Lately I feel like I am carrying a pig. Here’s what I mean:
A blonde was walking down the road with a healthy looking pig under her arm. As she passed the bus stop, someone asked, “Where did you get that?”The pig replied, “I won her in a raffle!”
With my long dyed hair, visibly muscular pipes, and tight preteen skinny jeans (now size 3), I too look like a bimbo. At least, that is how I am being treated by a growing number of people. Just the other day, an older heavyset lady holding a laptop glanced in a horrified way at my upper body before stealing my chair at a local café, claiming that she had important work to do. Unlike me, holder of a magically verbose pig, she implied. Pretending to be unphased, I said ’oh, that’s no problem’ and moved to the overstuffed sofa beside the young lady with whom I was meeting. I then made sure that the seat-robber overheard me advising my friend about negotiating funding for graduate school, pursuing that first publication, and becoming a university professor. That was petty. I should simply have shouted: ’I am not a dumb blonde, you bitch!’
I might be a dumb blonde bitch though. I have now lost 21.5 pounds and ‘diet brain’ has kicked in full gear. By mid-afternoon I feel like I am on the verge of drunkeness, reminding me of that great New Year’s Eve back in highschool when my friends and I curled our hair, slapped on blue eyeshadow, chugged a bottle of cherry brandy, and then snuck into a party on the fairgrounds, enjoying free bevvies and throwing dinner rolls at people all night. Ah, those were the days. Back to the less festive present: this week my diet haze caused me to miss two appointments, and regularly stop short, wondering why I was standing in the middle of my office or waiting for a subway train. I also snapped at my long-suffering partner whenever he asked me a question. ‘Yes those tea-towels are stored in the lower cupboard JUST LIKE THEY HAVE BEEN FOR THE PAST THREE YEARS!’ ‘No I do not have extra copies of my investment documents!’ He had to do the taxes without my participation. I know what you are thinking: ‘that man must be a saint.’ Well, he is incredibly even tempered and patient, qualities that make him an excellent poker player; winning $5,500 just the other night, he will likely qualify for the World Series again this year. He must be waiting for a better hand to appear once my competition is finally over in early June. In the meantime, he eats KitKats in the car and tries not to provoke me.
Yet it occurs to me that my current state of near-anger is not accidental. Maybe I decided to enter a figure competition precisely so that I could let loose my inner bitch and hear her roar. After all, everyone warned me that I would become demanding and irritable before hitting the stage. This realization was inspired by weddings, of all things. During my daily robotic march to nowhere on the step mill, I could not help but see images of billowing white gowns, shiny tiaras, and runny mascara flickering on the small screens attached to the elliptical machines and stationary bikes lined up in rows before me. To my amazement, people were actually watching—and enjoying?—hideous TV shows in which spoiled young women plan their nuptials, purchasing ridiculously expensive dresses that make their arms look fat. Before continuing with my point about bodybuilding shows—and I do have one—I must make a brief detour, admitting that I don’t get it. Not just the televised display of bridezillas. I don’t get wedding culture full stop. Why the fuck would anyone want to choose trays of hardened cupcakes, dance like an asshole, and generally devise ways to bore the crap out of guests obligated to attend with a waffle iron gift (and the odd healthy pig) tucked under their arms? Mmmm….waffles. But it is not only weddings that I loathe—and I fucking loathe them—it is the concept of marriage itself. (Aside: Here I mean heterosexual marriage. Gay marriage is all right with me because it is slightly subversive, though I fear it is not subversive enough).
Oh she must be divorced, you might be thinking, or maybe she has been through some bad bust ups. Au contraire, mes amis: I have never been married, and am still living happily with my first real boyfriend, the saintly man that I currently torture. Together for over 23 years, we have never broken up, not even for one minute. I often feel that my lack of relationship baggage is a psychic weakness keeping me at arm’s length from most normal, scar-laden people. Even so, if my man asked me to marry him I would say no. And if he tried to buy me a diamond ring, my head would spin like Regan-possessed, aiming projectile vomit at any priest naive enough to declare us ‘man and wife.’ This reasonable reaction is based on my knowledge of the history of marriage, originally designed to enable men to exchange women and own children, not to mention legally control all property. Lest you think those olden days are over, consider that the marriage contract is still largely about capital accumulation and then division, something people realize while getting divorced. And that happens, what, about 50% of the time? News flash to romantic fools, and I know you are out there: those odds suck! Contemporary western marriage is fundamentally about consumption, before, during, and after the ceremony itself. The currently close association of ‘romantic love’ with credit cards was invented by American marketers and advertisers during the first half of the twentieth century, according to the fascinating research of historian Vicky Howard. In her book, Brides Inc.: American Weddings and the Business of Tradition (2006), she explains how North Americans pulled themselves out of the depression of the 1930s in part by adhering to such recently invented rituals as engagement rings (jewellers tried to promote one for men as well but that failed), the double ring ceremony (more rings equals more sales!), the lavish reception (mine is bigger than yours!), and the convenient gift registry. Many weddings are now standardized, based on conformity to a recently invented heritage. That is what this week’s royal wedding was really about: making conspicuous consumption seem traditional. I tried so hard not to see that damned dress, but was foiled by those annoying screens at the gym. In the end I thought it was quite nice, unlike the fluffy fiasco worn by Diana in 1981. Oh so you were glued to the set during that wedding, were you? Well yes, but only because at age 13 I was suffering from severe menstrual cramps, resting inside while drinking a cheap cure-all that reveals my trashy Anglo-Saxoness: a tea cup full of straight gin.
Frankly, I would prefer to budget for travel, living for a month in Spain or a year in Africa, than purchase a tight shiny dress worn for only one special day spent trying not to fart or fall down. But I fear that I am in the minority; many women—men are supposed to endure rather than embrace weddings—participate in wedding culture, and seem to do so willingly. My first idea about why this might be so returns me to the theme of this post, namely the dumb blonde bitch. For wedding preparations allow, nay even demand, that women assert themselves, take charge, boss people around, and throw the odd tantrum. Weddings allow them to enjoy one last bitch-cunt-hoorah before settling down to become devoted wives and self-sacrificing mothers. That is the script, anyway, if not the reality. Wedding planning thus offers a certain kind of girl power, recalling Angela McRobbie’s arguments about the development of ‘girl culture’ during the 1950s. According to McRobbie, young girls are more protected and monitored by parents, expressing themselves within strict limits and domestic settings. Girls are nevertheless permitted to ‘act out’ under certain circumstances, conveniently going ‘boy crazy’ at concerts, screaming and fainting over Justin Bieber in ways that are both temporary and socially acceptable. I contend that weddings offer the same kind of gendered safety valve, explaining part of their appeal to many women. Luckily I have avoided falling into this predictable trap and have engaged with something entirely different: the bodybuilding contest. This week I will schedule hair and makeup appointments, book my photographer, buy jewellery and a custom-fit posing suit, work on losing those last ten pounds, and practise walking around in transparent shoes that would be too small for most women. I will also remain smug in the knowledge that figure competitions are nothing like fairy-tale weddings. Nothing at all.