Wednesday, August 17, 2005

about the body. . .reader beware

First and foremost, though I am a day late, check out poetry (yester)daily featuring my home-girl Simone. If this poem doesn't do it for you, well, you're dumb. Sorry, but it's the truth.

I had a strange experience yesterday while darting around Chicago, doing various errands, mostly to replace items from the lost/stolen wallet. While I was looking at new wallets, a woman with two teenage sons asked me where a Target is. We started conversing and her son said something about being happy that I was pregnant. I about fell over. "I'm not pregnant!" I said, probably embarassing him more than me at the moment, as he literally ran away and hid among some nearby clothing racks. "I had a baby about a year ago," I explained to the mother, calmly-- I could see the look of horror on her face and wanted to assure her that it was OK. She apologized about ten more times and I said don't worry about it. But, of course, I did. Then on to the DMV, a nightmare on wheels. I had to wait in line to get a number to wait in line to talk to someone to tell me to get in line to pay to get in line to get my license. Unreal. But the lady I actually talked to was really nice and called me "cute". I said thanks- It was better than being mistaken for being pregnant, that's for sure. But we had to "revise" the weight on my license from 110 lbs to 125 lbs because of my pregnancy weight gain. Another blow to the ego. Off to campus I went, feeling cute, pudgy, and pregnant. I saw a professor in the hall who I've been meaning to get in touch with- I'm working on an exam list with her. I said hello and she looked at me like I was a freshman asking for directions. She said, "Remind me of your name. . ." I said "It's me, Mackenzie- we're working on an exam list together. . ." I guess it had been a while since she's actually seen me in person- so much of this stuff happens over email. She remembered me then, but felt it necessary to explain why she didn't recognize me. . ."Oh, you've gained some weight! It's good weight, I mean, but you look so different!" Hmm, there it is. The New Sincerity has claimed another victim.

Apparently I'm a fatass, and people, even complete strangers, aren't afraid to tell me about it. It's been more difficult than I imagined gaining weight with the pregnancy and not being able to lose all of it quickly. A big part of my pre-pregnancy identity had to do with my thinness, my obsession with thinness, hence my bout with an eating disorder in college and some of early grad school. (Most people assure me that I was too thin before, and have gained "good weight," like the professor said, but that's a hard perspective to buy into.) I'm much better now, but it never totally goes away. How does this difference in weight affect me- my image- my images- my writing- my thinking-my parenting? Not only am I having to deal with a new identity as a parent, but also as a physically different person. Along with the 3 inch scar on my abdomen from the c-section, there are 10 pounds that I will just never lose, and it's changed me.

It's a selfish and ridiculous worry, I know. As my husband constantly reminds me, most women would kill to weight 125 lbs shortly after having a baby, being in school, etc. People are starving all over the world and I'm worried cause I have some extra love handles that I can't get rid of. It's ridiculous. But it's my reality, even though I try to keep it supressed inside as much as possible, days like yesterday, when everybody felt the need to comment on my physicality, it bubbles to the surface and makes me nauseousfor the rest of the day.


youki said...

Hey dear Mackenzie--

Thanks so much for your mention of my poem. I have to admit though that saying "if this poem doesn't do it for you, then you're dumb" makes me want to dislike my own poem:)

On another note, I think you have a fabulous body, and it's unfortunate that you feel it's sub-par because of a small discrepancy pre- and post-pregnancy. I am in no way discounting your complaint though. For 15 years I've weighed between 120 and 130. I weigh 120 when I'm depressed or sick and people tend to tell me I look great (thanks--I've got the stomach flu). I'm one of those people that though I've been at a pretty consistent weight for years, at least once a week (this isn't an exaggeration), someone says to me "oh, you look good, you look like you lost weight." Is this comment supposed to be a social nicety--this constant reinforcement that weight loss=pulchritude (sorry, I'd just had to employ that word since there are so few spaces in which to use it:) Susan Bordo has an interesting book that you might want to check out called UNBEARABLE WEIGHT; FEMINISM, WESTERN CULTURE AND THE BODY

Anyway, I think your body rocks.


Penultimatina said...

