Friday, October 11, 2013

Gaining Invisibility

My body is resolutely aging and the changes aren’t pretty. Clothes at my favorite neighborhood boutique don’t fit me and the ones that would in other places are ones I don’t like. The last time I bought something to wear was at Old Navy last spring. Since I don’t have money, this is a good thing. The surprise is how easy it is for me not to care.

Nor does the weight prey much upon my mind, but that I can understand: Thailand taught me what weight loss really means. When the baht fell in the late 90s, I began to miss a meal or two far more often than I wanted to. First I became slender, then thin, then gaunt and haggard. My breasts disappeared and my face became drawn. A photo a student took of me during that time showed a death’s head flashing a rictus. I knew that losing another ten pounds could bring me to my knees but I didn’t know how to stop, aside from leaving cigarettes alone. That thought occurred to me no more than a couple of times. I told myself I needed them for stress relief, but of course I was too addicted to consider that for more than five minutes.

I came home to the states, put on some weight, and stopped thinking of poundage as being my enemy. It was my insurance policy. Even now, with my stomach becoming a small shelf, I look at this in a Thai way. I’m almost 65 and old women look better when they are plump.

I think of the Chinese sisters who made noodle soup on the corner of my soi. Each was plump and both were pretty. One was sweet and one was stern; both of them liked me and I adored them. Across the way two other Chinese ladies made the same kind of soup. They were lean and they were not at all happy. Their soup was better than the one I ate several times a week, but I had stopped eating it long ago. The plump ladies were more fun to be around.

When I stopped smoking seven years ago, I was still sporting a figure that was much younger than my face. It yielded me nothing more than the envy of women who were much younger than I and coveted my waistline, and the comments of men hanging out on the street. “She old but she in great shape,” one entrepreneur of dubious substances proclaimed as I walked past a McDonald’s corner and another provided the generous assessment, “I’d fuck her,” on what was mercifully an almost deserted street.

Much has been written about the “invisibility” of women as they age, and it’s usually in the form of a complaint. The women who rail against this are stark, raving mad, as far as I’m concerned. From the time I hit my teens, I withered under the calls of “Hey, baby” and piercing whistles. When I lived in New York, the “visibility” that was mine when I walked past a construction site made me want to shrivel up and die on the spot.

Even when I was pregnant with my first child at the ripe old age of 21, as I walked down a street in Anchorage on a Sunday morning, a man felt the need to remark, “Bet she wished that she had danced all night nine months ago.” Believe me, this sort of visibility is not the kind of thing that makes a woman feel special in any way, and when I received my cloak of invisibility at last, it was a milestone. At last I could walk in the world without being threatened or humiliated. It was an acquisition as useful as my passport.

In the parts of the world where I want to be, old women receive respect. Younger women receive ravenous attention, no less threatening for being silent. In the part of the world where I live, I can walk for miles without comment. I love it. Would this still happen if my body were slender? Thank you, but I really don’t want to find out. My thickening body is a form of protection and, for the most part, I appreciate every pound.

Except of course when I look at clothing that will never be mine—but then I think of how much time and money I spent on my outer covering over the years. I still love color and fabric and when I find something I like that fits my body, it’s better than Prozac. It’s no longer an obsession, however, and that feels good.

“You can’t just let yourself go when you get old,” a woman twelve years my senior told me once to justify her extravagant wardrobe. I’m as old now as she was then and my feeling is I’m not letting myself go, I’m letting go of cravings. The Buddha, I tell myself, would understand.


shaved monkey said...

"When I am Old, I Shall Wear Purple" is one of my faves.

AHBoyce said...

I think a balance is important. The balance between too thin and unhealthy fat. The in-between is where we find exterior beauty. As I continue to lose weight, I have examined where I want to end up. The answer is healthy. This is really a very thought-provoking essay. When we talk later today, remind that I want to say more privately.

Janet Brown said...

Alison, I'll call you in a couple of hours and hope for your voice, not RoboButler!

Janet Brown said...

Steve, I was precocious--wore purple in my 30's.