Monday, October 20, 2008

Come out, come out, wherever you are.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m an advice column reader. I’m fascinated by people’s issues and what sort of solutions are proposed to them by both the columnist and (if the website has comments enabled, a’la Salon) readers. For better or worse, I tend strongly toward trying to solve my own issues, which…has…worked out so well? *ahem* Anyhoo, I read Carolyn Hax in the Washington Post and this particular nugget caught my eye:

Part One and then the follow-up (thank Christ for posting it the same day as I’m stumbling through trying to express my thoughts): Part Two

Read it and then come back. I’ll wait.

I’m of two minds on this particular subject, which in and of itself is quite vexing at present. On the one hand, I’m super-annoyed in general by the “oh sweet lord God you don’t mean to TELL ME…THAT SHE GAINED WEIGHT?!?!?! *trumpets of doom*” tone from both Carolyn and the letter-writer (let’s just say the letter-writer would not be a winner-winner-chicken dinner in my book with his need to emphasize just how HOT his fiancée was and the lackluster tap dance of “well, it’s not the ONLY reason…HOT!”). Carolyn’s is, of course, playing the Concern Troll. But on the flip, I’m kind of feeling the “presenting a false front” angle. I understand the irritation—NOT the primary reason he wants to jettison his fiancée, but the irritation at being hornswaggled, PLEASE NOTE in glittery text and fiery exclamation points. I swear I will get to the fatness angle eventually (you know it takes me 18 hours to arrive at a point – pack a lunch). I feel it with women who intentionally present themselves as less intelligent so as to appeal to men—a friend of mine called it her “cute and stupid” persona. I much preferred it when she’d use her far more interesting and honest “smart and wicked sense of humor and still remarkably adorable” persona (thankfully, her honest self won out when she met her husband – they’ll be celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary on Halloween). I feel it with men who gamely trail behind their wives/girlfriends at various activities or events that they’d much rather not be involved in, but feel like they “have to”. I mean, maybe I’m pie-in-the-skying, unrealistic and dumb, but if my Imaginary Boyfriend didn’t like the Cure, I’m not going to demand (either right out front or passive-aggressively) he go see the Cure with me because I’m a damn grown woman and I can go to a goddamned concert by myself. Or I can go shopping by myself. Or I can go to the movies by myself. Or any number of activities that my Imaginary Boyfriend might not be interested in, and vice-versa. To me, that’s logical and fair. In my head, I would have enough in common with my Imaginary Boyfriend (I really should give him a name one of these days) that we could unite in doing the things we both like to do and not have snitters over doing things on our own or with friends that does not include our partner. However, my learnings from the internet, advice columnists, and hearing tales from my friends who have non-Imaginary spouses/partners would tell me that there seems to be no place for my logic. Personally, I would find it weird and wrong to pretend to be interested in my Imaginary Boyfriend’s hobbies/activities if they weren’t compelling to me. If I pretended to be super into spelunking simply to attract a mate, imagine how fucked I’d be when the time came to don my helmet with the shiny light on top and receive the request to belay somebody. It would be a sad day at the cave, my friends. A very sad, tragic day.

But to get back to the OMG FAT BRIDE thing for a mo’’s a tough friggin’ sell in my book to screech “I didn’t get what I bargained for (i.e. my fiancée didn’t stay what I consider to be HOT)” and put on a show for sympathy, no matter how hard Carolyn's on board with his boo-hooing. When I think about whom I might marry one day and all the things that might change about him physically or personality-wise, I think finding out he bricked his pet cat into the basement wall or he had a shoebox full of heads of women that he was acquainted with and had meticulously carved out of photographs that he would then paste onto centerfolds from porn magazines and masturbated to every day* would be a much bigger dealbreaker than him putting on 40 pounds after engagement-ringing me. But the brawl between those who think it’s acceptable to lose their shit over their significant other putting on pounds and those who think that attitude makes them superficial jerks will rage for all eternity. The only thing any of us can hope is that we stay as far away from those men and women and let them impose their regulations on each other.

