Curves & The Body Police

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I do not know and generally  never know my exact weight. Only do I know my exact weight when a scale has been planted by someone in the path of my everyday domestic life; that is next to the sink in the shared bathroom of one of the flats I shared in at university or in front of my mum’s wardrobe. Alas even without steady use of the scale to provide reference, I know from the sheer percentage of my clothes that I no longer fit into (my preferred reference) that I am the heaviest I have been in a long long long time. I am definitely the heaviest I have been since entering university and I am now 23 (‘We are already in our 20s? Well that escalated quickly’ –you can fucking say that again).

Historically I have always been on the thicker side but during the first two years of university, a deliberate personal campaign to be frugal and healthy saw me eat less and notably better (turkey meat and even more flipping turkey) and move more. (I walked everywhere regularly with shopping bags serving as very effective weights). Being 6ft, it wasn’t long before I got a bit of an idealised ‘beach body’ going on (boastful? What is this ‘boastful’ of which you speak?). My experiences of being both thinner and thicker have allowed me to experience first-hand the different levels of societal policing of women’s bodies.

Being thinner opened me up to a whole new easier and less judgemental plane of life. It is clear to see that society has strict and blah rules regarding what women should and should not wear. These rules and stern judgements grow ever more constricting as the theoretical woman’s waist expands.  Upto this point in my life my wardrobe had always been what could be described as “categorically safe” in terms of being ‘provocative’ (to whom exactly? And why has the bastard made it my problem?). As a lover of fashion the new freedom was exhilarating, suddenly sheer tops and short shorts became viable members of my wardrobe.  I was able to just put on clothes without any thought as to how they addressed the bulges and lumpy bits. If a top fell short, it simply fell short. There was no need to stress about the view being deemed offensive. For the first time since puberty I could just put on skinny jeans without worrying about pairing them with a top long enough to cover the curves that didn’t quite fit in (read muffin top). In addition, what I really found really amazing and liberating is that with my new-found skinner frame I no longer had to navigate what I can only describe to be the prison of overt sexual attention from certain men,  imposed on any woman that dares to show curves. I could put on my short shorts and sheer top and head out, comfortable in the knowledge that more likely than not, I would not have to deal with men basically. Men and their stares, men and their comments, men and their attitudes.

As a curvy teenager I remember feeling intensely jealous of friends in summer with, how should I say it, more boy-like, more high-fashion model – figures. They could wear clothes and seemed to be largely unbothered by men and had full societal acceptance to show their body.  I felt then as I  do now, having returned to London and regained weight, that although my diet is back to being unrestricted, my liberties are back to being rationed.  Understand that I am a black woman in the UK, and understand that compared to the average white female in the UK, my liberties were restricted to begin with (as you can imagine therein lies a whole other series of blog-rants).

Having quite quickly regained the weight and deviated from such an idealised state, what has most bothered me hasn’t so much been the change of my actual body, or my literal reflection (the now even chubbier cheeks and developing double chin are trying to test me but it is what it is). Instead it is having to deal the external bullshit that accompanies being a thicker woman.  As you get larger as a women it does not seem enough for society just to quietly bow out and politely not fancy you. A brief run on tinder will really bring home just how little a loss it is to not have the majority of the male population fancy you (– like cue the world’s smallest violin, seriously.) No…still they want to shout it from rooftops both metaphorically and in truly fucked up situations… literally; they want to insidiously imply in advertising that places of leisure such as beaches are not appropriate places for you, which common sense and just a quick look at the beach culture in other countries (including many European countries) confirm to be utter bull. The amount of effort that goes into stopping the thicker lady to be happy and comfortable in herself on the beach, train platform or rave enrages me.

What enrages and saddens me further is that I constantly feel and catch myself bowing down to the pressure of those very bullshit rules in a bid to be taken seriously, especially as a thick black women. The “categorically safe” wardrobe is back.  I recognise that the oppressive over-policing of the thicker bodies, especially thicker black female bodies needs to be aggressively protested and addressed to be overcome. However, but in my everyday life, as the girl at the bus stop or on the dance floor, feeling the intense heat of male gaze, I am not always strong, confident and fearless enough to be an effective martyr – which is draining and alienating. So whilst I build up my resolve, my writing will serve as my protest. I write in order to make that first step needed to overcome a problem – to say and reassure the others, no it is not in your head, and you are not overly sensitive – there is an insane pressure to ‘cover’ up the lumps and bumps in order to be pleasing, in order to not offend. The assumption that thicker women should ‘adapt’ or ‘adjust’ their wardrobe is policing. It is an external and internal policing of your body and sense of self-worth, and this treatment of thicker women, especially the thicker black woman is not okay!

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