I realized that it was time to thank my friend, but it was too profound a gratitude to toss out on the playground or across the picnic table. Perhaps I should write a card. A pretty one. But each time I let the words flow inside my mind, they felt too confined, begging a larger canvas.
I recognized that the gift my friend bestowed upon me was meant to be shared, not between two women, but among them.
For years, I ran from my flesh. Attempted to straighten the curves of my hips with the palms of my hands as I dressed. Lifted my heavy bosom, confined it in wires and seams; distracted the eye with strategic attention to color and lines and layers.
I aspired to be trim and soon enough, I was–so trim that I barely weighed 100 pounds–as a grown woman. I hadn’t starved myself, but I had been strict, without knowing it; and yet, I could never fully rid myself of my belly.
“Hold your stomach in,” my father said, whenever he photographed me and my sisters and our mother.
Despite this admonishments, I had never really understood that flesh was bad until that afternoon at the river place, on the dock, as two young mothers, mine and a friend’s, climbed into the row-boat, in their string bikinis, and patted the folds of their tight postpartum bellies, complaining.
As I came of age, I would prefer reclining positions to upright. Horizontal to vertical. Waist high slimming slacks and snug belts to anything else.
Until the baby grew inside. And I found myself softening into flesh, delighting in the discovery that there was no point in holding in a belly that was filled with a baby.
5 glorious months of release ensued.
I was a lucky one. Not one of those who could fit right back into their best jeans just days after the baby was born (like my stepmother’s sister), but one who was easily freed of unnecessary weight after a week or two of nursing.
Despite the rapid weight loss, nursing itself was an apprenticeship in fullness. The tidal rhythm of my body rocked me into surrender. My engorged breasts would have nothing to do with wires and seams, and my babies would nurse for years.
When my body was finally mine again, I slowly returned to myself. Rediscovered exercise. Reclaimed a waist. Bought new contraptions to reduce and lift my bosom. Purchased new belts.
And then came 50, and with its approach, not only a fullness in the belly that refused to budge, but the radical demand for freedom.
For flowing skirts.
For going bra-less.
I remember the first time that I noticed my flesh without judgement. I was in one-legged, down dog, turning toward the back of the room, when I spotted something misshapen, hanging from my mid-section. I reached down to adjust my tank top only to discover that it was my own flesh flanking toward one side.
I tried to muster disgust, like my father’s, but all I could manage in my state of yogic bliss was curiosity: “Wow, that’s me?”
After the glow of consciousness subsided, I considered dieting, but I had given that up long ago; and I knew that I could no longer tolerate its rigid lines in my flowing, expanding life.
I considered more exercise, but lately all I wanted to do was to lie around. “I’m getting in touch with my inner Garfield,” I’d say; and part of me knew that I needed that after a lifetime of overdoing.
I considered relinquishing indulgences. But they had been hard-earned after so much constraint.
And so I surrendered. And in doing so, I came to appreciate a particular friend–one whom I had never heard complain about her own ample curves; and who hadn’t hidden them either; and who allowed them full expression.
When this woman’s youngest child came of age, I noticed that she began to drop weight quickly, and I complimented her on it one afternoon, but she dismissed it as a form of rudeness–because it implied that there was some way for her to be better than what she had been before.
Her response was revolutionary.
The revolution dragged on for years.
It brought to question so many things:
Why was trimmer better?
To whom did the body belong?
Eventually, my own growing fullness wore me down, and I began to tentatively welcome it. I allowed myself a belly and breasts. I freed them from the confines of my mind and restrictive clothing.
When I doubted myself, I recalled my remarkable friend; and for the first time, I began to truly love my own body–as is.
And is if that wasn’t radical enough, I did the most defiant thing of all: I released my belly.
And breathing into the softness there, I forgave my father his ignorance, my mother her complicity, and the world its absurdity.
(Thank you P’tricia!)