Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Body Writings

"and the body, what about the body?"
--Jane Kenyon

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.


Sally said...

What an amazing post...bodies come under scrutiny enerdyday don't they, we are challenged about what we look like and challenged to cover up or uncover, to be younger looking, to have perfect skin... to be a mother of 5...youngest 17 my body is a mothers body, not too overweight (depends on who you are listening to) and not too unfit, I am me and it has taken me years to become comfortable and happy with that. As a teenager I used to stoop cos at 6' tall I felt awkard and ungainly so I looked it.
I don't remember ever having the freedom you are speaking of, and wonder if and when we allow ourselves to have that freedom of soul and spirit...think I'm going to run today (not topless) down the field and sing and dance..if only in my head!!!

HeyJules said...

I had almost the exact same thing happen to me only it was my two brothers that made me turn and go inside to get a shirt because I was "embarassing" them. They were shirtless...why couldn't I be, too?

It is amazing what we see when we look back on things with enough distance, isn't it?

the reverend mommy said...

I just had to tell you how much I'm enjoying your blog. No comment other than that.

Ma said...

I remember, too, when my mother made me put on a shirt over my two piece bathing suit top while mowing the lawn because the neighbor boys were watching. Too bad I couldn't enjoy my body then when it actually looked good in a two piece bathing suit!

Katherine said...

Wow. Great post. This makes me want to spelunk my own memory and find the instances where I was taught (however innocently and gently) to be ashamed.

Thank you.

SingingOwl said...

Oh, I'm another who had almost the same experience. It was my neighbor buddies. One was named Patricia and the other was named George. We were playing Tarzan, and we were climbing trees..and my mom called and when I came in she had probably the exact same look that your's did as she said, "Girls wear shirts." "Why?" I asked, "George isn't wearing a shirt." "Girls just wear shirts. That is how it is." I still remember the bewildered sense of loss I felt, and totally did not understand.