The Life and Times of Florence Knitingale

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Dragging Out the Soapbox

I was going to title this post "Dusting Off the Soapbox", but those of you who are frequent visitors here (thank you so much!) know that my soapbox has about as much chance of collecting dust as our president has of collecting brain cells--so often do I trot the thing out (which cannot, alas, be said about our president. That said, I understand he just underwent a colonoscopy, so they may have found some of those brain cells.)

But, to get to the soapbox. This particular exercise of the soapbox started with a conversation I had yesterday with woman working at a store where I was picking up a couple of things on my lunch hour. Noting my uniform and name tag, she asked if I was using my lunch break to shop. I told her that I was indeed, to which she replied happily: "Oh, well that will be good for your diet then, won't it? Much better then Atkins!" Now, I understand completely that this lady meant me no ill will at all, no insult. In truth, she probably barely looked at me and couldn't say what I looked like now if 30 pounds of free cashmere (or whatever it is that muggles want) were in the offing. No, what bothers me is that this is how our society is. We are so obsessed with something as unimportant as a woman's body size (woman--not man. I can't imagine something like that being said to my husband, or any other man I know) that it's just part of normal conversation, like "how are you?" or "nice weather we've been having". I'm an adult female--I MUST be on a diet.

Our society has been talking about this very subject for years, so I know you're probably wondering what happened to Ms. Knitingale's brain to produce such a tired topic, but that's exactly my point: we HAVE been talking about it for years. And it hasn't changed.

We say that size has nothing to do with beauty, we say that we are weary of the coat hangers with hair that pass for fashion models, we say that we're fed up with having size 12 labelled "plus" or "women's" size and having all the clothes larger than that look like an explosion in a really ugly polyester factory.....but do we mean it? That is, do we mean us? Or do we actually mean that we'll be accepting of other women in all sizes, while still beating ourselves up with ludicrous expectations and standards? Check out some of the evidence:

  • There is a new diet pill on the market called Ally. It works by blocking absorption of fat. Because of that (and I'm sorry, but this is about to get gross), the fat has to go somewhere and people who eat fat and take this product are, according to the manufacturer, going to be prone to passing greasy stools, not always voluntarily. Their website actually advises people taking it that they may want to wear dark pants, and bring a change of clothing to work. Now, if we all understood that health and beauty were more than numbers, if we all loved our bodies as they were, you'd think you'd hear us all laughing as we advised the manufacturer of this wonder drug exactly what he could do with it. But, the truth is, stores can't keep the stuff in stock. It's purchased as soon as it comes in, often in huge quantities, mostly by women, and mostly by people who aren't actually all that heavy. In other words, there are women today who would rather publicly soil themselves than be perceived as "overweight".
  • I was watching TV while I ironed the other day (don't worry, it's still the same Ms. Knitingale-I was doing a half-assed job of the ironing) and a commercial came on for some other diet product. A woman was talking excitedly to the camera about her weight loss, and when she mentioned that she used to be a size 12, she said it in the tones one usually reserves for such announcements as "I woke up and I was completely covered from head to toe in fungus". 12. Now she's a size 2, and the commercial shows her happily placing her hands on the waistband of her tiny skirt, as she announces "This is a TWO!" A two? Who over the height of 5' needs to wear a size two? More importantly, why is that considered an accomplishment?

Okay, so I'm in the healthcare industry, and I know that many illnesses are associated with obesity. But I also know that the medical guidelines are far less onerous than the public ones. I am 5'8" tall, and my doctor told me I could weigh up to 160 pounds without her feeling any sort of concern or considering me to be overweight. I weighed 172 in high school, and I worea size 160 would make me probably a 14. See what I mean? The health argument only goes so far. The public would call me fat if I was a size 14, even though my doctor would call it perfectly healthy.

I used to have a friend who was about 5'4". She weighed around 170 pounds, and she had wild, frizzy red hair and a gap between her front teeth. She was also one of the most beautiful women I'd ever met, and every man who laid eyes on her thought so, too. That's because she KNEW she was beautiful. She wasn't arrogant--don't get me wrong--but she loved her curves, celebrated her full hips and thighs, even dyed her hair redder from time to time just because she liked it. Flying in the face of every woman's magazine ever written, she refused to wear clothes to conceal anything, but dressed in things like pencil skirts with fitted sweaters and belts to show off her curves. Men adored her. In a room full of women, it didn't matter what the rest of them looked like--people flocked to her. Which goes to show you that we get to decide what's beautiful....she did. So then, why are we deciding on impossible things that make us unhealthy and miserable?

I'll let you in on a secret: when I am at a healthy weight, I have big thighs. They are rather doughy, and they touch at the top in a way that can have uncomfortable consequences in hot weather. This is true no matter how much I exercise. If I get thin enough (as I am now, due to trying to cut my fat intake--and yes, I'm working hard to reverse that) to actually have slim-ish thighs, my chest will be bony and my ribs will show. That's just the way I'm made. And I'm tired of being ashamed of them. I'm tired of tugging at the legs of my shorts to hide my thighs and I'm tired of dressing to hide them. This is my official decree: I am done abusing my body emotionally for not looking like someone else tells me it should. I love my thighs. Because of their strength, I can hike and ride a bike and all kinds of really wonderful things. I love them.