But then it makes me think about other shit, about men and women tiptoeing around what they look like, particularly in the online dating universe. It’s fucking nerve-wracking as hell winging up photographs of oneself on a dating profile, let alone pictures that are in focus, not taken in shadows, and not cutting oneself off at the chest line so as to minimize what one imagines being one’s worst “flaws”. I spent quite a while deciding what pictures I was going to put on my various profiles floating around the ether. The most important thing to me was being up front about my appearance, and I realized I’ve always been like that. Way way way back when, when I first got internetting, I was a weekend fixture in the X-Files chatroom on AOL (I’d say...1995-ish, perhaps). I didn’t have internet access or a PC at home, so I’d truck out to my parents’ house every weekend to “visit the parents” but mostly to bullshit with online friends about "The X-Files". A fellow took something of a shine to me and I was quite frank that I was a fat girl. The one thing I remember the most about the entire silly situation was his insisting that I was lying in order to “test” him or that I was exaggerating when I said I was built like a linebacker. It pissed me off that he was insinuating that I was trying to garner sympathy by being the sad clown fat girl or fishing for compliments somehow because I was simply being my special brand of honest. I don’t like surprises, and I don’t like surprising others (except with, say, a Hallmark card or a Tower of Treats from Harry and David). So my pictures at my dating profiles feature how my face double-chins when I smile, my semi-slouchy posture, my belly, my smallish rack. I’ve only one picture where I’m wearing make-up because I rarely wear it. I don’t want to come away with a story where I wind up meeting a guy for tea and the first thing I see is his face falling at the sight of me. I want to screen out fellows that aren’t down with my appearance. And I don’t want to bullshit someone into thinking I look like someone I’m not. I understand the fear men and women have. Christ, do I ever. We all want to appear like the most fabulous cats to ever walk the earth. But if you’re going to kick off a potential relationship with fear-based fudging, what good is that? Where’s the honesty in it? And it makes me think: what else aren’t you telling me? What else am I in for?

Look, I’m absolutely a huge proponent of the inner being more important in the long run than the outer. I would hope whatever man that might dig me would be hot for my brain and my carcass. But I’m not willing to hide myself or disguise myself because that is what we are told to do every single fucking day. All of us, not just the fats. The message is clear every single day that our basic selves, with the zits and the rolls and the receding hairlines, will not do and that we must change, change, change in order to meet that ever-elusive standard of “good”. Instead of aspiring for that mysterious good, I’d love for everyone to show themselves, and show themselves without the self-deprecating commentary (“uggh, I look terrible in that picture/it’s 50 pounds ago/I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep the night before/I’m so old”) that we’re conditioned to throw down.

Show yourselves.

(in comments, even!)

*true story...(didn't happen to me, but to someone I know)


April D said...

My own personal take on the silly advice bit was that Groom was a Shallow Jerk and couldn't figure out a "nice" way to dump his old Hottie for a new Hottie. But whatever. As you said, that debate over bringing up weight gain and attraction in relationshipos might well wage for eons.

But I wanted to post a resounding HUZZAH for your simple advocation to "Show Ourselves"! In the spirit of such honesty, here is a recent picture of myself that I use online :)

Anonymous said...

I can't figure out how to post an image on this thing, but this is the "real" me. I don't have one that shows the whole body, or even upper body, but this is how you'll see me every night when I'm at home. This is the every day me.

You know me, you know who I'm seeing, and I'm sure you know he's not got that Brad Pitt body, and I couldn't care less. A girlfriend who's no longer a girlfriend, however, went on and on at me for about an hour about how I could do better than a "fat" guy.

I'd never even considered that as an issue, because its his mind that makes me attracted to him, his personality, his humour, all the good stuff.

I wouldn't care if he gained weight, lost his hair, or lost weight, and grew his hair longer than mine, its irrelevant and should always be irrelevant.

And in return he doesn't care about what I perceive as my faults, and doesn't care that I've gained weight since we first started seeing each other.

If you love someone the weight gain shouldn't ever be an issue.

As for your side issue about concert going and whatnot I agree with you, having separate hobbies is healthy and good, as long as there's enough in common so you still spend time together. My pet peeve in relationships is the henpecked husband who obeys commends at the snap of the wifes finger. I could never live with a man that doesn't argue with me, and blindly bows to my wishes. BORING.

And this post is already too long, so I'll stop here.

I admire your ability to be you, and just you, and be totally honest about who you are, its an amazing trait, and takes great strength.

WickedOne said...

The thing with that guy in the advice column is that one day, he will get what is coming to him.

