This post was written in the summer of 2012. Although I hate Mayor Rob Ford, I have to hand it to the man; he must really have a strong sense of self to not get himself down over the very open disdain most Torontonians hold for him.  I wonder if my ego would take that kind of repeated assault over and over again, especially that whole business with his weight-loss.

I was always kind of a chubby kid and, when society started make me conscious of the fact that this was not the way to be I decided to exercise and, essentially, begin dieting.  This has led to a life where I rarely get through a day without at least having the notion weight sail through my mind’s seas.  This seems kind of depressing when expressed, but it’s a concern that I work to push through, taking from it what serves to make me healthy and striving to leave behind the parts of it that lead to obsession and self-loathing.  Many of us deal with similar mental struggles; young women are brought up in a society where nothing less than perfection is accepted.  We have many emotional battles to fight.

Just the other day I was sitting in a Yorkville cafe, near my work, being kept company by my (closed) USMLE Step 1 review book and being kept entertained by watching passersby through the window.  Yorkville is an interesting place to people-watch because everyone who struts by looks like they’re trying to find their way to a fashion runway, but got lost and then walked into Holt Renfrew, and then into Starbucks and now they’re back to looking for the runway they’re supposed to be walking down.  Everyone is wearing an outfit that probably costs more than my student debt and, most of all, it seems that everyone is skinny.  

That day, however, I contemplated my surroundings while sipping my coffee and I thought, while observing a fashionably, particularly stick-like woman, we’re told that that’s the body that all women should live in, regardless of profession, personality or personal health history.  We live our lives obsessing over how to squish our own shapes into the size of clothes that woman wears, giving little thought to the organs, tissues and vis medicatrix naturae, or life force, that actually lies inside each of us.  As I marinated in this little personal revelation, I took another sip of coffee and admitted, She looks nice, fashionable and healthy and maybe that body shape is good for her.  However, there are many shapes of beautiful and I don’t think that shape is good for me.  

I leaned back in my chair and felt the contentedness of having released part of a great mental burden.

Fast forward to a few days later:  I give my class a speaking and writing assignment partly to kill time, to foster creativity and to improve their language skills, especially writing, which is always abysmal.  I have each group generate a list of 10, random, unrelated words and then hand the list over to the other group, who must create a short story using all the words. As a class activity, it actually worked out quite well.

However, one of the groups, headed by a stronger student, who has a rather witty, yet dark sense of humour, created a story featuring, you guess it, me, their teacher.  Sometimes I enjoy the limelight of teaching, other times I shy away from it, passing the buck onto the students, which actually works to their favour.  Most of the time, however, I appreciate working with other people and getting to know these interesting students from a variety of different countries.

This incident, however, made me want to revert back to a student hiding in the back of the classroom.  The gist of their story was that I, Talia, am invited to a party but can’t go because I need a new dress and I can’t find a beautiful dress to fit me because I’m too fat.  Urgh.  On the outside, I figure it must be a joke, an attempt at being funny.  They just didn’t realize what a loaded word fat is for me. I laugh it off, correct some grammar mistakes and make a joke about it.  I know deep down that most jokes resemble some form of truth and on the inside my emotions resemble some kind of amusement park ride, beginning at shock then surging between anger, down to hurt and even lower to despair.

It’s not the first time someone else has openly criticized my body.  Each incident, while stinging at the first impact, can usually be cooled off with some deep breaths, body work and a few self-loving affirmations.  However, it does deepen the contempt I have for how women are viewed in society.

From being lectured by a professional exerciser and dieter for Women’s Health Week at CCNM (she was supposed to discuss body image and the media and instead focused on the existential importance of jumping on a trampoline and limiting grains to rid the body of that “unsightly” stomach pooch) to being the recipient of comments about people who eat healthy but don’t look it, it’s no small wonder that the word weight has set up permanent neural synapses in my brain and, most likely, the brain of every other woman who has ever lived in society.  Why is it our job to please those around us by conforming to the correct societal ideal of the times?  Is it not enough to be fit, happy and healthy?

So while I wait for the next person to deliver a blow to my apparently fragile ego by pretending they know something about me by judging by the size of my behind, I will be sitting in a cafe, philosophizing about body image and maybe, just maybe, feeling a little bit of extra sympathy for Rob Ford.

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