Monday, February 19, 2007

Double-chins. DOUBLE-CHINS.

Cruelty has a human heart,
And Jealousy a human face;
Terror the human form divine,
And Secrecy the human dress.

The human dress is forged iron,
The human form a fiery forge,
The human face a furnace sealed,
The human heart its hungry gorge.

William Blake, "A Divine Image,"
from Songs of Innocence and Experience
Self-acceptance, when you're presented with or present yourself with the challenge of it, definitely happens in stages. Some aspects demand harder work. Some bits are much tougher to reach. Nothing ever magically floats away, dislodged by a phrase or sudden realization, however intense. Usually things are worn away, bit by bit, the occasional inspiration flaking off slightly bigger bits than normal. Things you do, things you say, things you see. Ideas that percolate for years, gestures that energize. Stuff goes away, comes back, goes away for good. Mostly.

As a fat girl accepting her fat body, I have been through a million cycles of self-acceptance, different over-lapping layered stages, and have found toward the "end" of it all (there is no real end: you figure out Fat--more or less--you get to Aging! There's always something) that the stubbornest set of challenges, for me, has been related to the human face. This makes sense. Faces are our body's currency, we carry everything there.

That is, although it's on the one hand by definition impossible, did you know it's also actually possible to pass, as a fat girl? At its root it has to do with not letting your body be seen in any way that challenges body standards, with a kind of deep-down Hiding (this is a whole other essay), but the key tool for passing is a thin face.

I am one of those folks who, fat or thin, has a basically fat face. Jowly, double-chinned. Fleshy. And my fat face means I can't pass--in person. Nobody ever looks me in the eye and thinks I'm small. Which is fine. I don't want to pass anymore.

But I used to. Then I didn't, but I still didn't want to do it at the "expense" of having a fat-looking face.'s just my face. There is something ruthless as well as sweet about true self-acceptance: what are you going to do, in the end, except accept? Love? There aren't a lot of ways to do this except to do this.

When we talk about faces and fat, on some level we are talking about photos. It's where you can hide, or try to. In my case, not only do I have a fat face, I happen to have the kind of face that photographs big, especially in candid: the fleshy parts move forward, the facial features retreat. I have fat friends with similar faces whose faces do the exact opposite. Being photogenic in that sense, I've come to realize, is as much a throw of the genetic dice as eye color or height. To a certain degree it's nothing you can control. I look at photos all day for my job and am well aware of how photos work/what they show/what they don't/how people's faces present differently. It's fluky. I once had to calligraph ex Illinois governor Jim Edgar's name on hundreds of photos and learned anew, looking at all those (bizarrely similar) images with his sharp jawline and prominent features, how much being photogenic plays into...popularity. Being dominant in politics or anywhere. Being seen, period. Being seen a certain way.

I've ranted here about this before, I think, but the point is that photos can lie, do lie, that's kind of what they're for, in their own very odd set of ways. They tell the truth, but by reaching for one version of it, they commit to the opposite, to the mystery of things they don't include. Being photogenic is one particular kind of lie. And I, beyond everyone's normal desire to be seen in a good light, certainly have flirted hard with the Big Lie that is not showing the Chins. Somehow this was the area where I couldn't completely make my peace with my fat body, allow things to look the way they do, let the chips fall. I didn't want to look "fatter than I was"--which is the kind of fat face I have, how it photographs. It was amazing how far I had come, to still have the fears I did in this one area.

The very particular world of fat girls and those who self-identify as fat girl-likers played an interesting role. In general, it's been a helpful tool for self-acceptance for me. I have found the community of horndog folks who (bless their heart) like big girls very validating. It’s not just about fat--everybody likes something, right? Everybody does, trust me. It works both ways. For every Thing, somebody is into it. Fat body parts, skinny ones, long hair, short hair, too much hair, not enough. Whatever. It’s very equalizing. And the fact that it lives in the realm of the physical is part of its strength. I don't want anyone assuming I am lazy and stupid because of my size...why do I want them to assume I'm wonderful because of it? I'd rather they were just warm for my form and take it from there--like anybody.

