Yesterday, I caught a man staring at me. Maybe he was lost in thought and I just so happened to stand within sight. Maybe I was not a part of his vision or his thoughts at all. Just in case he was stealing glances of my legs, my backside, I stared back. Hard. Ripe. Straight into his eyes speckled green. With this, his head shook doggedly, and he walked away.
For moons upon moons, a woman’s body has not been her own as the result of stares and judgments such as this. Men may feel this way, too. But I can only speak of a woman’s perception of her curvy path(s), keeping pace with stares from unabashed men who are much older and much younger than herself. It doesn’t happen much anymore to me. Perhaps because I am often found to be carrying my sweet babe about my frame. Perhaps because of the years that tread roughly and rudely across my body in the form of scars and stretch marks. Most unsightly they are to men, to boys.
But last night, after I lay my babe in his bed, I undressed slowly. Tired from a day full of grocer lanes, bike riding, and yoga class, I failed to realize I was fully naked in front of the only full length mirror in our house. I turned ’round and ’round, in awe of my thirty year old form. When did I acquire legs that bow out at the thigh only to dip in before reaching my widened hips? When did my face become a riddle of pock marks and dark spots? When did my teeth start to zig this way and that inside my mouth that habitually utters more than it should? I hurried to the bath water, sickened by my own selfish thoughts of skin and bone.
The ever-rising water was too hot to touch and yet I plunged into the bubbles hoping to forget the barrage of my own limbs I’d found so troublesome. As I began to soak, my subconscious roamed between the men and women of my past. I wondered where these vibrations of not being good enough stemmed from. Was it the boy much older than myself, grinding his body atop mine? I was in primary school, then. Or was it the girl in high school who said I had an hour glass shape, like a 50’s film star? Everyone wished to be sticks and stones, then. Was it the boys at university who filmed themselves snogging drunken girls without their knowledge? I was just one of the litter, then.
Or was it the boy at my first post-university job who labeled me the “fat manager?” I was barely eating due to relationship stress coupled with the stress of working for a company that profited by making people feel that they were not truly wanted unless clothed in their brand, their lifestyle. (I carried 118 pounds on my 5 foot 7.5 inch frame, then–the skinniest I have been in my adult life). Or, while hovering ’round 124 pounds, was it the man I dated that wanted me to work beside him while he monitored my every consumption, taking plates of pizza away and sharing my desserts, all the while suggesting I run more? Was it the next boy I dated that smoked, drank, and spoke in Bukowski fashion of women and men?
No. It wasn’t truly my limbs that troubled me as I sat in hot water. It was that I allowed the perceptions of others to seep back into my gaze. A gaze that I have spent years in righting. Those people are no longer a part of my day to day, and for good reason. I have taught myself how to strip negativity from the floors in which I stand upon, and that includes any negative vibrations I may have for this skin and bone compilation that has seen me through the happiest, most tragically beautiful days of my life.
Before the water cooled, I took a bit of soap and gave thanks to each and every morsel of my current self. I thanked the scars on my face, for they are the result of crazed hormonal acne and without them, I would have never guessed that I carried a brilliant baby boy in my womb. I thanked these facial scars for constantly reminding me that my actions are now much bigger than myself. This face of mine is mirrored in my sweet baby. I thanked the stretch marks on my thighs from when my legs grew fast, allowing me to clumsily run from my home and into the country, to become immersed with pheasants and rabbits and prairie grass galore. I thanked my forever calloused feet–the result of forgoing shoes in order to feel the wet grass, the cold cement, the same ground my ancestors have prettied up for centuries. I thanked my arms that I have never truly been fond of, for they carry in groceries to feed my family and they carry out flowers I’ve nursed in our house to be transplanted in our tiny yard.
I gave thanks until I had nothing left to give. The bubbles had all but receded as I climbed from the basin. And though it will take many more baths of self-acceptance for each of us to feel as full as we should of ourselves, I am reminded that we women, we lovers, we borrowed sisters and mothers, are all so very in this together.