I recently wrote a personal essay for one of my classes. What originally started as a glimpse into strange way the LDS church views chastity (launching from an awkward canoe metaphor my first college bishop gave me) soon morphed into a short examination of how I first started to accept my body. My body, which I actively hated throughout jr. high and high school. It made me wonder if there really is any way to talk about body hate, body acceptance, and the role that romantic attention plays in that without sounding like an angsty teenage girl. Though I suppose, considering the name of this blog, angst would be appropriate.
Anyway, here it is. I'm considering making this a series. As Taylor rightly pointed out when he read this, there is so much more between that moment and the place I am now. I actually do want to explore that in the future. We'll see if I ever have time (or the lack of pride) to talk about those things.
Freshman year my roommate Allison, the adorable one with silky golden curls, attracted guys like butterflies over a corpse. That summer she chose to date David, a ballroom dancer five years her senior. At 23, he was almost disgustingly ancient. He smelled too nice, dressed too well, and spiked his hair too perfectly. I didn’t trust him. One night Allison burst in to proudly show us the five finger-shaped bruises on her arm, trophies of a vigorous make-out session in the bushes below our apartment door. I gaped at the marks, half-fascinated, half-confused.
As for me, I went on one date that summer, with my friend Derek. It was a set-up, a scheme to help our friend Charlene, who had never been on a date. We all went bowling. We ate pizza. I hugged him at the door—a step up from the high school dances of yore, where guys were lucky to get a high-five. Other than that, I stayed aloof from boys. I took the freedom of the summer for granted, playing with these roommates who were the first girls to accept me, wearing sweatpants to class and staying up late.
I started wearing T-shirts.
My button-up blouses were donated to thrift shops. Gone were those shapeless bags meant to hide away my curves. The bulge of my stomach and the more obvious bulges of my breasts had been covered by pastel sacks bought at mom-stores like Lane Bryant and Ann Taylor. I could not be as pure and unsexed as the sticks I went to high school with, so my only choice was to mask my disgustingly womanly body. But that mindset disappeared in college, where my roommates were tall, big-boned, short, fat, muscular, and yet still had gentlemen callers. If they could show themselves, so could I.
That fall, after the girl group of summer had left me in the dust, I sat in a lonely apartment with two strangers. They were Idaho beauty queens, the type that kept tiaras in their closet and left the apartment shrouded in the stink of cheap hair spray. Sometimes they would don their sashes and model in the living room, parading about for the slew of boys that plagued our couches, man-children with popped collars, too much cologne, and pillows placed oh-so-precisely over their crotches.
I needed to get away from the loneliness, and found myself escaping home. I would beg rides back to Davis County, or take the two-hour bus ride to my front door. Weekends would be spent with my best friend Andy, driving around listening to music and talking. I still wore T-shirts. He wore them too.
One October night we sat on the lawn outside the church building by Main Street, looking up at my old friend Orion, debating about the movies that meant something to us. The stars were bright. I shivered. The grass was a dusky silver in the midnight light.
“It might be warmer if we were closer together,” Andy said.
I looked at him, my lovely friend with the red afro and the freckled arms. My friend, whose typed-out words through desolate college nights had kept me going. He looked at me. Not my clothes, not my skin, not the carefully hidden curves. I scooted towards him. I was still shivering, but this time from excitement, from disbelief. He merely took that as a cue to hold me tighter.
Two weeks later, we sat on his parent’s couch, tracing each other’s arms with our fingertips. He encircled my wrist with his fingers, the middle and thumb over-lapping. His hands were a mass of white skin and brown freckles, giant, rough, and warm.
“Your wrists. They’re so small.”
He hesitantly lifted my wrist and kissed it.
I looked at my wrist. It was bare. It was warm and white, bisected with the thinnest blue lines of veins. For the first time, I thought my body was beautiful.