Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Reflecting on the last post...

And what of “the suitcase it came in?”

I wear my body. I inhabit it - with a kind of smothered resentment when it aches and with joy on other days. Often, and this explains being accident prone, I barely inhabit it at all. Ordinarily, I occupy a space somewhere a few feet above, a little distant from it. Or perhaps I could say, I “preoccupy” a space a few feet above. I’m nearly famous for my ability to pass within two feet of someone I know without seeing them.

As a child, I was told I was pretty and took the lesson that being pretty was a valued commodity. It was unearned though, an accident and therefore not to be trusted and I knew it. Sure enough, just at puberty, when we all hit that gawky stage in-between childhood and adulthood and our bodies seem undecided about which way to go, pretty slipped away. I was too tall, too skinny. My knees were knobby and my arms and legs extended forever like willow branches. My hair was blonde, thick, coarse and unruly in the era of the glossy smooth Breck Shampoo girl. I was flat chested and my feet were long and thin. “Olive Oil” one kid called me. It was the era of Marilyn Munroe.

I slept with my hair in wire brush rollers every night. I perched on the edge of telephone books and steps, raising up and down on my toes, praying to the god of shapely calves to give me muscles. I hunched my shoulders forward and tucked my head down hoping to take up less skyward space. I squeezed into shoes a size too small and had constantly bandaged spots where the leather had cut into my heels and toes. I wore padded bras and frantically exercised, pressing the palms of my hands together and releasing in sets of 50, in a futile effort to build something to occupy the bras. I imprisoned my non-existent, flat white-girl butt in panty girdles because Ann Landers said “Ladies don’t jiggle.”

My Aunt Dorothy, who hit the measuring tape at 5’10” tall was a symbol of abject horror to me. Never mind that people said, “You should be a model.” They also said, “You should play basketball,” never thinking that being tall was not the only prerequisite for either. I was awkward, I photographed horribly. I felt genetically cursed. I actually prayed, “Please don’t let me be as tall as Aunt Dorothy.” I was 5’7” at the time. I towered over boys my age and that was a matter of extreme concern when, in high school, the boys began to date my shorter sisters. The ones who cared about their cars and looked cute in knee socks.

Pitiful. All adolescents are pitiful and painful aren’t they? This story is so old it’s as if it doesn’t belong to me anymore. The sixties arrived bringing hippy colors and then feminism and a boycott of makeup, bras and all the wily arts of disguise. I noticed that my politically inclined “feminist” boyfriend of the time was staring at the babe wearing Cleopatra eyeliner and a micro-mini, while critiquing my feminism if I combed my hair or wore lip gloss.

Somewhere in bouncing from one stage to another I realized that how you look is a genuine kind of currency. It’s a shitty realization, really – but there you go – we live in a world that pays lip service to inner beauty but not much else. A kinder realization, and equally true, is that I view my physical self the same way I view clothes - sometimes strictly utilitarian, sometimes as a form of artistic expression. I am a bit of a shape-shifter and I’ve learned how to cast a glamour. It’s done with makeup and mirrors, with angles and light. Anyone short of the Elephant Man can look good in photographs.

Don’t let image fool you. I don’t let it fool me. It's a little skill and a little of what's left of a particular kind of currency.

And soon, soon, I think with anticipation, I shall be an old woman and...

".....I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter..."

-Jenny Joseph

15 comments:

Kate said...

So funny to read this. I've always been short and a little chubby for my liking, though my liking is for a little thinner than is perhaps considered healthy by many. I longed, and still long for, slender, elegant limbs, bony feet and the grace which often accompanies such proportions. I remember my rude awakening to the world of bodily proportions with the clarity that only pain can provide; "Look at that fat f**ker run" said a guy to his pretty girlfriend as I ran for a bus aged perhaps 13. Before that day I had never thought of myself in terms of fat or thin. Since that day I have only thought of myself in terms of fat or thin. Before that day my mum told me I was beautiful and I wholeheartedly believed her. Since that day I've doubted her. Funny how we can take the word of a single unkind stranger over the words of those we trust most. I think that day marked a real loss of innocence and confidence for me. Now when I look at my reflection, or a photograph, I always question whether I'm seeing me through my mum's eyes, or the unkind stranger's. I feel unsure of how I'm perceived by others and feel unable to act accordingly. It shouldn't matter I suppose. But it does.

