DISTRIBUTE THIS ESSAY WITHOUT PERJMISSION OF GAINESVILLE WOMEN'S LIBERATION, P.O. Box 2625, Gainesville, FL, 32602-2625.