My Public Body

 

My body didn’t belong to me for a long time. It was something I dwelled in and looked out of and how people identified “me.” It’s always been small. When I was a child people always picked me up when they hugged me, and even now, as a habit I suppose, I reach over people’s shoulders though they’re a foot taller than me.  When I was small, (and I probably would now, if I was ever to get this close to someone for an extended period of time) and I’d lean up against someone, I’d try to breathe like them, even if I felt it strain my body and lungs. The thought never occurred to me that these limbs and organs belonged to me.

Recently, but not too recently, a friend mentioned to me that all women have public bodies, and before I could stir up any memories of my childhood or think of all the times I’ve been told to smile, I felt a strange mix of understanding and anger simmer in my veins. She reminded me that even at the gynecologist, where we’re already exposed and prodded, the name of the tool used to investigate our vaginas is called the speculum. We discussed Caitlyn Jenner and how people feel the need to comment on her transition more than Chaz Bono’s, because (apparently) it’s a mystery as to who would want to live in a female body.

Like all other psychological problems that incessantly plague us when we have to mingle with other people and make those interactions make sense with our inner monologues, it begins with what each of us were raised to believe. The long and short of the traumatizing part is that my friend’s dad was a little handsy, my step-dad was a little handsy, and the comments men at bars (which my parents brought me to) would make comments that felt handsy. My step-dad consistently told me I was fat and would follow me around the house pointing out all the parts of me that jiggled. Ya know, because it wasn’t enough to be going through puberty and already feeling weird about all the weird shit happening to my body.

The first time I thought I had some kind of control over my body I was washing dishes. My hands worked to remove dry food from silverware in the sudsy water when my step-dad, sucking his teeth as always, moved behind me and slapped my ass. I was about thirteen. This behavior was normal, but for whatever reason I couldn’t take that shit any more. Without thinking, I pulled my hand out of the sink, grasping a spoon, and I said, “If you ever do that again, I’ll fucking kill you. Don’t touch me.” Now, I was never one to back sass (I normally just hung in my room and read), so my actions were somewhat confusing…Not to mention I basically threatened to kill this grown ass man with a spoon. It had to have been a solid resolution because I continued to hold the spoon and stare at him. Finally, he responded, “No one wants to touch that anyway.  You think you’re something special?” After that encounter, he stopped touching me, but the comments persisted in full-force up until I moved out at nineteen. In a number of ways, this relationship taught me to hate my body.

When I did move out, nothing much changed.  From men, “Smile. You’re pretty.” From women, “You don’t understand what it’s like to be a big girl. You’ve always been small.”  Turns out there was always something wrong with it, but now it was mine and it was a way for people to control me, and a way for people to hate me.

No one saw me naked in a sexual way until I was 21. I thought his head was going to explode, so I thought, “Maybe there is something good about this thing.” I wanted to use it. I started form modeling. I was so nervous.  The art teacher looked at me in nothing but my towel standing in front of a bunch of college sophomores. “Are you ready?” He asked. Effortlessly, I dropped my towel. My first thought was, “Well, they can’t unsee it.”  I wish I could say that experience was cathartic, alas I still didn’t accept my body as mine, and I still kinda hated it because it didn’t look like everyone wanted it to look. I didn’t know what I wanted it to look like, to be honest. I didn’t know what it would take for me to assume it as my own.

I carried this body for a few years after that. I didn’t acknowledge the good parts or the bad parts at all. It was just there. If you liked my body, something was wrong with you.  If you didn’t like it, I was upset with myself, of course.

About a year or so ago, I noticed it beginning to change. There was a different curve connecting my waist to my hips and coiling down to my thighs. My breasts, while not saggy or anything, developed a new slope. No one told me that this would be happening so soon, or whether it was a good thing or a bad thing, and I hadn’t been in a relationship with anyone in such a way that they would be able to compare now and then and tell me what direction it was going in.  What was I to do? Or to think?  Could this vessel I was stuck in get any weirder?

Finally, I pulled my head out of my own ass. So many women come in so many different shapes and sizes, and they struggle with all the shit I do. (Duh, girl.)  In fact, I’ve spoken to women who appear to be completely incapable of accepting anything associated with a positive body image, no matter if you ignore them or praise them. This breaks my heart.

I’ll be the first to tell you: my ass looks like cottage cheese, I’m super furry, I’m bow-legged, I’ve got stretch marks here and there, I get beard and mustache hairs, my teeth are crooked, my nose is probably too big for my face, and I’m covered in moles. Those of you who know me are rolling your eyes and shaking your heads, which is exactly what’d I’d be doing if you listed all your bodily inadequacies.  Maybe we need this affirmation all the time. Maybe if we didn’t we’d be like men. Maybe if we didn’t men wouldn’t be like men.

Ultimately, no matter what it looks like it’s my body. No matter what you or he or she or they tell me it looks like or how I should feel about it, it’s mine, and I love her.

 

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