21 June 2015

Reflections on Fatness

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Note to self: Never look in the "Other" folder in your Facebook messages. There were three old messages, two of which were spam. The third told me I was fat and ugly and would be better off without a profile picture. Every so often, I get told something along those lines -- that I'm obese, unattractive (the former informing the latter, I guess). I know I shouldn't listen, but those words bring me back to my awkward teen years, trying to fit in, with a body much older than I felt. Throughout my twenties (I can say that now, right? as a freshly-minted 30-year-old?), I still struggled, and my chronic health issues (it's officially been ten years since my botched gallbladder surgery) have made my weight fluctuate, and with it, my confidence in my appearance.

The typical Compliments For Fat Girls™ don't help, either, and I'm not asking for pity or comparisons to Rebel Wilson or Melissa McCarthy (the "at least you're funny!" line). I am told these things often, by people who mean well, but the stereotypes sting, even the sugary ones. "At least you have a pretty face." ... "At least you have a good personality." ... Etc. These comments are completely unhelpful and shouldn't even be said.

There has been the occasional student who has treated me poorly because I'm fat. Around New Year's, I had received an email from a disappointed (and likely drunk) student about her failing grade in my class. She had to include in her email that she thought I was fat. I reported it to my superiors, but it was too late; she had evidently dropped out of school. In any case, there are people who don't think twice about belittling someone for their weight, no matter how completely inappropriate and unwelcome such a comment is. But to call someone fat is, to many, just pointing out the obvious. Some hide their insult behind a "concern for [my] health." You cannot tell a person's health by their weight alone; there are many other factors that go into it. It's incredibly presumptuous and also arrogant, particularly if you are not a health care provider, to tell someone that they are fat and therefore unhealthy.

Supposed friends have also pointed-out my fatness, as if it were news to me that I am big. No way! Thank you for noticing my weight! I had no idea; thank you for bringing it to my attention. And yes, I have removed a handful of people from my life, online and offline, for criticizing my weight and/or my loved ones' weight. I grew up around criticism; now that I have a choice in whose company I keep, I can afford to be more discerning.

In the end, my body is my business, and yet I am still stung when others, strangers and friends alike, take it upon themselves to make my fatness their business to comment on. Telling me I'm fat just sends me right back to being a fat child, fat adolescent. Certainly, it acknowledges my present fatness, and my life-long struggle to accept myself. I have good days and bad. For the past few years, the good days have out-numbered the bad, in terms of how I view myself. One day, I won't care whether some jerkclown thinks I'm "obese." But I'm thirty, and for now, I still care, and it still has the power to hurt me, or at least put a damper on my day. I'm not asking anyone to tell me to ignore the bullies. I'm asking people to be mindful of their words and how they carry deep meaning. Your words and actions hold more weight than you realize (pun intended), so choose carefully. Everyday, I try to be sincere, earnest, and compassionate. I'm no saint, but I'm cognizant of how my words and actions have incredible power. I'm not saying this because I write poetry and teach and otherwise find myself in situations where words matter. Everyone's do, regardless of hobby or profession. Sorry to be so preachy, but I'm tired of people being irresponsible with their words, and I'm tired of being on the receiving end of that carelessness.

Be more caring. Give a shit. Do better. Meanwhile, I'll be fat. I'll always be some degree of fat. Even at my thinnest, I was still "fat." Do me a favor and be kind about it.


17 June 2015

Therapy

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They aged quietly, without
permission or notice.
They're OK -- flowing things, moving
from city to city and house to house.
Dreams are particles; dreams are waves.
They are usually consumed in silence,
but suddenly the radio
is in the background,
and the space is no longer empty.
It's safe, but they still scurry
to the dark corners.

24 May 2015

Priscilla

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Pushing back the cuticle
for some catharsis,
shaping a little crescent moon.
Curling lashes with flashes
of expectations, to catch your eye.
Maybe you should marry me,
a fixer-upper, but a sprightly thing.
Maybe my temporary beauty
can cause permanent love.
For each night I lie wide awake
I promise a lifetime of catharsis.
In your room, where nothing
belongs to me, I can be another keepsake.
Just give me a chance to shine.

02 April 2015

Flaws and Guilt

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I'm not good at keeping in touch.

I eat too much, too quickly.

I stay up too late and generally don't get enough sleep.

I don't often get mad, but when I do, my temper is pretty fiery.

I try every day to limit my hypocrisies and personal inconsistencies; I fall short, but I at least try not to hurt anyone else along the way. I occasionally fall short with that, too.

I have trouble sticking up for myself.

I articulate myself much better when I write than when I speak.

I talk slowly and deeply and have always been self-conscious about my voice.

I don't trust easily.

While I've started to entertain the possibility that I'm pretty, I have always struggled with beauty and I am trying to redefine it for myself.

I care too deeply, sometimes to the point of neglecting myself and my own boundaries.

I don't want to disappoint anyone, let anyone down.

I'm scared of finding myself in severe poverty again.

I'm not afraid of death; I'm only afraid of not loving enough. That's not a typo.

I will live with my chronic health problems for the rest of my life; I get that. I just want more consistency so that I can have more flexibility. That will probably never happen, and I need to accept that.

I need to accept a lot of things, and stop feeling so guilty all the time.

