She was gorgeous. A regal profile, dusky skin, round thighs that narrowed into long, graceful legs in black leggings. She was curvy, but she wasn’t the classic hourglass shape. She was something unique. Something captivating. I liked her tight, brave outfit. I liked her confident face and her perfect posture. There was something queenly and dramatic and comfortable about her.
We were on the subway. I elbowed Bear. “That woman is really beautiful.” I had to tell someone!
He glanced around. “Which one?”
“In the leather jacket!” Obviously.
Then I saw that her friend, slender and with hair molded into big, stiff curls, was wearing the same jacket. She was also beautiful. I hadn’t noticed her before.
“Her?” Bear nodded towards the friend.
“Leggings,” I said.
He looked thoughtful for a second. Then he whispered, “Kinda chunky.”
“Excuse me?” I knew I hadn’t misheard, but I hoped for a frantic moment that we could pretend I had misheard and he could say, “Kinda spunky…. and awesome.”
The world ended.
OK, the world didn’t officially end. I’m typing this. But I was stunned. “Chunky?” I hissed. “What does that mean?”
But the subway doors were opening, and we were pushing our way out onto the platform. Life happened for a few distracted hours, and then I was back on track, in our bedroom:
“Why did you say that, about that woman on the subway?”
“The thing about her being chunky.”
He looked cornered. “I don’t know. I mean, I guess it was just the way her body was proportioned. How she carried her weight? Her thighs were really big.”
“Oh. So her weight was in the wrong place. Maybe if she’d ‘carried her weight’ in her boobs, that would’ve been better? Would you have liked that better?” (Yes. Full fighting mode, already. It was a little like being inhabited by a really insecure, possibly teenage demon.)
“Come on, Kate. It doesn’t matter. You thought she was pretty. I’m not even saying she’s not pretty. She had a cool face. Why do you care?”
I hate it when people say that. About the face. Well, at least her face was OK. “You ARE saying she’s not pretty! And you’re saying it’s because of her weight. You consider her too heavy, and you think that’s unattractive.”
He got annoyed. “Look, I know you like to point out unconventional looking people. It’s this statement for you. But that doesn’t mean I have to think unconventional looking people are more attractive.”
“You thought she was unconventional? Because she wasn’t a size two? Are you even serious?”
This is war. I grabbed the laptop off the bed, almost crushing it with my superhuman angry hulk strength, and flung it open. I was on Facebook in one second flat, my fingers flying over the keys.
(Actually, I’m pretty sure this is my demon. source)
“Here—” I shoved it at him. “Is she overweight? Would you say she’s fat?” I clicked to another profile. “What about her?” Very dangerous territory.
“I don’t want to do this.” He looked a little abused, and like he wanted to escape.
“Tell me! I want to know! I want to know what you think!”
“I don’t know…She’s not thin…”
“Then I’m not thin! Look at her arms!” I seized one of my arms and waved the fat at him. If I could throw my arm fat in his face, I probably would have. “Her arms are SMALLER THAN MINE. I am not thin, by your standards.”
“You look perfect. And you are thin.”
I laughed gleefully. “Oh! Good! I’m perfect because I’m still somehow thin enough! Thank God. Let’s pray I don’t gain five more pounds and get disproportionate. Let’s take a moment to pray for my thighs.”
I heard that I was out of control. That I was overreacting. I had become that most humiliating and reviled of things—the crazy woman. The woman no one ever respects. The woman we all try so hard not to be, because no one likes her. She is a stereotype of herself. She is always inappropriate. She is always a failure.
(But at least she’s thin! Source)
I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know why I was so hurt and furious over Bear’s comment about the woman. She was just someone on the subway. Not me. He always says I’m beautiful. He says it every single day. I’m beautiful, I’m sexy, I’m cute, I’m perfect.
“What do you want me to say?” Bear said. He probably looked upset, but I wasn’t looking at him. I was jigging the mouse on my Facebook profile, back and forth, back and forth. I couldn’t look up.
“Everyone is beautiful, OK?” he said, sarcastic. “There. Everyone is beautiful.”
I started crying.
How horribly embarrassing that it isn’t a joke for me. That I am serious about everyone being beautiful. How absurd and oblivious. And I am bad at crying. It always feels like surrender, and I’m never done with the fight.
“Someone out there in this city can say the same thing about me,” I said, in my embarrassing choked crying voice. “Some guy looked at ME on the subway today and thought that I was chunky. He dismissed me with one single word.”
“Even if that’s true, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks,” Bear said. “We don’t all have to agree. And you’re gorgeous.”
“SHE was gorgeous! That woman on the subway was gorgeous. Why is everyone so mean? Why is everyone so quick to judge? Why is it SO HARD to be OK with gaining weight?” I might’ve been yelling.
“I thought you liked your body with the weight gain!” He was completely confused. “You seemed happy about it. I thought you felt good about it.”
“I do! I do. It’s just hard. I am a lot heavier now. And the whole world is full of people who say ‘chunky.’ I am chunky. I am chunky and beautiful. And even if you don’t think I’m chunky—I want to be able to be chunky. I want to be able to gain more weight without having to feel ugly. And I don’t want it to be because I have a pretty face. I don’t have a conventional face. And now I don’t have a conventional body. Nothing about me is conventional anymore. It’s all different. It’s all difficult. And I want that to be beautiful.”
Is that impossible? Am I using the wrong words now?
Maybe Bear is right. Maybe beauty can be divided up. It already has been. Maybe it depends on parts and pieces. Maybe beauty is about what most people think, not what I think. But as I sat there on the bed, clutching the laptop and crying stupidly over something I barely understood, when there are so many better things to cry about in the world, all I could think was that I wanted so badly for the statement “Everyone is beautiful” to be serious. I wanted to wear whatever I wanted and look queenly, without worrying.
Bear would say, “So don’t worry! Just wear it, and who cares what anyone thinks?”
Maybe we don’t even know how to have this argument, because we think so differently about it. Of course I care. And he thinks, “Well, that’s the problem.” And I think, “The problem is the way everyone else is thinking about beauty.”
But I can’t stop them from thinking whatever they are thinking.
I can’t even stop my husband from thinking the word “chunky” about a gorgeous, bold woman on the subway. The truth is, in my worst, most shameful moments, when I am stuck, flicking the cursor endlessly back and forth, unable to look up and confess, I am afraid that he will think this word about me. And I am afraid of what will happen if he does. I am afraid, because of how fragile my own beauty feels sometimes. Of how fragile I am.
(maybe it’s a wormhole, and on the other side there’s an incredible galaxy full of all my favorite Star Trek characters. You never know. source)
* * *
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in a peach colored summer dress. Yesterday I wore it, and a woman walking by with her toddler said, “You’re the only one wearing the right outfit today.” Which made me feel like I’d definitely won some sort of prize for awesomeness.