stolen

Someone stole my body from me. The whole thing, all of my pieces. I think I’m locked up somewhere dark now.

I know, because when I look down at myself, I don’t see me. I see all of the things I should be instead of being myself.

I’ve been stealthily, expertly, completely replaced.

Aliens?

I noticed it the other day, smoothing cream over my legs. Well, these legs, anyway. The ones that attach there, at the base of the torso. I was rubbing the moisturizer into them and I had this image of my head of other women smoothing other, probably more expensive, moisturizer into probably more expensive legs. Better legs. Legs that are longer and lither and tanner and sleeker. Legs that get described in books, lovingly, sometimes almost flippantly, like, of course. Of course, if she’s here, important enough to get a mention; she has these long, fabulous legs.

“I love your short legs,” said Bear, randomly, and I was insulted. “Short” was an insulting word for a second, and then I realized that he was being sweet, and he was serious, somehow, and he had, after all, started off with the word “love.” But “love” and “short” and “legs” do not work together in my mind, because I’ve memorized instinctively all the right proportions and measurements (even though I suck at numbers) and I know what is worth loving.

But I don’t know what is worth loving. Because I am worth loving.

I feel like I have an expert eye for beauty. It’s because I’m an artist, I’ve told myself. I have always painted. But really, it’s because I’m a girl.

 

In the mirror, over my face, hang hundreds of other, more successful faces. They have hung there for a long time now. Many years. It doesn’t even really bother me most of the time, because I’m so used to it. But I have this memory of being a kid, and holding a silver hand mirror that looked like an antique but really it wasn’t and just staring at my own beautiful face from different angles. I adjusted the light. I pouted, I smiled, I widened my eyes and played with my hair, and wow, I was splendid. I was perfection. I was fantastically complete. I was almost mythically original. I was in love with myself. Just the way you’re not supposed to be. It’s so conceited.

Is it conceited, when you’re a little girl? How quickly is it important that you learn how wrong you were, to think you were so right?

Being in love with myself was the best. I miss it sometimes, even now. I want it for my unborn daughter.

She is a wild one, I think, as she kicks hard inside my belly. She is a strong one. And I realize that I am most afraid that she will forget that wildness one day. That she will accept and want more than anything to be acceptable. My wish for her, my desperate desire, is that she will be able to laugh loudly and roll her eyes and crush judgment under her boot and say, “Fuck this noise. I’m awesome.”

I am learning, slowly, slowly, to say that. But I’m still whispering, and I’m still uncertain, and I’m still nervous that someone will call me out on it, and go, “You don’t count! You’re just bitter because you’re not sexy enough!”

That is what they say to so many women, who speak up. As though beauty is a pacifier, and some of us are born with it in our mouths and we’re too happy to ever spit it out and learn how to eat real food.

And then they say about women who are doing big things, “She doesn’t look good.” And they think it’s funny. I hear them saying this, and I shrink a little, afraid that if I ever do anything big, they will say the same narrowing, slicing, dissecting things about me and it will make me somehow smaller. I will be reduced to my parts, like the cow in my freezer, which I think of in terms of which cuts are most desirable, easiest to cook.

It’s ridiculous, amazing, how afraid I am that someone will just shout out, “You are ugly!”

As though that, alone, is enough to crush me into nothingness. As though that, as a summary, is the most succinctly cruel thing someone can say.

You are ugly= you are meaningless

It would be easier, always, to be more beautiful, I think. But how badass would it be to be ugly and powerful and not give a shit? Are we there yet? Can a woman do that yet?

I take a step, and I am pulling all these trailing, featherlight carcasses. These faint overlays of other women, imaginary, perfected women. Like plastic bag litter in oily water, filmy, clinging. Their limbs coat my limbs, drift back, wrap around me. Their hair is tangled in my hair. Their breasts, translucent, hover over mine, fuller, showing my breasts the failure of their lines, emphasizing the emptiness in the air where there should be flesh and fullness.

