Tuesday, 15 March 2022

Fossils

 I saw an article the other day about an artist who uses modern animal skeletons and imagines what the animal would have looked like just based on the skeleton. He came up with full illustrations of what he imagined the animals might look like based on assumptions. So he had a giraffe that looked like nothing on earth. Similarly, my son was telling me that there are people who are proposing that T Rex was actually a flightless lizard, and its little forearms are actually wing remnants and that the assumption that they hung at the front like arms is incorrect. If you rotate the arms around and stick them at the back, you get wings. 

Why am I going on about this, you may ask?

What assumptions do we make about our bodies and faces based on what we see?

Let's start with what I see in the mirror. 

I have dark circles around my eyes. I grew up in South America and apart from the genetics that I carry, I got sunburnt repeatedly as a child, with blisters on my face, several times each summer. There was no such thing as sunscreen, and eventually I learned to hide from the sun or apply nivea cream in a huge thick slather, and then hide from the sun when the cream disappeared. 

I have streaks across my abdomen, large stretched roads across it. They start under my ribs and end all the way at my pubic bone. Babies, that's right, two of them. One of those unfortunate 9/10 people who stretch in pregnancy. And I was fat even before I got pregnant, so I was stretched even before that. 

I have the same stretch marks across my breasts and thighs, and even one on my left shoulder, the weird shoulder that stretched more than the right. 

Let's pretend for a moment that my body is a fossil. 

If you saw me, what would you think?

That woman is a greedy, lazy pig. Let's face it, we all think that when we see someone who is obese. The stretch marks could be forgiven and you could assume that I have had babies. Somehow that softens you? Makes it ok to be stretched? or is the assumption based on my fossil that I must have overeaten as a pregnant woman and done little exercise? Fat and lazy again. 

Maybe I have dark rings around my eyes because I really don't sleep well. Or I stay up late drinking. 

We are all walking fossils, and humans love making assumptions and categorising people. Of course we do, it helps us make sense of the world. But I think it is really important that even if we make an assumption based on an observation, that as sentient human beings, we question it. 

I remember meeting one of my best friends for the first time. Covered in tattoos, taboo at the time; last freakin century. My first thought was: rough as guts. And then, (and I think this is what makes the difference), I pulled myself up on it and decided that I could be wrong. So I went up to her and we chatted. I discovered one of the most amazing humans who I still pride myself in having in my inner circle. She is a nurturing, powerhouse of a woman. I no longer make assumptions about tattoos, I make a point of looking past them, or at least trying to. And there is the redeeming quality....if we can question the fossil record, over and over again. 

I have struggled with weight all my life. And when I lost it, I found myself lost. I was very aware that people no longer make assumptions about who I am. I am no longer the funny fat girl who eats too much, loves her good old food and can't be bothered exercising. I am now more visible. People will see who I am. But who is that? Do I even know what I was covering up all those years? What assumptions do I make about me that no longer apply? Why was I happy to be the funny fat girl for so long? Will people like who I actually am? My fat was my armour, my way of hiding who I am, and putting a fossil record out for discovery that would throw people off the scent of who I really am. And the truth is that the reason I did that is that I was not sure anyone would like who I really am. There, I said it. Successful professional, perfect life, and yet, inside, I am an insecure shadow of that. 

Instagram, tik tok, facebook, they are all fossil records for generations to find. We project an image that we wish to portray to the world, to ourselves, as that is what matters in the end. What we see when we look back. I have committed to my outsides fitting the insides. I am not lazy, never have been. I have been at the gym more often than a lot of other thin people. I do like food, but I do not eat entire chickens for breakfast. The reasons for my weight are complex, and unique, and way too lengthy to go into here. 

I colour my hair. If I didn't, it would almost be completely white at the front. I tried to grow it out, but I didn't like the assumptions that people made about me. That I was old, that I was past it, that I no longer mattered. AND the assumptions I made when I looked at myself in the mirror. It shits me no end that people in our society feel that white hair means you're practically dead. No one wants to see that. No one wants to date that. C'mon, yuck. 

I decided that I am not ready to have white hair, because of my own biases and assumptions about white hair. I am part of the problem, of course. I need to be braver, I think. And I now joke that I am a natural red, almost preparing for the day when I will let my hair be the colour it decides to be. And be comfortable with that, knowing who I am without needing to check in the mirror each time just to be sure. 

Some assumptions will be correct. But I think we need to be careful to check those facts and those assumptions. There are reasons why there are stereotypes, because a lot of them are true. But a lot of them are not as well. 

I endeavour to ensure that the image I project of me is who I want to be. Who I genuinely am. I hope that people notice the laugh lines, and that the frown lines are minimal as I age. I hope people notice the scars around my wrists from burning myself on the oven one too many times, that definitely says a lot about who I am. 

It would be nice if at the end of this, you questioned just one assumption you make today. If you're not sure, ask. It is ruder to assume than just ask whether they identify with male or female pronouns, or whether they are a mother, or whether they like to exercise. That's the advantage of us not being actual fossils. 

We will never know the truth about T Rex. Maybe he was a vegetarian. (I know, I know, unlikely!). 

Maybe next time I will highlight assumptions we make about people based on what we don't see. 


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