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  • Bodies by Brooke Allen

    I wrote this piece after the election, but I don’t want to stand up here and talk about politics.  We’ve had enough of that this week. Why just this morning I was told by a man on facebook that I was “extremely arrogant” for expressing my political views. So I’m not even going to mention the election or even tell you who I voted for. It will have to remain a yuuuuge mystery. I promise this piece will be absolutely unbiased toward any candidate or gender.

    Just kidding, I love Hillary Clinton and this piece is specifically all about women’s bodies.

    Here we go.

    Having a body is incredibly hard. I suppose it’s better than having no body, though. Having people care about your body can also be hard. Although I suppose it’s better than being cared about by…no…body.

    Having a female body is especially hard. As a little girl I had an extremely tall body. I towered over all of my other friends all through grade school. “You’re only 8? You look so much older, you’re so much bigger than everyone, you’re only 10?” Most of my friends that I didn’t grow up with don’t even know that about me. Doctors projected that I would be 6 feet tall as an adult. But as we all know, sometimes projections by really smart people aren’t correct in the long run. Around the time I was 14 or 15 my tall body engaged with my teenage spirit by saying, “Meh, this is probably good enough” and just stopped adding inches, vertically anyway. Everyone shot up past me but I still used the language of tall people. “Let me get that for you, I’m tall” “I’ll stand in the back for this picture, I’m tall” “Do you have these jeans in a tall? I’m tall.” When I got to college and made a bunch of new friends they teased me, “Why do you always say you’re tall? You’re actually kind of short.” I still had, and have the muscle memory of going through my entire impressionable childhood being told repeatedly that my body was hilariously out of place, but that I was lucky because one day as an adult I would enjoy a long giraffey-gazelle body that everyone would be jealous of. I’m 37 so it should be here any day now…tick tock, gazelle body. No, what really happened was I had to look in a mirror for a long time one night in college and explain to myself that I was wrong about who I thought I was. That I was only 5’6 and would only ever be 5’6 (a height everyone referred to as “average.”) I remember then breathing a huge sigh of relief, after all, gazelles are animals of prey.

    Having a female body is especially hard. As a little girl my mom brought me a book she had purchased which explained what was going to happen to me during puberty. I sat, mouth hanging open and argued with her ferociously. “That is bullshit! I am NOT doing any of that!” I probably said. She seemed concerned about my complete rejection of the entire idea of growing up. I forced her to take her stupid “changing bodies” book and get the hell out, but a year later, despite all my efforts to prevent my body from changing, it did anyway. I sheepishly walked into her room one night and said, “Can I have that book now? And can you buy me some of those whatevers? And also I guess I need deodorant and razors and bras now, too. And NEVER TALK ABOUT THIS TO ME UNLESS I TALK ABOUT IT FIRST.” Which is a line most of my friends are familiar with me still saying to this day. It’s not that I live in denial it’s that I have a sort of exaggerated fight or flight system built into my body and need to ease myself into a lot of new ideas and changing bodies.

    Having a female body is especially hard. Everyone wants to talk about it and look at it and think about it, which is really the worst because who knows what kind of trouble you’re getting into in other people’s heads.

    I went to college and made friends with a ballet dancer who had weekly weigh-ins as part of her curriculum. “We should start taking ephedrine” she suggested casually while grocery shopping one night. I said “sure” because it was college and you say “sure” to everything people suggest and also because the ephedrine was right there in the grocery store in a yellow box enthusiastically labeled “Fat Burner!” If it was sold in a grocery store it had to be safe. We took ephedrine together for a while and then she stopped and I continued taking it by myself. I went back to the grocery store and bought an endless supply. I took it for almost a year. Instead of gaining the “freshman fifteen” I lost nearly 60 pounds in a matter of months and you could see each of the bones in my back when I wore a tank top. Everyone told me I looked amazing and that they were so proud of me. I got a boyfriend. He told me to keep it up. I nibbled mindlessly on junk food for dinner and survived mostly on Mountain Dew and coffee. I was taking up to twelve fat burners a day and then sleeping pills at night, or no sleep. Sometimes I would lose track and just have one long continuous day. I started failing school. But I wasn’t fat, at least. The thing is, I hadn’t really been fat to begin with. I had just been comparing myself to a teenage ballerina who had said “we” should try ephedrine and if HER body wasn’t good enough, mine must have been terrible.

    Someone once told me that I should try to look the way I did my first year in college. They said “I thought you looked really great, then.” And I laughed and said “Well yeah, man, everyone looks really great when they are eighteen and on speed.” And then when he walked away I cried because, fuck.

    One of my female professors pulled me aside after class one day and said, “You’re eating the inside of your mouth during my class, you’re a shaking jittery mess and you are starting to disappear. Don’t do that.” And then she walked away. It wasn’t a beautiful heart to heart; she wasn’t a concerned mother-figure. I don’t even remember her name. I thought it was sort of bitchy, actually. And yet, it seeped in slowly over the next few months as I slowly removed the boyfriend and the pills, which are now considered an illegal drug and no longer sold in grocery stores.

