Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fat Bottomed Girls

"Fat Bottomed Girls" is probably my favorite Queen song. I sometimes play the Queen Greatest Hits CD in the car, hoping the kids aren't really listening to the words. I can just hear the questions, "Mom, what does he mean that she was a naughty nanny?" or "Why is he singing about girls with big butts?" Of course in a few years no explanation will be required. Amelia inherited the darling Mayer half moon. In grad school one of my friends used to refer to such bottoms as "onions" because they were so sweet that they made him "wanna cry." When Amelia hits adolescence and the boys start buzzing around her I am going to have to slip some sort of liquid anti-anxiety med into Bill's milk in the morning; it's the only way he'll survive Amelia's teen years. And when Aidan's Y chromosome hits full throttle at around age 12 or 13 he'll know full well why Freddie Mercury sang about girls' butts (though he might be a little confused once he learns about Mercury's sexual orientation).

I find myself admiring women with full derrieres these days. It's not a sexual thing; It's a deeply rooted coveting of a voluptuous body. Each day I wear a size A cup that I no longer fill and even my smallest pairs of underwear are too big. In the mirror I see an emaciated women, a walking one-woman anatomy model with every muscle, superficial vein, and bony prominence visible. Doctors sometimes remark that they wish they could have students listen to my heart because the lack of any subcutaneous fat makes it so easy to hear the third heart sound.

So I look at full bodied women and sigh; I want so much to be normal. Of course, I am well aware that many of the women whose bodies I covet hate themselves for what they (and our messed up media) perceive as being "fat." Having once weighed in at 123 pounds, I know what it feels like to wish those extra pounds away, but I think some of our obsession with weight is misguided.

I certainly recognize the dangers of being obese, and I realize that, for many people, weight loss is necessary to living a longer and healthier life. But the obsession with being thin is perverse. Given that our ancestors had to face periods of famine and generally experienced a less predictable availability of food, I wonder if, through some process of natural selection, there was a genetic advantage to having a slower basal metabolic rate that allowed people to retain some extra weight. I think I read about this notion in the New York Times at some point. Maybe some people are genetically programmed to carry an extra 5-15 pounds as nature's insurance policy against famine and other threats to a steady food supply.

Over the last few months several people have offered, jokingly, to give me their extra weight. It is a funny idea and I wrote an entire post on it. But the more I think about it and the more that I look at my peers, the more frustrated I become. Most of the women who have made such self-deprecating remarks are beautiful, healthy women. It frustrates me that we live in a society that makes them feel unattractive because they have a little extra weight on their bodies. It aggravates me that some of these women feel like they aren't "good enough" or "pretty enough" because of a few lousy pounds.

In other eras and other societies, a full-bodied woman was admired. A voluptuous frame was a sign of health, vigor, and wealth. Look at Renoir's The Bathers in which he lovingly depicts full-figured women with wide hips and full arms and legs. Or look at Gauguin's Two Tahitian Women or The Moon and The Earth for realistic representatons of the female frame: strong, muscular, and nicely padded. And then pick up a copy of the latest People or Us magazine filled from cover to cover with our current society's ideal of the female body: a stick figure with fake boobs. It's an outrage and, yet, we all buy into it.

Scleroderma slowly chipped away at my weight. I lost 10 pounds during the first two years of my illness. That was my insurance weight, that little bit extra, for my small frame. Thanks goodness I had it to spare during those early years. Then I settled in at 95 pounds after having the kids and losing weight while nursing them. Ninety-five was really my bare minimum and, when I experienced unanticipated medical fiascos, I fell to a weight that was too low for me to have a healthy and active lifestyle.

I am now a firm believer that everyone should have just a little bit extra if possible (clearly, some people are hard-wired to be skinny no matter they eat). Fighting to lose that "last 5 or 10 lbs" is like banging your head against a brick wall. My guess is that you are battling tens of thousands of years of evolutionary biology and, guess what, you are going to lose.

I always joke with Bill that most men wake up, look in the mirror, and immediately tell themselves, "You da man" while women wake up, look in the mirror, and search for every little imperfection, real or imagined. I don't know why we do it, but it seems to be a pretty common phenomenon. I'm going to guess that those extra 5 or 10 pounds are just a point of fixation, somewhere to focus all that "I'm not good enough" energy. Skinny women probably just find some other imperfection for their perseverations.

You already are "enough" no matter what you weigh or how your hair falls or the color of your eyes. And, plus, outer beauty is fleeting and ultimately fades, but inner beauty lasts forever and shines far more brilliantly than comeliness ever could.

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