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Woman Eats Brownies, Gets Laid

Woman Eats Brownies, Gets Laid
by Greta Christina

At the beginning of 1993 I went through a mild and somewhat willful depression, during which I watched a great deal of television. (Why I thought this would make me feel better, I'm not sure, but that's another story.) Towards the end of this spell I told a friend that, although I was feeling generally better, I was going through a "bad body-image period" (Jesus, do I really talk like that? I've been living in California too long), which I thought was at least partly brought on by spending hours slumped on the couch watching TV, snacking, and not moving very much. My friend thought about this for a moment and suggested that, perhaps, my unhappiness with my body was not so much a result of sitting on the couch snacking for hours and more a result of watching lots and lots of very thin people on TV. (I don't know why he thought he had to tell me something so obvious. I'm sure I'd have figured it out myself in a couple of years.)

When I tell people how much I weigh, they are almost inevitably surprised. In fact, I rarely weigh myself at all, and am not sure what my exact weight is as of this writing. I myself am almost inevitably surprised -- and not pleasantly so -- to see the actual number staring me in the face, irrefutably, undeniably, like a rude acquaintance telling you bald facts about yourself without even trying to be tactful.

Here's why I think this surprise takes place. I look, dress, carry myself, think of myself, and live in my body in a certain way. I usually like myself and usually enjoy my body. I enjoy sex and think of myself as desirable. I dress to call attention to myself and to my body, not to hide it. On good days I swagger a bit, and flirt a lot. If you saw me on the street or at a party, you might find me attractive, or you might not. Depending on how I was feeling when I got dressed that morning, you'd probably think of me as either relaxed and easy-going or as gaudy and outrageous. Your physical impression would most likely be of a short, solidly built woman, fairly compact, lots of curves on a square frame, great tits, curvey legs, long blue hair and big dark eyes and a big dumb grin and a loud laugh. You would probably not guess that, at five feet two inches, I weigh close to two hundred pounds.

I believe that you wouldn't guess this because most people have a mental image of what a woman who is five feet two inches and weighs close to two hundred pounds looks like. I have one myself. It doesn't look very much like me, but it's nonetheless quite vivid. The image is gross and depressing, an unhappy woman with low self-esteem and no discipline, gone to seed and sad indulgence. The reason that I rarely weigh myself (and try not to watch too much television) is that it's far too common, when I'm feeling tired and weak and worried about what people think, to look in the mirror and see that picture imposed on my body.

Now, seeing an image in the mirror other than the one that's actually present would, on the surface, seem to be a disturbing or even terrifying experience, the kind of stuff you see in trashy psycho-horror films about demon spirits from beyond the grave invading the minds of teenage girls. In fact, this experience is one that I have had more or less consistently throughout my adult life.

I can remember looking in the mirror at nineteen years and a hundred pounds, seeing an image of what I thought five feet two inches and a hundred pounds looked like on a nineteen-year-old girl -- ripe, nubile, slender, sexy, energetic, the apex of female desirability. As I gained years and pounds, that image stayed on to scold and tease me with what I could supposedly become again with just a little hard work and sacrifice. It wasn't until friends told me how they thought I had looked at that time -- scrawny, emaciated, and tense -- that I remembered what it had actually felt like to live in my body then. At age nineteen, I smoked heavily, drank way too much coffee, took a lot of harsh drugs, got very little sleep, worked too hard and played too hard and drove myself to my absolute physical limit as a matter of daily routine. It's no wonder I weighed a hundred pounds; I'm surprised I didn't weigh less. I was exhausted, strained, nervous, jumpy, distracted, repressed and unhappy. To say that I was out of touch with my body would be like saying that Caligula was out of touch with the Marxist ideal. But hey -- I was thin.

Now, I can say these things. I can say them truthfully, I can say them convincingly, and I can even believe them myself; and they can still not make very much difference. Because right next to the perception of big women as ridiculous is the perception of big women asserting their attractiveness and desirability as even more ridiculous. In films or books or on TV, if a big woman says she's horny, talks about cute guys, or in any way acts as if she has a sex life, 90% of the time it's played for laughs or pathos or both. She's seen as either self-deluded or saving face, deceiving either herself or others into denying the obvious, indisputable, objectively true fact that she is big and therefore not attractive to anyone except weirdos. It's a very frustrating double twist. Big women are told that our bodies are repulsive and our sexuality is crippled; when we insist that this isn't our experience, we're told that this insistence is pathetic and laughable. Our sexuality is denied, and our assertion of our sexuality is then seen as denial. Our defense against the accusation is seen as proof of its accuracy.

