I’ve been thinking about thresholds. I’m allergic to raspberries. It took me several years to figure it out because usually I was eating very small quantities of raspberries, a few on a dessert or a swirl of raspberry sauce with a piece of cheesecake. When my face swelled up and I broke out in hives I didn’t immediately connect it to the raspberries. I’m still not sure what the threshold is but since I don’t appreciate it when my face swells up, I avoid raspberries.
I have an alcohol intolerance. Even very small amounts of alcohol make me room-spinning drunk and very sick. For a while, I tried to find the threshold for that, too. I spent a few months splitting a cider with my husband and still getting room-spinning drunk. I eventually decided I needed to stop drinking completely. Add that to the list of things I have to explain to strangers.
I’m not sure what the threshold is for acquaintances to stop putting their hands on my stomach and saying, “Hello baby.” How skinny do I have to be? How much do I have to weigh? What measurements do I need to achieve? Maybe I need to wear a different style of clothing.
It doesn’t matter how much I’m working out, how strong I am, or how good I currently feel about myself. I still have acquaintances putting their hands on my stomach and saying, “Hello baby.” This particular person also asked me about my nonexistent baby in December. I told her I wasn’t pregnant then, too. She looked very confused and claimed someone had told her I was pregnant. It’s possible someone mistakenly told her the chaplain’s wife was pregnant. I’m thinner now than I was in December but apparently still not enough.
I hate that this bothers me as much as it does. I just want to be able to eat a handful of ripe raspberries. I just want to be able to enjoy a hefeweizen on a hot day. I just want to be able to exist in the world without people looking at my body and labeling it pregnant. Or maybe what actually bothers me is not that people are labeling my body as pregnant but that they feel the need to tell me their thoughts on my body.
My children already eclipse me. Their existence is infinitely more interesting than mine, their needs more important, their demands more necessary to fulfill. When I stopped nursing my second child, I thought my body was mine again. I had shared it with other people for nearly four years. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have to think about how what I ate affected anyone else. I wasn’t feeding or growing anyone with my body. It belonged to me again.
But it still doesn’t. People still see my body and think of my children before they think of me. Women’s bodies are considered public property in a way that men’s bodies are not. Women’s bodies put on an incredibly intimate and yet public performance. People still look at my body and expect it to perform. I’m done performing.
Tell me how skinny I need to be.