    Having a female body is especially hard. Having a fat one is even harder. I can say that but you can’t. You also don’t need to call me big or heavy-set or plus-size or round or hearty or chubby or “funny” if you really mean fat, or “sassy” if you really mean fat. Unless you are my sister, and by that I don’t mean one of the four skinny broads I grew up with, I mean unless you are also a fat girl, you don’t need to call me anything but Brooke.  One time I was eating an exceptionally delicious apple and I said, “Mm, this is an exceptionally delicious apple!” And my very thin, very well intentioned friend responded with, “See! Fruit is delicious!” To my surprise I didn’t shove the apple core directly into her eye socket but instead calmly explained to her that no one, and I mean no one, knows more about fruits and vegetables and salads and smoothies and calories and diets than a fat girl so don’t even play. I started gaining lots of weight quickly after I finished losing lots of weight quickly in college. I have alternately cared and not cared about this. When I’ve cared I’ve worked really hard and focused all my time and attention on it. I’ve trained like a marathon runner with diets and special groceries and pep talks and what feels like almost constant sacrifice. When I’ve not really cared I have sat and listened patiently while other people talk to me about my body and how they are just concerned for my health. I have been mocked and monitored and told I should dress differently. But listen, I’m always gonna wear tank tops because they are comfortable and what does arm flab have to do with anything anyway?

    When you are fat people assume you hate yourself as a full time job. They assume you have no confidence and then when you prove them wrong they become sort of angry. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked out on dates by men who have said in the asking, “I actually like women your size” and “I’m really into big girls” only to be shocked when I immediately turned them down. There is a fat community, and only other fat or formerly fat people belong to it. It exists when any two or more fat people find each other. We don’t all stand around talking about how much we love cake or how we wish we were thin. We mostly talk about all the ways we’ve experienced people just not being able to handle us. When a fat woman starts to lose weight people are really supportive until she starts edging too close to being average size. Then everyone looks at her and thinks, “Oh, you’re real? You’re an actual person? And you’ve been here this whole time?” And I can try to explain it but only people who are here tonight who are members of the fat community are going to understand this, that the way people treat you when you are gaining weight is tough, but nothing is as tough as the way they treat you when you are losing it. Being fat is something I don’t love and it’s something I don’t hate, it’s just something I am. I’ve lost almost 25 pounds in the last three months because I’ve decided it’s time but DON’T TALK ABOUT IT AGAIN UNLESS I BRING IT UP. Got it?

    Having a female body is especially hard. There are so many things you’re supposed to do with it. Dress it up, squeeze it into tight clothes, paint it, rub different types of lotions all over it at different times of the day and night. Wash it, dry it, inspect it for flaws, cut it, curl it, shave it, wax it, press your cool hands against your warm face to take down the blushing when you get embarrassed, dig your fingernails into the palms of your hands so you don’t cry, or sit on the edge of your tub and heave big uncontrollable sobs that feel like they are coming from the center of the earth. Walk your body down the street and hope no one grabs it. Try to stand with your ass against the wall so no one grabs it. Always keep one hand on your purse so no one grabs it.  Go out of your way to disguise the fact that you fart and pee and poop and bleed and burp and vomit and blow snot out of your nose and if anyone catches on that you might engage in these activities, apologize. Always have, in the back of your mind somewhere, a plan for what you will do if you are raped by this date, or this cab driver, or this guy walking down the street towards you. Walk up a steep flight of stairs in heels. Walk down a steep flight of stairs in heels. Lose weight. More. More. Put elastic bands in your hair and around your chest and around your waist. Smile too much, see a picture of yourself smiling, think you have an ugly smile and practice smiling in the mirror. Smile too little, be told you don’t smile enough. Be told to smile. Be told, every damn day and night by every damn stranger on the street to SMILE. That you would be so much prettier if you smiled. Be reduced to nothing more than a decoration, like a flower or a vase, and then still feel like you are failing when you disappoint strangers for not being a good enough object. Have cramps. Have a baby. Be unable to have a baby even though you want one. Become pregnant with a baby you don’t want. Have it painfully but safely and legally removed. Have it delivered and then feed it milk from your breasts which, whoa! And also, what?! Have a baby and give it away. Have the U.S. Government decide for you what you should do about having or not having a baby. Get highlights. Get low lights. Go gray. Turn in to your mother. Cry with pride in a voting booth when you vote for a woman as president. Cry with grief on the street outside an election party when she loses. Wear spanx. Have your heart swiftly broken into a million shards while you stand there in uncomfortable shoes and smile and smile and smile forever.

    Having a female body is especially hard. But it’s not impossible. The thing to never forget is that a female body is also incredibly capable and beautiful and magical. If you have a female body you have a choice about what to do with it. And if someone takes that choice away you have a choice about how you want to handle it.

    Your body is not too tall or short or fat or thin or old or anything else, it’s just a reflection of you, where you are today, and it belongs to you completely, and that’s all that matters.