I know, intimately, casually, everything that my body has gotten wrong. The sloppiness where I spill over, outside of the trim, clean lines that beauty stays neatly inside, like an obedient child with a steady hand who is preternaturally expert with the crayons. Even pregnant, which I have never been until now, I already know how to evaluate my new shortcomings. The belly should be higher, rounder, smaller. I am growing large so quickly, unstoppable, out of control. My ankles thicken defensively. Even my pregnant body has been sneakily coopted, labeled, taken away from me. The version that is handed blankly back has all the usual notes scribbled across its surface. “Not quite right,” “Bulky,” “Could be better executed—we’re looking for something a little bit more…fluid.” “Missing a certain natural beauty.”

I am missing a certain natural beauty, even though this is what I naturally am.

I am missing myself.

When did the theft occur? The investigation falters almost immediately—it was done gradually, bit by bit, over many years, starting very young. So quiet, so persistent, impossible to accurately track, no one exactly to blame.

I reach up, rub my neck, sitting for a long time in the audience at a concert. I feel a certain softness that isn’t right. It doesn’t feel like the right kind of neck. Not that I have touched so many women’s necks. How would I know? But I do, somehow. It should be longer, more taut, thinner, more graceful. It should be, it should be, it should be.

I should be…

I am touching myself through the world’s fingers. I feel this body like a foreign territory. My brain has been swapped for a critic’s brain, so that I can’t stop evaluating, measuring, sizing myself up.

But at the same time, I remember my face in that heavy silver handmirror. The one that came in a silly set, with a brush too decorative to ever use on my opinionated hair. But the mirror was a portal, and my face was the magical place on the other side. I loved my own green eyes. I loved the way I aligned. The whole thing was so beautifully mine.

And I think that face—the warmth of the memory—is a clue. It’s a breadcrumb on the long trail back to where I’m hidden in the murky dark. To the place where my stolen body waits.

I haven’t lost it completely after all.

I focus, swatting away the other faces that settle, suffocating, over my features. Underneath all these layers, all these miniscule rules that all add up to not ever being good enough, my green eyes look back at me as though across an enormous distance—are they pleading?

I am coming! I sometimes want to tell them. I am coming to save you!

I am coming to save me, on these thickened ankles, belly first, carrying the weight of my daughter. So that she will someday have a mother who knows how to fight. Who can crush doubt under her boot and look up and wink and just go, “Fuck this noise.”

 

*  *  *

Unroast: Today I love the way I look from the side

33 Comments »

Kate on May 23rd 2013 in beauty, body, feminism, pregnancy

33 Responses to “stolen”

  1. teegan responded on 23 May 2013 at 9:58 am #

    yes.

    Whether I have a pack of boys, one each boy and girl, or even just this one perfect son, I am trying to be the mama who can do that, say that.
    Fuck this noise.

    I ran 2.5 miles and then stripped down and dunked myself in Cape Cod Bay in just my underwear Tuesday. THAT’S the kind of woman I want to be.

  2. Kate responded on 23 May 2013 at 10:05 am #

    @teegan
    i feel like if anyone can do it, it’s you. you’re already so strongminded and brave. and i want to be in the Cape Cod Bay in just my underwear, too!! that sounds amazing. maybe i don’t have to run first, though?

  3. maggie responded on 23 May 2013 at 10:31 am #

    I love your shirt in the last pic.

    Your daughter is going to be a fighter too :)

  4. Sheryl responded on 23 May 2013 at 11:02 am #

    Some days I feel absolutely, perfectly at home in my body. Then I have days where I feel that weird, alien confusion wondering how this particular body matches up with the rest of me. Seeing my body in a different light and being confused as to how it matches up with the body I think I have. Perception is such a slippery thing that reconciling those two opposing thoughts is not easy.

