Sunday, October 25
We Are the Walrus
As fall lurches in its irregular, irrevocable paces toward its grim successor, Sister Winter, I am spending doleful moments every morning staring bleakly at the contents of my drawers and closet. There are not enough warm clothes in the world to keep me warm through the coming season, I'm afraid. I wear so many clothes through the winter that those I meet during the next few months are invariably surprised in the summer when I finally reveal my real corporeal contours some. "Oh!" I've heard so many times it seems just a part of greeting summer, "I had no idea you were so slim!" In winter, I resemble those huge seals and sea lions lounging around under the long wharf in Santa Cruz harbor.
Not so most of the young women on campus, though. Where I have been dismayed all during these last warm months at the veritable acreage of naked female flesh that confronts me in every classroom and every stroll across the summer resort we call the UW, where I have occasionally found myself experiencing just the teeniest appreciation for Muslim women who don the burka, now finally one would hope that falling temperatures and increasing rainfall would compell something that might pass for modesty. Or at least prudence.
And yes, the short skirts that barely cover the buttocks are, by and large, gone, replaced by longish tunics that are stretched tightly over plump derrieres. The plunging necklines are, to my relief, now often camoflauged by scarves draped with attractive looseness but real functionality. Legs are almost routinely covered, in many cases by leggings that seem just a little tighter than the wearer's own skin. Jeans, too, are worn with something beyond simple snugness, with crammed-in flesh literally exploding where the low-rise "waistband" ends. I find myself looking with relief at the slobbiest girls, those who sluff around campus wearing sweatpants that drag through the wet leaves and suggest they have probably been slept in for at least several days.
Apparently, I've become a prude. Perhaps I always was, though I can remember (vaguely) several swimsuits that would indicate otherwise. I don't know exactly when this condition surfaced, but I suspect it was about the time youthful "fashions" began showing me first the younger generation's underwear, then eventually cracks and cleavages from all parts of their bodies that I really didn't want to confront at every street corner and right across my desk. Or perhaps this is a generational inevitability, given that my peers and I spent our own youth wearing washed out workshirts and flannels and jean jackets so shapeless that my own grandfather once looked in genuine puzzlement at my mom and asked in helpless confusion, "Isn't she a girl?"
I have nobly resisted, so far, the urge to yank up slouching pants and the more wicked companion impulse to yank them down. I have not scolded a single young woman for exposing breasts with as much nonchalance as I let show my crow's feet or the bags under my tired, old eyes. I have reminded myself innumerable times that every generation has its own way of irritating its elders. I have even tried to justify it intellectually, to persuade myself that there's a legitimacy to the argument which no one but myself has ever posed to me that we should not be distracted or distressed by our flesh; that like certain tribes in equatorial Africa, nakedness should not be construed as any kind of sexual intention.
But I have failed. Nakedness in the northern Midwest in our first world society is sexual. And more than that, it is overwhelming. It is overwhelming, in part, simply because we have so much more flesh than people in equatorial Africa; we are fat and we are crammed into clothing that is too small for us, and it is not that we cannot afford larger clothing, it's that we (and of course I use this plural rather figuratively here) have persuaded ourselves that this is fashionable. Yet I haven't seen a single ad promoting fatness and low cut clothing on the runway reveals nothing but ladders of rib bones.
Is it the fact that most of us can't be this skinny that resigns us to being fat? Breast size across the world is getting larger, even once we discount the fact that manufacturers of brassieres are changing their definitions of bra size to make women think they are larger than before. Girls are maturing a lot earlier and it seems that the accretion of body fat that begins at puberty now keeps increasing all the way through the child-bearing years. Is it our diet? Is it the hormones in our beef? Is it some sort of evolutionary advantage? Will women float better when global climate change forces us all back into the water of the sea? Are we heading toward becoming walruses and sea lionesses?
I am. Because I'm bundling up for winter and going shopping for more long sleeved thermals and turtlenecks and thick-knit sweaters, plus some socks that are so heavy I'll have to buy new shoes one full size larger. I'm the egg woman; I'm the walrus.