The funny thing is this. I'm queer. (No, that's not the funny thing, that's probably the most normal thing about me.) I am attracted to and like to have sex with other women. I am particularly attracted to other big women (although not exclusively so). Oddly enough -- or maybe not so oddly -- I am extra-particularly attracted to women who are built somewhat like me. I like fleshy women, grabbable women, women with some meat on their bones. I like big breasts and round bellies and strong thighs and nice wide curvey shapely asses that you can sink your fingers into. There's no question of denial or self-deception or wishful thinking here -- we're talking 100% pure and natural, heart-pounding, clit-thumping, head-swiveling lust.

So here's the funny thing (this is definitely it, the funny thing is coming right up): I have learned to convince myself of my own sexuality by a peculiar sort of proxy. Since I have terrible trouble believing in my own desirability, but no trouble at all believing in the desirability of other big women, what I wind up doing is seeking sexual affirmation, not by looking in the mirror, but by looking at other women who look like me. When I catch myself drooling over some hot babe with a nice meaty body that I'd really like to get my hands on, I remind myself that other people -- especially other women -- probably feel the same way about me.

"Well, duh," I hear you cry. "It doesn't take an atomic genius to figure that out." And yet I have to consciously and deliberately remind myself of it. It's such a patently obvious thought process that you'd think it would happen automatically. But it doesn't happen that way at all. I'll tell you what happens automatically. Looking in the mirror and thinking, "Hey, whatta babe," and having that thought immediately followed by a derisive, "Who do you think you're kidding?" The self-appreciation takes practice; the self-derision happens at the drop of a hat.

This whole mess is made even more complicated and fucked up by the fact that there's not just one false image in the mirror. There are at least two, probably more. The ugly picture of the depressing fat woman that I'm afraid I've become is frequently accompanied by the beautiful picture of the exciting thin woman that I fear I've lost forever. At times in my life when I've been dieting and trying to lose weight, the sensation has been most peculiar -- resisting one mirror image, yearning for another. Getting dressed in the morning becomes a daily exercise in hallucinatory self-imagery. I pick up an item of clothing, imagining what it will look like on the slender sylph-like creature that I long for; then, when I put it on, I'm mocked by the hideous blob-monster I'm sure I've become. Not a lot of room in there for a simple glance in the mirror to see what I actually look like before I head out the door. What I actually look like isn't even in the picture. What I actually look like is meaningless, crowded out by the apparitions that inhabit the mirror-world. It's one of the reasons I like to change my look a lot -- cut my hair short, let it grow long, bleach it blonde, dye it blue, dye it black, dye it brown again. The shock of seeing the new image jolts me into seeing what's really there.

I wonder sometimes how straight women deal with this stuff. They don't have the benefit of the "I have the hots for her, she's a lot like me, therefore other people probably have the hots for me" equation. Plus, they have to actually deal with straight men all the time: they date them and sleep with them and listen to them babble about Michelle Pfeiffer. I don't know how they stay sane. One of the reasons why I don't sleep with men much, even though I am bisexual and not a lesbian, is that I've found, as a gross unfair reverse-sexist feminazi generalization, that dykes are far more tolerant and appreciative of other women's bodies than straight men are. Sure, there are exceptions; I know dykes with plenty of snot-ball attitude about women who aren't "fit and trim," and I know, and have in fact slept with, men who like me the way I am and want to fuck me because of my body and not in spite of it. But exceptions are exceptions. They do show that my generalizations are just generalizations; they don't show that, as generalizations, they're in any way inaccurate.

Here's another gross unfair generalization, a cockamamie theory based entirely on personal observation and anecdotal evidence and with absolutely no scientific validity, but which I nevertheless believe to be true. I've noticed that gay men and straight women seem to have very similar attitudes about their bodies; and that -- conversely? -- lesbians and straight men also have similar attitudes about their bodies. Fags and het women seem to worry about their weight, height, age, build, breast size, dick size, etc., much more than dykes and het men do. They compare themselves to an abstract ideal of physical perfection in very similar ways; and in very similar ways, they feel like shit because they never measure up. Whether they're obsessively dieting or obsessively working out, whether it's Tom of Finland or Glamour magazine that they're trying to live up to, the compare-and-contrast patterns for both het women and gay men look very much alike.

It's not that dykes and hetero men don't ever get anxious and stressed-out about whether they're attractive. But they aren't as likely to equate sexual attractiveness with a particular physical ideal. Issues such as status, intelligence, income, hipness, sexual skill and experience, and what kind of car (or motorcycle) one drives seem to have more effect on sexual self-esteem for queer women and het men than how they measure up to some abstract template of physical perfection. I've certainly noticed this in my own life and experience as a bisexual woman. Over the last several years, as I've gradually become more involved with women and less involved with men, my body image has improved; and this despite the fact that my weight has slowly but steadily gone up over those years. My confidence in my own sexuality seems to be connected less with the bathroom scale and more with the Kinsey scale.