LJ said...

I think that moment arrives for most of us, Kate. Whether it's "fat fucker" or "Olive Oil." And the moment seems to occur, leaving us without our lovely childish acceptance of ourselves. But bit by bit, I think we regain something like it as artifice and effort fail against the onslaught of time. I know this sounds weird coming from me - but it's true that I see my physical self as a mask of sorts and it isn't the me that really counts. It isn't the real any of us. And you are. Beautiful.

zhoen said...

Pretty matters, but only so much as we give it power. Men look at the genetically imprinted template, but what they choose, that is highly variable.

Olive: Grandpa, am I pretty?
Grandpa: You are the most beautiful girl in the world.
Olive: You're just saying that.
Grandpa: No! I'm madly in love with you and it's not because of your brains or your personality.
You are beautiful, inside and out.
-Little Miss Sunshine.

Kate said...

I think you're right, some things are worth getting older for. At 26 this skin feels new; I'm still learning how to wear it best, feeling the fit and breaking it in. Great though it is to be young, it's also in many ways uncomfortable. I look forward to the days of being a well worn-in, comfortable old shoe - rumpled leather and all!

LJ said...

Kate...It won't be what you think. It'll be better. And it won't be "comfortable old shoe"...it'll just be that less of the little stuff will feel big, and you'll be at home in your skin...Meantime - enjoy wearing 26.
Zhoen...that's a great quote. I agree that what some men choose varies. When I said "currency" I didn't specifically mean men - it applies on so many levels... but I do believe that while having this counterfit currency helps, having
real currency matters more.

herhimnbryn said...

And won't you look even more beautiful in red and purple?

I never thought when in my teens that I would enjoy being in my late 40s ( 47)...but the time arrived when I didn't give a damn and it was so freeing.

And Kate I was called a 'beached whale' when I was 17 ( I was a size14) and it knocked me sideways, for years. Let it go, let it go. We are all bloody gorgeous!

LJ said...

H- xo

Mr. X said...

The bit between the ears is by far the most interesting, seems you score rather well on that one...

And we can bet your contemporaries don't look half as good ;)

LJ said...

Thank you Mr. X. As to my contemporaries? Or at least my friends who are contemporaries...they are all beautiful. Every last one of them, man and woman.

Ariel said...

Childish acceptance of oneself, or not as the case may be! I was always elsewhere it seems, too busy daydreaming to pay much attention to the carcass I inhabited, and of course being trussed into awfully formal dresses, knee high socks and patent shoes while having my hair cut like a boy was rather bizarre...

LJ said...

I'd love to see a picture of your childhood self, Ariel. And if it's given you a disregard for appearances perhaps we should dress all little girls that way.

Darkmind said...

Yeah, I remember when I was a kid. Wait...STOP...NOOOOO!!!!! (Darkmind begins bashing temple with the heel of his palm) Okay, the memory is gone now. Phew, that was close!

LJ said...

Hi D. Yeah. I thought about you when I was writing this. Helped put it in the no-big-whoop category.

Darkmind said...

HEY! Never belittle your own whoop! Or is that more of the "I can't complain" mantra you've picked up lately?

LJ said...

D - Well no. I mean yes. I mean it was all very awkward and difficult and confusing back then. Looking back, though - and considering (now that I'm far, far away from it) that unruly hair, big feet and long limbs aren't exactly world shaking tragedy...
Umm...
Can I steal that "never belittle your own whoop" line? Thanks!