Warning: adult language ahead!
The first time it happened, I was twelve.
Walking into my seventh grade math class, I heard it:
“Look at the size of that ass!”
Without turning around, I knew the comment, and the male snickering that followed it, were about me.
My heart slouched. Hot shame pulsed through my body—my bad body.
At twelve, I was already not enough. Or rather, I was too much.
Parts of me were too much, while others were not enough. Your reckless words sent me splintering, shards of me raining all around.
I have been trying to put myself back together ever since.
Yesterday, I went to the beach with my son. As I pulled on my bathing suit—the one with the black shorts to camouflage my hips and butt—the voices stretched out of the past and slapped me.
You are too much.
You are not enough.
And I thought of you, you boys who told me that. Your voices rose above the din of the magazines that told me the same glossy lies. At twelve, at sixteen, at twenty-two, your words held so much authority. As girls, we are taught to be desirable. And as boys, you told me I wasn’t. Your words shot straight to the core of me. I have worked hard to shrug them off, but yesterday, beneath layers of skin and years, I found them crouching.
There was the boy in high school whose flirty, sexy notes made me feel special. Until the note with his scrawl that told me I was flat-chested.
There was the boy who told our mutual friends how shocked he was about the size of my legs after we’d kissed and pressed our bodies together. I’ve kept this in, clasped to my heart. I let him kiss me again. I swallowed his words.
Now, finally, I’ve found my own.
Fuck you. For telling me I didn’t look right. For careless words you had no right to spew. We are each wrapped in skin for a little while. We don’t choose the skin, or the bones beneath them. We don’t choose where our flesh falls, what shape our curves take.
And fuck me for caring so much. For believing the lies, the distortions. The belief that the shape of our bodies has anything to do with our power, our love, our fierce, innate beauty.
But mostly, fuck you for forgetting your reckless words. Because thirty years later, on a sticky summer day with my little boy, I still feel them.
I want to forgive you. I want to sink into compassion, to stretch open my heart enough to dissolve the ache. I want to be able to swaddle them, to press them close before kissing them a fond farewell. You were just kids, too, yet unaware of the power of cruel words. But the wounds are so piercing, so deeply buried beneath layers of skin and years, I can’t fully get to them.
I want you to know this—to teach your sons and daughters this:
Our bodies are like trees. We stretch in different shapes and sizes, different skin. We are unique and singular. Trees are not ugly because of where their bends or bumps fall. We call them all lovely, and if we don’t, we should.
I say these words to you, but mostly to myself. I will say them over and over again, my whole life, until they smudge your words away:
I am right and good. I am a stretching tree. I am just as I should be.
More goodness from Lynn:
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: musicsthename at Flickr