The human body is the best work of art. ~Jess C. Scott
It happened slowly, casually as if it really wasn’t happening at all, until then it was.
One day after I came home from work, I made us dinner. It was nothing elaborate, but it was tasty and wholesome, and we sat down together to eat. I was exhausted and the day showed on my face, but I was happy to be spending time with people I care about. At one point, I leaned over the table to pass my son a glass of water, and as I sat back down, our guest looked at me and said “¡Mami, estás gorda!” It took me a second to register that his tone was in jest. I couldn’t find a response, but I know my face betrayed my displeasure. He laughed and said “I know you’re not supposed to say that to women, right?” All I could do was shake my head. He said it again, and I responded quietly unable to look him in the eyes “Please don’t say that. It’s not funny.” I decided not explain to him the history of torment and body shame he was calling up with his ill timed, unwelcome banter. He is an incredibly intelligent and well-read human being; surely he knows how inappropriate such a comment would seem. I said nothing because I decided being tired had made me overly sensitive, and like most women I have been socialized to assume my internal response is disproportionately emotional and should be suppressed. After a good night’s rest though, I was still annoyed.
It didn’t come up again until a few weeks later when he saw a picture of me dancing. In the picture I was wearing stretchy capris and a tight ¾ length sleeved shirt and because of the angle and the moment captured, you could see clearly all of the contours of my body. Upon seeing the picture he repeated “Pero mami, estás muy gorda” and laughed. This time I glared at him. “Mami, I’m kidding” Still glaring “You are like the tiniest thing ever” I crossed my hands over my chest and glared a little less intensely. “Look! I can practically put my hands all the way around your waist” He did. I relented: “I know that, but I don’t like you joking about me being fat. Please don’t say that anymore. It’s not funny.” But it happened again despite me saying every time that I didn’t like it and that he needed to stop. It became such a regular occurrence that I began to stop noticing as much when it happened. The last time was at a restaurant and in front of my son. This time my son was asked to participate: “Isn’t your mom fat?” To which my son replied by glancing at me perplexedly, and that is when I realized that whatever this is, isn’t going to work.
My six-year-old son does not understand this is a joke, nor should he because it’s not a joke I find funny nor one I’d want him repeating. What he sees instead is a man telling his mother there is something wrong with the way she is, specifically wrong with the shape of her body. His mother who is 5’7” and weighs -on a well-fed day- 119 lbs is nowhere near any clinical definition of being overweight. However, if that is the image he associates with being fat, what kind of insanity and distorted ideals of women’s bodies and/or his own body does he have to look forward to in his adolescence and adulthood? He is also being shown that women’s wishes are not to be respected since he has heard me ask for this teasing to stop and it has instead continued. This conversation would be no less upsetting if I was indeed overweight. My actual weight is, in truth, irrelevant to the greater issue that my son is being shown implicitly and explicitly that women are only worthwhile if they conform to an ideal that someone else has of them, rather than for their personhood. This is not the kind of man I intend to raise my son to be.
I see and hear messages about how my body is less than perfect all the time everyday from magazines, movies, songs, shopping malls and especially commercials. Depending on how I am feeling about the rest of my life, those messages have greater or lesser impact on my internal thoughts. It takes concerted effort to maintain some semblance of a positive body image, and the last place anyone should ever hear criticism about their body is from the person who has the pleasure and good fortune of seeing them naked.
The whole experience caught me off guard, and I was startled to find how quickly I found myself feeling undesirable and unworthy, even when logically I could explain it all away. The next time someone attempts to hit on me by complementing my shoes, I will make sure they have also noticed the incredible woman standing in those shoes before I give them my number. Because I do have great shoes, but the rest of me is far more impressive.