When We Were Girls

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The Church says: the body is a sin.

Science says: the body is a machine.

Advertising says: The body is a business.

The Body says: I am a fiesta.

Eduardo Galeano, Walking Words

Typing, I observe my hands, unadorned but for a gold band to mark the years of marriage and life together. I now must wear reading glasses, viewing anything closer than the length of my outstretched arm is tricky. My jeans are a size bigger than I’d prefer, they bag and sag at the right places, allowing freedom of movement. I began coloring my hair, the gray decided to make its entrance post-election, while in the throes of parenting at peak teenager-dom. My face is lined, normal for a Colorado-dwelling 45 year-old. I could do something to smooth over the hard-earned etches, but I hate making appointments.

I gaze at my face in the mirror, picking and pulling at this and that. The person staring back surprises me, for I half expect a young girl to be reflected. How is it that I’m the one to make important decisions and raise teenagers and be married for nearly a quarter of a century? Surely these benchmarks are for someone far more qualified than I. While in my heart and mind I feel young, all I have to do is look down at my legs or my hands to be reminded I am on the better side of middle age.

But as I look down at my legs and hands I am grateful for this body, this container I have. We’ve been through some tumultuous times and I am now able to appreciate her generosity, her adaptability. I was gifted a healthy, sturdy form. She carries me where I need to go, she’s a hard worker and creative, preparing me well for birthing and rearing babies. She is of good stock.  Health and old age abound within her lineage, although possibly shortened some by that pesky Diet Coke habit.

As my shape began to shift, around the age of ten or eleven, I took meticulous inventory before the wide bathroom mirror. I resisted and lamented as thighs rounded and breasts formed. I was never one of those girls that longed for womanhood. I was afraid. I wanted to remain young, carrying the shape of a child – undefined, vertical, edged. For in becoming round, I knew I was vulnerable, threatened. Body now rendered noticeable, open for criticism, available for critique, fair game for commentary.

This week, the news from Hollywood and the legislation from Washington has me reliving this vulnerability. As women emerge with firsthand testimony about abuse and assault, subjected by a man and his lackeys who carried power over dreams, careers, bodies, I am reminded once again our bodies are not revered. Our bodies are not to be managed by us.

These egregious actions and decisions remind us our bodies are threatened. For when one of us is violated, we are all violated, knowing we each are equally at risk. No industry is loyal to us. We know deep, down to the core of our marrow that we are the target, fair game for scrutiny at best and physical violation at worst.

And even at 45 my body is still fair game. I still feel vulnerable. I still feel the eyes. I’m still that young girl checking every new crease and bump for signs of failure or success. My body is my scoreboard, the points marked across each dimple and exposed rib, across the stretched lines from the babies to the wrinkles on my hands. We have been conditioned to believe our bodies are our currency, our bodies are our measure of success, our bodies are our ticket to approval.

And I wonder, with the amount of time trying to beat my body into submission through relentless exercise and poor nourishment and hate-filled thoughts, what toll has this taken?

Yet through it all as I learn my body and her generous offerings, my deep appreciation grows. She leads our reunification after the divorce which commenced upon the rounding. She teaches me about the gut rumble, the sixth sense, an alert to something amiss. She forgives for choosing carrots over hamburgers, for selecting a run over a rest day. I make efforts at peace, offering her kindness, consideration, listening, regard. I offer up reassurance of my mutual commitment to our reconciliation through pants that don’t pinch, through mammograms, and long showers. I wear makeup and walk, I smell flowers and hug my children, I lift weights and no longer push through pain. I am heeding her call toward anger and righteous causes. I know she means it when she prods me forward despite my insecurity and sweaty palms. She knows. My body knows my deepest desires.

And no relationship is perfect. The gold band on my fourth finger reminds me of this fact. Yet through forgiveness and reconciliation we – my body and I – continue to press forward.

To my fellow women – I must confess to you my comparisons and measurements. Forgive me. I admire you and I have been unfair. I tried to make deals. I wanted to swap my body for yours. I assumed you were faster, thinner, healthier, happier. But through respecting my own body, I respect yours, I honor yours. May we stand firm together, in appreciation and generosity to ourselves. May we protect one another from the powers that seek to divide. May we link arms, affirming our fearfully and wonderfully made forms, giving thanks for all we’ve been entrusted.

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