But it turns out the fat girl-liking world has its own set of evolutionary problems too. Because while many men who like fat women accept, even like, even really like, a nice double-chin or fat face, there are many men, still, who think the perfect girl is one with a body much bigger than others might like, but with the same kind of thin face others worship miraculously screwed on top. (There are other issues that play into this phenomenon; generic unresolvable problems of objectification, for instance, and, in one small corner, the fact that there are men who not only want women to be larger, they want them to be Getting Larger, so a body that contains both states within—small and big—is exciting to them.)

It really pisses me off. There is something deadly annoying about men who want a big goil--not only that, men who might deeply understand some of the pressures and prejudices a fat girl might deal with--but still build this ideal fat woman without a fat face. Nobody has pop-on parts. You want a real big woman to hold and squish? Well...chances are good she'll have a face that's fat. There's a bizarre hint of liking-it-in-the-sheets in that kind of denial.

That was an unexpected lil barrier; I had to notice the phenomenon for what it was. Get mad. Cast it aside. (Please note: this is not all men, just some.) But then it was still back to my own issues. And it wasn't just me--I see lots of otherwise self-actualized fat hotties doing it, over and over. You can spot those photos in half-a-sec: taken from above, with the arm well-extended, faces carefully whittled down to that first Skrebneski plane. I’m getting to the point where I can immediately guess what somebody really looks like from seeing a thinface photo. I have the formula--within constraints--for figuring it out, because I did it too! Oh did I do it. Click click click. Wrapped scarves around my neck. Took every shot from above. Looked up from under my eyelids at the camera.

Eventually I more or less stopped. I got to the point where it felt more dishonest than flattering to show myself as a magically shadowed person who had no chins. Don't get me wrong; I have a ruthless eye for a good photo vs. bad, but there was a disguising area in which I was no longer comfortable treading. Even when those super-"flattering" photos occurred unintentionally--the way they do--when lighting and angles align and suddenly you're a big click away from yourself toward being somebody else--I would feel tempted, but think: no. I had to believe that my face was pretty when it was fat, had to remember that people saw it all day as it was, not some idealized version of it I carried inside. I did believe that, it turns out. Who knew. I had to remember that I was never passing anyhow, that the same rules that apply to learning to love your fat ankles or fat belly or fat upper arms apply here, even when the stakes feel higher. You live through your face, experience the world through it, but it's amazing how much you don't see it. Or think it's seen. Maybe there's something very Final about accepting one's fat face. Nowhere to hide.

I can't lie, I do sometimes wish I had one of those sharp jawlines and less fat necks. Just do. For vain reasons sometimes. Because I would have an easier time breathing at night and dealing with anaesthetics. And because Southwest Airlines reps wouldn't think I need two seats, right? People constantly judge body size by face fatness. (Patrika Darbo--many actresses of "size"--are good examples of this. Round-faced=fat.) It is breathtaking--and heartbreaking--how often, in how many ways that happens, and how FAR people take it. Eating disorders have great play in this area. The media and how it Decides Fatness. A bizillion things. Insert a bizillion essays here. Having a fat face--not passing--means I'm always fighting whatever fight there is to take on from the beginning.

In general, though--maybe in part because of that last idea--these days I'm comfortable with photos that show me much more as I really am, thank god. The big jowly candids still show up all the time, but that often happens because I'm laughing, a seriously double chinny activity, and that's better than not laughing. That sounds a little trembling and climb-every-mountain, but it's true.

I'm supposed to have an epiphanal tale here about how I learned to love my fat face, but I don't. All I can remember are mile-makers along the way, not lights that suddenly illuminated whole stretches of the journey. Photos were a tool in the end, despite all their pitfalls and mercuialness. It's good to see lots and lots of photos of yourself, get to know what you might be looking like when the bulb goes off. It's good to demystify photos, know you can't control them as much as you want, realize that people see things their own way anyhow, realize that some people look good in photos, some look bad, whatever their size. Also a tool was an endless supply of SAYS WHO?s to distribute to myself and others. So was acknowledging a poignant truism: like many body parts we all rail against--such as bellies--how, in the end, can you hate something that provides so much pleasure? So was time. So was getting older. So was touching my face nicely. So was remembering what I knew, leaning on how I already felt about other parts of myself and the lessons I had already learned. So was a sense of getting out of my own way. So was noticing other people's lovely fat faces. So was noticing others noticing others' lovely fat faces. So was an eventual willingness to let the chips fall, let the pixels do what they're going to do.