A Requiem For “Cute”


I had a hot flash on the Green Line a couple of nights ago.

I say this because I need to own it. A hot flash. Like – sweat pouring down my back, face on fire, felt like I was gonna hurl – hot flash.

I don’t get them often. I’m not full-blown menopausal…yet. But I’m pushing it, you know? I’m 45. Things are dropping, drooping, and drying out. Also, now, evidently, heating up, although not in a way that I at all enjoy.

I’ve been joking about the chin hairs for a while now. I have a pair of tweezers in every handbag I own. But with the introduction of hot flashes into my world, it’s time to admit that I am not a young, cute thing anymore.

And when I say this, folks, it’s not to invite an outcry of “BUT YOU *ARE* CUTE OMG STOP!” Because listen – I am 45 years old and I left “cute” somewhere back in 2007, and even then it was getting a little threadbare. “Cute” is no longer in my wheelhouse.

When I say I’m not “cute,” I mean that I am making a conscious decision to leave it back in the early 2000s or whatever. Maybe even back in ’95, truth be told, around the time I was still wearing, like, mini-kilts and carrying a Hello Kitty backpack….to GRADUATE SCHOOL.

I was faced with my not-cuteness not too long ago, when I was introduced to one of my husband’s coworkers. She was cute. I was….well, I won’t go so far as to say “matronly,” but I was rocking a semi-mature look that day. Big comfy sweater, stacked heels, tasteful jewelry. And I was feeling moderately okay about myself up until that introduction. Then I immediately felt like a dowdy, dumpy she-beast. I looked at her calf-high boots and her sassy little dress (Size 4, maybe? 6, tops?) and suddenly felt as if I’d outfitted myself in a pup tent purchased for half-off because it was the display model. And I wanted to slink away muttering “Bargon wanchi kox paa, Solo! Hoo hoo hoo hoo…

I had to ask myself WHY – when I am ordinarily so pro-body-positivity and adamant that I should not be comparing myself to other women (particularly women who are a good 10 years younger than I am, because that shit is just not fair) – I immediately start in on the self-hate. Yeah – I know it’s conditioning. It’s practically hard-wired and/or arguably some kind of Paleolithic instinct to size up another woman as “competition.” Or something.

And this is when I have to remember AAALLLLLLLLL of the times I’ve looked back at pictures of myself at various ages and remember that, at every age, I thought of myself as a monster. 13. 15. 18. 25. 36. 40. And when I look at those pictures now, I don’t see what I saw then. And it’s like, I don’t want to have to be 60, looking back on myself at 45, and doing this EXACT SAME THING ALL OVER AGAIN. I’ve spent entirely too much time saying things to myself that I would never dream of saying to my closest friends. That has to stop.

But let’s get back to “cute.” I am not claiming it for myself anymore. I am not going to feel BAD because this isn’t what, or who, I am these days.

There’s a poem by Louis de Paor in which there’s a line (an cailín a bhfuil áilleacht an bhróin ina gnúis) that translates roughly to: “the girl in whose face is sorrow’s beauty.” This is something that I have claimed for myself, as DRAMATIC as I know it sounds to some people. But fuck it; this is what has replaced “cute” for me. It has rung particularly truthful in the past few years, as crisis after crisis has knocked me on my ass. For a time I was looking at myself in the mirror and thinking how HAGGARD I looked. I’m not haggard; I am goddamned beautiful from sorrow and stress and uncertainty. Radiant, even.

But cute? No. And that’s okay.

Dressing Room Breakdown


I went shopping yesterday for that most annoying and yet necessary wardrobe staple: “the little black dress.” This is always something of a challenge since I am not entirely hourglass shaped. My hips are just wide enough that I have to go a size higher than would fit my top half, and it causes all kinds of agita in that dressing room, let me tell you. And I don’t need to get into the bleak lighting in those places that throws every little dent and divot into painful prevalence.

So there I am, feeling shitty about myself, feeling shitty about feeling shitty about myself, when I hear a pair of women similarly berating themselves.

“All my FAT bunches up over the waistband.”
“This makes me look DISGUSTING.”

And I couldn’t help myself. I stood in my little stall, half-dressed, and burst into tears.

