2011-04-14 / Sandy Days, Salty Nights

Working on my jaay fondé

The sassy advice columnist at online site The Rumpus recently responded to a request from a young reader. “What would you tell your 20-something self if you could talk to her now?” she asked.

“Stop worrying about whether you’re fat,” the columnist wrote. “You’re not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who (cares)? There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this, sweet pea.”

Like most people, I have hordes of complexes, but my body has stayed out of my realm of worries. There is such complexity to the female form, such variation of height, size and constitution that it seems like wasted effort to worry about what we might or might not have.

Plus, my body has been the same for years. Sure, I put on a pound or two in my freshman year of college — a minor version of the freshman 15 — and I’ve lost a few pounds dur- ing moments of crisis, regular gym attendance or my brief vegetarian phase, but on the whole, my body has remained unchanged.

All this to say I was surprised by a certain roundness that came over me during a recent stint abroad. I had been sick for weeks, wracked with the kind of intestinal troubles that turn a person’s guts inside out. I’d come off these episodes weak and emaciated, as if I had squandered all of my body fat reserves. Then, between bouts of fever and vomiting, I’d eat. Rice. Bread. Sticks of butter. I ate chicken cooked in palm oil and sandwiches slathered with mayonnaise. When my friends worried about our rich diet, I waved off their concerns.

“My body never changes,” I said.

But then my system adjusted to the local environment. I stopped spending my nights hunched over the toilet bowl. I still ate. After three months, I developed a fine, round posterior. A jaay fondé in local parlance. A big booty.

I noticed a thickness not just in my butt, but everywhere. My arms felt heavier. My bosom took on a certain weight. My belly curved out in a way it hadn’t before, and I could pinch the fat around my waist in solid handfuls.

In the midst of this sudden corpulence, I made plans to see a former colleague. I found a pair of trousers in the back of my closet, pants I had not worn for months. I managed to hike them up my  highs, and it took a lot of tugging to get them over the hump of my backside. But a 3-inch gap stretched across my stomach, and I knew the button would never reach the button hole on the other side of my wide, white belly. I put on a dress instead.

My colleague smiled when he saw me. “You look good,” he said. He squeezed my elbow. “Better than before.”

“It’s becausecause I’m getting fat,” I joked.

He nodded, very serious. “You are,” he said. “But it looks nice on you.” Well. At least there’s that.hat. Here’s to the jaay fondé lovers of the world. ¦

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