What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
One of the greatest gifts of my short-lived theater undergrad gave me was being cool with nudity. It started with multiple costume fittings, and quick changes in the tiny backstage space. Nothing like a load of people be fumbling the dark while the hands of invisible costumers laced bodices and zippered pants at the speed of sound to make you just not care who sees you in your underthings. Then I went to my first sauna party with the cast of a show, and after about 6 Mike’s Hard Lemonades (I was 18, don’t you judge me!) I was ready to get naked and sweaty in a tiny dark room with about 12 other people.Every person was so different, it was impossible to compare my legs to someone else’s, because how they "should" look wasn’t clear anymore. Our legs all looked like they should. So did stomach rolls, ham arms, big shoulders and tiny boobs -- it all looked so great in person, and it fried my little 18-year-old mind. In person, we are so different, and it was apparent that people are all pretty gorgeous in their own way. Everyone has their shit, but when you’re in person you’re forced to acknowledge the realness of people, and it flies in the face of all the weird, two-dimensional alien women that we’re exposed to everyday. It reminds us that everyone is different, no one is "perfect," but somehow everyone is.I’d heard this said a million ways, but man, seeing is believing.
But I still have entire weeks where I'm so hard on myself, it seems like I'm trolling. It’ll be 2 am, I’ll be half in the bag (literally, bag of wine suckers!) just cruising Tumblr, seeing gorgeous 22-year-olds with long, lean, unmarred bodies, and perfect beach-y hair. I’ll point at the screen menacingly, hissing, “Just you wait, just you waaaait! Time will get you!” I still flip through magazines sometimes, making sure I can stack up against disembodied parts. Recently, I started going to the gym regularly. I hadn’t been in a public locker room since I was 11 or 12, and I remember being horrified by the passel of naked old ladies at the pool. They padded along, laughing like banshees, seemingly unaware that they were terrifying 11-year-old girls with their California Raisin bodies. I didn’t know how that shit worked back then -- was I going to get boobs like that right away? All long and hanging? As an adult, when the Bluehairs strolled through the locker room like they owned it, lingering around the changing areas and talking shop in all their naked glory, I was inspired. Old ladies are freaking awesome; the Tawanda-esque mentality (Miss, if you don’t know what I’m talking about I suggest you go out NOW and rent "Fried Green Tomatoes.") of having nothing to lose. These powerful women gave no shits about what anyone thought about their round bellies, empty rumps or old saggers.
But then I got pregnant. My tits were bloated and enormous; my body was weird, and even I didn’t want to see it. But as time went on, the towels seemed to shrink to comic proportions, too small to even make a show of modesty; Instead I accidentally performed some kind of pregnant burlesque, trying to get the towel to cover my ass and giant weird stomach at once. I felt like I was some sort of walking "Scared Straight" program for teen girls; after seeing me stumping around with hellacious back-ne, grunting like a gravid farm beast, they will certainly remember to practice safe sex.
It was even worse after I had the baby; my body still felt like it belonged to someone else, and I was self-conscious for the first time in awhile. I’ve always believed in faking it until you make it. But in our current culture of planning on how to lose the baby weight before you’re pregnant, even the most confident of ladies can totally crack.
Then I was at the gym, doing my weird and none-too useful towel dance, and a lady walked past me and smiled. She was bare-ass naked, and carried her towels confidently folded over her arm as she headed towards the showers. I didn’t mean to glance over, but it was a conservative gym, and I was surprised that anyone else had the wherewithal to just go to shower naked. She had obviously had a few babies -- a C-section scar showed on her belly, as did the tell-tale stretch marks encircling her navel like a sun.
Seeing her stopped me in my tracks; there is always this talk about "real women" and what it means to be a mum and all that, and I’ve haunted sites like The Shape of a Mother. But there is something about actually seeing someone as a fellow human that suddenly this weird game of who’s fat and skinny just seems stupid. I’m a big fan of faking it until you make it, so I followed suit, and now I'm the only other lady under 70 that changes and showers without an elaborate scheme involving towels and sleight-of-hand to be constantly covered. It was so freeing to just decide to not care. No one laughed at me, or pointed, or rolled their eyes, or whipped out markers and circled problem areas. It wasn’t a big deal.
I like to be reminded what women look like. Naked. I want to be that person that reminds you that everyone is just a bag of skin with a hair mat in the end, and that you should enjoy whatever you have, while you have it. Because if I learned anything from the Bluehairs, it’s that stressing over that shit is for the birds. And that Mrs. Stewart's Bluing is awesome to keep your blonde from yellowing.