On Embodiment

“You’ve got good childbearing hips,” the ladies said to me as I stood there in the shade, a baby on my hip. I think I was 8 years old. I could have been older but I was certainly prepubescent.

Who says that to a child?

I’m sure she was trying to compliment me on my “little mother” skills. As the oldest of a large family I found myself often with a child on my hip.

I had no idea what to make of such a statement. But I’ll never forget how uncomfortable it made me. It was certainly not an isolated incident. For the rest of my youth people would make comments on my physical appearance or attributes.

Perhaps they all meant them to be complimentary at best or benign at worst. But each was confusing, embarrassing, and inappropriate. Each made me feel like my worth was tied entirely to my body and it’s usefulness to other people. Each time I wanted to hide myself from the eyes. I wore baggy clothes more often than not, and avoided attention wherever possible.

I was an adult, married and with two children, when a friend told of being a child and loving the feeling of his body moving through the air. I felt feelings of shame and embarrassment and confusion. And envy. What would it be to feel such innocent joy and pleasure in ones body? I couldn’t even understand what it felt like to feel the awareness of my body in the space around me.

I have worked so hard in the decade since to own my body. I challenge myself with exercise, I make myself look in the mirror, I even try to talk nicely to myself. I’ve got a much better sense of my own body, even though when I close my eyes I imagine my perimeter being much smaller than it is.

It’s easier when you’re older. People don’t look at your, objectify you like when you’re young. Gone are the creepy comments by men older than my father. Gone are the ladies sizing you up for your future role. It’s easier now to put all those comments in a box labeled “inappropriate” and close the lid. No new additions to the collection. Now I just have to collect them all and put them away. They can’t hurt me anymore.

Where my sisterhood finds sorrow in the invisibility of older women I finally find freedom.

There’s nothing shameful about bodies. Bodies are just bodies. How did I spent so much time embarrassed and ashamed and confused and angry with mine?

I can’t get back the years I lost feeling disconnected from my body. I can only go forward, trying to be friends, and hoping to find a sense of peace.

I’m hopeful to someday feel comfortable in my own skin. No matter how stretched out and spotty is has become.

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