Mackenzie, I could've written your post...and Simone's. For what it's worth, I have always been envious of your skinny self, especially post-baby. Gabi is three now, and I am just now starting to feel like myself again physically, though I will likely never again weigh 110, or the 99 lbs of my early undergrad days. After surgery I hit 118, but that's post laparotomy, bed rest, and a week of liquid diet and iv. Yeowza! I too, float between 120 and 130, usually 128.5. It used to bug me, but now it's just a number. I hate my stomach, but otherwise I'm just getting used to this version of my body. I never thought I would come to terms with it. I was downright devastated at how my body had changed, this after ten+ years of obsessing and starving. I used to go to grocery stores ravenous and not buy a thing, because it made me feel "strong" or something. I very, very rarely eat anything around other people or at parties. In fact, right now I'm holed up in my office eating yogurt. Yes, major food issues over here.

There's a creepy transformation after you have a baby--like all of a sudden everyone still feels entitled to comment on your weight, body, etc like they did back when you were pregnant. Of course, it's not often that someone can drop 50 lbs in a year, so there's bound to be some reaction, but arg! I tell myself that it's because I was fairly thin to start with, so hence all the commentary, but then my furious feminist critic side freaks out and says it's society scorning me for trying to "have it all." Would a heavy-set stay at home mom with several kids get the same critiques from strangers and associates?

The comment I have gotten most often is "You've lost the baby weight...time to have another baby!" WTF? I just can't make sense of that remark, or why anyone would say it. Oh yes, and apparently I'm not getting any younger, either.

Mackenzie, some day we need to chat on this topic for hours. In the meantime, please know that you are utterly fabulous, and that I have often longed to wear tank tops with such flair. Your post surprised me so much, because you have always been one of my thinspirations (there's my big word du jour).


poetzie said...

I've turned an amazing poet against her own poem. I guess I do have a talent :)

Yes, it's just so bizarre- I *know* that these things are true, it's just hard not to compare who I am now to who I was pre-baby. I find myself doing the same thing with my running- I USED to run an 8 minute mile with one foot tied behind my back. . .now I consider it a speed workout! There seems to be so little room for adjustment and recalibration after having a baby(like, even if it's "good weight," people just can't let it go uncommented-on. . .). Unless you've given birth, you can't possibly imagine what pregnancy and birth do to your body AND mind (that's a whole other post)- a transformation that completely leaves one stranded on Mars in the body of an alien. Even almost a year later, I still feel like this.

I'm thankful to have such good friends, and I remain astounded that I can fit into the slim, scrumptious Simone's clothes. In fact, I'm wearing her shoes right now :) And Mary, your response means the world because we share shoes as well, though not literally.

I managed to escape a 65 pound pregnancy weight-gain without a single stretchmark. I guess I should focus on the positive. Thanks ladies. You're beautiful too :)

Tony said...


I used to run a 7 minute mile easily when I weighed 150 pounds. Now that I'm 190 (and this is after a 30 lb weight loss), 9:45 is all I can handle.

We get old and we gain weight. It's weird like that. I am so unbody conscious, I was FAT for five years or so before I realized it. Now I'm less fat (and it occurs to me, most of my current friends/colleagues have NEVER seen me at my normal weight) and so I get comments like, "you look really good!" but I'm thinking, "yeah, I'll look good in about 35 more pounds..."

Mseverin said...

Hi MacKenzie:

Melissa here, a sometimes poetry group attendee. For some reason I was poking around blogs today and I read your post.

I'm intimately acquainted with this subject and have struggled for many years with an eating disorder and body issues. Since moving to Chicago 4 years ago, I’ve gained a lot of weight—some “good” some “bad,” if one can/should even label it such a thing (ugh). I’ve had people make various weight-oriented comments to me when I’m running, waiting for the bus, shopping in the store, etc, etc. Those comments can certainly ruin a day or make you feel low and question your perception. I even have a had time seeing my old friends and participating b/c of how I sometimes feel. Honestly, I’m always disheartened to hear of another person’s struggle with these issues and I fear I’ve nothing to offer in the way of advice or how to resolve it.

Every day is a struggle for me and it often feels pretty brutal. Maybe there’s a deep dark penchant for punishing oneself with the quest for perfection, both internal and external. But I am trying to respect myself, the power my body can have (I know you’re a runner so power and stamina are important, and oh so mental on those long runs, right!) and does have. The same energy and eyes I use to look so negatively at myself, I try to catch and turn around to be more positive. It’s so basic—turn negative self-talk into positive. Alas, easier said than done when words like “good” and “weight” are combined or, my all time favorite, “healthy.” You and I both know—there’s no complement beyond saying “thin” or “skinny” that will do. Why should this be the crown, what’s worn as a badge of honor? What does it prove? All I’m trying to say is I know. I really really know and I hope the days, like this one you wrote about, are few and far between. Until they do not exist at all.