  5. onebreath responded on 23 May 2013 at 11:38 am #

    Disclaimer: I am not a mother. But still, sometimes I think the best thing we could teach our children is better tolerance for the uncertainty. Clearly, the best thing is to be strong and resilient and sure of one’s true “self”. Maybe I’m pessimistic but I don’t know how that’s possible in this crazy world.

    So I wonder if it’s possible to teach our children that they will have days when they feel beautiful and days when they feel crushed. That both are normal, though not necessarily desirable, states and that they can survive and thrive through both. Life will be a series of ups and downs and they have that core of self (that you sensed at the end of your post!) that will carry them through. That they will be okay no matter what.

  6. Paige responded on 23 May 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    Beautiful post

  7. Nat responded on 23 May 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    This post is a thing of beauty. Thankyou.X

  8. Kate responded on 23 May 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    Thank you– means a lot!

    I feel vulnerable with this one…

  9. Erin Lee responded on 23 May 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    Wow. I will never forget this post.

  10. Sarah S responded on 23 May 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    Fuck this noise. Exactly. Thank you, Kate!

  11. em responded on 23 May 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    Kate, this is so beautiful! What a gift it is to have those eyes that, looking into the mirror or down at yourself, rest on one feature and then travel to another, and love everything they see. The more this is talked about I think the more it arises to life or is resurrected or transmits one of us to another.

    It’s not natural, not to see ourselves as a beautiful part of the scenery of this world. It’s natural to love and value ourselves so much. “Ugly” to me when used in visual description is a statement of something wrong with the person’s eyes (and mind and heart). Like if they were to report they have double vision, or have become colorblind. I think wabi sabi can be of the body’s beauty as well.

  12. Michelle Little responded on 23 May 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    ‘She is a wild one, I think, as she kicks hard inside my belly. She is a strong one. And I realize that I am most afraid that she will forget that wildness one day. That she will accept and want more than anything to be acceptable. My wish for her, my desperate desire, is that she will be able to laugh loudly and roll her eyes and crush judgment under her boot and say, “Fuck this noise. I’m awesome.”’

    This made me want to throw my head back and howl and cry at the same time. So beautiful Kate!
    Incidentally, I have had someone, a male teenager, yell out “You’re ugly!” at me from a car as I was heading to my apartment. I had a weird response where I was first shocked, then amused because I had grown up with lots of family and friends telling me I was beautiful (which creates it’s own form of life-long anxiety and a tendency to completely feel insecure about my value apart from looks) and then I started to feel very unsure of myself. What did he see when he looked at me?
    Eventually I decided I didn’t give a shit because I wasn’t going to let some weirdo in a car mess with my self-esteem.
    Still. Interesting how the word “ugly” can hold such power. And he knew it.

  13. San D responded on 23 May 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    Hey! Someone stole my body too, and replaced it with a 64 year old’s! I know how you feel only when I look in the mirror the first thing I notice is my mother’s feet and wonder “how the heck they got onto the end of my legs”, then I wonder how my face transmuted into my aunt’s jowly, rosaceated visage. I also wonder if someone used my side profile as a model for Mrs. Potato Head. (disclaimer: I have never had children). I have had two radical physical transformations, one cancer, the other aging, and both times I have seen the humor, but not the “beauty”. You were able to lyrically explain your transformation into something quite beautiful, fierce, and moving.

  14. Melanie responded on 23 May 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    Love it! I think we all feel this way sometimes. I’ll catch a glimpse of myself in a reflection and wonder who it is. It most certainly isn’t me.

    I hope your daughter is a fighter and never “learns” to be tame either. I plan on being a wild woman forever. There are days when I forget and I’m tamed, and those days make me sad.

  15. Claire responded on 23 May 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    It’s very strange for me to read this as I have never had that kind of self-love you’re describing. I’ve had moments of self-hatred and doubt though, but I’ve developed three tactics to fight that feeling, and they’re pretty successful. I hope someone will find them useful.

    - find a hair-makeup-clothes routine that works ok for you so that you can get ready quickly, not spend too much time scrutinizing your face and still be at least a bit happy with the result. Give yourself a smile before you leave the house.

