Achieving a happy Medium

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The conference in Atlanta, true to my pessimistic prediction, sucked. It was all aimed at academic librarians. And all of the presenters were academics.

Now, I loves me some professors. If not for them the academic humor genre wouldn’t exist.

If you have not read Portuguese Irregular Verbs, by Alexander McCall Smith, then you must. You must. You must. It is the funniest book ever. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books. It doesn’t matter if you think 44 Scotland Ave is slow paced or if you think the Sunday Philosophy Club books are dull. You must read Portuguese Irregular Verbs. You will thank me, preferably with cash

PIV is, arguably, funnier academic humor than Lucky Jim. PIV is, without argument, shorter than Lucky Jim. It is a novella. Stop making excuses. Go read it.

Back to professors. They are funny people, funny in a good way. They’re great for conversation. I have no bias against professors. Why, some of my best friends are professors.

But those profs still trying to achieve tenure are forced to go to conferences and present sessions. Sometimes they happen to be passionate about their presentations. (Who wouldn’t get off on digital archiving?) But sometimes you can tell they’re just trying to beef up their CVs. And even if they are passionate about using wikis in a staff environment, it’s nearly impossible to turn that into a 45 minute talk. It’s ten minutes of pertinent info and half an hour of fluff.

So I’m sorry to report that the conference was a waste of my time and your tax dollars, but let me relay the best bit of news, something that made it all worth it:

We got free hoodies. They say “Think Digital.”

Okay, that’s neat, but not something to get super excited about. Here is the super exciting bit:

When I walked up to the table, the lady glanced at me and said “Smalls and mediums are over there.”

I have entered the land of mediumness.

Holy crap.

I’ve been wearing Large and XL for years. (I’ve always been pissed at XL. It’s not just large, it’s extraordinarily large. Fuck you, too.)

My ample gazongas mean that I have to wear shirts with a loose cut under the shoulders. My ample gazongas cause me no small amount of back pain and elicit unwelcome sexual comments from strangers. My ample gazongas get in the way when I’m trying to do a shoulder stand in yoga. We’re talking nipples in nostrils.

But despite my bountiful bosom, the person at the conference figured me for a small or medium. It’s because I’ve lost weight in other areas.

I’ve been dieting and exercising. (Don’t think yoga counts as exercise? Try holding an inverted triangle thingy for a minute, and see if you don’t get a little sweaty.) I’ve never been a thin person. I was chunky as a kid and I’ve fluctuated between acceptable and fluffy during adulthood. But these days I am the lightest I’ve been since middle school somewhere.

I’ve never thought of myself as an attractive person. (Personality-wise, sure, but our parents lied to us when we were young: People don’t actually care how nice or compassionate or smart you are. They care what you look like.)

I’m being facetious, you know. My favorite t-shirt, which unfortunately I can’t wear anywhere, says Fuck Your Fascist Beauty Standards. I despise the cult of thin. What’s important is that you’re happy with what you look like, and bollocks to anybody who gets hung up on appearance. At least, that’s the ideal attitude, but we can’t help caring what other people think. It sucks.

Do you know a woman who’s happy with her body? Some of us actively hate ourselves. Some of us are only moderately dissatisfied. But I’m hard pressed to think of any women I know who are actively happy with their looks.

Doesn’t matter if the woman is physically attractive or not. That’s irrelevant. Society has wired us to be dissatisfied with ourselves, regardless of what we actually look like.

Like I was saying, I’ve never thought of myself as attractive. (Still don’t, for the record. Thanks, Society.) Acne ruined my face starting in fourth grade and didn’t let up until assaulted with powerful drugs in high school. As an adult, even in my less pudgy phases, I’ve been sort of plain looking. Those rare times when someone would compliment my appearance, I figured they were A) trying to be nice or B) aesthetically challenged.

But now I’m a bit slimmer, which accentuates the gazongas even more, and I have spiky purple hair. I’m hearing more positive comments these days.

Unfortunately, the great majority of those positive comments come from ookey old men.

Listen up, gents, and ladies too: Don’t hit on the librarian when she’s at the desk. I will bend over backward to give you excellent reference and reading service. When you’re at the counter, I am your intellectual slave. I will be extraordinarily pleasant to you, even if you’re a big jerk.

Do. Not. Abuse. That. Relationship.

Want to compliment my hair? Groovy. It rocks, I totally agree. (Teen girl started our reference interview today with “Oh my God I love your hair.”)

Like my fishnets? Feel free to tell me so.

But me? My body? Verboten, kids, verboten.

I’m sure there are some dispassionate folks out there who want to innocently compliment an attractive person. “You look beautiful,” they might say, in the same way they say “Klimt’s Adele is beautiful.” (And they would be so right.)