I’m 42 years old. I have a fair amount of that “wisdom” stuff that invariably comes with age, and a good number of years of being sober. I am fortunate enough to have worked for the same theatre company for almost 20 years now. I have a little theatre company of my own; we’re puttin’ on a show in December. I’m in a band where I get to wear ridiculous wigs and plays some of my favorite music in the whole world. I am pretty well-read, I’m a homeowner, I have a husband who sometimes empties the dishwasher and frequently tells me how beautiful I am. I KNOW I don’t have the body I had 20 years ago. I would not live through my twenties again if you PAID me. I also have the self-awareness to realize that if I lost 10 pounds, I’d need to lose another 15. And it still wouldn’t be enough. I emerge from my yearly physical with lovely and perfect numbers in terms of cholesterol and blood pressure whether I’m 125 pounds or 145 pounds. I am healthy. I just don’t happen to go to extreme lengths anymore to make my body conform to a standard of “beauty” that it cannot possibly (and naturally) maintain.

And yet a dressing room immediately renders all of that null and void. I’m right back to being a chubby 7th grader. Conversely, I see an ex-boyfriend with his 20-something “lady friend” and immediately feel like a FAT AND DECREPIT OLD HAG. Really. There’s no happy medium on days like this. Sometimes I am just not fit to be out in public.

I don’t write this so I’ll get a whole bunch of ego-stroking comments both here and on Facebook. Please don’t tell me I’m “skinny.” In the first place, I’m not, and secondly, “skinny” is not a compliment. This is something I’ve struggled with my entire life, it’s something that I’m going to continue to struggle with, and I’m just having it out here so I can go and get some damn breakfast and get on with my day.

That all being said, would it KILL some of these places to have better lighting in the dressing rooms?

The Skinny.


There are some things on the internet I wish I could UN-see.

I’m not talking about “two girls, one cup,” or just about anything else that comes with that NSFW warning.

I’m talking about Skinny Gossip.

If you follow Reddit, or Jezebel, you already know about this. If you don’t, here’s the Reader’s Digest version of what’s been going on over the past week or so: Skinny Gossip purports to be a community of like-minded women who are doing the internet an enormous favor by providing a much-needed “snarky counter-view to a culture that glorifies excess consumption.”

How do they do this, pray? By attacking other women who are happy with themselves. By posting their pictures and eviscerating them without their knowledge or permission.

Take, for example, their feelings about Kate Upton:

Huge thighs, NO waist, big fat floppy boobs, terrible body definition – she looks like a squishy brick.

and Lindsay Lohan:

Gross! – her boobs are big and porny, her stomach bulges in all the shots, her thighs, hips, and butt are chunky, and she has zero body definition. Even her back looks fat!!

…and this about a “plus size” model:

I’m really glad I can’t read the number on that measuring tape.. eww…can we say fat rolls!? Do you have any idea how much someone has to eat to look like this?

I sat there reading all of this vile, bilious nonsense until I was literally shaking and crying. It brought me back to every afternoon at the playground, or on the bus, hearing the girls in my class tell me how disgusting I was. It brought me back to an afternoon in seventh grade – before I had to switch schools because of the ceaseless bullying – as I stood in line for kickball. A group of girls were staring and snickering at me as one of them asked me when my baby was due, because my stomach stuck out so much (this same girl sent me a “friend request” on Facebook years later, which I politely declined).

Aren’t we supposed to be PAST this kind of middle-school bullshit?

The creator of the site has been frantically trying to defend herself and her “community” since the rest of the internet caught on:

I was a shy person growing up, so it seemed like fun to have an alter-ego where I could say things I’d thought but never said.

Well, this just explains EVERYTHING. “I’m shy! The internet lets me say what I want!” Listen, sweetheart, a lot of us bloggers are shy and/or have social anxiety issues; it’s why we choose blogging to express ourselves. But there’s a difference between expressing your beliefs (Americans eat too much, we need to be healthier) and attacking people who didn’t ask for it (OMG that model gained 10-15 pounds…what a fatass!).

As a thin person, I was also annoyed by our double-standards around weight. For example, people think nothing of telling a thin woman – to their face, in front of an entire group of people – how skinny they are and even to suggest what they should eat.

On this point, I actually agree. Body-shaming is something I try to be conscious of at all times. Telling a thin woman to “eat a brownie” is every bit as insulting as calling a heavier woman “a cow” (which you have done, as recently as last week).

But I’ve never seen the reverse happen to an overweight woman.

Really? You’ve NEVER seen that happen? This is so patently absurd I don’t even know where to begin. You’ve never seen it happen, so you’ve taken it upon yourself to make sure that it does. Bravo. Your parents must be so proud.

I have had my own issues around food and eating, both personally and in my family…

Then WHY – for fuck’s sake – are you writing this stuff?

