Loving What is Unlovable
Just over a year ago, I took a gender studies course in university that introduced me to feminism and consequently, opened my eyes to the world. During this course, I wrote a paper that tackled sexism and sizism in the service industry
Yeah, I know sizism isn’t a word. It was taken from a paper written by Lisa Ayuso titled, “I Look FAT in This!” from which I based my paper on.
During the writing of this paper, I found my voice. It was an eye-opening moment for me when I discovered I could write about things I cared about and also things that matter. Since then, I have tinkered with voicing my opinions through articles and what not. I’ve played around with writing blog posts but never coming up with anything (till now). While this post isn’t an in-depth personal recount of my own body issues (one of those will probably come up later), it is important. So by all means, stick around.
I’ve edited out parts of it to make it more blog-friendly, but it still very much reads like an academic paper at times.
Let’s talk about body positivity.
Today’s standard of beauty is constantly a forum for discussion. As a woman, one who would be deemed plus-sized, it is also a constant thought within my own inner discussion. Is my body too big? My answer is no. While at times I still wish it was smaller, I refuse to admit it to anyone. I refuse to apologize for my body which has always been bigger than my mother’s or sister’s or most of my friends. But, not so long ago, I would have answered with an absolute, “yes, my body is too big and I’m horribly ashamed of it.”
It has been an uphill struggle to love my body. When everything around you is telling you the parts of yourself you have been trying to love are the parts you should hate, it is almost guaranteed to be a losing battle. But why are our body’s open for discussion in the first place? When did the rolls on my belly or the cellulite on my legs become a public discourse? And why does it even matter at all? Lisa Ayuso, author of “I Look Fat In This!” relates it to sizism, a form of oppression used against the bigger bodies of our society, much like sexism.
While Ayuso recognizes its effect on men, she states that it is an issue more dominantly affecting women, a fact obvious to you if you are indeed, a woman. She writes, “There are fourteen sizes between what is acceptable in a man’s world and what is considered obese in a woman’s world”.
Personally, I have always tended to stray closer to the size fourteen rather than the zero. I have tried to awkwardly cram myself into countless outfits and even more ideas of myself which someone else held, only to be too big to fit into them. Some time ago, I started a new job as a bartender. Once again, I found myself trying to fit into a role someone else granted me, but refused to open their eyes to the idea of someone bigger than what they thought acceptable.
My experience points to a direct link between sexism and sizism. Females only were marginalized due to their size, our bodies commodified and sold as part of an experience, while men sat idly by on the sidelines, having to do nothing but flash a smile to deserve the approval of our employers and the gratitude of our customers. This experience opened my eyes to the sexism which has always been so blatantly present in my life, but I was so conveniently ignorant of while continuing to expose society’s attitudes towards larger ladies like myself.
On the first training day of my job, I stood in line and was given the options for my uniform. I use the word “options” loosely because truly, there were none. My choice was between two black shirts. One was a tight tank top which exposed the upper half of my back. It had one skinny strap and one thicker one that cut across the top of my chest in a diagonal fashion. The second was a little more forgiving, but still a black tank top that exposed my arms and underarms. It ruched and folded along the midsection, and had a cowl neck which hung to expose the upper part of my chest. The sizes available to me were small, medium, and large.
When my trainer asked what I wanted, I picked the cowl neck top knowing full well my triple D breasts were not going to be acceptable in the former, and my midsection would sit unapologetically atop my pants. We will not even discuss the unshapely forms my belly would take while I stretched and bent my way through my shift, pouring beer and tossing martini shakers with a smile for my valued customers.
When she asked what size I would prefer, I was conscious of a small tinge of embarrassment when I replied with a “large or extra large.” But I said it proudly, not trying to quiet my voice in shame. She searched amid the mass of black shirts in boxes and asked a couple of girls. Alas, there were no extra large to be had. I took my large shirt to the bathroom, fully knowing what would come from this venture.
The cowl neck that hung so prettily on one of the other girls, sat tight on my chest while my breasts greedily devoured all the extra folding fabric. A co-worker graciously pointed out to me how she did not think the shirt was supposed to fit like that. No kidding, lady. Begrudgingly, I took the now hated shirt back to my trainer, and with as much confidence as I could muster, said “Yeah, girl, this one isn’t going to work either. My boobs are just too big.” Luckily for me, I have had plenty of experience hiding body shame. This was not anything new. She told me she would order an extra-large in for me, but in the meantime to just wear a black t-shirt. So for the first few months of working, myself, and a couple other girls as well, I noticed, and inwardly thanked, wore our own custom uniforms, and consequently labeled ourselves as the girls too big to fit. I became known, in the first few days of training, as the “boob girl,” which was a more forgiving label when you consider that my entire body is proportioned to the large size of my breasts. I am just a big girl.