But even with the most innocent intentions, the compliment is going to be perverted in the transmission. Women deal with unwanted physical attention from age 12 or so. It is almost always sexual in nature.

You say: “You look nice, though I’m a gay male and I can’t get an erection.”

She hears: “You are an object and I intend to sleep with you.”

Though they might not intend it, men can’t compliment women without sending sexual subtexts. It’s not fair. I’m sorry. But we can’t help inferring lust, because 99 times out of 100 it’s there.

It’s nice to be physically complimented in certain situations. If my friends or coworkers want to tell me I’m hot, that’s awesome. (They may be aesthetically challenged, but it’s awesome.) If I’m in a bar by myself and someone tells me I look attractive, that’s acceptable because it’s a bar and you go there for the purpose of finding potential dates, though this scenario is purely hypothetical because I do not go to bars by myself. Too many creeps.

I can’t speak for all women, but as for myself, I do NOT want to be told by a perfect stranger that I look good.

And whyever not?

Because it reduces me to a physical (and in all likelihood sexual) object. It bypasses brains and personality and skips straight into “maybe she’ll sleep with me” territory. That sort of presumption is intimate, and I do not appreciate casual intimacy from strangers. Even if the stranger is Jo
hnny Depp, I don’t want to be reduced to a sexual figure. I don’t want to think about sex with someone I don’t know. Sex for me (and for most women) is emotional; thinking about sex without an emotional and personal context is distasteful.

Okay, I lied, Johnny Depp can do what he wants with me. The rest of you folks need to refrain from commenting about my body, at least until you’ve learned my name. Maybe then we can talk. But you’re buying at the bar, I’m warning you.

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5 responses »

  1. I haven’t even seen your hair, Lesbrarian, but I think it’s awesome! (Spiky, purple, all good things.) I don’t mind personal comments at the desk, I’m fortunate to be plain enough that no one really wants to hit on me or anything like that, but I do refuse to wear a name tag because I just don’t feel patrons and I need that kind of relationship. I’ll help you all I can, I promise, and eventually, if I see you over the course of a few years, maybe we can learn each other’s names. But I cannot handle the "Hi, your name here, how are you today?" name tag-enabled encounters. So, clearly we all have our lines.And, incidentally, nicely done on the smalls and mediums. I’m happy with my body as long as I can fit in my current pants and therefore avoid new pants shopping, personally.

    Reply
  2. Hmmm. You know what I look like, Lesbrarian, and today I got all sorts of compliments from women AND men, because I was wearing a… a…. skirt! It’s almost Spring, so I had to wear a skirt to welcome the beautiful weather. Also, my pants are shrinking really bad, which is why I’ve started going to the gym in addition to the yoga (which I, too, love) and Pilates. I can assure you that none of those making compliments wanted to jump my bones. I think they were all stunned when they saw me and had to say something about my appearance. That was the first thing that came into their brains. Oh, except JM — she asked, "Are you going to a funeral today?" I like it when people tell me I look nice. If I hear it everyday for the rest of my life, maybe, just maybe it’ll make up for all the billions of times I was called Tentpoles, Jolly Green Giant, Stringbean, Frog, Ugly, Skeleton, etc. when I was young. I have to like my body now anyway. I spent over $4000 of my own money on it last year and all my sick leave for all my surgeries (no, not plastic surgeries. Real surgeries.) I’d better like it now, at that price. Cool on the Medium! People usually give me extra large t-shirts because I’m so tall. But I’m skinny! I take medium, too, and sometimes even they are big. (Hi Lisa if you’re reading this! I love my new nightshirt.)

    Reply
  3. I didn’t mean my comment to be so self-centered yesterday. Self-image is an important thing, and if it’s negative, it can really screw up your life. I let other people define how I looked for the first couple decades of my life (there I go, being self-centered again!), but no more.Being able to say "to hell with what THEY think, this is what I think or how I feel" is the goal. It’s easy to say that; it’s more difficult to feel it and live it. I suppose I could write the words that would make it sound like I"m commiserating with you, not because we share gozanga problems, but because of the idea that Society defines how we should look, and I don’t fit the supposed norm anymore than you do. But I can’t sympathize. There are billions of people that make up society. Each and every one of those people is an individual. There is no committee that makes up society, unless you decide that the advertising agencies of the world is the one you want to let define society. It seems as if you’re thinking of the tv-and-magazine-consuming society and comparing yourself to that societal ideal. You seem to assume that everyone else does. Many,many do, sure, but why do you care about them?? Seriously. Why? (Well, I guess because it seems they’re in the majority? But really, there are others out there who don’t give a shit as to what advertiser’s tell people to think looks "right." You know this. You don’t even watch or like t.v.)It’s natural for people to judge other people on their looks, which is what, I guess, you mean when you say strangers who tell you you look good "reduc[e you] to a physical object." At that point, when you are both strangers to each other, you *are* both only physical objects to each other. You look at the ookey old men and think "ookey old man," and he looks at you and thinks whatever. You don’t really know what he’s thinking any more than he knows what you’re thinking. After the reference interview, then you are not just physical objects to each other and he judges you on your competence and attitude and you may or may not judge him personally on anything, but if you do, you judge him on the rest of the interaction. It’s only the first couple of seconds or minutes that you both are a bunch of physical traits that are compiled in your brain by your past experiences and your views of society (whichever society you want to let influence you) into a stereotype. Why care so much about that first couple of seconds when you can extinguish it very quickly once you start getting to know someone? You don’t have to let all the "ookey old men" know you personally. But why let them and your perceived idea of what they are thinking mess up your day? It’s not worth it to give them that power over you.

