"...Weary of Unfeeling Busybodies" is an apt title for this article from the Los Angeles Times. Perhaps today, the anniversary of the death of my mother, I was especially predisposed to coming across someone with a complaint that I had heard many times while growing up. When I reached that adolescent stage of extreme body consciousness and diligent mortification, I had absolutely no sympathy for my mother's indignation at being asked a question that I knew would never come my way.
But strangers -- some nosy, some perhaps envious -- routinely inquire about my weight and look me over, as if trying to figure out whether I am anorexic or bulimic. In their minds, there's probably no other explanation.
But the questions are one thing. The insults are another. People often, and quite unthinkingly, describe me as "bony" and "emaciated" when speaking to me.
I failed to see how that was the converse of the comments I had received when I was a chunky child. My favorite is no schoolyard taunt, but a Boston Store jewelry clerk's comment to my mother and my aunt that she had no rings for me to look at. Not with my fat fingers. AND I WAS 6 YEARS OLD. And though the rest of me has gone through various permutations over the years, I still have fat fingers. Take heart fat fingered children - your hands will retain a youthful look well into your fifties. But when I was 6... I wanted my mother's sophisticated bony fingers. That is just one turn of the wheel of body dysmorphic fortune.
And if I don't join in when conversations turn to, "You're so skinny." "No she's really skinny." It's just because it is a game I don't care to play. I would certainly compliment a friend in a situation where I knew she had been actively seeking to change. But for the most part there is so much outside of our control that body envy or body despair is a pathetic subject for meaningful conversation.
My mother couldn't gain wait - or keep much of it on. The sixty pounds she gained while expecting me were gone by the time she left the hospital. And then spending three months with my chronic colicky shrieking peeled more weight off of both of my parents. She found it very discouraging to be well-nourished and healthy and constantly quizzed about what was wrong with her. This was not a talent or an accomplishment.
But blathering about weight as though it were extremely significant is the currency of female conversation. (Height? Not so much.) There is so much more to talk about. Having once been so self-absorbed as to have been anorexic (if they had talked about it back in the seventies) and an enthusiastic user of Biphetamine! (the efficacious combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine), I have a certain distaste for conversations conveying weight envy. It's not just because I am now chunkier (though less neurotic) and taking various medications that leave me in occasional states of bloatedness and afflicted with cankles. Nor because I dread the times the conversations turn to me with a "you look like you've lost a few pounds" - given out like some sort of a consolation prize so that no one goes home empty handed. Y'all don't have to talk about me. Or find something to praise me for. Or notice me at all. But if you do, please realize I have varied accomplishments and no longer hop on the scale in the morning to find out if it is going to be a good or bad day. There is so much more to talk about.
Let now praise fabulous women. Women who are so much more than the sum of their poundage. Marvelous women like my mother, who did not define herself by her minimalist avoirdupois. Too polite to have responded to questions with "meth head" or "bulimic" - though she may have wanted to. Gone too soon. Dearly missed for twenty-one years.