Sunday, August 23, 2009

the skinny

The skinny on Japan is that everyone is skinny. Everything is small here; donuts, dogs, food containers, thigh highs, right down to the people themselves and the tiny percentage of the population that is overweight. In some ways, the pressure to be skinny is even more overpowering here than it is in the States. To be overweight is not only unhealthy and considered unattractive; it's also a way to stick out of a crowd in a country with the old adage "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down."

Apparently I'm "Japanese size" except for my curves.

I was so excited about buying clothes here. I imagined this perfect pair of jeans, a pair that would be just the right length that I wouldn't have to get hemmed or wear certain shoes with. In the States, pants are generally made to fit fashion models, both frighteningly skinny and plus-sized. It's rare to find your size. I thought I had arrived in the land of people my own size--surely designers here are catering to people like me. I tried on the biggest size I could find (I think it said 67 centimeters), and I couldn't get the tiny pant leg over my thigh. I barely got it past my knee before it just stuck there, like a wrapper on a sausage.

We went to an onsen (Japanese bath house) this weekend. The purpose of an onsen is relaxation. You get naked in a changing room, then clean your body in a washing area complete with body wash, shampoo, foot scrubbers, and face wash. Once you're all clean, you go and soak in a big luxurious bath tub filled with almost-too-hot water. With other people. I had the bath house to myself for about 15 minutes before two older women came in. I tried not to stare but I couldn't help but notice their complete lack of cellulite and how little their erm...flesh was sagging. These women had to be in their 40s or 50s but they looked younger. When one women leaned over, I noticed the bony ridges of her spine protruding from her skin like the spikes of a stegosaurus. A part of me was a little embarrassed walking back to my changing area as more women arrived later--mostly because tattoos are much rarer in Japanese society--but seeing all of those skinny, barely curvaceous bodies actually made me feel a little better about my own. Each woman's body was unique in its own way, but they also seemed so...similar. Not that being waifish means being unfeminine--look at Audrey Hepburn--but I happen to like my shape.

As much as America forces us into a certain mold, I am grateful to come from a land of all different shapes and sizes, where you can find pants that fit you if you look hard enough.

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