    Reply
  4. The Queen of Claremont

    I don’t know…I have to disagree with your premise that all compliments have a hidden sexual agenda. Maybe it’s just b/c I am such an attention slut, but I like it when people tell me I look good. I mean, after all, most of us work at it – give me a break that you don’t; you whined about not being able to get a good haircut the entire time you were on this side – and a compliment to me is validation that the effort I have put into not just resorting to looking like a hag for the day has been worth it, b/c damnit, it IS an effort, despite the fact that I am quite the minimalist in my attempts to beautify! (Fuck you Grammar Police – I’m on a roll.)I agree that the ogglers are a pain, and I have been dealing with it a lot longer than you have – hence the fact that I refuse to wear shirts that say stuff on the front – but I do truly enjoy it when others notice and compliment me. Again, this may be left over from childhood when I was pudgy, had huge freckles, had curly hair when everyone else looked like Mary (from Peter Paul and Mary) and felt like a freak b/c I had to wear geeky clothes. I was desperate for anyone to notice me and tell me that I wasn’t the ugliest kid in class, and it didn’t happen until later in life.But perhaps it’s your youth that make you so suspicious of other people’s intentions. Once you hit my age, you’re damned glad to have anyone notice you, much less compliment you!It’s kinda like the time the King was complaining b/c some guy had been ‘giving him the eye’ in Ann Arbor – I told him to just shut up and take it as a compliment! It makes no difference who says you look good…just enjoy hearing it!I try very hard to return the favor to others, too. If I think someone looks hot, I’ll tell them so. (and you do look hot a lot lately!)(No sexual intent there).I have a bigger beef with the fact that some guys feel like I should tell them immediately that I’m married when they strike up a conversation with me. Fuck that – I’m still a human being,and can enjoy the pleasure of another man’s company without climbing into the sack with him.Lighten up, Miss JKR; don’t make everything a political agenda. Sometimes a duck is just a duck.Learn to smile when someone compliments you and say thank you. That’s the classy thing to do. If there is a sexual intent (unless it is one of the oogly old men), it just could be opportunity knocking!

    Reply
  5. Where to start? Where to start? Okay, let’s start with the body perception thing. Like most of you, I didn’t like my body when I was in junior high but that was my own damn fault. I found my dad’s playboy mags and thought, "hmmm. She’s hot. Wonder if I’ll ever look like that? And I’m not holding my arms up. That looks boring." It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s when I decided I liked how I looked, no matter what. All through high school I thought I was some ugly scut. A couple years out of college I found some old photos from HS and undergrad and I was looking at myself and I thought, "Damn. I was thin. My hair looked good. What happened to me now?" And then it hit me. I remembered how I felt about myself when I took those pictures. I thought "My hair looks like shit, I’m such a toad. I’m fat." And I stopped for a moment and realized that the way I felt NOW about those old photos was how I would feel five years from now looking at pictures of myself. And that’s when I decided I wasn’t going to let five years go by before I thought I actually looked okay. I decided to appreciate it NOW not five years from now. So however shitty I think I may look now, I know ten years from now, I’ll give anything to look like this. So I like me looks the ways I looks in the moment.As for smart remarks from the public re: my body or other distinguishing features. You should all know that I have a very large portwine colored birthmark over my left eye. I don’t notice it anymore. You probably do when you look at me, but I never see it when I look in the mirror. In fact, I consider it so much a part of my face that I hit the ceiling when the photographer tried to airbrush it out of my high school graduation picture and my wedding picture. It is part of ME. And as such, it is MINE and not for you to make remarks about. Unless I know you and you can make all the comments you like. If I don’t know you and you ask me if it’s a birthmark, I will say, "No. I was in a fight. And you should see the other guy." That shuts ’em up right quick. So. enough Sunday evening blather.

    Reply

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