[about the author]
i actually like speaking in front of large crowds. freakish,
i work crossword puzzles in ink.
i am the american nigella lawson. or maybe the american eddie
izzard. can't decide, really.
i would be a really good mom, but i'm cool with being a really
i am sometimes more perceptive than i would like to be.
i am fiercely loyal. sometimes, stupidly so.
i never play dumb. never.
i am way too hard on myself.
i am a change agent.
i sometimes cross that fine line between assertive and aggressive.
i am not afraid to tell people that i love them.
i am militantly pro-choice.
i am pro-adoption.
i know a little bit about alot of things.
i typically enjoy the company of men more than women.
i am capable of being really mean and nasty, but i fight it.
i am a lifelong cubs fan. do not laugh.
i have been known to hold a grudge.
i have hips.
i am not my sister.
i am lousy at forgiving myself.
i am an indoor kind of gal.
i am a bargain shopper. to the point of obsession.
i am 32 flavors. and then some.
the greatest love of all [or how i learned to stop worrying and love the junk in my trunk]
coach arman sat us in alphabetical order in my seventh grade algebra class. nonetheless, i somehow ended up sitting right in front of greg mason instead of right behind him. there’s probably some joke to be made there about him being a coach, or the fact that he taught algebra and not english, but we’ll just let that slide.
those were the early days of junior high. in those days, we continued to separate ourselves into groups based on the elementary schools we had come from. later, we would separate into different groups – cheerleaders, stoners, band kids. but, then, we hadn’t really come together. then we were still a bunch of scared sixth-graders who had spent their days in one classroom trying to figure out where we needed to be before the second bell rang.
we were having a quiz. i remember that much. i don’t remember what it was about. truth be told, i don’t remember much of anything about algebra. it’s not that i’ve blocked it out so much as it never really made its way in. as comfortable as i felt in english class, i was just that terrified of math.
i skipped third grade. and that’s the grade where they introduce the “x” between the numbers. i remember opening up my fourth grade math book and thinking there was some sort of terrible misprint. all the addition signs had been misprinted as “x.” that year, i was in fourth grade…but was taught third-grade math. and the next year – fifth grade, but fourth-grade math. i understand what they were trying to do, but the bottom line -- ironic as it is -- was that the math simply didn’t work; i was going to miss out on a year of math somewhere along the line. that turned out to be sixth grade. the year in which they, apparently, give you some idea about what algebra is.
anyway, there was a quiz. and i was terrified. i remember that i was sweating, and i was getting a little dizzy when i heard greg behind me.
“hey, smart girl. lean over so i can see your paper.”
i couldn’t imagine he was talking to me. i could not be more perfectly clueless. i could not possibly know less than he did. i could not possibly know less about algebra than anyone on the face of the planet anywhere, including burundi, long notorious for its lack of interest in the field of algebra. there could be no chance he was talking to me.
“come on. don’t be a goody goody. let me see.”
apparently, greg was not in the loop as far as my complete ignorance of all things number-related was concerned.
“hey, thunder thighs. let me see your paper.”
and there it was.
the first time greg mason ever called me "thunder thighs." it wasn’t the last. not by a long shot. i found myself crying in the girls’ bathroom over the years with each new addition to his repertoire. “bubble butt.” “lucy caboosey.”
there’s something that courses through the veins of seventh-grade boys. something mean and thick and greenish-black. aside from enabling them to make fantastically realistic fart noises under using their armpit, it gives them a razor-sharp insight into exactly the most vulnerable spot on a seventh-grade girl.
in the years since, i’ve often wondered if men – and, to be fair, women who engage in such taunts – ever give thought as they grow older to the impact their words might have made on a person. with every class reunion i attend, with every old schoolmate who stumbles onto me on the web and strikes up a reminiscent correspondence, a common theme eventually reveals itself: the lasting way in which those childhood digs stay with us throughout our life. the way such comments color, even if it is imperceptible to the outside world, the picture we carry of ourselves inside.
see, here’s the thing: i’m packing an ass on me. always have been. i was jmo before there was a jlo.
i had hips and curves – below my waist at least – way before most of the other girls did. eventually the top-half curves showed up for the party, but too late to be of any substantive help in navigating the shark-infested waters of adolescence. see, junior high, and high school after it, were the domain of the well-appointed rack. you just didn’t run into too many fourteen-year old ass men. it was the tits they wanted. and, even though adolescence at its most judy blumesque is supposed to be about figuring out who you are and celebrating that, the reality is that adolescence is really all about trying like hell to be like everyone else. so, i did everything i could to try and camouflage my curves.