When I first started on-line dating, I had no pictures of me on-line. I was upfront that I'm not little, and that if their version of "curvy" was JLo, they might want to move on the next ad. But some guys just did not get it. It's like you wrote, it was like they thought I was "testing" them somehow or trying to get sympathy cos, oh hai I is fat.

Seriously, wtf? I only want to be with someone who likes me, warts and all, for who I am.

wrymuse said...

It seems like you and I are very elusive creatures. I have the same distaste for people who pretend to be something they're not, just to snag a significant other. With my husband, I laid it all out on the line from day one. Everything from my fat ass to my dislike of organized religion and my non-desire for children. I see the rest of the world playing games, setting traps, starving themselves, disfiguring the great people they are just for a good time and it makes me sad. I'm happy to say I have one of the most healthy and normal relationships going on five years now.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely hate it when women play dumb in order to get a guy. It's part of the reason I was without a guy so long in high school and college. I refused to play that game. My mom always stressed that I should be myself and that if guys didn't like that, that was their problem. I never pretended to be dumber or got skinnier or any of that. There's no way I could squash my natural sarcasm in order to make a guy feel special. You're with me're special.

And I sure as hell don't want to drag Spud to everything. I don't want him up my crack 24/7. I wouldn't bring him to a bead show and I sure as hell wouldn't go skiing just to make him happy.

I do understand the fraud angle here but at the same time...I have to wonder if what this guy says is really true? That he loves her not just because she was HOT! He spends more time bemoaning that than really worrying about her health. I think this guy's motives may be suspicious and maybe he's perpetrating some fraud here as well. Maybe they need to sit down and have a serious discussion as to what they want and expect from eachother as a married couple. Maybe they don't know eachother at all.

And as I get older, I am more concerned with just being healthy and maintaining my health than being a SIZE. I'd rather look good in clothes that are the size I am then try and fit some ideal of what size I should be and trying to push myself into a smaller size just because. I'm healthy, I'm cute, I'm smart. That's enough.

Kelly said...

I'm not sure how gaining weight is equivalent to pretending to be something she's not. It's not like she was wearing a corset until he proposed.

Carolyn's automatic assumption is that she dieted herself into thinness deliberately to "snag" him, and then "let herself go" once she had him entangled.

Couldn't be that her metabolism changed, she started taking new/different meds, her exercise routine changed. Or that she's eating differently for any number of reasons.

He says she says it's "contentment weight" whatever that means. Not sure if she quit dieting, or she'd been under a ton of stress that's now gone, or what.

I find it kind of messed up to assume that a guy is "owed" a woman with a certain body and that if she steps off the treadmil or eats something other than a carrot stick, she's an evil person for deceiving him.

There's no pretense or lying here. She wasn't pretending to be thin--she was thin. Now she's not. If that's a deal-breaker for him, better that she know it now than later.

Anonymous said...

This is why, before I got married, we talked about how I didn't expect to lose a significant amount of weight for the foreseeable future. We even tweaked our vows to reflect that our bodies were okay the way they were and neither of us expected the other to lose weight / grow taller / become shorter / etc.

Re: the Hax article, if it had been "she quit smoking and gained weight" or "she started on the pill and gained weight" I'd have more sympathy for her. But "I have a man now so I've gained weight" seems ... odd. If this is your normal weight, why weren't you at it when you were dating?

Anonymous said...

I can speak from the perspective of someone who used to do this - from perhaps an interesting angle. I used to pretend that I didn't like all of the things that girls were "suppsed to" like, in the interests of being more attractive. I used to hide the fact that I liked makeup, and never wear it; I used to keep mum about my affection for shoes and handbags; I used to discuss my love for sci-fi, but not Grey's Anatomy.

I only gave it up four years ago, because I realized that my choices were either to keep pretending, and hiding a piece of myself for the rest of my life - or to be honest, and if that meant that the people I liked didn't like me, well, I'd rather put on my eyeshadow and carry one of my ten handbags and be happy.

It was only once I'd taken the plunge, though, that I realized that this was a better way to be. Before I was so focused on chameleoning myself into whatever shape I thought the object of my affection would find pleasing to see it - but now I'm wholeheartedly on the side of - happiness really comes most from honesty. Does it mean you'll never be disappointed or heartbroken? No, but it means that when you do find happiness, it's much more likely to stick!