I’m naked in my bathroom. I’m plucking two stray hairs from my right areola and I’m listening to Guided by Voices. I’m fair-haired. The stuff that grows on my legs is patchy and sparse. I’ve never once plucked or even groomed my eyebrows. In fact, I mostly fill them with powder or a gel stick so that people don’t think I’ve been the victim of some sort of laboratory explosion.
Only my armpits and my crotch grow proudly and fiercely, and even then it’s an inoffensive russet gold. When I don’t shave those regions (which is most of the time) I feel not unlike a pubescent boy who has noticed that he’s sprouted a singular mustache hair and refuses to remove it: I’ve discovered that my body can do something adult, and I’m showing it off.
I’m looking in the mirror and my nipples are facing the ground. My neck seems vulnerable when I'm naked. I’ve got stretch marks at the top of each breast. I don’t remember not having them. I lift my arms and cross my wrists, resting them on top of my head. I cock a hip. Now my breasts look like more like movie breasts. My face doesn’t look like a movie star face. My almost-not-there-eyebrows, my wide-set eyes, my too-big nose. Even the tan line from a spectacular burn I got this summer on my chest and shoulders makes it clear -- in case there was any doubt -- that I am a mere mortal.
I drop my arms and watch my breasts bounce comically back down to their primary position of rest. I look away from the mirror and I look down. I am holding my breath and I force it out in a gust like I’m a truculent pony. I don’t look at my body, not usually. But now I am. I see my strange large toes and veiny feet, my naturally locked knees. I see my v-shaped thighs knotted with cellulite. Stars, I think, THEY ARE JUST LIKE US. Except mostly their legs aren’t marred with a display of bruises in every shade.
When I’m sad and distracted I lose my balance -- literally and figuratively. I fall over a lot, and I doubt myself. I fall up and down stairs because I think about them too much. I take up too much space and my hips check everything sending a shrill shock of primal pain to my brain as if to assert my body’s own existence: Yes, we are still here! We live! Robert Pollard sings, “Where will you go when nothing turns out for you?”
Apparently I’ve turned to the bathroom mirror, where, with bated breath, I am seeing just how much of my body I can look at without ripping it to pieces. It’s like being a kid with a not-quite-loose-enough tooth. I am pushing it back with my tongue until the coppery blood rushes into my mouth and I stop in a panic. So far, I haven’t reached that point.
I see my gaping belly button, I see my moon-white belly, big, a trail of fine hair leading downwards. I think of something my therapist said to me last week. We were talking about how feelings aren’t law. About how they cannot be flipped from an ‘on’ to an ‘off’ position. I jokingly said, “I’m going one day at a time -- one hour a time.”
She didn’t think it was funny. She thought it was a good plan. “Less than an hour. Get up and leave here and go to get coffee and see if you can do that. Then, if you can, see if you can turn on your computer. Then the next thing, and then the next thing. Piece by piece.” I am looking at my body piece by piece to see if I can and I am amazed that it is possible.
I turn around and check out my ass in the mirror, standing on my tip-toes. I'm too short to see it otherwise. There’s not much ass there. I am surprised to find myself liking what I see. I notice the folds in my neck and my gooseflesh and my dry skin and I am just noticing it. That is all. Robert Pollard sings, “So you slow down, up, up we go,” and I swallow the bright blue pill I have been holding in my mouth since I first walked into the bathroom. It is something I have consistently been more aware of doing, taking this pill, than I have about what noticing what my own knees look like, or what shade exactly my cheeks take on when they flush for any one of a thousand different reasons
I have spent so much time hating my body for being a thing no one could desire -- be it to look at, or to touch. How could anyone desire me when I refuse to even run a glancing hand down my own body myself? I am often naked, but I am not often aware of my nudity. In order to sit in the sauna at the gym, or prance around the Korean day spa, I have to change the way I see my body. I must see it as superfluous packaging, as arbitrary, as not of me.
Alone in this bathroom, hands on my hips, I give myself a gentle squeeze and resist the urge to separate, to pull apart, from the body I am seeing as if for the first time.
I am putting lotion on my dry skin. I am tending to the blisters on my feet. I am rubbing my sore neck, and tutting at my bruises. I am feeling how soft I am to the touch. I am marveling at the slope and design of myself, how I am a thing well-made. I am struck by my own dimensions and scope. I feel like quoting Walt Whitman but instead a say a little prayer of thanks to him instead and cup my breasts, noticing for the first time the subtle contrast between the pink of my nipples and the blue-white of the rest of my skin. That’s mine. This is mine. This is, I guess, a song to myself that’s long overdue.
Robert Pollard is singing, “I am the one/Who is the one/Who are the one/Who am the one” and I’m dancing. I’m not dancing like no one is watching, I’m dancing as though it's just me looking on, and I feel stupid and goofy and sincere and yes, okay, maybe, a bit beautiful.