Monday, February 2, 2015

Fat on the Beach

            Any trip to the beach that doesn’t end with Greenpeace mounting a rescue, I count as a success.
            I make this joke about once a summer. Of course its use is conditional upon someone asking the question: How was the beach? Its use, then, is also conditional upon me hauling myself from the very navel of the U.S. to a beach somewhere on the periphery.
            Fat means always playing defense against the mental picture of the other. Does the questioner actually picture me at the beach? And what am I wearing in that picture—a muumuu, a bikini, something in between? Did the questioner choose something flattering? Did it have a skirt? (I don’t wear swimsuits without skirts. Dear God, let there be a skirt.)
            I think I’m cutting them off at the pass with the whale comparison the Greenpeace joke offers. In reality, I’m either planting or diffusing a specific image, and there’s no way to tell which. The joke gives me control, though, as jokes do, so I use it.
            On the beach, I have no control—just my ability to paste on a pleasant expression and avoid eye contact with every other vacationer. I am someone who makes a point of never showing my arms, so a swimsuit leaves me feeling extra bare. But I manage to forget what I’m wearing after the first few minutes, and as long as I’m not striding from the water up the beach, Baywatch style, I can let all thoughts of my appearance float away. Monitoring the safety of a non-swimmer son occupies all of my conscious thought.
This past summer at Gulf Shores, Alabama, in the midst of playing in the surf, I realized that my swimsuit was black with a large slash of white. Orca colors. I had become my joke.
            How did it come to this? Of course, black is the choice of fatties everywhere. It’s just so slimming. And it’s important that when you take your mostly naked size 24 body to the beach, it look very, very slim in its casing. It’s like how a frying sausage link is slim, until you prick it with a fork.
            Also, I’d have to blame my process of choosing a suit. Young fat means tears in the dressing room, choice after choice letting you down in some way, some part not shown to its best advantage, some part slipping from its sling.
            Middle-aged fat means finding something with a skirt and taking it right to the register. Middle-aged fat means you know the issue is probably not the suit. It means the parts that pop out can be popped back in, and I don’t know anyone in Gulf Shores, Alabama, anyhow.
            These days it’s apparently a thing for larger women to go the bikini route, and people see this as radical, even offensive. I’m perplexed, though, that anyone thought a strip of spandex across the midsection was really masking anything anyway. There is no fabric that can make a fat person unfat. There are some fabrics that can make you feel contained and boost your confidence, making you feel less like a boundless, opaque jellyfish that just washed up on the shore. I shoot for those.
            I approve of confidence, which to me looks like a fat lady on the beach, not with her head down as she hugs herself, but with her shoulders back and her arms swinging as she breaks out into a rippling trot. Maybe she’s laughing, too.
            I read that myths of mermaids mostly sprang from sightings of a slip of a manatee, silky and radiant, large and wild, not wearing anything at all.


  1. Love to read your wonderful prose almost as much as your amazing poetry.

    1. Thanks, George! :) I'm feeling very excited about prose these days, and this project in particular.

  2. Great ending! I still manage to find quite a bit of angst about my middle-aged fat, though.

  3. One of my favorites! I've been contemplating the bikini thing mostly because my belly actually looks better when I'm in my underwear and you can see I still have a shape then when I shove it into too much spandex girdle-type stuff, and I just become an uber short blob.

    1. It's awful that we have to feel this way at the start of every summer. Glad I'm not alone!