The Public Body and Extempore Expressions

Were you at The People's Party or Queerosphere on Thursday night before BlogHer?  If you saw the chick in the turquoise wig and the red silk corset, that was me.

I got a lot of comments on the costume (all the Comtesses did, though we were missing our Empress and not whole without her), most of which were some variation on, "I love it!" or "What are you guys dressed up as?  It's so fun."  

One woman approached me twice.  The first time she said, "Look at your waist.  It's ridiculous!"  Later it was, "And your waist - we're just not even going to talk about your waist."

I couldn't do much other than crack a flustered and probably slightly psychotic smile and stammer, "Uh, ah, well, uh."  Being in a bathroom full of strangers it felt appallingly rude to say baldly, "I write an eating disorder blog," though that did occur to me after the second comment the woman offered later.  I certainly didn't want to say, "Hey, thanks!" because the idea that my body (and by extension myself) is only worthy of notice if I'm a certain size is exactly what I'm trying to train myself to back away from.

If I'd bluntly described my blog in response to what was superficially a compliment (and a dig at her own body), it could have been perceived as unspeakably rude to make her feel embarrassed by her comment, or it might have opened up a dialogue about parsing and commenting on other people's bodies.  Don't know now, since I didn't speak up.  Regardless, while I did tell people who asked that I blogged about eating disorders, I wasn't up to doing so in front of a bathroom full of strangers during what was otherwise a pleasant conversation.

The problem, of course, is that without someone speaking up in the moment and saying, "I'm not sure you realize that you've just reduced my body to my waist line, and I know you don't realize how that gets into my head," no one who isn't already aware of the problem will learn to examine the way they think about bodies, and the way they speak about them.

It was an unguarded duo of moments for this woman.  She was the only person the whole night who commented on my body, rather than on the costume.  That she was is actually incredibly heartening to me.  But aside from the other Comtesses (who heard both the remarks, and one of whom actually exclaimed, "Are you serious?!" after the first one), I have no idea whether the other women who heard the comments thought them at all unacceptable or unfortunate.  They were both of those things, though I don't believe she said them with any malice.

I didn't get the sense that it occurred to her to analyze her words.  "Your waist is ridiculous."  "We're not even going to talk about your waist."  I realize they're colloquial expressions, but they have meaning, and they were coming out of the mouth of a tipsy gal, so, ya know, in vino veritas.  Ridicule and shunning, applied to a body part.  Not what she intended, but what so many people do countless times a day without even realizing it.  We reduce people to their waistlines or their legs or their breasts, and to us they become subsumed by the body part.  This process is nakedly apparent in unguarded or spur-of-the-moment exclamations and interjections.  Hopefully at some point I will develop the social grace to handle these things in the moment.  But I'm certainly not there yet.  I'm still at the deer in headlights stage.

Well.  It's good to have goals.


  1. I think the thing that most astounds me (and, frankly, disappoints me) about BlogHer is that, with ballrooms full of talented, thoughtful, articulate WOMEN WHO WRITE, the small talk is still ridiculously looks-focused. I would LOVE for there to be a party/movement next year where the ONLY socially acceptable thing to say as you introduce yourself to someone is "Hi, I'm ___, what do you write about?"
    What. You're the one who said it's good to have goals.

  2. LOL, yup, definitely good to have goals.

    That disheartens me too, and it's why I was so pleasantly surprised to get comments on my corset and GlamKitty's skirt (which she sewed herself, as you know). It was really the minority that night who had anything to say about bodies, rather than the costumes the bodies were laced into.

    It was hard to turn a corner without some discussion of who lost or gained weight, who looked good or bad, etc. I don't think I'll be going next year, so I won't be able to construct such a party, but... I wish everyone luck in putting their social energy in a different channel.

  3. I don't have an eating disorder and it makes me wildly uncomfortable when people reference how small I am. I just am small. I've always been small. I don't know how to respond to comments about my waist or my height or my feet or hands. Really, I just want to say things like, "And I'm interesting, too!" or "And I have a brain!"

  4. PF, I'm so confused. Do you mean you're not totally summed up all in whatever body part it is that draws comments???

    Cattiness aside, I know people usually mean these comments as compliments to the person, or at the least, as digs to themselves that are complimentary to the person as an afterthought. But that's the problem. It shouldn't really be a compliment to me, because I certainly shouldn't have a nearly-fully laced [redacted]-inch corset.

    A tangentially related thing that bothers me is something else you've mentioned before on your blog: the phrasing around what "real" women look like, as in, "real women have curves," etc. So the minute I'm not curvy, I'm not a "real" woman? So women who are naturally small (such as you and another of our Comtesses) aren't "real" women? I really hate that. It's just another form of body shaming.

  5. dude. the hair looks AMAZING!!! you need to dye it that color for real. or wear that wig all day every day!!

  6. Sheil, you aren't the first to say that! I'm kinda like, "... What is the probability that I will have to go to a business meeting as SOON as I go turquoise?"

    But I do totally love it.


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