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..."