A Journey Through My Body
My toes have chipped blue nail polish. Even though I associate painting my nails with the pleasant nostalgia for childhood, when I bought $2 polishes with my allowance and listened to Savage Garden or watched Buffy as I pretended to be fancy, I don’t keep up on them and they chip fairly readily, leaving just a splash of color across my ever-weary feet. Nevertheless, I feel more like a woman now with polish on my nails.
I try to keep up on shaving my legs too, although I admit I often let them enjoy an extra day of a more natural state. When you live in palazzo pants and workout leggings, that’s an acceptable regimen. It’s less important to maintain baby-smooth legs when you’re not actively courting a date — although in my experience, men care less than magazines suggest they do. They do care about what’s between your legs and its follicilicity. You must balance among comfort, cost, and unreasonable social expectations for female grooming.
I gave up on the unnatural obsession I had with fishnets I had when I was younger; my parents, to their credit, let me experiment with my style. One time outside Wal-Mart, 12-Year-Old Me was proudly wearing my fishnets and an old man leered at me and said with excitement, “You got lines on your legs.”
No more fishnets after that, except as a costume.
My knees still seem knobby even though I’ve filled out my calves since college. They’re sensitive, as though they’ve never quite gotten over years of banging them on things. It’s true that dancers often are klutzy when not on stage.
My butt has bloomed since college, which was unfortunate news for all my favorite pants. Half of it is muscle that I worked hard for…the other half is age. Where I grew up, small butts were preferred on women, perhaps because a woman with an ass is intimidating as hell. Trim tush, wide hips…those were the girls the boys all lusted after. It meant easy childbearing but no illusion of fatness. My hips are still so small that people think I’m a teenager. And indeed, the thought of bearing children terrifies me.
I remember when the curve of my belly first came in, a distinctive swath of new flesh — the very shape of my torso preparing for a child that has never occupied the space since. In time, the curve filled out a bit. Even daily ab crunches weren’t enough to slow the effect of a slowing metabolism. I’m sensitive about it for sure, embracing the trimming power of my yoga pants. I divorced my jeans and donned dresses that let my belly do what it wanted.
My lower back has a tattoo. Friends teased me about my “tramp stamp,” saying that any tattoo in that spot has that unfortunate moniker, even if it doesn’t have the typical tribal or floral design. The tattoo was free, won in a contest at a concert raising awareness for breast cancer. I never did get another tattoo, as much as I wanted one. I nervously told my parents when my boyfriend and I visited them. All three faces paled when I said I had news, and I quickly realized that they thought I was about to make use of my belly curve. They were relieved to learn it was just a tattoo.
My breasts finally got to a C-cup when I hit 30 (thanks, weight gain). I carry them with pride, now that I’m less embarrassed by their size. My friend, whose weren’t much bigger than mine, teased me about them once. I commented that they were the perfect size to fit in a guy’s hand. “He must have some small hands,” she laughed with way too much gusto. Indeed, I’d stuffed a couple of times, and bought pushup pads as soon as I was able. I figured lovely boobs would make up for my tiny hips. I was somewhat correct.
My shoulders carry absolutely all of my stress. It’s impressive, really. I’ve worked on posture and gotten massages and rolled around on lacrosse balls and none of it really helps. Still, I used to have tremendous, chronic pain there. It’s gotten somewhat better. My shoulders remind me of what I carry: the burden of years of depression and trauma. I really want a tattoo on them, but I’m not sure of what.
My hair is an endless source of frustration after years of bad haircuts, stress-induced falling-out, a vitamin deficiency, dermatitis, and bad dye decisions. It’s been short for years, ever since I was on OKCupid and half my messages were from men negging me for my hair. “You need to grow out that hair to balance out that gorgeous strong nose,” one wrote, as though he’d originally written “big nose” but thought it needed a bit of sugarcoating. “Men prefer women with long hair,” wrote another, ever so helpfully.
And my face. It’s something that some people hate and some people love. It’s something that I’ve stared at endlessly, not out of vain but of self-doubt and self-hatred. It’s the site of my body dysmorphic disorder, my face warping before my eyes into an exaggeratedly ugly vista. It’s the source and cause of many of my tears. Yet it’s a nice face, I’m told. I train myself to look at it with fresh eyes and a stance of self-love by taking selfies and looking myself in the mirror to say, “I forgive you.”
It’s hard to do.