“Girls! Girls!” a large, middle-aged man in a bright yellow safety vest hollered at me and my new friend from across the parking lot as we walked away from my rental car.
I turned slowly around, cocked an eyebrow and didn’t begin moving in his direction until my companion did.
“Yes?” I asked with a touch of attitude as we neared him. He’d yelled out to us like we’d done something wrong.
“Where are you girls going?”
So far I liked nothing about this encounter.
I’d arrived early to the day-long Bloggy Boot Camp conference in Temecula and befriended and picked up another early blogger in my hunt for coffee.
I stared at him for a beat wondering what the hell business it was of his where we were headed. I’m not inclined to give information about my destination to people I don’t know. Why don’t you just beckon us over to a creepy windowless white van with promises of candy?
“We’re not girls, we’re women.”
I am damn near 40 years old and my fellow blogger is a mother of two. She’s raising two little human beings. Neither of us are girls.
“We’re getting breakfast,” my new friend supplied.
The man paused, mouth agape as he gave me a curious look, “Wha….girls….uh…?”
“You can call us ladies,” I answered thinly. Ladies isn’t necessarily my favorite either, but at least it implies more respect than girls.
“Ok. This café is open. They have good food,” he gestured behind him to a store front in the strip mall.
“Ah, thank you.”
We headed toward the café. I felt kind of bad for my response toward him since it seemed like he wanted to help. But, I didn’t appreciate his tone nor how he approached us; it was disrespectful. It didn’t help that the day before, on a business call, the man I was speaking with called me “sweetheart.”
Sometimes when I find myself in situations where I feel disrespected, I turn over different scenarios in my mind imagining how circumstances might change if I were someone different.
What if I were walking with a man instead of an equally diminutive Filipina woman?
What if said man were black? And larger than Mr. Bright Vest? Would he yell at us? Would he call me “girl”?
What if we were two white men? What if we were two white men, the same age as me and my friend and wearing suits? Would he have called out to them? Would he have shouted, “Boys, boys!”
I posed these questions to my new friend as way of explaining my defensive behavior. She’d appeared a bit thrown by my caginess, probably wondering: what the hell happened to the kind, smiling stranger I just met 10 minutes ago?
“I think you’re right, I don’t think he would talk to men that way,” she acknowledged.
I may be small and I may look younger than my years, but neither of these characteristics justify yelling at me like you’re my father. I am glad I spoke up because had I not, I knew I would stew over it until I found a way to make it right with myself. Situations like this happen too much and I am not here for it.
A half hour later as we exited the parking lot to return to the conference, Mr. Bright Vest hailed us:
“Hi Ladies…I want to apologize for shouting at you earlier. That wasn’t right. It was rude and I shouldn’t have done that.”
Holy __! Did that just happen?
I smiled. “Thank you, I really appreciate that.”
“Have a nice day. Again, I’m sorry.”
I thanked him again and waved goodbye as I drove off.
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I’ve been thinking about my weight since I was 13.
One day I ate everything I wanted with abandon and the next, the size of my thighs were cause for angst.
Thirteen is about when I started working out. My mom had a catalog of Jane Fonda videos from the 80s and I was Jane Fonda’s devoted follower. Those videos work!Jane still looks hot today. It’s unreal. I also became a fan of Joyce Vedral and her fat-burning workout. I thank her to this day for my interest in being fit and toned.
Once, upon being presented with “soaked in the deep fryer” chicken for dinner, I whined to my parents with dramatic horror:
Fried chicken?! Oh.my.God. Do you know how much fat and salt is in that, mother?!
(I learned from watching white teens on TV that if you are angry with your parents you refer to them – with the disgust only a teen can muster – as “mother” and “father”. See: Brenda Walsh). My mom would reply with something like: “You don’t like it, you can get a job! Sit your butt down at this table. I don’t have time for this. And do not take the Lord’s name in vain.”
“Mo-ther! I am not eating this!”
In college I gained the “Freshman 15.”
I’m short, so even an extra five lbs becomes noticeable. That first year, I steadily free-fed on dorm food – bovine-style. My frequent meal-buddy and I would even stow away bread rolls and whatever else we could easily hide for later consumption. It felt deliciously decadent to have dessert with every meal. Then, the summer after my freshman year, I looked at myself in the mirror one day and my rounder image horrified me. My face was fat(ish), like a burnt chipmunk. I was wearing a crop top with a fat roll muffining its way out. Who was this schlub?! Well it had to stop.
I went on a superdiet.
I greatly reduced my caloric intake and worked out like I was training for The Olympics. My weight quickly came down, and down, and down, until I looked like a chocolate Tootsie Roll pop. I’d gone too far. I lost my butt. As the ever-wise Lil Wayne says about women with no ass: “You ain’t got shit.” Or as his labelmate, Tyga raps: “If you ain’t got no ass, bitch, wear a poncho.” When the ass goes, you’ve overdone it and misogynistic men won’t give you a second glance. What will you do with your life then?
The problem is that even though I was too thin, I received a lot of compliments about my size: from men (“hey baby!”) and women (“please share your secret!”) alike. I learned: skinny = validation.
When I graduated college I was ill-prepared for the shock of the real world. I went from constant partying studying and working, to what seemed like days and days of endless, routine boredom. I came to understand that this is called “working for a living.” The novelty of ordering office supplies for my desk quickly wore off and the reality of working in corporate America set in: this shit is boring.
