Big topic. One I’ve been wanting to write about for the last 47 days, but haven’t known what size bite to chew off. I could write about women and body image in general, but that’s only part of my story. Body image for me has been a constatntly changing landscape serving as a backdrop to whatever story I’ve been living.
In high school, I was hyper aware of every one of my imperfections: thunder thigh, big gut, small chest and red hair. I walked the crowded high school hallways with my books pinned against my chest, my arms crossed tightly across them, hiding myself from the glares, not only of boys, but other girls.
After I lost my leg, I knew that my leg, or lack of it, had the potential to turn men away from me. I knew I would be disgusting to some men. I was so thankful that my prosthetic leg covered up my residual limb so that nobody needed to see it. When I went swimming I quickly took off my leg as close to the pool as possible, jumped to the pool and slide in quietly. I tried to avoid stares but, having been on the other side, knew that people couldn’t help themselves. Of course they would sneak a peak. I would, too.
What was so hard is that I never knew why people were looking at me. In college, walking down the street, if a guy was looking at me I’d take it as a compliment, until I realized he was staring at my limp or my leg. Having such a visible difference was confusing for me as a young woman. I didn’t know whether I was being looked at as pretty or freakish.
In my twenties I felt strong. I was involved in amputee soccer and skiing and was using my body a lot. I almost didn’t care what people thought of me because I was in love with what I was doing. I knew, with each new activity I did, that I came close to not being to do that activity at all. Had the car hit me a few inches higher, I could have been paralyzed. Had the car hit me with a little more force, I could have lost my other leg. The activities I did were made even sweeter by the fact that I nearly lost the ability to do them at all.
When I became a mom I started to feel like what I heard many other women talk about in terms of their body image: the sadness of my sagging breasts, the tummy that wouldn’t go away, the pregnancy weight that stuck like glue to my butt, and all the other physical shifts that happen from pregnancy and childbirth. I felt like a dowdy mom. In this respect I felt average, one of the gang. I took comfort in this; it was the first time since high school that I could comisserate with friends on the same playing field.
And now? I revisit landscapes from my past,depending on the story of the day. Some days I still walk through life trying to hide myself. Some days I feel on top of the world, able to do anything, proud of and thankful for my body. As I age, the frumpiness lingers, but I’m trying to find a new perspective in how I value and admire an aging body. When I look at other women my age or older I mostly see beautiful people. Maybe not in the classic sense or the Hollywood sense. I see women who have lived life and who’s bodies tell the story.
A few years ago I went to the Korean day spa in Lynnwood. My friend and I first visited all the dry sauna rooms in which we wore our robes. After we had gotten good and hot, we went to the hot tub room. I knew I’d have to take my prosthetic leg off and hop around soI mentally prepared myself for being naked in front of other women. I didn’t want them to look at me but I quickly realized that was unrealistic. We were all looking at each other. Out of the corners of our eyes, as we threw our head back in laughter as we chatted with our friends. We looked. And what I saw were amazing bodies. Some large, some skinny, some inbetween. But each body had a story, many stories. A scar on a breast, a tattoo on a hip, a welt on a arm, wrinkles all over a face. Those bodies were, to me, far more beautiful than anything I could see in the movies. And my naked body, with half of my leg missing, had it’s own story. That’s all. Just a story. But I’m sure some of those other women could see beauty in my story just as I saw beauty in theirs.
I think that was just a small bite.