Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fat bottomed girls, you make the rockin' world go round

I have recently been looking at photos of an Easter gathering that my mother posted on Facebook. I know. World's colliding.

There are many who cautioned me against friending my mother on Facebook. They are of the same ilk as those who cautioned me against friending my co-workers and exes. I didn't listen to them, either.

I lived for two and a half years on Gilligan's Island in a community of expats that was so close it was literally like living in a fish bowl. Through that process, I learned more about my co-workers and colleagues than most of their families know about them and that required a unique way of living and of looking at one another. See, but don't ask and don't tell, and at all times maintain the fiction of privacy. Which is to say that I know from world's colliding. I'm not scared of Facebook.

Anyway, what struck me looking at these photos is how seriously, seriously thin the women in the photos are. After four years overseas, I had honestly forgotten about the pressures of thinness that permeate everyday life for the average woman in America. It is oppressive and unyielding. And I won't say that any of the women in the photos are necessarily unhealthy or pass comment on people who are my relatives or the loved ones of my relatives. But I will say that, having lived here for awhile, the thinness was shocking.

I remember the first time I visited New Zealand being amazed at how different all of the women here are. And I don't mean different from Americans, I mean different from each other. Here, there is a real acceptance of the female form in all of the forms it comes in. Skinny women, thick women, short women, tall women, women with guts, women with small chests, women with big legs, I could go on and on. But each of them dresses pretty much however they want. There's not the same pressure, for instance, to fit into a particular mold or to dress in a way that makes you look like you fit into it or hide the ways in which you don't.

Women are just women, however they come. And I cannot tell you how refreshing and relaxing it can be to live in that world.

It's been a long road for me accepting my own body, which never came close to fitting the form Hollywood has told me I should have, and I'm not even there yet, acceptance-wise. But I sat on my couch today looking at those photos, wearing a fanciful polka dotted dress gifted to me by Aunt Pat, which will never make me look thin, but does have the benefit of accentuating some of the better features I have to offer, and I thought to myself how much better this skin feels than what I used to wear around every day in America.

What I remember from living in America is the pervasive need to fulfill a "one size fits all" mentality and the persistent feeling that I was a failure. Because the one size that fits all in America is thin. Too thin. Impossible to maintain, full-time job thin. At times I embraced it and "went to work" as it were every day to meet that goal. At other times, I rejected it wholly and entirely, wearing my excess weight like a protective barrier against Us Magazine's dictates about how I should look. But never was I satisfied, with myself or what was expected of me.

Which is not to say that I don't worry about my weight here or that I don't still wake up somedays feeling inadequate and unworthy. That is to be expected. But what I feel most days is accepted. For being a woman, however I come.

And some days, I even feel pretty. Not because I won the scale's lotto drawing that day and hit my numbers, but because I am who I am, and I look like what God wanted me to look like. And occasionally that feels ok. Hell, some days it even feels good.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Don't speak, I know just what you're thinking

So I recently went to Auckland for a conference for work and my first impression was that the weather is so good it’s easy to forget what a soul-destroying city it is. And the inhabitants there walk down the street carefree, completely oblivious to how good they have it, weather-wise, and how truly bad it could be.

In Wellington, we are bonded by the persistently terrible weather, inextricably linked through a life lived enduring most of the year in gale force winds, sometimes with bonus sideways rain.

It is that bond that makes it okay to go to a meeting with terrible hair or rain-soaked trousers because, after all, it’s Wellington.

Anyway, I came away from the conference with the same feeling I have coming away from most conferences. Which is to say that most public speakers should not be doing public speaking. I have the following tips to offer:

Number one, and this cannot be said enough, do not run over time. I have the same feelings about people who are late. It is rude, and unspeakably so. It says to all that are listening to you, “I don’t care about you or your time. I know you have a scheduled tea break and I don’t care. I don’t think you need a break as much as you need to listen to me.” Worse yet, it is incredibly rude to all speakers who follow you. It says, “I know we’ve both been booked for the same conference, but I am more important than you and my words must be heard.” It puts a subsequent speaker in the unenviable position of cutting their own presentation short or, worse yet, cutting into my tea break, which is rude for the reasons previously stated.

Second, for the love of God, please have some form of visual aid. I cannot abide watching you and only you for an hour without something to distract me and keep me entertained. I don’t care how many useless awards I’ve never heard of that you have won or how respected you are. I’ll say it again, if you are not Barack Obama, I will not be able to pay attention to you for that length of time without a visual aid.

Related to that, please do not stand up there and read your paper. I have your paper and I can read your paper. At the end of the day, you have hopefully been brought before me because you have something to add beyond your paper. Otherwise, why did I get up at oh-dark-thirty to fly here and listen to you speak when I could have just downloaded your paper?

And to bring it back home, if you are so useless as a public speaker that you have nothing more to offer than standing in front of me reading your paper, please for the love of all that is holy, do not run over time. Your paper is a known quantity. Your allowable time is a know quantity. You have several advanced degrees and you should be able to make these two things match.

And thus concludes Public Speaking In A Nutshell.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bring out your dead, bring out your dead...

So, the plague hit my office this week, in the form of a particularly deadly twenty-four hour stomach bug that swept through our open plan work environment like a tornado leaving a swath of destruction in its wake. Through this experience, I learned two valuable lessons: (1) I am never eating communal food again; and (2) my worst fear of Dying In The Shower While Living Alone is way less far-fetched than I had previously imagined.

As to the first point, we have narrowed down the entire outbreak to a single source - Patient X, our index patient - and to a single event, that most hallowed of holiday experiences to be had in New Zealand - the sharing of hot cross buns around Easter. Yes, I have been undone by a hot cross bun. That'll teach me to love God.

But it wasn't even the bun! Oh no, that would be too predictable and easy to avoid. Apparently, I was infected merely by using a knife after Patient X. Yep, it's not like I did something grody like swipe a half-eaten bun off of someone else's plate (ew) or, you know, lick a co-worker or something. I caught the plague from a knife handle. Evidently, kids have deadly germs that they give to their parents. This is why people with kids should have warning labels before you have to interact with them.

As to the second point, well without going into the gory details, lets just say there was a dizzy spell and an almost fall that threatened to leave me unconscious and probably dead on the floor of my shower with the water running. Which is the single worst thing about living alone - that fear that I will meet some unlikely and untimely end in my apartment and nobody will find me for five days because I don't even have a cat anymore to signal the neighbours, who probably could not even pick me out of a lineup anyway. Actually, this is a persistent fear unrelated to the shower that comes back to me regularly as I am going about any one of a number of slightly stupid and definitely not recommended household maintenance exercises.

For instance, the other day I was standing in my bathroom on a dining room chair wearing pink pajamas, leopard print platform heels and a camping headlight in attempt to fix a light fixture that is way too high for me with a pair of scissors. And the thought occurred to me that, if I fall right now and bean myself, the poor EMT guys will not know what the in the HELL is going on with this crazy old lady that lives alone. And God forbid it is not the EMT guys who find me. I can just imagine my manager trying to explain this scenario.

"She always seemed so normal at work. But clearly there was a side to her we could never have known. We've made an executive decision not to hire any more Americans in the future."

So, take that particular nightmare - being discovered dead in the aftermath of doing something ill advised in your house that seemed perfectly reasonable at the time - and now imagine you're naked and wrinkled and five days less than alive. And the person who signs your paychecks is the one to make this grisly discovery, the mental image of which will be his last and only enduring memory of you.

There. Now my nightmare is your nightmare. You're welcome.