The Black T-Shirt

So yesterday I went to a national store (rhymes with small-fart) to buy a black t-shirt. I knew going into the store that I needed a Large. How do I know this about myself? Well, it’s my body. I know I usually wear a large in shirts that are demarcated in the standard S, M, L sized brackets. Used to be that I wore mediums (Even then I still wore large, cuz I liked the baggy look.), but since I’ve had kids now I tend towards Large. Do I feel bad about it? Not really. It’s just something I know about myself.

So my family and I poke around the store for a bit, pick up some other things we need, so on and so forth. What I initially wanted was just one of those plastic bag-o’-black t-shirts that I see so often in the men’s section. (I have a husband, so yes, sometimes I’m in the men’s section.) But guess what! Those kinds of t-shirts don’t exist for women! But alas, I needed the t-shirts, so we meandered over to the women’s section. I thumb through the stack of shirts, pick out a Large and have my hubby hold it up to my back to see if the shoulder seams match up.

“This one looks like it’s too small,” he states.

“Too small… It’s a Large,” I say.

So we rummage around and find the next size up. The X-L. He holds it up and it seems to work. We grab a couple and head to the check out lines. Of course I spout a few angry sentences about the Conspiracy to Keep Women Down and how the arbitrary sizes of clothing is becoming rampantly ridiculous. My dear husband, being used to such expressions, nods in agreement and we continue on our way.

So here’s the thing. I don’t know if it’s because I lived the first seven years of my life in a European country, or if because I went to a Liberal Arts college, or if because I’m a smart person who understands that people are more than the whole of their parts, but for whatever reason I have never subscribed to the American notion that a woman’s worth lies in her appearance or her size. It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine when women verbally shame their own bodies or each others. There are FAR more interesting things about a person than what they look like. If we want to talk about it, let’s at least use the language geared towards personal health rather than appearance.

I began to follow the natural thought process through. If a person is told from infancy through a barrage of media imagery and language, by her friends and family, by those she loves and respects, that it is super important to be skinny and desirable and if one is not skinny and desirable then one has absolutely no value as a person and should hide herself from the world lest she burn someone’s eyes out for accidentally glancing in her direction, then she might be a little bit upset for having to wear an extra-large t-shirt. So if she is upset by this, then she believes she must take action to somehow acquire a different or smaller sized t-shirt (As she very well should! Freakish She-Monster!).

She now begins to renew her focus on obtaining a smaller physicality (Even though she’s already normal sized). Her mind is now in a cycle of counting calories, portioning out food, scale gazing, waist measuring, number crunching, and let’s not forget the emotional weight of the shame heaped upon her for being such a hideous waste of humanity. So what is the problem with this, you say? Why should it matter if a woman wants to focus on loosing weight? Well, I’ll tell you why it matters.

When a woman is devoting her brain power to this arbitrarily defined standard, she is not focusing her energy on… say, writing a novel, or researching a scientific phenomenon, or digging up a new dinosaur bone, or writing a marketing plan, or finishing her homework, or devising a method for reducing green house gas emissions in the atmosphere, or laughing with her children, or flirting with her spouse. You get the idea. How much brain power do women as the larger portion of society spend worrying about size and appearance? I’m just going with experience here, and I haven’t done any kind of formal research, but a good bit of my Facebook feed consists of people bemoaning their size or what diet they are on or how they have fallen off their diet, so on and so forth. These are accomplished strong women with bright brilliant minds who I frequently enjoy engaging with in discussion. So what about you, you ask? If you are wearing an Extra Large t-shirt you must be a huge beast of a woman. How do you manage to fit out the door every morning! Thing is, I fall square in the middle of the ideal weight range for a woman my age and height. Blam.

When I see things like an Extra Large label on a t-shirt for a woman my size I cannot help but think that there actually IS some sort of secret society all working together to keep the women distracted from merely existing to their full potential. But that can’t be right… can it?