    - then concentrate super hard on whatever you have to do and think of yourself as little as possible. Concentrate on what people say. Concentrate on doing your work. Concentrate on achieving. Forget about checking yourself in every mirror. You’re busy, you’re doing important stuff, you’re on a mission.

    - if someone says you’re ugly or something equivalent (it happens, some people you don’t have much to do with their lives), instead of feeling bad about yourself immediately and wanting to hide in a cave, take a second to look at that person first. Is she/he so attractive she/he can actually judge other people ? …. surprise suprise, it’s NEVER the case. There’s about 99% chance she’s a bitter bitch with a face tense with repressed anger / he’s a sexually frustrated Mr Nobody. 99% chance, I promise you. So be charitable, just give them the smile full of pity they deserve, and move on. It has nothing to do with you. :)

  16. Rachel @ Musings of an Inappropriate Woman responded on 23 May 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    S just described my legs as “peasant like.” And then laughed.

  17. Damla responded on 23 May 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    Kate, you’re a beautiful person.

  18. Patricia Christianson responded on 23 May 2013 at 6:05 pm #

    Here is a good mirror Proverbs 31:10-31

  19. Clare Rulz responded on 23 May 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    Like Michelle Little, I once had someone yell at me from a car. I was walking to my best friend’s house and someone yelled ‘Loser!!’ at me. I was so hurt, and then started laughing, both at my silly reaction and at the ridiculousness of someone shouting such a thing to a total stranger. I smiled, full of self confidence, all the way to my friend’s house where I could barely tell my latest story through the laughter. We all have insecurities, but we’ve made it this far so let’s just keep our loser-heads up and keep going!

  20. mel responded on 24 May 2013 at 1:02 am #

    When I was a teenager I thought I looked pretty amazing. It was kind of unusual I guess, to be so perfectly happy with my body (well maybe I didn’t quite love my legs) while most of my peers were self critical.

    And once when I proclaimed that I’d gotten a piece of clothing that made me look very good, my guy friend called me conceited.

    It was very confusing.

    Apparently, if you feel sexy, you are conceited. If you feel ugly, you’re irrational and blind. Us ladies really can’t win, can we?

  21. Val responded on 24 May 2013 at 1:46 am #

    San D? Her writing connects all of us.

    There are so many people, who when I first met them, didn’t strike me on as beautiful, but as I loved them, became quite gorgeous.

    mel, no we can’t win.

    If we fret on how we look, we’re vain and preoccupied with things that don’t matter.

    Or if we don’t try, then we’ve let ourselves go and that’s never good.

    Pbblt.

    Kate is the voice of a new generation of realness and new definitions.

    I’m so there.

    She’s already advocating for that little girl.

    The future is looking very fine.

    love, Val

  22. Lily responded on 24 May 2013 at 9:48 am #

    This is one of the most beautifully written pieces I have ever read.

    I have small, glorious moments where I am able to say “Fuck that noise, I’m awesome!” Sometimes I really mean it. But then I see someone being just as awesome, but being prettier while they revel in their awesomeness. And for some reason that means my awesome doesn’t count.

    I don’t get it.

    One of my proudest moments as a mom was when I peeked at my 10 year old daughters phone, and it had a file of pictures titled ‘Beautiful Me’ – full of self taken photos.
    She’s 12 now, and would never dare day such a thing about herself. Middle school has put her in her place.
    Thankfully she still has enough awesome to say ‘fuck them!’ And rock a hot pink feaux-hawk. :)

  23. Andrea responded on 24 May 2013 at 7:15 pm #

    Kate,

    I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now and have loved and related to just about every post you write, but this one speaks to me particularly.

    I have also been working towards being the type of woman confident enough to tell the critics and their issues to “fuck off!” not only for myself, but for also for my friends, my family (especially my nine-year old sister), and my future children, not to mention those girls (and boys) lacking a role model themselves.

