Kobayashi Maru

“Puffy-faced” Ashley Judd laid the proverbial smack down on critics recently, to which I responded from the other end of the cyberverse with a hearty punch to the air and a resounding “in yo face bitchez!”

From this, was a haunting reminder of a similar issue I have tangoed with all my life.

The female body.

Growing up in the Caribbean, the “coca-cola bottle shape” reigned with sensuous superiority.  As with Latin America, parts of Europe, and other splashes on the global design, curves are synonymous with fertility, vitality, passion and lure. All the things that make a woman womanly right?  Wrong.  All the things that make a woman more of a thing, or a ting and less of the influential woman that she is, atop those sturdy legs of hers.  But it took me a while to learn this.

Cursed with the blessing of a high metabolism, lanky limbs and ectomorphic genes, I have spent the majority of my life being a twig.  Scrawny, “magga”, flat and toothpicky, and generally deemed unattractive by my male counterparts.  Compounded by very short hair, I spent most of my early teen years being mistaken for a boy.  In a society that drilled into me that I just wasn’t “womanly” enough, I ate the fattiest of foods in hopes that I would somehow develop the curves that would ascend me into this private club of bombshells stupifying men with the faintest twist of a hip.

In these years, I migrated to Canada. Now in North American territory, I was surrounded by girls who starved themselves in order to become “sexy.” WHAT? But I– What the hell was going on.  I spent all these years trying to get “thick” and now you tell me I should be thin??  And not just thin! Meatless. Buttless. Thighless.  You show a smidgeon of curvature and you are FAT!

Swimming through the murky waters of the physical female identity, I spent years learning that the checklist of qualities a woman must have changed faster than a stripper working double duty.  Hair this length, this colour. Serum to make eyelashes that much longer.  Boobs big, waist small, the ideal form being presented to us by a Mattel factory belt.  36-18-33.  Do they know that Barbie can’t stand up on her own?  Oh wait, of course they do.  It seems that this is what they want.  Docile, attractive arm candy, that needs support to keep her upright.

In my own quest for Adonis status, I have discovered strength.  Muscle mass, toned physique, abs, hamstrings, biceps.  My relationship with the Body, and the female form, has led me to decide I want to represent myself physically, the way I feel mentally. Which is what we of the fairer sex tend to do anyway, with fashion, with grooming, a first impression is all that much more important for us, than it is them.  I have found a harmonious relationship with fitness, where I can develop curves of a different nature.

Until I hear, “Oh my god, she looks so manly.” More criticism, yay. There are many women who tote the motto that Strong is the new Skinny.  And without fail the critics come running in to bash women with visible muscle definition, calling them “unfeminine” and “manly”.  I didn’t realize men were the only ones with muscles.

If you’re curvy, they’ll find something wrong with you.  If you’re skinny, they’ll find something wrong with you.  If you’re muscular, they’ll find something wrong with you.  We just cannot seem to catch a break.

I have come to realize the only way to win at a game specifically rigged to see you lose, is to walk off the field.  Removing oneself from the equation. I’m going to keep lifting these weights. I will finally feel just as strong outside as I do inside.  And if they have a problem with me, I welcome them to come say something to my face.

I doubt they will.

‘You mad, bro?’

tweeted once that there was no upside to being a non-white female under 40. Put another way, white men over 40 are unlikely to have had to deal with any of the following situations:

– “Of course they hired you! You’re a poster-child for diversity!
– “Excuse me, when is the tea being served?”
– “I hear you on this, but…”
– “So when next are you going back to [insert name of Caribbean island that is not actually person’s country of birth or domicile here; if in doubt, default to Jamaica]”
– “You should be grateful that…”

Etc.

Yet the most frustrating/soul-destroying part of the non-white female under 40 triumvirate is contending with the angryblackwoman stereotype. A stereotype that means any opinion, any dissenting viewpoint, any suggestion, any email, any comment, any expression at all – no matter how innocuous – by members of this cadre risks being interpreted as “disrespectful”, “rude”, “cold”, “combative”, “non-cooperative” or the ever-popular, “hostile”.

This in addition to the adjectives commonly applied to women who lead or manage – all of which may be summed up in another word: “bitch”.

And in addition to bodies of research that show, definitively, that women are penalized for speaking up or appearing to be ambitious, for asking for salary increases.

(Then, of course, there’s the other end of the gaslighting spectrum: “You’re so sensitive. You’re so emotional. You’re defensive.” Further excellent reading, featuring the oft-forgotten observation that ‘privilege is revealed more clearly to those who don’t have it’ from Hugo Schwyzer, here)

To quote a  commenter at the Atlantic (in the context of a particularly infuriating piece on Michelle Obama):

Imagine if every time you said anything, someone said “you mad, bro?” I imagine being a powerful black woman involves pretty continuous trolling of that sort.

Because, yes, exactly.


A version of this piece first appeared in the Galavant Times.