Sometimes the journey to body positivity can feel like a lonely one. We’re surrounded on all sides by advertisements urging us to lose that last xx pounds, dye those pesky gray hairs back to their “natural” color, or try the latest miracle cure guaranteed to melt off pounds and pounds of fat. (Is it just me, or does anything at all “melting” off someone’s body just make you think of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Not something I’m about.) If you’re looking for someone sharing their body-positive story on TV or in magazines, your odds are good that acceptance comes after a weight-loss program or juicing cleanse.
Author Kim Brittingham, on the other hand, is different. In her memoir, Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large, Kim tells us about just that – how loving yourself, as you are, in this moment, is a journey, but a possible and a wonderful one. With rave reviews from critics, body image activists, and readers alike, you can stop searching for your next body-positive summer read.
As luck would have it, Adios Barbie has a taste of the good things to come below. Think of this as a preview for your next great beach (or backyard, or train, or all-night-until-you-fall-asleep) read. Once you’re hooked, you can pick up your copy of Read My Hips on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, or wherever great body-positive books are sold.
From Read My Hips, by Kim Brittingham
“Oh. My. God.” My mother slapped the steering wheel in percussive disbelief. “Can you believe the nerve of that woman? Where does she get off wearing a skirt that short? At her size, she’s got no business!”
We were driving along Byberry Road, past the old abandoned lunatic asylum. A fat woman was walking with relaxed purpose along the side of the road in a black miniskirt and T-shirt. Her arms and legs were thick and alabaster, her rear end ample and heart-shaped.
It was summer and I was fat, too. I wore jeans and a boatneck tunic with three-quarter-length sleeves to hide my sausagelike upper arms and flabby elbows. I was keeping my fat to myself, sparing the public of my hideousness. Just as “The Elephant Man” John Merrick wore a burlap sack over his head when walking the streets of London. It was a simple matter of courtesy.
I was in my twenties then. By my late thirties, I was still wearing three-quarter-length sleeves in summer, and I’d only bare my legs when I swam. But the difference was, I no longer thought my body was ugly. I’d arrived at a place where I thought my body was beautiful. I still do.
To the touch, I’m scrumptious. The pinkish white swells of my hips, breasts, and belly beg to be caressed, stroked – kneaded like so much pie dough. And if you’ve ever actually kneaded dough, or pressed your fingers into a lump of dense but pliable clay and felt the sweet, aching satisfaction in your hands as you molded it – feeling it give beneath your palms, subtly varying the pressure from your fingertips as you slid them across the endlessly fascinating surface – then you know the pleasure of a body like mine beneath your touch.
Aesthetically, I’m pear-shaped. The contrast between my waist and hips is dramatic and unmistakable. It’s an exaggeration of femininity, like a promise of extreme fertility.
For an observer to be aroused by the sight of me should not be surprising, because my fat casts a floodlight on my pelvic area and is shamelessly suggestive not only of the babies to which I was designed to give passage, but also of the sexual stimulation of which I am capable. It is a pelvis that can writhe with abandon and thump like a bass drum in arousal. The sway of my generous hips is like a neon yellow highlighter wiped over the word woman. My oversized hips are a bullhorn screaming, “Woman!” I am a siren song to every other human being capable of seeping with desire for the female form. I am woman – lots of woman, abundant woman, ultimate woman.
This is what breast implants are meant to do, you know. Cast a magnifying glass over the inherent womanliness of breasts and attract. Women get boob jobs to give themselves a certain edge. Frankly, I don’t see why they nearly kill themselves trying to diet off their equally bulbous hips. Besides, my belly feels just like a nippleless breast. It’s like one giant porn boob implanted at my waist – a sexual bonus, if you will.
Archaeological discoveries like the Venus of Willendorf have taught us that early peoples, untainted by contemporary definitions of the body “ideal,” really responded to the big-hipped, big-bellied woman. They idolized her, literally. And when I see myself naked, I see that body worthy of worship.
Everything changed when I got my first digital camera. It was a gift, and it came with a tripod. Alone in my apartment one afternoon, I decided to look at myself – see myself as I actually was.
I pulled the blinds and stripped down to my cheap polyester bra and teal cotton granny-panties. I slipped on my black satin special-occasion pumps, then erected the tripod at the end of the hallway that led from the front door.
Pressing the camera button for a ten-second delay, I hustled to the opposite end of the hall and stood, hands-on-hips, letting the camera’s flash shower me in white. I returned to the camera and reached for it, tentatively. I looked in the viewer.