27 March 2015

Artifact

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Guilt is my talisman,
my heirloom. A fresh coat of paint
separates me from the other women,
the other prisoners, our skin still wet.
If I told the truth now, I could
preserve you, like a picture in a locket,
my face and your face,
painted and frozen.
I can't. Your eyes
are blurry, and I am
trapped inside them.


21 February 2015

More

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I don't want to be a good girl. I want to be a great woman.
I don't want to be compared--
thinner than so-and-so;
dimmer than what's-her-name;
careful,
like a mother holding her child;
strong,
like what's-his-face's daughter:
she's someone's
daughter, someone's
future wife.
I am someone
now.
Can they see me now? Can they be proud of me now?
I want to be a template
but more than a muse.
                            but more.


01 February 2015

Tired Subjects

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Most beauty is hidden, she said,
her lips plush, but I tell her my body
deserves more than metaphor, and yet I have
trouble doing it justice. I use these hands to shape
dough or clay or minds, hopefully,
but my own brain does the harder work,
translating my ___ thoughts into ___ language
to come out of my ____ mouth. There is no justice here,
because I am a sloppy human being. I struggle being.
Plans leave tiny marks, loose eye lashes
on my cheek. To call them wishes would be a mistake.
I'm afraid I'm not that optimistic.
Stray _____ thoughts.
I'm not selfish when I write;
I'm selfish when I don't write,
when I don't translate
my ____ thoughts into ___ language.
The symmetry is absent.
The symmetry is a wish.
But I am a sloppy human being,
so under piles of papers and rubber bands and receipts,
under this rubble,
must be beauty.
It must be somewhere.



22 January 2015

Not Mary Janes

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This is for my younger sister, Erica.

***

She always said that I had the hands of a baker, large palms for kneading dough, round fingers for thumbprint cookies, perfect for creases with jam.

And she had the hands of a piano player, her fingers long, angular, symmetrical. She took lessons, but gave up after a year, because the teacher smelt of burnt coffee, and her bathroom was way too purple.

When we were twelve and ten, respectively, we measured each other’s legs and lamented the stretch marks that were forming where our hips were widening. Boys noticed, too—not our marks, but our hips.

Meanwhile, her arms, long and sparsely freckled, reached skyward, and my own arms, short and soft, clung to my sides. We carried ourselves un-observantly. We didn’t notice boys, but we noticed girls. We noticed their hair, parted off to the side, clipped neatly. We noticed their eye brows, drawn with care, stray hairs ripped from their pores or combed to conform to neat little arches. We noticed the small feet, pushed delicately into Mary Janes.

But we were not Mary Janes. Mary Janes in sizes 11 and 9, respectively, made us look like clowns. We stuck to what we knew and understood, and for a long time, that meant that we stuck to hating our bodies.

But our hands eventually survived our hatred. And later, my breasts survived. Her legs. Bit by bit, body part by body part, we tried to salvage everything. Her crooked teeth were next. “David Bowie has crooked teeth,” she said, and that made everything better. After that, my nose made the cut. “It’s not too big, not too small,” I said. Then we noticed our own eye brows, how they lacked distinct shape and conformity. We noticed our mouths, big, toothy, prominent. We noticed how other girls noticed us. We noticed our height, our long arms finally reaching upward together, perfect for hugs.

I was fourteen when I realized that my body was my first home. It didn’t have to be a cage. It didn’t have to be an obstacle. It housed my brain, my spirit, my heart, but it was more than just a container. It could be warm and safe and strong. It could protect the ones I loved.

My sister and I still talk about our bodies. And we still sometimes complain. But they are and were the first things we ever owned, and we understand that now. We have done more than just notice. We have celebrated. 




19 January 2015

Selma and the Long Road Ahead

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Yesterday, I saw the movie Selma, which I highly recommend. The crowd was a mix of races, and as we were leaving, an older white man ahead of me commented, "I'm glad things aren't like that anymore." The two young black women behind him laughed.

Everywhere we turn, we witness the truth unfolding, and some of us are too desensitized to see it: Racism has never left this country; actually, racism is alive and well all over the world. I could see Dr. King protesting about Ferguson and New York, protesting about Nigeria. When I see "good people" fail to acknowledge current racism, like the probably well-meaning man I just quoted, I see Dr. King's face and Malcolm X's face in my mind and wonder how they would react.

Because the truth is that MLK's dream is far, far from realized. He's been sanitized and canonized, but in reality, he was radical. He was seen as a threat. His dreams are still a threat to this country in particular, because acknowledging systemic racism in America has yet to happen. It's true that we don't segregate blacks and whites in our physical spaces, but we sure as hell segregate them in our minds. Think about our discussions of rioting and looting. Think about our discussions of thugs and criminals. Even "good people" on Facebook, well-intentioned people, continue to Other black folks and chastise their behavior. Even "good people" on Facebook, well-intentioned people, are using terms like "sand n****rs" to describe folks whose mosques were bombed after Charlie Hebdo. These aren't conservatives talking, either. These people identify as progressive. Today, these people talk about MLK in fluffy, reflective ways. And yet they are ignorant to their own racism. They fail to acknowledge how their behavior perpetuates systemic racism. They fail to see that their "scolding" of folks of different races makes them a racist. None of us wants to defer MLK's dream, and yet all of us are actively deferring it.


After seeing Selma, I'm sure that the person who said, "I'm glad things aren't like that anymore," truly thinks that we live in a society where Dr. King's dream has been realized, but the young women who laughed -- a dark, knowing laugh -- understand the truth.