"Yellow Bikini", Sartre V
Yesterday when I went for my walk, it was amazingly warm, almost like summer. Yes, it’s almost that time of year again, the one we wait for all winter. Yet summer -- sunny, blue-skied, and balmy as it is -- can be a conflicted time for us larger women.
Many years ago, I read an essay by a large woman, Veronica Hubbard, on how she feels about summer. It was titled, appropriately enough, “Summer”, and it's from a wonderful compilation by large women writing about what it’s like to be fat, Shadow on a Tightrope (1983, Aunt Lute Book Company, edited by Lisa Schoenfielder and Barb Wieser). Here is an excerpt from that essay, and I think I can say that she speaks for many of us here:
Everyone likes summer, especially on one of those perfect summer days when the sun is shining brightly and it’s not too hot. I’m no different. But the quality of my life during the summer months is so much lower than women around me who are not fat, that about all I seem to feel during the summer is anger, bitterness, and a sense of being left out.
Wow. Can I relate to that! When I think back, it amazes me how many summer days I spent with my legs encased in a stifling hot pair of jeans simply because I was afraid to show my thighs, or how many times I pulled on a long-sleeved jacket to cover my arms because I didn’t want my flab to show … or how about at the beach? I rarely felt comfortable enough to stride out on the sand in just my bathing suit. I’d usually have a cover-up on, a t-shirt over my bathing suit, or something like that … and I’d always make sure to head for a part of the beach where there weren’t too many people around.
Average- or thin-sized people have no idea how stressful ordinary things like going to a beach or simply walking around outside can be for a large person. Even average-sized women are terrified to display themselves in a bathing suit! Multiply that stress by about 50 times and that will come close to what it feels like for a large person.
But you can’t let it stop you. We are just as entitled to enjoy a day at the beach, the zoo, the amusement park, or an outdoor patio – all the pleasures that are associated with summer – as anyone else. What about activities that we might genuinely enjoy, like playing a game of Frisbee, catch, or baseball? It’s like a Catch-22: we want to join in and and have fun, but we often stop ourselves because we’re afraid of the comments we might get. It’s crazy-making. Sure, there will always be the occasional person who makes an ignorant comment, or gives you an unpleasant look. But are you going to let a total stranger prevent you from enjoying the feel of the sun or the breeze on your skin, or enjoying some fun, healthy activity?
Veronica ended her essay on a sad note, and I truly hope that she (and you) no longer feel the same way:
This is how I felt a lot last summer. I spent most of it inside, continually feeling worse and worse. I ached to just go out and run around and do whatever I wanted, but I didn’t. I spent a lot of the summer being depressed and bitchy.
Veronica let other people dictate the quality of her life. She was afraid of the reaction she might get from people seeing her body more revealed, or moving around, so she isolated herself to protect herself from it. This is never a good thing. Why would you allow someone you’ve never met and who means absolutely zero in your life to prevent you from living it?
We will never be free of ignorance or discrimination -- not only against fat people, but against anyone who falls into the category of “different”: people of different races, sexual orientations, people with disabilities, you name it. It is an unfortunate fact of human nature that some of us need to single others out and try to make them feel inferior. But hiding in your house will not make it stop, or go away. It will always be there.
(I read up on this behaviour once, and discovered that it actually has its roots in caveman days: prehistoric people used to “weed people out” that they considered weak or deficient in order to preserve the uniform “strength” of the tribe. So whenever you see someone doing this, you know they are using the primal or prehistoric part of their brain.)
So you might as well wear that bathing suit, tank top, shorts, or summer dress, get out there, and enjoy the glorious summer! Believe me, there are plenty of men out there who’ll be peeking at you from under their sun visors and outright staring at your glorious body behind the anonymity of their sunglasses. And don’t be afraid to stop at the ice cream stand and get yourself a double scoop of your favourite flavour either!
I'm still working myself up to the day when I can feel as free as that gorgeous, sexy fat girl in the picture above, letting all her assets spill out of her yellow bikini ... but until then, I'll just wear the sexy one-piece!