But again there is a terrible double-standard: “big beautiful women” sites on which people exchange recipes for 4,000-calorie cheesecakes don’t seem to unnerve the social critics the same way we do.

Perhaps it’s because BBW and other body-positivity sites (at least the ones I frequent) aren’t bashing other women for loving themselves as-is. Just a guess.

We have never supported illness or self-harm.

Guess what, cupcake? When you call other women “disgusting,” when you have tags like “thunder thighs,” “fatties,” “thick,” “vulgar” – all in reference to other women – YOU ARE SUPPORTING ILLNESS AND SELF-HARM. And don’t tell me I misunderstand your intentions or am taking your words “out of context.” You are a bully. Period.

Not that any of you will listen to me about what’s counterproductive, but calling every skinny person anorexic doesn’t do sick people any favors.

Fair enough, as I’ve said. Now apply this sound reasoning to what you’re currently doing by ripping apart women who don’t fit your standard of beauty. Not all thin women are anorectics. Conversely, not all women who are carrying extra weight are lazy, vulgar, or unhealthy. Got it?

She goes on to detail changes she will be making to the site, effective immediately, such as removing the “Starving Tips” section, adding links for support with depression and eating disorders, and explicitly prohibiting the promotion of “self-harm.” Good. That’s a start.

I do not intend to visit this site again. I have my doubts as to whether or not the fat-shaming will cease altogether, and I don’t need to trigger all of those horrible memories again. I don’t need to sit in front of my computer crying because I cannot believe this is still going on. It has taken me decades to come to some kind of understanding and acceptance of my body. I have starved, taken laxatives, over-exercised, and engaged in the same kind of bashing (of myself) that I found so incredibly repulsive on that site. I don’t need to go there and see women comparing other women to barnyard animals. I prefer to surround myself with women who accept me exactly as I am, who are doing amazing and creative things without worrying if their upper arms are drooping. I prefer to visit sites where healthy lifestyles are promoted without bashing others. I prefer to see young women taking a stand against unrealistic standards of beauty. This site does none of those things.

I was once a size 2/4. I was miserable. When I decided to stop being miserable, when I decided to stop obsessing over every single thing I ate, I was no longer a size 2/4. And you know what? I’m okay with that. My blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol levels are exactly the same now as they were when I was a size 2/4. So kindly don’t tell me I’m promoting an “unhealthy lifestyle” by saying IT’S OKAY IF YOU’RE NOT A SIZE 2.

Here’s what I’m promoting: I love myself. I am beautiful even if my teeth are crooked and my thighs rub together. If you don’t like the way I look, fine. If you want to post my picture on your “thinspo” website and pick me apart, that’s fine, too. I don’t care what you think about me. But don’t eviscerate other women and claim it’s social commentary. Have the balls to call it what it is – bullying.

“The reason you’re so upset, I’m guessing, is because you are fat…”


The above quote is from a comment I received several years ago, in response to something I’d written on my old blog regarding the glut of pro-anorexia (also known as “pro-ana,” or “thinspo”) sites. I took issue with these sites, and expressed my belief that they were dangerous, detrimental, and for the most part quite mean-spirited, despite what they all seemed to say about being a supportive community of like-minded people. I got responses ranging from polite assertions that I “didn’t understand them very well” (absurd, considering my own well-documented struggles with addiction AND body image) to insults like the aforementioned, which only served to further prove my point.

These sites are still around. Twitter and Pinterest have only increased their visibility. I’m not going to link to any of them, because they don’t need the traffic, or the attention.

Understand, here, that I have no problem with people who want to be healthier, and track their progress online. Many of these sites are undeniably inspiring, such as my friend Sheryl’s. Sheryl lost weight gradually, healthily, and along the way learned very valuable life lessons, which she has been brave and generous enough to share. The difference between Sheryl’s blog, and the many pro-ana sites that I’ve come across over the years, is a true spirit of self-acceptance, and JOY in discovering what the human body is capable of when treated well, and respectfully. Starvation is not respect. Depriving your body, brain, and spirit of the sustenance they need in order to function, in favor of some arbitrary number, is not admirable, nor is it emblematic of some superhuman display of “willpower.”

Years ago, I read an article by Mimi Nguyen. This quote has stuck with me ever since:

Who has the luxury…to go hungry…and for whom is hunger not a strategy but a normative condition, the way they exist from day to day?

Nguyen was questioning the validity of hunger strikes as a form of protest, but I do think it’s applicable in this case as well. For the pro-ana set, food’s only interest lies in how little of it they need. It’s only interesting if it’s been refused, or studiously ignored.

