Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Size Matters, or The Female Form Divine

"This is the female form,
A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot,
It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction ..." ~ Walt Whitman, "I Sing The Body Electric"

I'm not perfect. I pass judgment on people on a daily basis, often over quite trivial matters. I know I'm doing this and that I'm fucking up my karma every time I do, but it's a hard habit to break. Do you know the George Carlin quote about driving speed? Let me share.

"Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"

This is sort of how I feel when I look at the bodies of other women -- everybody smaller than me is an idiot, and everyone larger -- well, it depends on the mood I'm in. I was not raised to be tolerant of my own body's failings so it is little wonder that I haven't much patience for the (perceived) failings of others. Most of my life I've been slender, an accident of birth and genetics as much as of pathology. Does this mean that at 41 I'm pleased with my form and figure? Lord, no. But why aren't I? My husband still likes my body. Why don't I?

As I said before in Call and Response, I think it is partly simple human nature. I also blame low-riding bikini bottoms. It's summer, I've been trying on bathing suits in department store dressing rooms and I find that I have a gut. It isn't much of a gut but there it is, hanging out over the edge of all these low-riding bikini bottoms. Why do I blame my body? I should blame the suit. It isn't my fault that bathing suits seem to come in two styles only --"child" and "granny." These are my options? Letting it all hang flabbily out, or binding it all up in a corset-style costume I would be afraid to get wet?

I decide to err on the side of letting it all hang out and take home two suits that my husband says look "great" on me. And when I take these suits out for a spin on our beach vacation I feel remarkably comfortable showing myself in them, but only, sickly I admit, because of where I fall along the spectrum of the female form divine.

When I was young I read in Seventeen magazine of all places, the following descriptions of the three basic body types:

  • Ectomorphic: characterized by long and thin muscles/limbs and low fat storage; receding chin, usually referred to as slim.
  • Mesomorphic: characterized by medium bones, solid torso, low fat levels, wide shoulders with a narrow waist; usually referred to as muscular.
  • Endomorphic: characterized by increased fat storage, a wide waist and a large bone structure, usually referred to as fat.
This type of definition is wildly out of date now (the man who came up with it apparently crazy as all get out), but I think the point of this information was to try and get across to teen readers that sometimes you have to work with what nature gave you. I am mostly mesomorphic with some ectomorphic traits as well, with shoulders like bloody coat hangers and an enormous waist in proportion to my practically non-existent hips. I buy pants that fit my butt but ALWAYS have to let the button out on the waist so I can breathe. In short, I am built more or less like a stick with something of a spare tire round my middle bits. Nice, yes?

I saw all types at the beach: rubber-band-like young girls, too thin but fit mom-types, the classic pears and apples (as if women are fruit to be devoured -- and of course sometimes we are) and many women who were quite simply very overweight. One woman in particular my eye went back to over and over. I will admit at first I was appalled by her size. But then I thought of other images, stripped her in my mind's eye of her ill-fitting pink suit (honestly most of the women's suits were ill-fitting -- I mean who designs these bloody things?!) and saw more or less this:

The woman on the beach even had this soft coloring, cloudy strawberry-blonde hair and something of this posture, but in all honesty the woman I saw on the beach probably weighed more than the woman in this picture. But the woman on the beach didn't seem uncomfortable with her physical form. Strikingly, most of the women on the beach seemed relatively comfortable in their mostly naked skins. But were they? How did they really see themselves? How did they see me? Did they judge me the way that I judged them? Do they judge themselves?


Does it help at all that I saw beauty, as well as potential ill-health? And what would be my beauty, the gift of image I would give myself? And what would be yours? What is your female form divine?

1 comment:

  1. Really, you gotta be sure to pimp all of these on Facebook. I completely missed this one.

    I think that it's difficult for any of us to feel completely comfortable in our bodies, bathing suit or not. I've chosen to go granny myself, having a lot more to let hang out than you do. And I still cringe when I look at beach photos of myself. But I think about it a LOT less than I did when I was seventeen, when, had I not been mercilessly comparing myself to you and every other girl around, I might have realized I looked pretty smoking in a bikini.