Here’s something I’ve been mulling for a while.
A few months ago, during an online conversation, my friend Robyn made a striking statement. For some girls, she said, being fat might be a blessing in disguise–because it makes them invisible. In a society where so many women feel so much on display, falling outside the realm of “pretty” is actually a good thing. It lets women like us go about our daily business unmolested; it helps us feel secure.
I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. It seemed glib, this idea of fat being a good thing, which flies in the face of every subtle and overt message in the air around us. But at the same time, I had a quiet sense that she was right. She was describing me.
For a long time now, I’ve felt my status as an invisible girl. I don’t get approached on the street, or catcalled, or hit on in broad daylight. I don’t get offered drinks at bars; my friends and colleagues do, but I don’t. I ride public transit every day, for long distances; I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been addressed by a stranger. I can almost always count on reading my book or listening to my music in unblemished peace. I know women who are accosted daily, who come up with routines for avoiding and confronting; but not me. I tell them so, and they’re surprised.
It hasn’t always been like this. When I was a teenager, 14-looking-20, and my big breasts came in before my bigger hips did, I could feel the gazes and the winks on my skin. But now I’m an ordinary twentysomething, heavier and less taut than I was then. Neither thin enough to be “hot,” nor fat enough to be “disgusting.” Neither pretty enough to draw catcalls, nor ugly enough to prompt jeers and taunts. Young enough that I could be on display, but I’m not. It’s a sweet spot of unremarkableness. So I brush past the crowds on Market Street, and don’t fear being seized on.
I like my invisibility. I feed it. I don’t wear makeup, and hardly style my hair. I wear comfortable clothes and sensible shoes. I daydream on my feet, and people-watch with glee. But sometimes–more often than I’d like–being unseen seems more curse than blessing. In a culture where looks are currency, and male attention means female validation, being invisible is perhaps evidence of a defect. It’s easy to take it that way, to use every unmet glance or drink bought for another girl as an excuse to pick and pick and wear down. It takes a certain hardheadedness to recognize the good in being invisible, and I’m not always so hardheaded.
I don’t think I’m alone. I think there are lots of invisible girls. And I think we’re all slightly confused about whether our invisibility is good or bad. But after a lot of thought about it, I’ve decided Robyn has a point. It’s not always easy to be unbeautiful in a beauty-obsessed world, but the invisibility of it can be a relief.