I was so thrilled when Taylor Owen Ramsey emailed me and asked if she could write something for me. I was like Duh!!!! First of all just let you in on the history Taylor was one of the first people I interviewed for this blog, and she also wrote a kick as piece that has been getting a lot of interest of late: Levis’ Cuve ID- Are the Bold’s bold enough and is the Supreme- Supreme. Well 6 months ago she left New York to move to Colombia with the Peace Corps and she as had an interesting body experience that she wanted to share.But first I want to remind you of who Taylor is see her interview here:
Growing up, I was a white girl with a big bottom and I was always trying to hide it. Sweaters tied tightly around the waist during my high school and college years gradually matured into more elegant long cardigans that did double duty hiding my derriere and my arms, another body part I decided I didn´t like. As I approached the later part of my twenties, my struggle to accept myself, curves and all, became more of a hardened battle with little victories rather than hard-won campaigns. And I was happy with that. I had established myself in New York City, grew into my own style (cardigans and all), and learned to appreciate my body in the greater urban context of body diversity that only a place like New York City can provide. And then I joined the Peace Corps in the Caribbean coast of Colombia. While New York City provided a context where I could gradually become more comfortable in my own mostly-covered skin, Colombia told me to strip that clothing off, or at the very least tighten it, because stick-thin and covered-up have no place here, at least by the heat alone.
Changing cultural contexts through travel has often changed the way I´ve viewed myself. While certain things tend to stay sadly steady around the world, such as the light-haired and light-skinned ideal, the ideal body shapes tend to change based on the places I visit. However, living in Colombia with the Peace Corps for the past six months has given me a deeper perspective on my own body than anywhere else, simply because with the amount of time I´ve been here, I´ve been able to understand the body image culture more deeply than other places I´ve traveled.
I´ve always struggled to find ways to cover myself up, especially my large butt. Here on the coast, every trip to the beach, the bathing suits seem to appear smaller, no matter the size of the curves in them. And while we don´t see them as often in the states, women pay a lot of money here to make their butts bigger with butt implants and the regional slang here has more ways to describe a curvy lower half on a woman´s body than I have encountered anywhere else.
One day in one of my classes at the school where I work, I was teaching how to describe appearances in English to a group of future elementary school teachers. As I do during most classes, I finished the class with some time for the students to ask me how to say things in English I didn´t cover in class, with no rules to what they can ask. A woman raised her hand and asked me how to say thin legs as if they were a bad thing. Easy, I thought. Chicken legs. The woman next to her followed up the question by asking how to say large thighs, but as if they were an awesome thing to have. I couldn´t think of anything but negative ways to describe big thighs…thunder thighs, saddle bags, etc. I tried to explain that though the United States is a big place and in various contexts the ideal body changes, the overall cultural message is that thin is better and we have very few good ways to describe big thighs. The look of shock on the faces in the room was priceless. Another confused female student yelled out “but why wouldn´t somebody want big thighs and a round butt, like you?” All I could say in my still-limited Spanish was, “I don´t know.” And that´s an honest ´I don´t know’ I´ve been battling inside myself for years. An entire culture was telling me I was their body ideal, and I couldn´t believe it.
Since then, I still get a barrage of cultural messages here telling me that my body is an ideal. Colombian friends ask me why I still wear long cardigans that hide my backside in jeans. Others encourage me to wear a thong on a beach. Thin and stunningly beautiful students tell me they wish they had my body. And I still struggle to love myself, even if I am less and less likely to wear the cardigans. While I appreciate that I am learning that my body can be beautiful in one context and something I continually try to hide in another, even in my most body-image comfortable moments, I realize I am not happy. What would make me happy is a world and a context where all bodies are appreciated and beautiful. What would make me happy is a world where women don´t have to constantly think about creating themselves as products to be consumed, given the distinct local standards, whether those standards are thin or curvy. I just want a break from it all, no matter where I am. I want to wake up just one day where I don´t have to worry about my flaws and how I look. So while my clothing has perhaps become a bit tighter and smaller in Colombia, I continue to struggle with myself as I always have. That struggle will continue for all of us, until we learn that every shape and size can be beautiful, we stop policing ourselves and each other and we put that body ideal into practice.