I am in the process of learning to love my body again.
About seven years ago I came out as a lesbian and left my 15 year marriage. I was able to do this, in part, because I had come to a place where I loved and accepted myself, my body, and my sexuality.
A lot happened after I came out. I was sexually assaulted by a woman. I left and lost much out of pure survival. And I have, in many ways, shut my body and my sexuality down again.
This post, and some upcoming posts I will share over the next few weeks, are pieces I wrote shortly before and after that freeing walk I made out of that darn closet.
I post them in vulnerability to remind myself, and all of us, that loving our bodies, and the beautiful sexuality that can be part of our lives, without shame is possible no matter where we are and what we think we look like.
I talk to my girlfriends about being desirable. We talk about what it is like to be objects, to make ourselves objects, and to attempt to combat the objectification of women. I am shocked when my friends—who walk down the street and get whistled at—go to a bar and say they hate it when guys come up to them because they wonder if these men can only see their bodies. I discover this when I tell them I think that they are beautiful and they grimace or get quiet or tell me that they wish I wouldn’t. I am surprised because I love it when people tell me I’m beautiful. Maybe, being a big woman, I crave the attention. Even though I know I also hated that kind of attention when I was thin. I gained weight to try to get away from that kind of attention.
I am in Bath, with one of the most beautiful women I have ever met. I am also with her daughters (also beautiful), and they all think they are ugly. Shocked, I find that they have all struggled with body image throughout their whole lives. Sitting across from them, with all of the weight I carry around on my body, I try to step outside of myself and understand how they can think this. I want to shake them into reality. Then I think I wish I could shake myself 16 years ago when I thought I was fat at 120 lbs and started gaining weight to make it true.
We start talking about America’s Next Top Model (at the time one of my favourite shows), and I see my friend—a mother—trying to end the cycle of women-hating-their-bodies she sees in her daughters by telling them she doesn’t want them watching the show. I realize, in hearing her talk, that I am impressionable too. The effect of a media that tells us a size 6 is too fat doesn’t stop when we turn twenty. I stop watching the show, and I cancel my cable. I won’t go near it.
I let go of being a woman hating her body. If even beautiful women think they are ugly, then somehow being beautiful seems easier. I step off the merry-go-round. I wear shirts without sleeves, walk down the street full of confidence and sex, and dance ecstatically to the tarantella while the beautiful woman longingly looks on afraid to get up herself.
I am waiting for her in a doorway on the sweltering street. We have been harmlessly flirting for a week, and I am feeling hot. I write in my journal about how I am in love with life, and two women walk by and say that I look like a cat warming herself in the sun. I smile and try to act like a cat for them, and I am feeling hot. I can still feel the hands of a woman, who has already parted, on my body. Can still feel the fluttering and excitement of passion in my throat. I exhale. I am in love with life.
Now, almost a year later, I am dreading the summer because I don’t want to wear a bathing suit in public. It feels like all my self-esteem will melt away around girls who are thin, and who look good in bikinis. I am reminded of changing in the locker room as an adolescent again. I used to check out the girls and judge them against my body, and, of course, they were doing it too. Why can’t we all just see each other as beautiful bodies? I want to be confident and sure, but can’t imagine feeling good in my bathing suit, even if it is going to be hot. Perhaps, I will find a way to dive in.
When someone describes a woman as “hot” I know what she must look like. Even with individual ideas of beauty and sexiness, there are certain kinds of bodies that are talked about in this way and others that aren’t. I am beginning to really hate the idea of talking about women as “hot,” and cringe or speak out when I hear people talk about women this way. It seems like another form of oppression, of inclusion and exclusion, and I want no part of it.
She describes me as hot, and I like it. I, laughingly, tell her that anytime she wants to say that I’m hot I would be more than happy to hear it. Later, I ask her to say it again, and over and over she does. When we are together, I am sexy and desired. My politics disappear in her arms.