So for those first months, while the girls flaunted their legs in tight dresses and our shapely or unshapely bodies in revealing tight black shirts, the men stood next to us wearing button-up, high collared, long-sleeved black shirts and black denim jeans. None of their body was revealed. Nothing belonging to them was being sold other than their skill and natural good looks. I immediately noticed, and I was angry. Not only was the company I now worked for sizist, for immediately labelling me as the big girl I tried to run from my whole life, but they were sexist, as they sold my body as part of an experience (for a measly 10 dollars an hour, I might add), while my male co-workers stood idly by, not even their bulking arms noticeable in their shirts.
But what was I to do? I was one angry co-worker among a staff of over one hundred, who did not have the gumption to sit down and voice my concerns. Not that it would matter. Everywhere you go to the bar scene are girls showing off their bodies to make better money, which is fine, as long as it is their decision and not one being made for them.
Ayuso points out that many of us FAT girls “hold a small and guilty desire to be skinny. The longing to be thin, to be accepted and fit into such a stereotype of thin is what fuels the struggle. “It is true, FAT activists can be sizist. Dreaming to be thin and hoping to wake up with less is sizist,” (Ayuso).
I can’t deny it, as much as I do to everyone else. I look in the mirror at my naked body, and I wish that parts of it were smaller or firmer. It is almost impossible to just outright love yourself when society tells you you should not. But focusing on the parts I love has helped build my self-love and deny my body shame.
Women like Tess Munster, and Honor Curves have started self-love movements. Their Instagram and twitter accounts are littered with hashtags reading “#effyourbeautystandards” and “#honoryourcurves.” Together, with the help of millions of women, they are raising the bar for beauty standards while teaching every one of us to love ourselves at every shape. I now call though, for a platform which stops commodifying my body, no matter its shape or size.
We need a movement which prevents companies like the one I worked for and almost every big name restaurant in the business, from making decisions regarding our bodies for us. We need to consider what type of message this sends to our audience.
One day I had a customer who I served for a few hours. After almost one hundred and fifty dollars worth of double rye and gingers, this gentleman, a visitor from the west coast, started making comments about my body. He apparently appreciated the view my newly acquired, extra-large uniform gave to him. Lucky for him, I am extremely easy going and I can take the harassment, although I am more than aware I do not have to. The entire encounter went so far as him trying to grab a feel of my behind, and whispering some very profane comments in my ear while he paid his tab. His hefty tip assuaged my anger at the entire experience, but why did he feel he could get away with that in the beginning? I am sure my positive, easy-going demeanor helped, but how about the package I was presented as by my employer?
I am paid to be an upbeat, happy server with a body to be gawked at and appreciated by my customers. Surely, this package sends the message that while you are paying for my excellent service, you are also paying for the package I come in. The entire experience sends the message that I am a property, an object, a commodification to be bought, sold or groped. It makes me uncomfortable. It does not take a critical eye to see beneath the surface of the entire dining experience being sold to you. I hate that I am a cog in their sexist, sizist wheel. But, when it pays the bills, what are you to do?
Is my reaction to that similar to women who are workers in the sex trade, selling their bodies to pay their bills? The situations are very different, but in reality, both industries are commodifying my body and selling it, albeit to different extremes. What then, does that make me? I prefer not to think about it.
It is obvious to everyone that we live in a society where the beauty standard is partial to a thinner woman, but what about the sexism beneath the standard? My experience points to the very direct link between Ayuso’s sizism and sexism. It is important that these links are made often, and brought to light, to prevent future women from having decisions made about their bodies for them. It should be up to me how I present my body; the clothes I put on it and the parts I want to bear are my decisions to make, and mine only. When our bodies are separated from men and deemed as objects to be viewed and admired, we become objects. When my body is scrutinized under a commercial microscope, and deemed unfit due to its size and quality, I become not worth objectifying. We need to be aware of the messages being sent when situations like these arise, and people, like those who employ us, need to be held responsible for their actions.
I’m happy to say I’m no longer in the service industry. I hope to be done with that part of my life. But chances are I’ll probably end up slinging a drink or two somewhere down the line. Also, I enjoyed my time at the particular establishment I refer to in this post. They were great to work for and were not the worst culprits when it comes to business that commodify women’s bodies by any means.