Here's a frightening thought: I'm average. I don't mean average in the when-my-mom-said-I-could-be-anything-I-wanted-to-be-she-sure-as-hell-didn't-mean-average sense of the word. And there are plenty of ways in which I am anything but average: I watch less than half as much TV as the average American--usually 2 hours or less a day, and not every day, and that's including things like Netflix and DVDs. I eat about twice as many servings of fruits and vegetables on a good day than does the average American—and lately, most of my days are good days. I run more miles in a given week than the average American does, but I probably run fewer miles than the average runner (this week, I'll do 20). I spend fewer hours at work, but work more hours at home. I weigh more. I read more, and I certainly read more poems. Some days, I swear less, some days more. I likely joke about drinking more but actually drink less than average. I probably own fewer pairs of shoes but way more t-shirts, thanks to my mom, who sent me home with a trash bag full of her castoffs this past Christmas (thanks, Mom!). The list goes on and on, and I'd be willing to bet that it all basically evens out to average.
But here's the thing I learned today that surprised the hell out of me: my dress size? It's average. It's true—I'm somewhere between a 12 and a 14 (and there is, I've learned, a huge amount of space between those two sizes, which basically means that nothing I own fits me), and more than 50% of American women wear a size 14.
There are a couple of troubling aspects to this. First of all, while size 14 is the most common dress size of the American woman, it is the least common size found in stores. Isn't that fun? I no longer wear plus sizes (yay, me), but I also have difficulty finding clothing in "regular" stores. And this is apparently the case for more than half of American women. No wonder so many of us hate shopping. I was going to add a link or two for the stories about this phenomenon (and about the size of "plus size models" a.k.a. "size sixes"), but there are seriously so many of them that I ended up following link to link to link this afternoon. Google it if you want, but don't say I didn't warn you. It's overwhelming, and led my husband to ask, "Why are there even separate plus size stores, anyway?"
Second, while I am now average, I'm also still obese—not just overweight (I have 20 – 25 pounds to lose before I get to earn that great honor) but obese. Please do not misread me: I am kicking ass, but when I started working out, I needed to lose about 140 pounds, although I'm glad I never thought about it in those terms because it totally wouldn't have happened. But this is a process, and, if I’m going to be healthy about it, a long process. Even if I had chosen to have some sort of bariatric surgery, it would have been a long process, requiring mental adjustments that are much more difficult than the physical adjustment. But that doesn't change the fact that I am both average and obese. That frightens me.
I'm also 100% responsible for my actions. I'm not fat because Frito-Lay has figured out how to turn on our various salt/fat/crunch receptors (which they totally, totally have) or because I never had the nutritional education to know what I should be eating or because no one ever told me that maybe watching seven hours of America's Next Top Model while eating an entire bag of jellybeans was a bad idea. (For the record, it's not a bad idea. I'm pretty sure you can burn off all those calories just by laughing at Tyra Banks demonstrate how to "smile with your eyes." For the other record, I am totally capable of eating an entire bag of jellybeans, and in far less than seven hours. Especially if there aren't too many white or pink ones in there.) I know—and have always known—what I need to do. I just haven't often felt like doing it. The past year has been an anomaly, one that I'm expecting to become the norm, one that currently feels like the norm, but an anomaly nonetheless for now.
But, all that said, I don't think it's asking a lot to want the media to represent actual women—overweight women who are not the brunt of the joke (see Mike and Molly) or who can be funny without the humor having to be about their weight (*cough* Mike and Molly *cough*); women who are not the prize for the geeky/handsome/rugged/old guy in whatever movie you want to watch; women who don't have to remove their glasses and/or take down their hair in order to be worthy; women who are neither magically asexual soccer moms (how did they GET those kids, anyway?) nor purely sexual, brainless, boring beings placed on the planet for the sole purpose of making some man feel more like…well, a man. Women whose lives do not revolve around clean grout or clean clothes or cleaning at all. Women who have sex, and like sex, and love their children and have hobbies and careers and who sometimes—God forbid—do things just because they want to, and not because it's some sort of treat or guilty pleasure or whatever. We need women who can just eat chocolate because they want some fucking chocolate and not because they "deserve" it or because they need something with which to punish themselves later. Women who don't feel the need to justify every glass of wine or pretend that their femaleness rests in how many purses they own.
Again, it's easy to blame other people for this, specifically men. And it's true: if the men who say they are feminists start standing up for women, things will change much, much faster. But it's also us. We do not have to make excuses for our moods or our desires, but we do. We don't have to spend any time at all talking about whether we were "bad" and ate a brownie or "good" and ate broccoli. Because, guess what. Brownies are fucking GOOD, and the fact that we eat one—or eat half a pan of them—says nothing at all about our worth as human beings. But we qualify our actions, especially when it comes to food, all the time. We need to stop. We need to be OK with the decisions we make, and we need to make those decisions more mindfully than we otherwise might. We need to take care of ourselves on the most basic of levels. For me, right now, that means maybe not eating half a pan of brownies on my own. It means running four days a week, cross-training one day a week, and doing yoga on the other two days. It means being aware of what I'm eating and making conscious choices, choices which, by the way, are likely to involve some kind of pizza this weekend and possibly a brownie sundae because apparently I'm obsessed with brownies at the moment, but which also involve vegetables and whole grains and a whole lot of water. It means taking a nap when we need a nap and doing something else when we need to do that. It means pursuing careers that we love, or choosing to stay home with our children because we love that. It means choosing to be with people (be they our spouses, our partners, or our friends, and—this should go without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway—be they male or female) who make us feel fine about ourselves. People who support our efforts and comfort us in our failings. People who brag about us, people who both compliment and complement us, people who encourage us to stretch. People who build us. And that—all of it—starts with us.
But until that becomes average, my friends, until that kind of self-worth and self-acceptance becomes the norm, average is going to suck for a hell of a lot of women. I suspect that I'll be having an easier time finding clothes long before the average American woman—myself included—has an easy time finding comfort in her own skin.