Skinny Shaming

My younger sister and her family came out for a visit early in the summer.  The weather was just getting to be hot and my older sister suggested that we all come to the community pool where her kids take lessons for a swim that afternoon.  It sounded like a great idea, especially for the kids, so we made plans to meet at the aquatic center.

I couldn’t remember the last time I went swimming and had to dig through my closet to find my suit.  It was a sporty one piece I bought to swim laps at my gym some time ago, and it was smaller than I remember it being.  I managed to squeeze into it, but when I pulled the racer back straps into place I could tell something was wrong.  I went to my bathroom mirror and looked back over my shoulder at myself.

“Andrea,” I called out to the family room where my sister was watching cartoons with her toddler.  “Can you come in here?”

She appeared a moment later and I pointed at the fleshy blobs that the straps were shaping on the sides of my spine.

“My back has boobs!” I scream whispered in horror.  “I have back boobs!”

Andrea went to my closet to see what else I had and we combed through my work-out clothes.  We made a suit-like outfit from a running skirt and a sports bra.  It was much more flattering and I wore that instead.  But the sense of horror clung to me, like fresh poop on the sole of a deeply treaded shoe.  I was still trying to scrape it off when we got to the pool.

My sisters and I waded and talked while the kids played and splashed (except for the toddler who was pretty sure he was going to die) and while we watched I scanned the pool, comparing my body to the other women’s bodies in view.  I noted the fit ones, but I was really looking for bodies that were in worse shape than mine.  Not in a judgmental way, exactly.  But to see how I compare.  It’s a weird way for my competitive nature to assert itself, but this is the thought that surfaces, “I don’t need to be the best.  I just don’t want to be the worst.”  It’s how I spend the first ten to twenty minutes of every yoga class I ever take.

Just then I noticed a young and rather large woman sitting in the shallow end of the pool.  I don’t know how to estimate how large she was.  Maybe big enough to get on The Biggest Loser, but she would be one of those young girls who would get sent home in the first few weeks because she lacked aggression and wasn’t going to be able to pull the big numbers that the team needed to win the weigh ins.  I noticed her first as part of my sweeping body fitness assessment, but then I noticed that she had a large swath of fabric that she was holding under the water.  To get it wet?  I couldn’t tell what it was or what she was doing and I turned back to my sisters and the conversation.

We were facing the deeper end of the pool where the twins were playing when the woman swam past us.  She was wearing a home-made mermaid tail and as she passed us the side of one fluke brushed my ankle.  My jaw may have dropped, but I recovered quickly.  My sisters noticed also, but no one said anything right away.  When the woman surfaced at the other end of the pool I said, “She can hold her breath a long time.”

We talked briefly about the costume then.  Not in a snarky mean-girls way.  More in a, “I just want to confirm we all just saw that” kind of way.  Then some time later, someone – I forget who – said, “That girl is awesome.”  And we all agreed.

I thought about how grossed out I was feeling about my body and how I had briefly thought about passing on the swimming outing – actually missing precious time with my family – so that I wouldn’t have to go out in public with my back boobs showing.  But that chick was there, in a public pool, living out a Daryl Hannah / Splash fantasy in full costume, and damn the rest of us and whatever we thought.  That girl was the honey badger who just doesn’t give a shit.

A week later, after my sister left, I decided that I wanted to get back into a fitness routine.  But I was still thinking about the mermaid and how unburdened she seemed.  I wanted to stay inspired by her and focus on having fun and feeling good in my skin and not about being a thin person with only two boobs.

I registered for a 10k and made a training plan.  I started parking far away from the building and forsaking the elevator at work.  I started doing crunches before bed a couple of nights a week.  I’ve been running and hiking and trying to eat better and hang on to my positive mermaid attitude.  But mostly I’ve been sitting on my back porch, drinking beer and sulking about how much harder it is to lose weight in my thirties than it was in my twenties.  I’ve lost about a pound.

A human being can poop a pound.

I’ve kept up with the running (thanks to the 10k on the horizon) but the good attitude dissipated.  Running is hard.  Planning healthy meals is hard.  Walking past the elevator and taking the stairs when you are tired and your arms are full is hard.  Not really hard, mind you.  Just a little hard.  And I know I said that it was all about feeling better and not about how I look in my clothes, but Jesus why is this skirt still tight?  Do you have any idea how many doughnuts I haven’t eaten in the last six weeks?  All of them.  That’s how many.  All of the doughnuts in the world.  So why don’t you two thighs just go fuck yourselves.