i was self-conscious.
i was all curves and roundness and hourglass at a time when the ideal body was getting leaner and meaner. over the years i clung to words like “zaftig” and “voluptuous,” hungry for the positive implications they carried. i reminded myself that men adored marilyn monroe and her shapely shape, and vowed that, when i grew up, i would live in a place where those men were as plentiful as daffodils in april. sadly, it turns out they do not corral those men into discrete geographic areas.
like many young women, i developed a very unhealthy relationship with my body. fighting against it at every turn. where it wanted to be straight, i wanted it to curve. and where it wanted to curve, i wanted it to curve less...or more...depending on the curve. it was a never-ending fight. honestly, i hated my body.
we weren’t on speaking terms for most of my teens, straight through my twenties.
several months ago, i felt like i wanted to regain a sense of control in my life. i decided, with the company of a wonderful friend, to have a go at the south beach diet. diets have never appealed to me because i had accepted years ago that, no matter how much weight i lost, no matter what i did, the shape of my body would never fundamentally change. even at my smallest, i have hips. even at my lightest, there is still junk in my trunk.
after a few months on the diet, a friend stopped me in the hallway.
“wow! how much weight have you lost? you look fantastic!”
“i don’t know.”
“what do you mean you don’t know?”
“i don’t own scales.”
that evening, i came home and dropped my purse on the chair outside my bedroom door. as i headed into the bedroom, i stopped short. propped against the wall outside my bedroom, is a mirror about five-feet tall by three-feet wide. i looked at the mirror without looking into it.
i tentatively stepped in front of it, as though i might sneak up on it and trick it into showing me something other than what i expected.
i was shocked by what i saw.
yes, i was smaller. definitely. but that wasn’t what shocked me. what startled me was the way my t-shirt clung to my chest. the way it showed off the taper of my small waist. the way the skirt fell, caressing the gentle rise of my hips.
i turned to the side. there, reflected back at me was my undeniably flat stomach.
i was curious. i couldn’t believe what i was seeing. couldn’t believe i hadn’t thrown up yet.
i wanted to see more.
“what the hell,” i said as i raised my arms over my head and pulled off my t-shirt. “here goes nothing.”
next came the skirt, followed by the bra and, last but not least, the panties.
and then, a deep breath as i stood up.
there’s something about seeing yourself naked that is so shocking and fascinating that you simply cannot look away. it’s the looking in the first place, i think, that is really the hardest part.
i couldn’t remember the last time i had stood naked in front of a full-length mirror. and suddenly, much to my surprise, for the first time since that day when i first heard the phrase “thunder thighs,” i saw my body and didn’t hate it.
the surprisingly sharp angles of my collarbones. the graceful lines of my neck, my hands, my small waist. and, of course, the languid and undeniable curve of the small of my back as it transformed itself into something else entirely.
i saw it, finally, not just as my skin, but as an embodiment of who i am. for better. for worse. full. and lush. and capable of great and fantastic and amazing and wonderful things, frankly.
oh, it’s not perfect. not by a long shot. but, aesthetically, I see beauty in all of these things now. a bulge here. a stretch mark there. the scars that never faded, reminders of the time i actually went so far as to surgically alter my body because i was so convinced that it was the outside, and not the inside, that defined me. but those things are now more than imperfections – they are parts of me. just like the birthmark on the inside of my thigh. just like the mole on my shoulder. just like the love i have for my family. just like the way i never ever remember to take the trash out. just like the fact that i am a really good swimmer. just like the fact that i don’t fight fair, or nice.
this morning, i looked at the calendar and noted that my thirty-fifth birthday is quickly approaching. it’s been an amazing year. this year, i have learned truths about myself that i never dreamed or imagined. i know myself with a clarity and honesty that lets me celebrate my strengths and recognize my weaknesses. i’ve come to feel comfortable with who i am. confident in claiming my place in this world. at peace with the life i have lived up to this point and filled with joy at the prospect of what lies ahead.
and, finally, i get it: i could never really love my body – not my thunder thighs, not my bubble butt, not even my now-spectacular rack – before i came to know and love the person inhabiting it.
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