Two of my readers took the time this week to send me links to and/or a third-party commentary on a Cosmo piece about an obese woman who decided the world needed to see her in a bikini at Times Square. Note that I’m not calling her “obese” as an insult. It’s merely a medical fact. According to the standard chart, I’m currently obese as well, scaling 241 pounds at six-two. I would need to drop to 234 to be merely overweight, and I would need to be 195 or less to be a normal weight. The writer in this case clearly weighs more than I do despite being perhaps ten inches shorter; medically speaking, she is probably “morbidly obese”.
I found the story fascinating. Not because the writer is an obese woman who wanted to strip in public — there’s a whole social movement about that, called “fatkini” — but because she believed she could exercise absolute power over what happened afterwards. As a parent, I’m concerned about that. Allow me to explain.
This was a precis of the author’s experience, summed up on her Instagram page:
Yesterday I did the scariest thing I have done in my 30+ years… I stood in times square in a bikini and posed for a photo shoot. In the beginning I felt really overwhelmed. Not because I was mocked, but because I was so extremely sexualized by a few men who were watching. What was so ironic to me was that to the right of me were two nearly nude women covered only with body paint and no one felt the need to yell or scream what they wanted to do to their bodies. But to me, a plus woman in a swimsuit, the things that were said were so graphic it made me sick to my stomach. One man said he felt justified in saying what he did- because “plus women don’t know they’re ****able.” Let me be very clear here: a plus size woman’s worth, or any one woman’s worth for that matter, is not contingent on someone wanting to have sex with them. You don’t exist to pleasure someone else… you exist to change the world.
You can read a fairly harsh appraisal of the thole thing here, but mixed in with the harshness is something that is harsh but fair:
You’re standing in Times Square in what amounts to a colossal display of attention-seeking and you’re upset people are paying you attention? Isn’t that the idea? And since when have people been obliged to consider the feelings of exhibitionists?
Emphasis mine. In this case, however, I don’t want to focus on the exhibitionism. I want to talk about the difference between being a child and being an adult. We often say that “loss of innocence” is the rite of passage by which a child becomes an adult, but what does that mean? Are we speaking of moral innocence? Sexual innocence? Political innocence? All of the above? If a child is ruthlessly molested by a family member but continues to believe in Santa Claus, is he still innocent?
I think it’s something else. I believe that the “innocence” in question is innocence of consequences. The journey from childhood to adulthood is all about learning the iron bond between action and consequence. Children are naturally innocent of consequences, and the adults around them work to preserve that innocence as long as possible. When two kids get into a fistfight, we don’t send one of them to jail for ninety days. When a child crashes a bicycle, we don’t write him a ticket then force him to pay a higher insurance rate. If your fourteen-year-old sleeps through the start of his summer job a few times, you don’t kick him out of the house and force him to work casual labor jobs while he lives under a bridge abutment with the other homeless fourteen-year-olds.
This innocence of consequences is so strongly hardwired into human beings that it affects virtually everything we do. I’ve never voted against any tax program that helped children get a meal or medical care, but I have zero interest in subsidizing adults who have the same problems. But why should that be so? Why is a hungry child any greater of a tragedy than a hungry adult? Innocence of consequences is your answer.
The so-called “child refugee crisis” in Europe is a statistical fabrication designed to take advantage of human attitudes towards children. The NGOs sell an image of a drowned toddler then it turns out that ninety-two percent of “child refugees” are represented as being over fourteen, ninety-one percent of them are male, and the vast majority of them are actually in their twenties. It’s smart marketing, even if it’s dishonest at its core. Most people have zero sympathy for twenty-two-year-old men with beards and would prefer that those men fix their own problems in their own home countries.
We all recognize that innocence of consequences is a desirable thing for children. Thus: bicycle helmets, plastic sporks, Underwriters Laboratories listings, NERF footballs, lifeguards at the beach. My generation had less of that, my father’s generation much less, my grandfather’s generation very little. Before that, children were seen as miniature adults who could be pressed into work, war, or sexual behavior the moment their bodies made it even vaguely possible. The notion of “childhood” is a Victorian invention that has gone a long way to humanize our existences.