Yep. I was fat.
And at the same time, something about my body pleased me – the milky fullness, the inviting topography of its curves. So I set the timer again, this time to take my picture as I sashayed away from the camera, capturing me in movement.
I was stunned by how sexy I looked. I’m talking drop-dead bombshell sexy. The kind of sexy that makes sailors in movie musicals spin 180 degrees on their heels and whistle, white hats comically askew or twisted in their hands.
There was a line to my body like an elongated “S” that riveted me. And I liked the way one of my ass cheeks cocked upward as I threw my leg forward. Like a wry smile, or the cheerful buttocks in the old Underalls commercial that made a cute staccato xylophone sound with each side-to-side wag.
I liked these pictures. I like the body in them.
Now I understand why every lover I ever had couldn’t resist tucking their hands into the warm, baby-smooth pockets of skin on either side of my pudendum, just under the fold of my overhanging belly. I understand the passionate abandon with which one man took my left leg into both arms as he knelt before my reclining body an kissed the leg’s thickness, stroked it wildly from tree-trunk calf to thunder-thigh, his eyelids half lowered in a state of near-madness, overcome, a stream of pleasing filth dripping from his slack lips. I no longer discount the lovers who reveled in the rolling cashmere expanse of my ass as having had “something wrong” with them.
Do people view fat women as unsexy because it’s what they’ve been taught since birth? And are they eating that opinion obediently off a spoon like a dozy infant in a high chair?
We look at fat women and are conditioned to think their thick limbs and juicy middles are putrid. But these same features fail to disgust us in other contexts.
We bite into a plump and succulent fruit with relish.
Every fleshy newborn baby inspires cooing and cuddling. We can’t resist fondling their soft, stout, and unshapely limbs, tickling their pudgy bellies and nuzzling their swollen apple cheeks.
Every time I see a dog show on TV, I’m struck by how fervently we adore our fat little breeds of dogs: the endearing rotundity of lumbering bulldogs and chubby pugs, the sad heavy-lidded eyes and loose sagging skin of the sweet shar-pei. We derive joy from the appearance of these creatures. We can’t resist reaching out to them, encircling their barrel bodies with affectionate hands.
We survey lush landscapes with variations not dissimilar to an “imperfect” female body with absolute pleasure – say, an expanse of Irish countryside with grassy rolling hills, and clusters of boulders and sudden valleys, gullies and ridges and bald patches. Do these wide swaths of earth nauseate us? Is it really so much uglier when it’s made of flesh instead of earth?
Not long ago, I was ashamed of myself. Ashamed that I wasn’t strong enough to be the woman in that private living room photo shoot every day. It took some time. It used to be, when skin was bared to the emerging sun of summer, eagerly unwrapped and unsweatered and flaunted in the light of day, what kept me covered up was the disgust I imagined other people feeling for my body. I didn’t want to tempt cruel comments, didn’t want to imagine the ones people might be making as they drove by.
I didn’t want anyone to think less of me because of how I looked. I didn’t want people to miss my engaging personality, my wealth of good jokes and even better ideas, just because they were distracted by the details of my fatness: the translucent tiger stripes of my stretch marks; cellulite like a dappling of fairy fingerprints on my skin. I wanted a fair chance. For a job and equal pay, for a table near the front of the restaurant, for courtesy when I shopped in a high-end store, for lasting friendship, for unconditional love, for everyday kindness. So I hid my fat as best I could.
I didn’t just wake up one morning and find myself in a state of complete and radical self-acceptance. It was a gradual process, like easing oneself into a pool of cold water, one inch at a time, or gingerly and systematically removing a mediocre painted landscape from a canvas to reveal an earlier, priceless masterpiece underneath. I was gentle with myself. I emerged from my cocoon in patient time. All the while, I was growing stronger in there. So strong that when I finally spread my wings and bared my arms, nothing anyone might say about them could possibly hurt me.
Kim Brittingham is the author of the memoir Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large, as well as the audiobook Write That Memoir Right Now. She is currently working on a young adult novel. She lives in a Victorian seaside town not far from New York City with her partner, writer Lori Bonfitto. Brittingham works as a ghostwriter and content developer for thought leaders and marketing collectives (see www.KimWrites.com). When she’s not writing for business or pleasure, she enjoys any opportunity to dress up in 19th century period costume, and volunteers with her local historical society.