WEIGHT AND THE MILONGUERA: PART II
Did I say something in my last blog entry about taking care of oneself? OK, OK, I completely let myself go this holiday weekend (July 9=Dia de Independencia) enduring the Patagonian winter weather in Bariloche, Argentina. Didn't dance tango at all, but froze my ass off and compensated for all the calories my body burned struggling to keep warm by relishing some killer hot chocolate at the confiteria in Del Turista, one of the biggest producers of chocolate in the area. LOVED IT!
And tomorrow...I pay...and the next day...and the next day....
Thanks so much to all who commented on my last blog entry on weight, and still others who commented about men and the milonga and about my strange obsession with cleanliness. It's so nice to know someone out there is reading my musings! I feel the love...
I just started reading Susan Bordo's collection of essays on the body, culture, and feminism called "Unbearable Weight," the perfect book for living in beauty and youth-obsessed Buenos Aires and for our theme on weight and the milonguera. Reading it has given me more food for thought.
I was involved in the theater and the art modeling world for a bit while I was still in the States. In both venues, as an actor and nude figure model, I was to be looked at. The audience or class saw every my dimpled thighs, my protruding belly when I was PMSing or not, my slightly sagging 30-something breasts, but never once did I feel as on display and objectified as I do here in Buenos Aires and, specifically, in the milongas. Isn't it strange that I should feel more self-conscious dancing with clothes on than contorting my naked body on the model stand? I can't even think about putting on a bikini here without grabbing a sarong to wrap around myself. At the pool, I try to figure out the best way to untie my sarong and get into the pool 2 feet away without exposing my belly. What is the deal?!?!? I have become a neurotic Argentine.
This transformation happened slowly. At 5 foot 3 and 1/2, I used to weigh a healthy 123 when I arrived 2 years ago. I worked out but didn't kill myself at the gym, ate healthily, but people still described me as "gordita" or slightly plump or fleshy. I never heard this from my theater friends or from artists back home. I just heard that I was beautiful, and I believed them. I even FELT beautiful, empowered, womanly.
Currently at 115, milonga people tell me that I'm "mas linda" now that I've lost weight, but I feel that have become a slave to the scale, a slave to 1/2 portions of everything, a slave to the damn mirror. Eating one medialuna has become like committing some mortal sin which must have its corresponding penance at the gym. Having dessert after a meal is to be restricted to only special occasions. Honestly, I'm the same size, but, as I wrote in my last entry, I rearranged the furniture a bit thanks to thrice weekly pilates sessions and 1/2 portions. Do I like myself with my new bod? To tell you the truth, yes. Working on my core, which one of you mentioned, I have now begun to see tiny, microscopic rips in my abdominal area. My thighs are really strong now, and I have better posture. It's rather nice. It's an accomplishment. So, yes, I do like myself and my new bod, which is a good thing. Do I like myself better? Not necessarily, as my new proportions have now forced upon me the responsibility and pressure of maintaining all this, which I accept, but, honest to god, sometimes I wonder if its worth it and why the hell I'm doing this (besides the obvious health aspects and the trickle-down benefits for my dancing).
I believe part of it is my wanting to fit into my new country, which is especially difficult for me since a) I look nothing like your typical North American person - aka - any of the Friends castmembers (I am Asian of the Filipino variety. Do they know where the Philippines is? No. As far as they know and care, it might as well be a small country attached at the hip to China. And how many people of color have appeared on Friends?); and b) I don't look portenan. So, if I am not identified with North America or the Philippines or Argentina, then with which cultural group do they identify me? I'm sort of the odd-ball person that says she's North American, but really she's got slanted eyes, so we'll just call her Chinese or Japanese or Korean. They're all in the same part of the world anyway.
Filipinos have a different body type. We are, in general, shortish and roundish. I happen to like my short, roundish brown body. I find it sensual, but compare me to a thin portenan, and I might as well be called overweight. I also refuse to grow my hair, which, to the dismay of my hair stylist, I have cut every 3 weeks within an inch of its life. He tells me every month that I need to little wisps on my neck, but I find them incredibly annoying because they grow out within a few days of being cut. According to him, my haircut, sliced and diced and sometimes standing on end, does not reflect the Argentine idea of femininity here, which is basically long. But these women end up looking the same to me. Their bodies look the same; their hair looks the same; their clothes look the same. No one stands out. To me, I don't see beauty; I see generica...except for maybe Moira Casan and Susana Gimenez, whom I see as examples of a new species of humanoid - part flesh, part botox, part silicon - both Argentine celebrities and obvious "hinchas" (fans) of the surgical knife.
Perhaps, I have been trained to see "beautiful" and "sexy" in another way. I love form, in all its shapes and sizes. Alberto Giacometti's pencil-thin figurative sculptures are quite striking and hauntingly beautiful, but I love the roundness of Botero's painted figures. Watch me in Crate and Barrel, and I gravitate toward roundish vases. I find round absolutely beautiful, and I don't think round necessarily means un-fit. I have overheard Argentine men say, "Oh, she's not pretty, but at least she's thin." Thin. Does thin mean healthy? Not necessarily. Thin means, well, thin with no noticable pockets or ripples of fat. Does thin make for a better dancer? Not necessarily. A thin woman who is not in physical condition can drag a man down just as much as an overweight woman can. Worse, a thin woman can feel absolutely weightless, in the negative sense that there's nothing there, no substance, no body. And what's tango without body?
I think Geraldine, a fabulous tango dancer whose last name escapes me, has a banging body. Not thin by any stretch of the imagination, but exuberantly curvy. (Thanks to the reader who mentioned her name in her comment!). But, while watching her dance one night a few years ago, an old milonguero and master teacher told me, "Baila bien, pero, ojo, no es flaca" (She dances well, but notice she isn't skinny). Wouldn't it have sufficed to have mentioned that she dances well? Why throw in the "flaca" business?
And look at our beautiful older actresses: Helen Mirren (Good god, she looked hot at the Academy Awards. She has got it ALL going on.), Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep. These are positively radiant, physically beautiful, and NOT FLACA! And the best part is that they're not trying to squeeze themselves into tiny Spandex or Lycra strangely-cut contraptions like some of the milongueras do here. What is THAT all about? I'm not saying that a 50 year old shouldn't rock a minidress, but not one that makes one look like she is trying to recapture the glory days of her youth. It becomes something sad, even tragic.
As I said in my last entry, each person should whip their body into its best shape, not the shape dictated by milongueros, or magazine ads, or cultures. I am, while still roundish and shortish, close to excellent shape for my body-type.
Sure, I have my trouble spots, but throw on a sleek black dress and some cute dance shoes, and I am good to go. I think sexy radiates from the confidence in knowing one's body enough to accentuate the positives and gloss over the slightly- less-than-positive. It comes from an ability to accept one's physical limitations, working with what one has right now, and being able to carry everything onto the dance floor of life with dignity and integrity.