Ah, but there’s a problem that results: How do you manage the transition between childhood and adulthood? At what point is the innocence of consequences withdrawn? Do it too soon, and children are emotionally damaged. I recently had someone tell me about how her father had to look after, feed, and provide for a whole family full of younger siblings at the age of thirteen. That’s heartbreaking. The opposite case, of parents protecting their children from consequences into their twenties or thirties, gets you Hannah Horvath from “Girls”.
It also gets you this fatkini person, who thinks that she can strip down in Times Square and be protected from the consequences of her decision. The irony is that she was protected from the worst of those consequences; imagine her doing the same in, say, any Middle Eastern town square. Hell, imagine her doing it in the Times Square of 1975. Society has gone a long way towards protecting people from consequences via airbags, anti-lock brakes, warning labels, and broken-windows policing.
For this particular individual, it wasn’t enough. She wanted to be confronted by “haters” who would read stilted, straw-man ignorant insults from a script she’d written in her head, at which point she would read out the responses she’d written for her side of the script, and she would inevitably triumph the same way that all of us triumphed in our childhood daydreams. Unfortunately for her, nobody else had gotten a copy of the script so what happened instead was that a bunch of human takes on the Pterygoplichthys multiradiatus told her that she was actually very sexy in a when-there-are-no-other-alternatives sort of way. Which made her want to cry.
No functioning adult, particularly not one who had visited New York before, would expect anything else to happen. Nor would any functioning adult fail to see the difference between Fatkini Person and the body-paint women working the square for photos and tips. The latter are there to work and earn money. They are part of the economy and the scene there. People expect them. The former is an example of childhood innocence aged into a hypertrophied adult idiocy. Had the fatkini person been holding a sign that said “Pose With Me For $10,” she would have been ignored. What confused people, and engaged the discussion, was the spectacle of someone showing themselves off for no obvious reason.
The resulting article does not paint the author in an admirable light. It suggests that she has a lot of growing up to do. But she is not my problem. My son, on the other hand, is my problem. This past Tuesday, he finished a weeknight BMX race DFL in a three-rider field. At the time, I accepted John’s version of events — that he was the smallest, weakest, and youngest rider of the three. And those assertions are true. However, after reviewing the video that evening and discussing it with my old friend and training partner, Elite-class rider Martin Larrea, we realized that John had actually been in a position to win all three races, either leading or holding even with the leader over the first set of jumps. In each race, he’d slacked off in the first turn and second straight, allowing the other riders to open a gap that he could not then fully close in the second and third moto, giving him finishes of 2-3-3 and an overall last place.
On Wednesday, therefore, we went back to the track for stopwatch practice. Over the course of two hours, we exorcised the weakness from his second-straight performance. With the times he posted on Wednesday, he would have been the overall winner on Tuesday. And he didn’t have to get any bigger, stronger, or older to do it. He just had to put in the work.
All of this sounds painfully obvious but if you are a parent yourself then you may understand just how much I wanted to hug my son and tell him that losing to bigger and stronger kids was okay and that I still loved him anyway. It was emotionally painful for me to sit him down and explain that his loss was his fault and not the fault of circumstances beyond his control. It felt like criticism, it felt like bullying, it felt like being the Great Santini. But it had to be done. To his credit, he accepted what I said at face value and then he went out to fix the problem.
I like to think of situations like this as small vaccinations against the unpleasant realities of adulthood. Because when you are an adult there is always someone bigger, older, stronger, richer, or more talented than you are. When you enter the arena against that someone, you are going to suffer some consequences. Unless you are prepared. The ability to prepare for consequences, and to deal with them when they arrive, is the measure of adulthood. Plain and simple. I cannot protect my son from the unknown consequences of his adulthood, any more than the parents of Fatkini Person could have stepped in and quieted the critics in Times Square. All I can do is give him the awareness that there will be consequences in adulthood, and that those consequences are his alone to confront. That’s my job. If I do it right, then maybe John will be a champion racer or athlete or businessman. If I do it wrong… well, there’s always room for another circus freak in Times Square.
At TTAC this week, I reviewed a Jeep and went bargain-shopping at Mark Stevenson’s Hyundai dealership. For R&T I considered the effects of age on fitness to race.
This week at RG we will be pumping up the volume with a bunch of great guest posts and more besides. Keep an eye out!