Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Body Issues: A Brief Rumination on my own Butt

I'm going through my clothes right now and giving a way a lot of my old t-shirts. They're actually really awesome (if you guys want, I will take pictures, and if you like anything you see, I will send it to you) but they're a) black and b) mostly too big for me to tuck into my jeans comfortably. Yes, I know, baggy t-shirts never go out of style, and believe me, I'm keeping a couple of them, but on the whole I do not wear them as much anymore, so I see no reason to keep them. I'm phasing the black out of my wardrobe, ya'll.

So, I've also got a ton of shorts, and I refuse to keep those that are too tight to wear comfortably in the near future, so I'm trying them on. Yes, a few really don't fit. I may not agree with What Not To Wear's shaming tactics, but Stacy and Clint were right in one thing: don't buy stuff that don't fit with the secret promise you'll get slim enough to fit.

I'm wearing a pair right now, which is kinda tight, but I can button and zip it up, so I'm keeping it. I don't care how short it is. My bedroom has a wall mirror, so I stood up to see how tight it is. And for some reason, I had a memory surface.



My dad's younger sister. Auntie Honey, and I used to be somewhat close. She was the Cool Aunt. You know, the single, free-wheeling, fashionable aunt. Which I guess I am now to some nieces and nephews. She took me on a couple of trips before. On one trip, with two of her girlfriends, we went to a nice hotel in Melaka and she hated the fact that everything I bought was green so she took me out shopping and bought me my first halter neck and wrap skirt.

We were in the hotel room, getting dressed for the evening dinner.  For some reason she was telling me about what guys liked, and told me to turn around, so she could assess my butt. I was wearing a green shirt, and an old pair of trousers which were part of the uniform my brother wore to school (yes, that dirty green that is part of government school uniforms in Malaysia).

She shook her head sadly, "No... no [Jha], your butt's not nice."

I should mention at this point in time that I was eleven (or twelve) when she said this to me.

The introduction to patriarchy comes at an early age for many young girls. It comes from surprising places; I thought my aunt was my ally. While I did grow up surrounded by media images of attractive women, this was my first direct criticism of my body as not up to conventional standards of attractiveness.

I would continue to resist this standard for most of my high school years and sometime past - I wore jeans, a t-shirt, and a long-sleeved shirt over the t-shirt (filched from my brother's wardrobe) whenever my friends and I went shopping. This does not mean I was an out-and-out tomboy; for special occasions, I wore skirts and formal blouses, and had a handbag to match. I bought my first pair of heels aged 15. I looked frumpy most of the time, to the head-shaking of my best friends.

My resistance is not part of some rebellion; it is borne out of laziness and lack of priority for my physical attractiveness. I had good skin and never aspired to look prettier than average, so I was quite content with what I had.

I would like to say I was never under pressure to be pretty. My mother made fun of my taste in clothes ("so old"). My best friends told me I should dress up more ("you're so gorgeous when you take the time"). The university newspaper once had a picture of me (my back to the camera) in the column that existed to show candid shots of people whose fashion style the writer didn't agree with. Unsurprisingly, most of the people featured were women. I hadn't been reading the school paper at all, and would have missed it if my friends hadn't gotten angry on my behalf. (Incidentally, I knew the writer of the column; we had taken classes together.)

I can, however, clean up, very well. This is a statement of fact, and true of many, if not all, women: given a bit of effort, we could look gorgeous. I model as a hobby, and have modeled nude for free and for pay. I may not be conventionally gorgeous, but I can turn heads when I feel like putting in the extra effort - five minutes of makeup does the trick. Unfortunately for critics, I only do so when I feel like it, and it's not a high priority in my day-to-day living.

Going through my shorts, I looked at the mirror to see how well they fit, how snug they are. So, my butt's not the conventionally attractive kind, not the round pert ones that one might see in fashion and glamour magazines. I slouch a lot so it doesn't really always support me either. It has also been spanked by boyfriends, photographed and drawn by artists, and complimented on by various people.

I have my share of body image problems - I loathe to model nude right now because of my perceived flabbiness. I have clothes ranging from size 4 to size 10 (this is more annoying than it sounds). Sometimes I stare at my face and wonder why I bother.

Nonetheless, when I was eleven, I was told, my butt's not nice.

Today, fifteen years later, I can tell myself, it is smokin'. And no one can take that ownership of my own body away from me.

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