So here's my cockamamie theory. When considering body image and physical self-esteem, the determining factor doesn't seem to be which gender you are -- it's which gender you're involved with. Lousy body image is not so much a result of being female in our culture. It's a result of being looked at, desired, and most of all judged, by men. (I recently read that most straight men who get penile implants don't do it for their wives or girlfriends; they do it because they're worried about how they compare to the guys in the locker room. It doesn't surprise me a bit.)

In all the motley assortment of ideas and judgements and bigotries that are out there about big women, one in particular gets me seriously peeved. The idea is that all big women use food as a substitute pleasure for sex. We either can't or won't have sex, the thinking goes; we're either afraid of sex for whatever the trendy neurotic reason of the month is, so we eat instead and get fat, or we can't get sex because we're fat and nobody wants us, so we eat instead and get fatter. In addition to the obvious fucked-upedness of the assumption that fat women don't have sex, there is a seriously twisted fucked-upedness to the assumption that one pleasure should have to substitute for another. The implication of food-as-substitute-for-sex is that the two pleasures are mutually exclusive (for women, anyway); that the enjoyment of one pleasure necessitates the sacrifice of the other (for women, anyway); and that deprivation is an inherent component of sensual enjoyment (for women, anyway). I can't tell you how mad that makes me. I want to know who made up these rules. I want to know who decided that I can't have both food and sex. I want to know who decided that I can't enjoy getting fucked and enjoy eating brownies. I want to find out who made this stuff up. And then I want to shoot them.

Please understand that I am not simply accusing Society. ("J'accuse," I cry, pointing the finger of judgement at Society, and Society shrugs and continues with its poker game.) As much as I would like to believe otherwise, I must acknowledge that criticizing society does not set me apart from it. I am, however much I may dislike this fact, a member of my culture. I don't simply absorb its tenets passively and against my will; I also act to perpetuate them, even those I oppose. God knows I've spent long conversations railing against the arbitrary and oppressive standards of beauty in our culture, only to turn around and dish someone for being too fat or too skinny or poorly dressed or having a bad haircut. It's not just some internalized yet somehow detached Society that jeers at me when I look in the mirror; I do plenty of jeering on my own. ("J'accuse," I cry, pointing the finger of judgement at myself, and thus judged, I cringe and cower and agonize about it for hours with my downstairs neighbor.)

I saw a film recently called Leaving Normal, a film in which most of the primary characters are women (a rare and startling phenomenon -- I think I saw a two-headed calf that same night). In this film there appears a secondary character, a woman who shows up for a short time in the lives of the two main characters and then disappears. This woman is a very large woman, a fat woman, who keeps saying to herself and everyone around her that she knows she is a beautiful, special person who deserves to be loved. When we first meet this woman, she seems a bit silly, spouting platitudes and affirmations and new-age power-of-positive-thinking blather in the face of some dreadful upsets and the obviously insurmountable obstacle of her fatness. The movie carries on this way for a bit, and then, at a small-town holiday celebration in a park, while seated at a picnic table with her two slim and attractive new-found friends, a man comes over to the table and gracefully, respectfully, and adoringly, tells her that she is simply the most beautiful woman he has ever seen in his life, and asks if she will honor him with the next dance. In that moment, you see that he is right -- and that she was right all along. She is beautiful, she is special, and she does deserve to be loved by this gentle and lovely man.

This moment struck me very oddly and very strongly. It wasn't so much that the filmmakers skillfully took the prejudices of the audience, twisted them, and tossed them gently back into our collective face. It wasn't so much that they managed to show a rather subtle something about how people see each other by letting you believe, for a while, that everything you know is right after all, and then plucking your complacency from you like a flower. What struck me was that it worked on me. I sat in that audience, a big woman who knows she is beautiful, and I watched that character, a big woman who knows she is beautiful. And, until a man came along and confirmed it, I didn't believe what she insisted was true about herself.

So I'm not perfect. Big deal. It's not going to stop me from scolding Society and telling it to stand in a corner.

Or from getting laid.

Or from eating brownies.

Copyright 1993 Greta Christina. Originally published in San Francisco Bay Times under the title "Big". Reprinted under the title "Woman Eats Brownies, Gets Laid" in the anthology Looking Queer: Body Image and Identity in the Lesbian, Bisexual and Gay Communities, edited by Dawn Atkins, Haworth Press.

Note: I no longer have blue hair.


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