So, I ate and my weight crept up.
One evening I went out with my roommates for a much needed bout of drinking and dancing. While walking into one of San Jose’s “clubs” (the city was boring as all hell) I bumped into a cute, slender Asian girl about my height. Having already thrown back a few, I gushed to her: “You’re so cute. You must be a size three. I used to be a size three.” She looked me over – I was probably no bigger than a size six – and with her voice dripping in bubbly judgement replied:
What happened to you?!
Her reaction stunned and hurt me. It also saddened me that a size six is considered worthy of disgust. I should have been fine with my size. I was healthy and within the right range for my height. But, by this point, my body image was so distorted, I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I also wasn’t getting the skinny validation I’d gotten in the past.
Then followed an intense battle between my body, my mind and my other mind.
My body insisted on stowing away fat for the winter that never comes in my part of California. My mind wanted to eat everything in sight to soothe my boredom and loneliness. My other mind wanted to be thin.
I started bingeing and purging. I’d go crazy eating cookies, chips and soda in one sitting, feel ill and disgusted with myself, and then run to the bathroom to throw it up. I only did this for a short time. It’s not effective and it’s too much damn work. Do you know how much work it takes to stick your fingers down your throat and force yourself to vomit? Who has the time? People are starving all over the world and I’m eyeing food with a mix of lust and hatred. It’s also bad for your teeth and I like my teeth. Not to mention, if anyone catches you in public, you have to explain why your feet are facing the wrong way in the bathroom stall. Either you are barfing or you have a secret penis. My dance with bulimia ended within a couple of weeks, never to be revisited again.
A few years later, I was in Los Angeles. I’d started dating an actor (warning: don’t do it). He said to me one day while we were phone-flirting:
You got some thick thighs, I like that.
Well, I sure as hell didn’t like that! Thick?! Why the hell had I been going to the gym?! He meant it as a compliment, but I took it as a reason to go annihilate myself at Bally’s. I replied with a hesitant “Uh, thanks.” That relationship crashed and burned miserably (I said not to date an actor).
Another couple of years later, I’d worked my weight down to my “normal” (for me) size. I went to visit my feisty grandma. She took one look at me and said matter-of-factly “Keisha, you’re too thin. Men like women with a little extra padding.” I’ve heard more than enough times from others that men like more “cushion for the pushin’”. Grandma knows. My grandma is no “oh my, golly gee, let me bake you some cookies” granny. She tells it like it is, she keeps it real and you can bake your own damn cookies. I laughed and told her how awesome she is.
Then I got into a serious long-term relationship.
For at least a year, I maintained my weight. Boyfriend liked my body and the “thick” thighs were just the right size. Then came year two. Happily in love, I spent less time at the gym and more time, well…none of your business. By year three, I’d grown faaat. I mean, actually fat. I was clinically overweight. I had never weighed so much in my life. I comforted myself with the thought: boyfriend will still love me anyway, right? But, I didn’t love me.
I had to buy a whole new wardrobe. Not only did I feel bad about how I looked, I felt bad physically. My body wasn’t used to carrying so much extra weight. I didn’t know how to dress for my new size. What looked good on me? So, I tried to lose weight. Then boyfriend and I broke up. That was the kick in the pants I needed to get my fat ass back in the gym. It’s the depression weight loss plan.
I couldn’t shake the weight, no matter what I did. I figured it was because I was nearing that age where people say your metabolism slows. Since, I was also having problems sleeping and breathing properly, I visited a specialist to check things out. He said to me,
“You’re too heavy! That’s why you can’t sleep.”
That was his expensive doctorly wisdom: you are a fat bitch. Well, fuck you very much doctor dickhead. The issue did turn out to be medical and once pinpointed, the weight started to come off. I’ve been able to maintain a reasonable weight (for me) since then.
I straddle two worlds: one black and one mainstream.
In the “black world” depending on who you ask, I am either “just right” or “too thin”. One of my younger sisters is very slender. She once had a black boyfriend tell her she was too skinny and that she needed to start eating some cornbread. I marveled at this. A free pass to pig out on cornbread? I’m sold! Does he have an older brother?
In the “white” or “mainstream” world, the view of what constitutes thin has shrunken over time. In Los Angeles, some women probably think I’m “big.” To those types, if you’re larger than a size two, you’re a tub o’ Crisco.
I would love to say that I no longer care. That I don’t think about my weight and that I don’t have days when I just want to say “Fuck it all, I’m going to eat some motherbleepin’ ice cream and then a big ol’ tub of movie popcorn and be fat and happy!” But, that’s not the case. However, after several low-carb diets, starvation diets, weird heart patient lemonades, and flirting with bulimia, I’ve learned to allow myself to enjoy food. I can eat well and be healthy. I’ve also learned to appreciate my womanly figure, including the “thick thighs”, and pay less attention to my clothing size.
What happened to the days when women with a little bit of belly fat were thought of as gorgeous? Can we go back to that? To the figurative days when having extra pounds meant you were fortunate enough to have plenty of food to eat? We aren’t meant to starve ourselves into stick figures. Life is meant to be lived and food is part of living (and too damn good to be chucking in the toilet). So, live, eat, and love your body!
I'm Keisha ("Kee-shuh", not to be confused with Ke$ha). I am a (later) thirty-something, non-mommy, non-wife, who lives in San Francisco, California New York and has lots of opinions on lots of things.