Our daughter had her first-ever dance recital on Sunday, and from the costumes to the venue to the performances, the whole thing was quite impressive. Ballet, tap, African — you name it, these kids danced it. It put my fourth-grade class' production of "Melvin the Magnificent" to shame.
Anyway, I was sitting there feeling all proud for getting her involved in an affirmative, body-positive activity when an adult belly dance troupe came on. I instantly engaged in an ugly internal dialogue that my friend K. would say proves his theory that all women are broken — or at least crazy. Some of the dancers were large, and they let their bare bellies hang out in all their glory. Instead of thinking, "Wow, it's nice to see some women who aren't skinny but who love their bodies," my brain said, "Gaaah! Don't they know their stomachs are big? Why are they showing them to people?!"
I don't have a flat stomach. At all. I don't know that it's ever been truly flat, except for a few weeks after a nasty bout with mononucleosis in 1991. And it's not like my clothing size is at the petite end of the spectrum. So the fact that my judgment of these women was so immediately negative is appalling and embarrassing. It also showed me — again — how completely I've bought into Madison Avenue's screwed up idea of what the female form ought to look like, despite knowing better. Why couldn't I focus on what they were doing (which was dancing really well) instead of what their stomachs looked like?
My friend J. had a similar reaction once when looking at pictures of some plus-sized models. In her rational mind, she knew these women were, you know, models. But her first thought was, "Her legs are huge." Her second thought was, "OK, that first thought was seriously fucked up." You know the standard is warped when the insanely fit Beyonce — who is, what, a size six or eight, tops? — is referred to as being representative of "real" women. (What does that even mean? Are naturally thin women somehow not real?)
While I want my children to be healthy, I don't want to pass along this kind of crappy thinking. Young children tend to comment on people's size without judgment, but they learn very quickly that society has other ideas. The first time I heard my beanpole son describe another kid as "fat" — in less than neutral terms — I read him the riot act. Then he had to listen to my stories about being a chunky kid, and it all went downhill from there. I think it ended with him saying, "OK, OK!"
So maybe I'm saying all the right things, but I'm not thinking them. Maybe I ought to sign up for a belly dancing class.