I usually gain a little weight in the winter thanks to getting less exercise, enjoying a bunch of food-focused holidays, and this time just not eating all that well over the last couple months. Now that spring’s here, I can go back to riding my bike to work and partaking of more outdoor activities. There are also a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables available and I feel less inclined to eat hearty, heavy foods when the weather’s warm.

The point is, I’m used to my weight fluctuating a bit as the seasons change and it’s not a big deal. In my posts here, I often mention trying to hide my tummy, but the fact of the matter is I’m not self-conscious enough about it to skip wearing clothes I really like just because a garment may not be totally flattering on one part of my body.

Cut to this week, when I wore a full-skirted dress with a rather high waist seam (exacerbated by my boobs pulling it up) to a computer lesson with a client. As I was working with him, his wife (also a client) asked me if I had gained weight. Ignoring for a moment how rude this question is, I had just told my boyfriend the previous night that we need to start cooking healthier meals, so I didn’t think much of it and said yeah, I had gained a little extra weight lately.

Then she asked me if I was pregnant.

Really??

A little shocked, I cried, “What? No, god!”

I tried to just drop it and go back to work, but she kept trying to apologize and explain it away, and it became awkward. Finally, she concluded by saying that it was the dress. The skirt was too full and hit me at a spot that made my belly look big and I “shouldn’t wear it.”

My reply was that my body is perfectly fine the way it is and I like the dress so I’m going to wear it.

At this point, my client was the shocked one. This was obviously not the response she was expecting. She stopped, paused, and slowwwwly said something to the effect of “that’s a really good perspective.”

It seemed like she’d never met with a positive body image before. Ironically, she next told me she’s working on an article about women’s quest for perfection. I hope she considers my attitude when writing it.

Upon going over the exchange again now, it just seems ridiculous. I even laughed about it with a girlfriend later that day. Not to be vain, but, quite frankly, I have a smoking body. And even when I’ve weighed less, my stomach always has a protruding shape. It’s like I’m permanently bloated. And since you can’t target fat loss in only one spot on your body (see http://www.yalescientific.org/2011/04/targeted-fat-loss-myth-or-reality/), my choices are keep the tummy, or lose weight all over, including my boobs and hips. No thank you!

I don’t need to be “perfect” to be hot. I love my body the way it is. As long as I’m healthy and happy, then my body is perfect.

I also think it’s incredible that someone could think it’s okay to ask a woman a question as loaded as “Have you gained weight?” and then tell her not to wear something because it makes her look fat (as if “looking fat” is so horrible to begin with). Why is it okay to ask a woman something so private? It’s symptomatic of the fact that people in general treat women’s bodies as a public entity and as such think it’s okay to tell women what’s wrong with their bodies.

Pundits like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh (and even some politicians!) use “fat” as an insult to discredit women who espouse opinions they dislike. An entire magazine industry makes its money off of Photoshopped and/or unflattering photos of celebrities. I’ve even gotten into arguments with my own mother when she criticized a curvy woman on TV for having big hips or an athlete who doesn’t look “fit” enough.

It’s no wonder so many women and girls have a negative body image. It’s not just the media, it’s not just movie stars and celebrities who look “perfect” at all times or lose their baby weight within three weeks of giving birth . . . it’s everyone. It’s day-to-day encounters with friends, family members, co-workers, and strangers on the street.

It seems like there’s always someone or something detailing what’s wrong with women. I’ve often wondered how I managed to grow up without feeling horrible about my body, though I think stubbornness has played a large role in it. (My teenage rebellion: tattoos, piercing . . . and refusal to hate myself.)

I’ll never understand why it’s considered okay to publicly criticize other people’s bodies, but I’m happy to be a dissenting voice in the conversation. I just wish more people would join me.