Then, a few weeks ago, I heard the song All About the Bass by Meghan Trainor. It was a viral hit from the summer that played out pretty quickly.  But if you haven’t heard of it, it is a cute song about a girl who is proud of her big booty and the video makes me smile.  There is a bit in it where she talks about not worrying about your weight which gave me “Hell ya!” moment.  Here is the part I mean:

Yeah my mama she told me don’t worry about your size
She says, “Boys like a little more booty to hold at night.”
You know I won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll
So if that’s what you’re into then go ahead and move along

I made it my ring tone and sent it to all my friends.

Then, shortly after, I was going to lunch with my friend Dan and he got a text from someone he works with.  He seemed frustrated by it so I asked what it was.  “I’m having a text argument with my friend about that All About the Bass song.  Do you know it?”

I mentally commanded my phone to ring at that moment for comedic effect, but I am still not a mentalist.  Instead I sang a line.

“Yeah, that’s it,” he said with exasperation.

“What’s the argument?” I asked, with a hit of dread that my new mermaid was about to get beached.

“I know it’s fun, and I get the love yourself thing…”

“But…?” I asked.

“But…” he added, “I just think that it’s disappointing that instead of keeping the message positive, she takes a shot at the ‘skinny bitches.’  I don’t think that was necessary.”  This is the part he is referencing:

I’m bringing booty back
Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that
No I’m just playing. I know you think you’re fat
But I’m here to tell ya
Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top

“I don’t think it was that bad,” I said.  “I know she uses the phrase “skinny bitches” but I didn’t think it was overly harsh.”

“Then there is all that shit about the Barbie dolls,” Dan continued.  “And stick figures… I don’t know.  I just think that focusing on skinny women as the enemy diminishes what was positive about the message to begin with.”

I knew he was right, but my first instinct was to roll my eyes and justify the negativity with a “turnabout is fair play” defense.  We were also in the car on the way to lunch, so I might have been a bit hangry.  Luckily I didn’t say what I was thinking, which was something to the effect of, “Oh look.  The straight white man is telling me to stand up for the rights of thin women.  Seriously?  Take a fucking turn, you jerk offs.  If you can’t hate on the skinny bitches, who can you hate on?

The answer to that question, of course, is no one.  (Or possibly Antonin Scalia.  He’s no skinny bitch – he’s actually a bit of a fatty and therefore doesn’t fit the theme at all.  All I am saying is that if you absolutely have to hate someone, I think he is deserving.)  A half an hour and two tacos later and I had had fixed my blood sugar and my attitude.  I think that it is sometimes hard to remember – when battling furiously for a personal victory – that you do not, in fact, have an enemy.  Maybe the people who make magazines and television commercials designed to make me feel bad about myself in order to push products and cosmetic procedures.  Maybe.  But the skinny girls aren’t sending me their fat.  And they aren’t judging me earlier.  Wasn’t that what the pool mermaid taught me at the beginning of the summer?  I am the one that is judging me.  And to end that, all I need to do is stop it.

The 10k is tomorrow at what the Oatmeal would call “ass-o-clock in the morning.”  Tomorrow is also my 37th birthday.  I keep thinking that if I run 10 kilometers on my 37th birthday that I should get interviewed on Good Morning America, but it turns out that what I am doing is not remotely amazing.

At least not to anyone else.  But I can honestly say that I’m proud of myself.  I set a goal and tomorrow I get to go out and smash it.  And my friend Stef was kind enough to sign up to run with me, and I’m looking forward to spending some time together.

I still like the Meghan Trainor song.  It’s catchy and cute as hell.  But I decided that I don’t want it as my ring tone anymore. I feel differently about it now than I did before talking to Dan about it, though I’m not so hung up on the “send a positive message” thing.  In fact, I’ve decided that the lesson I want to take from the mermaid is less about staying positive and more about staying true to myself.  My phone is set to a default tone right now, but I think tomorrow I may change it to Cynical Kid by the Black Keys.  I think that better suits my personality, in general.  And it will sound bad-ass coming from my purse.

About Rachel Lewis

I am a writer, ceramic artist, knitter, and stepmom. As a playwright, I had six short plays produced in showcases and festivals in Manhattan, Salt Lake City, and Austin. My full-length play, Locking Doors, was presented by Wordsmith Theatre Company in The New Lab Theatre (University of Utah) in 2005. I co-wrote a teleplay titled “Thank God I’m Atheist” which won the 2015 “No God But Funny” contest founded by the Center for Inquiry. My short nonfiction essay, “It’s Coming Down,” was published by the online literary magazine Halfway Down the Stairs. My essay "The Red Rock Chronicles" was published in Contemporary West magazine. I currently work in pharmaceuticals professionally and write recreationally, but dream of making the transition to write professionally and do pharmaceuticals recreationally. I am a Utah native and live in Salt Lake City with my family and our Goldendoodle. I am working on a collection of humorous non-fiction essays and a second full-length play. Follow me at: @rachel_lewis_ut (Twitter) @rachel_lewis_ut (Instagram)

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