Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Bodies We're In

Back before I cared about pesky things like brushing my hair or ever changing out of my favorite t-shirt
“You’re only 21?” the teenage girl asked, her eyes sliding up and down me. She barely came up to my shoulder – I could have closed my fingers around her slender arms. “American vitamins,” she marveled under her breath.

I am tall here in Honduras, and not just tall, big. Hondurans, of course, come in all shapes and sizes, but it’s a common occurrence for me to look eye-to-eye with men and tower a full head over other women.

Hondurans aren’t shy, either, about calling attention to size. “Gordita,” or chubby, is tossed around affectionately. I knew a stout little boy called “Gordo.”

“But what do you really want to be called?” I asked him.

“Gordo,” he said, looking at me oddly.

I am gordita here. When I went looking for jeans, I picked out a pair in my size and could barely pull them over my thighs in the dressing room. I came out and asked my friend if it was possible they were mislabeled. “Well, they’re not American sizes,” she said, and I reddened at the implication.

I can’t help it. I know better, but I still wish I was small and thin like the women I see every day, more deft with makeup, more in tune with fashion, less mottled white by my sunburn’s uneven peeling.

It’s harder, too, because for the first time everyone’s eyes are on me. Men stare blatantly on the bus. “Chela,” they shout, which means white or pale, “Gringa,” “Hermosa,” or whatever English phrases they remember  – “I love you,” usually.

I wonder, helplessly, if I wore pants instead of skirts, tied my hair back tighter, wore clothes that were older or looser if the attention would lessen. This is exactly why I hate those catcalls so much; because they make me start thinking that they are somehow my own fault. 

And so I’m torn both ways, wanting to be thinner and prettier and more polished, and wanting to be plain enough to be invisible, to walk to work just one day without the being shouted at. Perhaps some of the things the men say are compliments, but they don’t feel like it. They just make me more conscious of the way my hair frizzes in the humidity, my freckled nose, the weight in my legs that wasn’t there when I started college.

I always write when I have a question – I write to arrive at an answer. The easy answer would be, but Kate, you are pretty, or but Kate, you’re not that big, absolving me of one or two fears and leaving the door open for one hundred more.

What I want to say instead is that others’ perception of the way my body looks doesn’t affect the way my body works. It doesn’t affect the writing I do at work or the friendships I cultivate afterwards. It doesn’t affect the miracle of sustaining life that my body manages to perform every day. Leave the question of whether I'm pretty or fat or neither or both aside – would it matter if I was?

Bodies are incredible. I marvel at the thousands of sequences of effortless movements logged in my muscle memory, the twisting of hair into a french braid, the tying of a shoelace, the way I grip a pencil. I marvel at the way my fingers curl around a guitar’s neck, the way I breathe without thinking about it, the way the scar on my knee turned pink and then white and then so smooth I can barely find it.

These are the bodies that we have; we fill them up with ourselves. Things like slenderness and prettiness, however that’s defined, certainly exist, but they’re only a piece of a marvelous whole. It’s the whole that matters, not the shout of a stranger on a crowded corner or a well-meaning joke from a friend.

Our bodies don’t make us remarkable – we make our bodies remarkable. And when I think of remarkable people, I think of every shape and size and color, every level of ability and disability.

It’s not that beauty or size isn’t a question – it’s just not half as interesting as the other question: Who cares how it looks, what are you going to do with it?

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