"and the body, what about the body?"
I remember the first time I was ever conscious of my body.
I was playing outside, wild, free and topless at around the age of four with my best friend--the one who shared my name and my unbounded energy. We swung, untamed, from monkey bars--the "Dome Climber" it was called--that hollow structure of black and white metal where I got my first black eye against my pale Scandinavian skin.
It was newly spring and the first warm of the season. We ran topless through the fenced-in backyard, yodeling and cawing like birds. Pure unadulterated, unblemished, unstained, fun.
My mother called us inside from the doorway of the back room, the room with its 1970s orange couch and homemade curtains. She stood framed by the old door calling to us, "Girls!" And when we raced each other to the asphalt porch, our sunken chests heaving, exhausted from our wild tear across the lawn, we were met with T-shirts draped over her outstretched arm. Mom smiled, "Here girls," she said in a conspiratorial whisper, "why don't you put these on? You're getting too old to not wear tops, and besides, there are men working on the fence."
Indeed, there were men--topless men! Men who had invaded our sacred play space with their postdiggers and their other phallic tools. Men who we had forgotten were there after our initial curiosity, as we gamboled and and galloped across the green, green grass.
We didn't argue. We weren't angry. Mom wasn't being mean, in fact she kept smiling in a gentle, but realistic way. My best friend and I slipped our shirts on and ran back to the outdoor world. But we were somehow tamed, our wings had been clipped, our freedoms undermined. "The Men" had encroached on our turf, into our afternoon reverie and now we were the ones who had to change.
I think this is the first awareness I had that my body was somehow inappropriate--somehow something to be covered. Surely something to be guarded and whispered about, something which would make my bread-baking, PBS-watching, cooperative-learning, Dr. Sholl's-wearing mother purse her lips nervously about as she felt the need to protect her tiny chick.
I am 34 years old and I am still learning how to be aware of my body. I am still learning that while, at 34 I cannot freely frolic topless in my unsheltered backyard on a spring day (or, I could but oh, how it might upset [or fascinate?] the neighbors...), I can become familiar and safe in my own skin.
I often sigh and avert my eyes from the mirror as I prepare to bathe. In time, perhaps, I can begin to soften toward my worn skin which has been a safe harbor for lo these many years. And perhaps sometime soon, I'll remember what it feels like to have my body as unfurled as my soul again.