Here’s the thing: they have the luxury not only of having ten dollars in the first place, but also of getting to choose whether or not they’ll spend it on food that day. The homeless woman panhandling in front of the 7-11 does not have that choice. I think that once you come to understand the “politics of hunger,” as Mimi put it, you realize how hypocritical it is to starve yourself to prove a point.

People who actively starve themselves continually decry the rampant gluttony of Americans as a whole, and while it’s arguably a valid observation, I find it hard to take coming from someone for whom starvation is just as self-gratifying as buying and eating a bag of potato chips is for someone else.

I question the motives of a group of women who claim to be supportive of one another, but turn around and mock other women who are comfortable with themselves exactly as they are. Because in addition to the photos of thin women they post as “inspiration,” there are an appalling number of photos of “plus-size” models, or – worse still – candid shots of regular women they use as (cleverly enough) “reverse thinspo.” Basically, they are saying: “Oh my God – look at how disgusting she is.” And while I have innumerable issues with pro-ana websites, this is probably the thing I find the most abhorrent, demeaning, and downright evil.

When I first talked about this years ago, I honestly did not expect the vitriol I got from the pro-ana camp. Now? Bring it. Tell me I’m wrong, tell me I “don’t understand” you, tell me I’m fat. I’m not wrong, I understand you better than you think I do, and I frankly don’t give a shit if you think I’m fat or not.

You want to starve yourself, fine. But don’t you dare bring other women into it without their knowledge or consent, particularly if your intention is to berate them. That’s not being supportive, that’s bullying. And it is far uglier than any body type you’re trying to avoid.

Of whales, mermaids and botulism…


The latest viral essay circulating around Facebook is called: “Would You Rather Be A Whale, Or A Mermaid?” A poster in a fitness club (and the fitness club in question is either in France or here in the States depending on which version you read) allegedly asks this question of its members (and potential members). The essay goes on to enumerate the many good qualities of whales while pointing out that mermaids, you know, don’t actually exist.

And, because it is currently going around Facebook, it’s getting reactions ranging from “OMG so true! Repost if u agree!” to “U fatties just need anuther excuse too stay fat.”

Supposing for a second that this poster actually exists, it’s a pretty stupid marketing strategy, and yet it’s plausible, because self-hatred is big business around here. We live in a society where botulinum in your bacon is cause for widespread panic, but it’s perfectly fine to stick it in a syringe and shoot it into your forehead. Perhaps that’s a simplistic view of things, but I stand by this example. People will do some pretty insane things to themselves to be wrinkle-and-fat-free, because we’re conditioned to view the human body as something that needs to be pounded, pummeled and poisoned into submission.

I go to the gym several times a week, and try to be mindful about what I eat. But the fact of the matter is that I am a woman in my forties with a genetic predisposition to be, well, “hippy.” To be a Size 4 I have to basically starve myself, and that’s not me waxing dramatic, that is a statement of fact based on personal experience. Severe caloric reduction makes me mean and obsessive, and triggers my mania. I am working very hard to rid myself of years of criticism and verbal abuse that I would never in a million years inflict on a loved one, and yet had no problem with dumping on myself. It’s a really tiresome way to live, and allowing myself to be the weight I’m supposed to be is still pretty new territory for me. It’s liberating, and aside from quitting drinking, it’s also probably the healthiest thing I’ve done for myself.

And yet because my abs aren’t flat and defined, because I have a tummy and because my upper arms wiggle a bit when I’m feelin’ particularly gesticulatory, there are those who’d say I’m “unhealthy” and in denial about just how unhealthy I am. In point of fact, my doctor consistently calls me “ridiculously healthy,” and save for a tendency towards anemia, my bloodwork reports really should be framed and hung on my living room wall. They’re that awesome.

But the larger point here is that I still hang onto some shred of belief that we can promote healthiness without resorting to self-harm, self-hate, and body policing. Body policing – we’re all guilty of it to some extent. We do it when we tell someone who’s underweight to “eat a sandwich.” We do it when we snark that someone really shouldn’t be wearing something that we don’t consider flattering. We do it every time we apologize for eating something, or explain to everyone within earshot why we’re NOT eating something. We do it every time we resent someone for the space he or she occupies. And I suppose you could say that I’m doing it right now, by questioning those who go in for the Botox. We do things, wear things, because they make us feel better about ourselves, so where’s the harm? But again I ask WHY we have to be “perfect,” if we’re already healthy?

“Perfect,” like mermaids, doesn’t exist.