    I think this fight for self-acceptance is SO important and I wanted to thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Reading your blog has been so inspiring to me and has made me feel less alone in the issues I find important. Thank you.

  24. Leslie responded on 24 May 2013 at 7:29 pm #

    This is such a beautiful post, Kate…wow. Thank you for writing this and sharing it with all of us. It resonates in me…

  25. Lesliann Furo responded on 26 May 2013 at 2:49 am #

    Love this from the bottom of my heart. Lived with ALL these,and more, glasses(ugly) buck teeth (braces) Chubby (fat)
    I had one gift which I clung on to for dear life…I could draw. If not for that I don’t know if I would have even made it through grade school…
    Well, I did, I am 60 now. Still wear glasses(cute ones) had braces -still have my own teeth, Lean towards being a bit on the thin side now. Someoone loved me enough to marry me and stay with me for 40 years…doing okay.LOVE your truth-telling and all I see here I am grateful to share with you. Blessings

  26. Lily responded on 26 May 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    To me you are not simply beautiful. You will never ever be ugly. You are different and there’s many more alike. I have a special department for those: ‘not your usual beauty’ and I divide that department in two groups :’rocking the uniqueness’ and ‘underappreciating.’ You are the last group. Nobody is worthy of judging you, but you and yet we all judge and you care. You should not and you should be rocking, because that would put you in a better category: ‘the ones who can love themselves first.’

  27. VinnyVideo responded on 26 May 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    Cheers. I stumbled across this blog while Googling something utterly random, but now that I’m here, I feel compelled to add my two cents.

    In modern society, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of allowing your body to define who you are. Slick photos of supermodels dominate TV commercials, magazines, and the Internet, and it’s hard not to envy their “perfect” bodies. But no matter what you do, you’ll never look like them – in fact, even the models themselves look nothing like their actual selves in their heavily-Photoshopped centerfolds.

    Instead of agonizing over your appearance, if you stay active and eat decently (and yes, it is permissible to eat chocolate cake – I feel a special pity for those who deprive themselves of brownies!), you’re destined to look and feel like the person you were born to be. I’m not saying it’s wrong to think about your appearance – everyone feels better when they take the time to look nice – but it’s dangerous to get overly absorbed in our bodies. I think we’d have a much more equitable and moral society if people – especially females – were judged on the basis of their intellect, creativity, and work ethic, rather than their cup size or body-fat percentage.

  28. Joy Daniels responded on 06 Jun 2013 at 9:41 pm #

    I love that you have “opinionated hair.” I do and so does my daughter (yeah, Jewish hair) and I will forevermore use that fantastic term to describe it because, hey, “fuck that noise”, it rocks.

  29. Jessica responded on 07 Jun 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    Very poetic! I love this piece because I have never been pregnant, and I always thought of it the way you described–that it would feel like something or someone else was taking over me and I wouldn’t recognize the parts of myself anymore. I enjoyed reading this.

  30. Eat the Damn Cake » surprise responded on 15 Jul 2013 at 6:11 pm #

    [...] I was surprised to look at myself, finally, and find that I could no longer see myself through my own eyes. Instead, my image had been filtered … [...]

  31. Piloting Paper Airplanes | Article Almanac: Healthy vs. compulsive exercise - Piloting Paper Airplanes responded on 17 Jul 2013 at 9:30 am #

    [...] I was surprised to look at myself, finally, and find that I could no longer see myself through my own eyes. Instead, my image had been filtered … [...]

  32. Stolen — Everyday Feminism responded on 17 Aug 2013 at 7:00 am #

    [...] Source: Eat the Damn Cake [...]

  33. Deanndre responded on 27 Aug 2013 at 10:29 pm #

    Hats off to you. This article was shown to me by my sister, I’m grateful she passed it along. I’ll now go back to this when I’m having a moment where I don’t love myself… If I continue to have those moments anyways. Thank you.