You see this? This is a clothes hanger, plastic and brittle. It doesn’t have a lot of give. The other night, I was talking with my girlfriend about things that weren’t so important, where we were going to go eat and what our plan for the upcoming week would be. We went back and forth for a little while, and like I usually do I picked up the nearest thing to me and began playing with it. This time, it just so happened to be a clothes hanger. I was spinning it around my fingers as we talked and she switched the subject.
She said that when she was younger, someone in her life, a leader to her, told her that she wasn’t healthy if she couldn’t fit her whole body through a clothes hanger. When she was a little girl, she said she could. Then as she grew older, she told me that she eventually was too big. This person, who said this to her, was proud of her ability to fit through a plastic clothes hanger until she was at least seventeen. My girl told me that it wouldn’t count if it was a wire hanger, you could bend them. You could cheat.
I’m no good with shovels. I’m no good with tools. I’m only good with my mind. I’m hardly what society would define as a man’s man. Not much like my father, who is a master of fixing and maintaining lawns and cars and homes. I am a bit different. I have been training a long time to maintain growth and movement and safety. In a way, we do the same thing in different ways, and he accepts and loves me for that. He understands that our minds are not exactly alike. He thinks in three dimensions and I think in one.
As my girlfriend told me about being able to slip her body through a clothes hanger I had a lot of feelings, few of them would have provided growth, or safety. I thought a lot about the way we talk about women and their bodies. The priority we, as men, place on the appearance of others while simultaneously not caring about the appearance of ourselves is problem enough. It goes without saying, the high standard we hold women to. I’ve long had many women in my life and even with all of the experience I’ve had with close female friends I’ve still not had something hit home quite like that clothes hanger did.
It made me wonder how many times I’ve put aside concern about someone’s health because they were attractive, or how many times I’ve ignored someone with a kind soul because they weren’t. I’m no better than the rest of humanity, despite what I may tell myself.
This piece of “advice” (a term I am using extremely loosely.) came from someone in Sunflower’s life who was already damaged and hurt to an extreme degree, their own perspective warped by their experiences. Their value came from physical beauty, to the point of starving themselves and aiding that starvation with drugs to sate their appetite. If they never ate, they’d lose all the weight they needed. This, coupled with comments she’s made about Sunflower’s sister and her “overeating” which, from my girl’s perspective was never a problem, taught these two girls to look at themselves in two very different ways. All from the words that were said, and to that I wonder how many times I’ve done the same thing.
When I was working at the sushi place however many years ago, I remember vividly that it was a little girls birthday. She was out with her grandparents and she wanted a slice of cake for dessert. Her grandfather was plastered and kept repeating “you’re just a fat girl.” Over and over when she asked about birthday dessert. I don’t remember the exact moments that led up to it, but I gave the girl the cake anyway and reminded her that she had a long time to grow, that she didn’t need to worry about what she looked like at seven years old.
I turned to her grandfather and excused him from the table so we could talk.
By the end of the conversation he was so mad at me he stormed out, embarrassing his wife and granddaughter, his wife approached and apologized for his behavior and I just told her that a seven year old girl doesn’t need to be told that she is fat. A seven year old needs to be told, and shown, that they are loved.
The girl loved her slice of cake.
It makes me think of my girlfriend in the next room, lying in bed and watching a movie on Netflix, munching on a blueberry muffin. Happy.
She can’t fit through a clothes hanger, either. Neither can the woman who told her it means she is overweight. Ironically enough, that woman, whose words were like knives when she first found out about me, has given me cause to learn. She has provided me with more impacting lessons than any teacher I’ve ever had. The things I’ve learned in my dealings with her are going to stick with me for the rest of my life, I suppose, her words can serve a positive purpose after all.
But that doesn’t mean they need to be said.
The lasting impact that held on my Sunflower still sits inside of her mind today, perhaps not actively, but it’s there. Just like all the times I was called fat when I was a youth. It drags in the back of my head. Recently we’ve been watching Queer Eye, and there was an episode about a guy almost identical to my body type. All through the episode, the Fab Five had heard him making these self-deprecating remarks about himself and putting himself down about his man boobs and his weight. He degraded himself for talking too much and not using his knowledge of cooking to make better food for his family. That really hit home. It brought up all of those things about myself that I remember hating for years, the way I felt about my body and how upset I am that I don’t use what I have to be better than I am. I teared up towards the end as one of the guys set him in front of a mirror and wouldn’t let him leave until he wrote down a handful of good things about himself, to remind him that he wasn’t the overweight, talkative and unkempt mess he thought he was.
The things we say, the way we look to one another, it all matters a great deal.
I talk a lot, and I say a lot of things without thinking, and after this week I’ve really been wondering how often I say hurtful things without even really noticing. I can just as easily be that grandfather or my girlfriends’ old caretaker. I can also be one of the kids that made fun of me, with tricky words that made it hard for me to understand immediately.
But it came out years later, and I hung on to it.
So will they.
Don’t let yourself be one of those people. We might be able to fit what we say through a clothes hanger, but we will not be able to get it back out.
The words will stay there, stuck in their throats for the rest of their lives.
One day, they will remember it all in the middle of a television show, or getting ready for a sushi date. We will think back to some other version of ourselves, and how much we miss being them. But we aren’t them anymore, are we? We are different, some of us full of an evil that we didn’t ask for, but it is there. We can feel it all over us when we sit down to eat, or make a bad joke, or talk out of turn… Every word that was said when we were young, like poison ivy around our skin. Evil vines that will choke our hearts slowly. Some of us won’t even notice it until it is far too late…
One day, all of that evil will come back, and it may not come back to you directly, but we will remember where it originated.
We always remember.
Categories: Umbral Dawning