Ashley Judd wrote a very lovely piece that reenforced my body philosophy. I talk about it often but I’ve never blogged about it because I try not to blog about the things I went through in my youth. From birth you are bombarded with ideas about what you should look like. There are industries built on improving our looks from make-up and hair dye to gyms and plastic surgery. You try to ignore the voices, what other people think your body should be, but when it’s just you and the mirror they all come rushing into your mind and you’re flooded with self loathing.
My mother: I remember my mother giving my older sister “Sweatin’ To The Oldies” tapes during her freshman year of high school and I can still see the hurt in her eyes. I remember all the times my mother went on about how she needed to loose weight even though she’s always been thin. When my other sister started to gain a little weight my mother was the first to point it out, almost daily. I think about all those mornings when I was in high school when my mother would call me in to measure my waist and then shake her head disapprovingly. Then there was the time my sister, her now-husband, and I were walking from a movie and passed a plus size store and she started crying. She read the sign proclaiming what sizes they sold and she was upset because now she could shop there and I knew that shame came not just from our mother but from all the times those stores were mocked . She loves to reach out and touch my stomach and tell me in a hushed and urgent tone that I “really need to go on a diet.” But there was that one time she said the shirt I was wearing looked really good. For someone with a body like mine. After my cousin’s VT graduation my aunt asked my mother to email the pictures she took so our grandfather could see them but first my mother had to photoshop us to make us skinnier (or, to make them look pretty, as she claimed). Then there is my skin. When my mother notices a particularly bad blemish she makes a disgusted face and says that I really need to wash my face as if I didn’t think of that. The rest of my family is no better. Even my aunt will told me that I needed to wear make up more often (I do so very rarely). My sister, with her nearly perfect skin, proudly pointed out that our aunt didn’t say anything to her. My sister doesn’t realize how cruel she’s been about my skin over the years and I don’t know how much she reminds me of our mother in those moments. My mother always has this sadness when discussing my body- the fact that I have to shave my legs occasionally included -like she’s disappointed that she didn’t birth a clone of her perfection.
Dating and boys: I can’t stand for men to touch my tummy now. There was this one guy, who generally has no respect for my boundaries, who would tell me that I had nothing to be ashamed of before touching it anyways. But it isn’t shame so much as it is a reminder of her; I flash on her face. Before all that, at 19, there was my first boyfriend. He told me that I would fall into the “chubby chaser” category of porn. Later he would tell me that our relationship problems were, maybe, because I needed to loose weight? The funny part is I was no more over weight then he was. Years later I was hanging with some guy friends when they introduced me to the “butter face” insult. “Yeah, she’s got a good body but her face….” They joked about putting a bag on her face. I didn’t say anything because all I could do was think about what guys must have been saying about me when I wasn’t looking.
My hair: As a little girl my mother didn’t know how to deal with my curls. I don’t even know if detangling spray existed but I do know she never bought it. As a result my hair was always a huge rat’s nest. My sister teased me by calling me “Medusa”. People tame there hair with product but as for me I let it do what it wants, letting it air dry it and most of the time there are a few nice ringlets in a collection of differently curled parts. My family will often tell me that I need to go brush my hair and when you have curly hair and you go to get it cut they’ll straighten it. People like that Millionaire Matchmaker lady will tell you your curly hair looks cheap and that you should go straighten it. When I was a teen I told a cousin that I wouldn’t dye my hair and she replied, “Yeah, you say that now but wait until you get grey hairs.” I have several greys but I love them. I still don’t plan on ever dying my hair. Occasionally I get the urge to add a pink streak or something like that but I don’t because I’m proud to be natural (and also, lazy). I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing stuff to your hair but I think it should be acceptable not to do anything at all.
So this is what I decided: I don’t worry about my weight, my skin, or my hair. I broke somewhere during all of my mother’s disdain and emerged proud. It isn’t that I never look in the mirror and feel like I’m fat and ugly but now, at the end, I hold my head up and think, “This is what I was given and I’d rather work on loving it.”