Part of coming back from vacation means subjecting myself to the eyes and hands of the women who all take note of my appearance. After a long absence they always make comments—oh Anita, you look so much whiter now, you’ve lost weight, why did you cut your hair, etc. etc. Their comments are mostly positive and center on my blue eyes (very uncommon here and my tall lanky frame, also atypical here). They not only bombard me with comments, but they actually touch my body. Their hands grab at my stomach, my waist, and they squeeze my thighs. It’s an affectionate act, but sometimes it catches me off guard. They feel free to touch me wherever they please. It’s shocking but I’m used to it. They spend much of their time comparing their bodies with one another so I realize that being part of this community is participating in this touching game. (Although, I never touch them, they just touch me).
I feel like I’m under a magnifying glass and they make me laugh because they're always making suggestions on how I could be more sexy. They brainstorm outfits I should wear to look like a “real” woman. These outfits include miniskirts, high boots and skin tight tank tops. Although they approve of my slender waist, many point out that I need bigger breasts. I would have the perfect body if I had much bigger breasts. I laugh. Many of these women are curvy all over and indeed, have overflowing breasts, their cleavage being their main selling point. Well, also their round behinds. Even though they can be critical, the women always say to each other, “Anita is not ugly, she’s not ugly.” It makes me laugh so hard. I don’t dress in a way that would make them view me as “guapa” (beautiful). I do that on purpose since I get mistaken for a sex worker every day, even though I’m always careful to wear my most “unsexy” clothes.
The other day all the women were comparing nipples, just like that, in the middle of the street. Business can be slow so they start fooling around and as I just mentioned, they constantly compare bodies. Some envy each other’s breasts or behinds, others envy others’ eyes and lips. Today they were actually pulling out their breasts from their shirts to show off their nipples. They were wondering what color they were, their shape, their size, if there was hair growing from them. All of this was done with much laughter. They made fun of a woman who had very large nipples (she explained that this was due to having nursed so many children). Most of them had dark nipples, which is obvious given their darker skin. Of course, I should have known what was coming—suddenly all the women turned to me and said, “Anita, show us your nipples!” They had never seen the nipples of a gringa before. They begged and begged. I kept laughing with much embarrassment but finally I acquiesced. I feel comfortable with my body and we were behind several buses, out of the public eye. I too pulled out my breast, much to their delight. “Ooh, ahh” they said. “Look how pink and small they are!” (Referring to my nipples). They talked on and on about my gringa nipples and I was happy to satisfy their curiosity. They still remained firm that I needed bigger breasts, but they seemed to approve of my nipples!
Perhaps this is a story I shouldn’t share on a public blog site, because a) it’s inappropriate to bear one’s chest in public b) I should act more “professional” as an anthropologist with my subjects c) my advisors might flip out, but I don’t care. I have nothing to hide. These are my tales from the field. Many anthropologists never share anything that might be conceived as slightly controversial because the academic world might reject them--but as I mentioned in my earlier post, I’m trying to break these silences. I want people to know what fieldwork is about—what “really” happens in the field. Comparing my body with these women felt like a natural act—a spontaneous moment perhaps, but I felt comfortable and safe. I felt like we were part of a sisterhood celebrating our bodies. I like knowing that these women have seen my nipples, just as I have seen theirs. They are usually concentrated on attracting clients, so it felt incredibly empowering that they concentrated on one another for a moment, sharing their bodies among women, as friends, rather than sharing themselves with the dozens of unknown men whom they must service. I’ve never compared bodies explicitly with my other women friends, but doing this made me feel like part of their community more than ever before. And overall it gave me a good laugh—I’m still laughing as I’m writing about it now.