There are parts of my body that I never encounter. The backs of my knees, for example. We have a civil, but distant relationship.
Yesterday, for the first time in maybe a month, I went to yoga again. I had just read this piece, by Autumn Whitefield-Madrano of The Beheld, for Body Image Warrior Week, and I thought that I would definitely draw myself as a connected entity, with a neck that meets with shoulders (you’ll get that if you read the piece).
But at yoga, twisted into a strange position in my unfortunate spot by the radiator, it occurred to me that I actually don’t know my body all that well.
My body feels unpredictable and slightly dangerous to me. It does things I don’t understand. For example, and this is gonna be about menstrual blood, so all boys stop reading here: at the end of my period, it always stops for a day and then comes rushing back for a day, like it missed me and changed its mind.
My body has been known to play mean tricks on me, which might be why I am wary. One day, suddenly, my hair started falling out. Years ago, in college. Before that, I had such thick hair, it would occasionally flex and snap one of those flimsy ponytail holders, showing off. After that, my hair was wispy and apologetic. It never fully grew back, and when I got to New York City, I went to the doctor, and sat on the table, humiliated and determined, and asked him what my options were.
He looked confused. “Options? There aren’t any, really.” But he gave me a prescription for a Rogain knockoff and he ran blood tests. In the convenience store on the other side of Broadway from me, I had to ask the woman behind the counter for the hair loss treatment. She pulled it off the shelf and gave me a long look. “This is for men,” she said firmly.
“I know!” I said. I paid for it, wishing I could just lie and say it was for my boyfriend or my dad or something. But I am never able to lie and will probably die because of it one day, when the pirate lord who has taken me prisoner stands me up on the plank and asks me for the last time if I was trying to start a mutiny and steer the ship over to that island, with the pretty beach and the palm trees. I was!!! I love pretty beaches! I can’t help it! I WILL DIE FOR YOU, PALM TREES!
(I don’t know where that came from. Sorry.)
The doctor called me. I was severely anemic.
I hid the hair drug, paranoid that my boyfriend would see it when he came over. Or one of my friends. Or my mom, who sometimes randomly started cleaning my stuff when she visited. She might open the medicine cabinet. I was so ashamed of my manly hair loss treatment that I stopped after a week or so.
But my body didn’t stop. It was always transforming in unexpected ways. My belly changed shape. Where I used to be flat, I grew softer. My hips were suddenly fleshy, rather than lean and mean and ferocious. My body began to look gentle, welcoming, kinder. I didn’t recognize it. I’m not sure how much of my identity I’d kept in the dip of my concave abdomen, but I think it might have been too much.
The other day, I was meeting someone for dinner, and I had this series of thoughts: “I should wear my cute jeans. No. I can’t. They’re too tight. My belly puffs out, over the top. And they cut into me when I sit down. Especially if I eat. So no jeans. How about some soft, comfortable pants?” and then, “Oh my god. I’m like one of those women who wears a velour tracksuit all the time. I CAN’T EVEN WEAR MY OWN CLOTHES. I am disgusting. I’ve let myself go.”
(and probably not one from Juicy Couture. source)
See that, right there? What is that? The whole “I’ve let myself go” thing. That is crap.
I’ve let myself be.
That’s more like it.
I didn’t stand in my belly’s way. I let it go be itself.
And now there are folds in shocking places and I am pliant in ways I wasn’t before, and in yoga, sweating and miserable and definitely bad at everything and sure I am designed to be watching TV instead, I come into abrupt contact with parts of my body I don’t know at all. Even my ankles, which I can usually ignore. I am so surprisingly physical. I wonder what I look like in silhouette. I wonder what I really look like to other people. I realize I don’t know what I look like. I don’t even really know what I feel like. My arms seem better than I expected. I am used to hating them reflexively, for their fat. But when they are holding me up, I can’t help but be a little impressed. From this angle, they look strong and well-formed.
I am not used to interacting intimately with my own body. Which seems strange. Shouldn’t I be?
It’s easier to critique it from a distance, like someone judging a beauty pageant, than it is to get to know it for what it really is.
Last night, in the improbably titled burlesque bikini bootcamp that I signed up for on LivingSocial about a minute before I forbade myself from buying things on that site, I am one of the only young women in the studio whose belly sticks out. Welcome to Manhattan, baby.
I am also one of the only women who is not wearing exercise clothes. I am wearing my rabbit dress. And I brought my highest heels, which I put on for the sexy dance we learn. I am very good at crawling like a cat, I discover. It’s my butt. It’s just really round and prominent.
(in case you forgot.)
“I think I nailed that whole cat crawl thing,” I tell the teacher after, as my friend is telling her that I am this big body image blogger and I am being awkward and wondering what a big body image blogger would say next.
“You looked great from behind,” she says.
She is blond and fabulous and British and sensual. In class, she tells us that we are only allowed to think good things about our reflections. That’s an order. We are gorgeous. Each one of us in a totally different, stunning way. We are masterpieces. Look what our sexy bodies can do!
Inexplicably, she tells us to chant, “I put the POP in popsicle!”
I want to say it with a British accent.
I am one of the only women in the studio with short hair, so I can’t flip it like the others. I may be the only girl here who has used a Rogain knockoff. But my hair looks adorable. My curvy body looks good and for a few moments I feel other eyes on me, and I am sure that they are agreeing. I am fabulous. With this whole body that is completely mine.
* * *
How are you feeling about your body these days? Do you know it well? Does it surprise you? How about the backs of your knees? What are they like?
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in giant heels.
P.S. Check out my piece on the Frisky about the ceremony my friend Rachel and I did together. It’s kinda more about friendship than ceremonies, but the ceremony was also badass.