The women I work with are on a diet again. They are both beautiful, hard-working women who were recently away on well-deserved vacations to their respective home countries. Finding themselves relaxed and happy, they each gained 10 pounds that they’re now struggling to lose through The Soup Diet.
The Soup Diet operates on the same principle as all diets, a careful menu of choice and denial. You are allowed to eat as many times as you want, all day. But when you do, you have to eat vegetable soup. You can imagine how exciting the lunchroom is. All of a sudden my bulk-store baggies look like a banquet.
They’ve both got the love handles I love to hold onto. They’ve both had children and I’m envious of that: their kids, their breasts, their belly scars. They look at me and sigh, “If I had your body I would be so happy.” Were we born to want what we don’t have?
People say I was blessed with a good figure. Like everyone who was, I have my own equivalents to the “weight issue.” I have the “bad skin issue,” the “body hair issue,” the “uncool issue” (which means that no matter what I wear I never look cool).
People ask why I hide a figure some women would kill to have in baggy clothes. My mother always said, “What are you embarrassed about?” every time I chose 32s instead of 29s. It wasn’t an issue of shame, was it? It was about comfort and protection, choosing when I wanted to be looked at and when I wanted to be ignored, by girls and boys. Choosing to take up more space in the world than my body naturally grants me.
I realize my self-image is tainted. I grew up trying to strike a balance between how I wanted to look and how I needed to look to get through life in Scarborough. In my 26th year, I am only starting to settle into a style that reflects me instead of hiding, shouting or shaping my sexuality.
My younger sister and I, with our Guyanese genes, are scorned around mum’s family. In that context, we aren’t thin or slim, we’re skinny like alley cats. It is desirable in my Italian family for children to be chubby. If you’re a girl, you diet like mad and complain a lot about your weight when you grow up. My mother has been on 200 diets since the day I was born. As far away as she ever gets from Paris, she will always be on the cutting edge of diets.
You are served at Italian meals, which means you always get too much. The more you eat, the better you love, and the better you are loved by whomever made the meal. It is the height of rudeness to leave anything on your plate. There are hidden cameras in the olive dishes. My grandpa will yell at me from across the table, “What’s the matter with you? You only had two slices!” This is why my wife is always slipping her leftovers under my arm.
My sister and I are both vegetarians, revolutionaries on my mother’s side. We are an insult to tradition, a display of ingratitude. “The only time we got food like this was when we were dying. You kids have no idea how good you have it.” So, because they were denied, we should choose to live in absolute excess, spite the universe until it destroys us.
I often think that my being queer, more than my genetics, saves me from struggling with weight. It keeps me away from glamour magazines and other media in which my reality is ignored. I think I even see being thin and model beautiful as a straight thing, which doesn’t mean there aren’t thin, model-beautiful queer women, just that those qualities, like many female stereotypes, are not revered in the queer community the way they are in the straight world.
I wonder if queer women are more accepting of their bodies than straight women, or if we just trade in “the weight issue” for other things? As a group we spend an insane amount of energy on our hair. Maybe hair is the new weight.
I remember one of my straight friends talking about how lucky I am that I’m allowed to have ugly days as a queer woman. Totally insulting, but at the same time I knew what she meant. Among queer women I feel more allowed to expose the parts of my body that are stereotypically ugly. It’s not that we’re allowed to but that we allow ourselves. Queer people run queer community — queer men dominate things but they don’t give a shit about what I look like. Straight men run the rest of the world, which means that straight women are subject to their expectations every day.
We live on a constant diet of choice and denial. The trick I guess is to choose what denies you the least. Which is why I argue that being queer can be a choice, and that choosing it doesn’t make you less of a lesbian; it just makes you smarter.