The subject is women’s bodies. I had a moment the other day that would have been welcome 45 years ago, and I have been thinking about it ever since. The prep work for the moment began as I was reading Tina Fey’s book Bossypants which was as funny and lively as I expected it to be. In the midst of the snarky fun, she has some serious things to say to say about bodies.
For example, in a list of points on what it felt like when she was thin, she begins not with feeling sexy or being able to wear cool clothes. She says she was cold all the time. I don’t often hear anyone say there is a down side to being thin.
She has a section where she flat out announces that yeah, yeah we all think there’s something wrong with our bodies, and here’s a list. I started reading through the list. I gave the book back (thanks, Julia) or I would quote from it but if you are a woman, you already know the list: things are too big, too small, too curly, too straight; and I understand men rarely have this complaint: too long.
I thought I might need to throw up. Though my parents long ago made Unhelpful Remarks about my body, I still carry on the tradition in ways I wish I didn’t. As exhausting a tradition as it is to keep afloat, it’s still hard to scuttle.
That’s the background, now we’re up to the day of My Moment. I went to my Yoga for Over 50s class which I have now attended 20 times. I know this because I am keeping my class pass cards like they were trophies. (http://www.elenalouiserichmond.com/2011/10/squadron-leader-over-50/.)I usually position myself in the front so I don’t get distracted with what other people are doing. When we do the balancing postures, I get distracted by anyone who looks like she might fall backwards into me.
But the teacher had us turn to the side to do wide-legged forward bends which gave me, who I describe as ‘peasant stock,’ a view of everyone in the class. Ahead of me was a large, rumply rump in black sweat pants, to its side was a slight body with hardly a bump in her white T-shirt. Ahead of her was a large, angular body with narrow shoulders and broad hips. That was the one. That was the unlikely body that brought tears to my eyes. I thought, “Majestic, dignified, beautiful.”
I looked around at all the bodies in the class. “We’re all beautiful!” I thought. I looked at the rumply rump again just to test my new hypothesis. “Yep,” I decided. “Every body in here is beautiful.”
If anything, the variety itself is just dazzling. Why are women’s bodies the only thing in creation that aren’t generally celebrated for their variety? Song collectors, rock hounds, horticulturalists, oenophiles, foodies, philatelists and See’s Candy all thrive on the concept of assortment.
It’s common to blame men for unrealistic, not to say inhuman standards of female beauty. But we do it to ourselves. We do it by envying or flaunting the ability to come close to fitting the template. We do it by rebelling or by complying rather than sinking into ourselves, befriending what we find there, and living the life we desire.
Some of us take a long time to pull out of the imitative world of adolescence, that small campus where our safety is provided either by looking like everyone else or by staking ourselves as someone who disdains to look like everyone else. We have to go off-campus to find a home in the body that expresses who we are.
Those beautiful bodies in the Yoga for Over 50 class. I expect everyone one of us has had some experience of humiliation around our appearance which then in turn informs who we are still becoming. I think it’s all part of being alive and in the world. And that’s hard to swallow because even if we look like nuts and chews, human beings all have soft centers.