I hope you'll join me. I hope you'll all look long and hard at all the things that make you beautiful--and I read your comments and your blogs so I know just exactly how beautiful you all are, and it's enormous--and know the truth about all the crap that doesn't matter. Beautiful really does come in all shapes and sizes...and not just for other people. For you, too.


  • At 12:00 PM, Blogger Marianne said…

    ....happy sigh....and yes, I am a bit on the pudding side but I'm a happy little pudding, and strong, and able...there's a good reason that Mama Nature gave us that layer of fat that you don't usually find on men...survival. We are important. You can bet your whole stash on that.

  • At 1:41 PM, Blogger ambermoggie said…

    yeah Ms K A very worthwhile post and I second third and fourth it.

  • At 5:09 PM, Anonymous MonicaPDX said…

    Hallelujah and amen, sister! Admittedly, I'm around twice the size I should weigh [g], so yep, I'm fat. But you know, there are worse things. My metabolism and body type (peasant, peasant, peasant) apparently evolved so I could survive Ice Age winters by hoarding every calorie possible, and the only way I could lose significant weight would be to work every daylight hour in the fields while on a starvation diet. ;) Y'know what? I've got better things to do with my life. And with both grandmothers and my mother developing either Alzheimer's or senile dementia, I really don't want to get old enough to go through that anyway!

    Diet, my big fat ass. There are enough things I can't afford, I'm going to enjoy every bite!

  • At 7:20 PM, Blogger Kit said…

    I have a Health Blog (you can find it just by finding my profile) and I mention frequently, this is not about weight loss. This is about being *healthy*. This is not about looking good, this is about living well. The fad diets, the pills, they're all a load of horse backwash.

    So Bravo to you!

    Besides, who the hell wants to have to wear adult diapers for the sake of losing weight? Bah.

  • At 2:02 AM, Anonymous angie Cox said…

    Strange thing is Florence is it perpetuated by men ? .Jeff likes me cuddly , curvy and although I am too fat for my health these days he hasn't run off with a thinner woman. Holly worries because she has curvy thighs and bottom ( an Afro thing) but I think men like that. I often wonder if the whole fashion World is led by mysogonist men and /or jealous females. That "Posh" could be considered anything other than a freak beats me . She is a huge joke here with men. Watching Cate Blanchett the other day I think she must be ill. Holly pointed out she is in an Edwardian costume film and women then were curvy if possible. Having no gall bladder I dread to think what those pills do , if I have ice-cream I make sure there is a toilet close by the rush of bile can be very fast indeed and I can absorb the fat but that isn't much help with the bile.. Your ironing sounds like mine .When Jeff was ill our clothes were a bit of a sight .He wore P.Js so fine , Holly and I sat on things to avoid ironing ! I found hanging silk when damp in the airing cupboard worked !

  • At 4:19 AM, Blogger Sarah said…

    Great post, thank you :)

  • At 10:07 AM, Blogger Faren said…

    Very good post. I wanted to say to that she thought that you skipping a meal was a good idea. Skipping a meal is never a good idea, it is unhealthy and if you actually are trying to loose weight it is not going to help you. Your body will go into starvation mode and will hold on to every calorie and fat cell it can. Most people need to eat healthier, not less.

  • At 5:56 PM, Blogger Lynn said…

    Yes, thank you, bless you, and amen! I weigh considerably more than I did when I married the children's father. [I know this because my doctor's office weighs me every time I'm there. I rarely bother to step on the scale at work, and I do not have one at home.] My blood sugar is normal, my BP and EKG are normal, my lipids are normal, my gall bladder is *history*, my bone density is excellent, and there are two or three men who come into the office on a regular basis who look at me with reverence and respect and appreciation. It is only the Anglo males my own age or younger, to whom I am invisible. I think that deserves a rant of its own...

  • At 6:22 PM, Blogger Gail R said…

    Love your soapbox! I'm also a big lady but have decided if it comes off, it does - but I'm not going to take some product that can embarrass me more than I already do.

  • At 9:31 AM, Blogger Kitty Mommy said…

    Well said!

    I look at my sweet two-year-old's perfect little body and wonder which parts she's going to hate as she gets older and it just makes me want to cry. Of course, I am less hung up on my body than my mom...maybe she will be even less so than me. Dare I hope?

  • At 5:32 PM, Blogger Charity said…

    Well said, Ms. K! After a few babies, my shape will never be what it once was, but I've come to (mostly) love my "softer" shape. :0) I'm sure you said other good stuff, but I was distracted by the thought of 30 lbs of free cashmere!

  • At 10:03 PM, Anonymous kathie said…

    Thank you, Mrs. K., that was wonderful.

    I have another topic for your soapbox that goes hand in hand with this one - efforts to continue looking young as we get older. Our society is not only all about women being thin, but also glorifies the youthful body. Speech! Speech!


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