Food Is For The Birds

 

Suraya 31. 
 
As far back as I can remember I have always thought of myself as being the “fat” one. I was born in Jamaica with three sisters, me being the youngest. My sister Mary and I were closest in age, only a year and half apart, and my mother had us together everyday. Practically raised us like twins but there was always a distinguishing fact between us: she was skinny and I was chubby. My mom would dress us alike and introduce us to others and the first thing people would say was “Mary is so pretty and Suraya is so chubby”. As I got older, I got taller and my weight increased. My sister on the other hand, got more beautiful and thinner. What I hadn’t realized was that my weight increased because of my height not because of an increase in body fat but I did not see that when I looked in the mirror. I saw someone who was morbidly obese compared to my tiny older sister. In high school I wore boy clothes three times larger than my actual size. I covered as much as I could and played the “ugly duckling” role for years.
 
My family migrated to South Florida, where we lived in a Jamaican populated area. The boys were attracted to girls who had large breasts and large derrieres. In high school I had neither and although my breasts were growing, I always had them covered. I was told many times by people around me that I was shaped like a white woman because I had no ass and my new nickname throughout high school, apart from nerd, was “nosatall”, which means “no ass at all”.  It was during high school that I realized I was different and would forever be different and accepted my “fate”.  At least the one I made for myself, which was I will always be the fat ugly chick.
 
I was always active in high school, as I played sports, but that only brought on more ridicule from my gorgeously thin sister who would call me thunder thighs because of my involvement in tennis. I would diet quite a bit, always trying something new to see what worked with my body and what didn’t. I went on a rice diet, an all meat diet, no meat diet, only water diet and then the worse of all, an all you can eat and vomit diet. I hadn’t realized how badly I feared getting any fatter until I got pregnant at 18. I was already fat but now I would get even fatter and disgusting by carrying a child. Most women abhor the thought of morning sickness but I embraced it and loved it, especially since it didn’t happen before breakfast but just after dinner, not-self induced. When the morning sickness went away I was devastated because that meant I would now hold in all that I shoved in my mouth. That is when I started my all fruit diet. During my pregnancy, which lasted only seven months, I gained fifteen pounds, five of which I lost at the very end because I was diagnosed with Preeclampsia and I started to not eat anything at all due to my sodium levels being so high.  
 
I believe the media has always influenced the way I viewed myself as well as others, but for me it was more of a “what I would never look like” type of thing. I know my bone structure and how my body is built and I know that I will never be a Victoria’s Secret model nor will I ever be as thin as my sister. I also know that I will never want to look like the actress from Precious because that would definitely bring on suicide. My cultural background also plays heavily in how I view myself. When visiting family back home the first thing that is said after hello is, “you put on weight eh?” I would cringe and will cringe at those words every time they are said by aunts, cousins and even grandparents. No one wants to be the fat one in the family and for those that are, they are the butt of every joke.
 
I haven’t really given much thought of how others see me. I just know how I see myself: tall and somewhat fat. I know that I am not obese but I could stand to lose some more weight or at least tone up. Have I overcome my negative self-image? Not sure I have because I have no clue what a positive self-image is. Will I wake up every morning and look in the mirror and not see something I would like to change? Probably not because I know I can never be as perfect as I would like to be. I have not and do not intend on seeing a therapist because Jamaicans do not see therapists. *smile* I cannot say the way I look has always determined how I feel but it does play a part at times. I have told myself in the last few years that it matters not what people think but what I believe about me that makes me great. Does that mean I will start stuffing food down my throat and allow myself to get bigger? No. It just means that I care what I look like when I look in the mirror. If I like me the way I am, then others will and I can only accept that.
 

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Copyright Ark Stories 2011

Mikaya Heart: Allowing Myself to Look Like Me

 

 

 

 

Mikaya Heart is an award-winning author and a coach in the art of being
fully alive.  www.mikayaheart.org

I am a 59-year-old woman. As a teenager, growing up in Scotland, I wore make-up, dressed up, and worried constantly about looking good. Then when I was 19, in the seventies, I became a hippie and overnight I stopped spending so much energy on how I looked, wandering around happily in an old jacket and worn jeans. It was a great relief not to be spending so much time, energy and money on my appearance, particularly since it had generated a lot of attention from men, which was frequently difficult to handle. Interestingly, I found that men were still attracted to me when I ceased to obsess about my looks; and they were much more the kind of men I liked, men who were actually interested in me, rather than just wanting to have sex.

A few years later, I started making love with women and came out as a lesbian. I identified as a butch dyke, which meant I usually wore my hair very short, and never wore a skirt. Nowadays I sometimes feel like that is a dress code to which I don’t want to adhere but in the eighties it was great. Within the lesbian community I really claimed my body as my own and completely stopped worrying what other people thought of my looks. I just embraced myself the way I was, and I am really grateful I was able to do that. I escaped the beauty trap, accepting that beauty is an inside job. I don’t know that I would have been able to do any of this, though, if I were not naturally self-confident. I wouldn’t wish it to be any other way, but over the years it has certainly required courage to be so nakedly myself in a world that has a limited view of how women should look.

Strangers often assume (without thinking about it) that I am a man and although I really don’t care, it tends to be difficult because other people are so embarrassed by their mistake. Don’t get me wrong: I like being a woman, I just can’t see why it matters if I am not immediately recognized as female, and I don’t consider society’s obsession with gender as my problem. The severity of the issue and how much I am affected by it varies geographically. It’s easiest in the San Francisco Bay Area, where many women look like me. In other places, particularly in Brazil, I’ve been harassed going into women’s toilets and I’ve had very unpleasant experiences on public transport in Muslim countries where women are afraid of sitting next to someone whom they perceive as male.

In the US, my apparent age is more of an issue for me. My hair is gray and I have spent many years working outdoors, without taking good care of my skin, so my face is very wrinkled—‘weathered’ is what people say when they want to be polite. Since most women of my age are trying hard to look younger and I am not, people tend to assume I am in my sixties. It’s a problem when I am kitesurfing, which is my favorite pastime, because the other kitesurfers on the beach think that I’m going to be a liability. Once they see me out on the water, jumping higher than they can and making it look easy, they treat me very respectfully. I am always torn between wishing they had treated me respectfully to start with and delighting in the fact that I have blown their stereotypes to smithereens.

Although I am not into being traditionally attractive according to media standards, I do enjoy playing around with the way my body looks. I have tattoos—a dragon on my arm and a snake on my back—and I love to use henna to create red stripes in my gray hair, so those factors mitigate being seen as an older person (and therefore infirm, although of course no one would say that to my face and would certainly never say it if they knew me). When I am traveling alone, which I do a great deal, the tattoos and the hair say something like: here is an interesting and different woman who can take care of herself. The people who are intrigued are the kind I will probably get along with; those who dismiss me as weird are exactly the ones I don’t want to know. Nevertheless, although I can rarely be bothered to work at changing my appearance in order to ‘fit in,’ I am aware that how I look sometimes alarms people. But how we actually look is only one aspect of what we are projecting. There is the physical body and then there is the energetic body, which people pick up on without even realizing what they are doing. I am a peace-loving person, with benevolent energy, and that makes me acceptable in places where I might not otherwise be welcome. That is not just a matter of luck—it’s a character trait I have deliberately developed because life would be lonely if I scared everyone away.

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Copyright Ark Stories 2011

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