My Radical Body

Collage by Hailey Conner

News, everyone. Big news. My thighs are beautiful. Not beautiful like the lifeless two-dimensional Photoshop thighs. Those are, well, like I said: lifeless. That set of thighs has no character, no qualities that would distinguish them from the two-dimensional Photoshop set of thighs on the next page. Do we really think our bodies should look like that? I would gladly pin-up my legs and stare at every single imperfection, every loving dimple, every vein, scar, scratch…everything. Those are the things that are mine.

I was on the subway this morning and I ran into an old high school friend. We’ve sort of grown apart, but that’s a totally different story. What I’m getting at is the picture she was meticulously picking apart in her magazine and saying things like “see that white smile line under her butt cheek? That’s from tanning… I have one of those too”. I smiled at her and laughed my fake little laugh, biting my tongue and waiting for the next stop.

What I really wanted to say was: Great stuff, kiddo! Look at you, all grown up with a painted smile on your bum! Don’t even get me started on tanning. You want to know what I have?

I have a treasure trail up to my sternum! And it was because I had the brilliant idea to shave my belly when I was in 4th grade, along with the rest of my body hair. See, I’d been given the illusion that the hair on our bodies should never have been there. Like we’d evolved improperly… I bought into it all! I had a mirror on every wall of my room, constantly checking my reflection for chin hairs, fixing my eyebrows and the oh-so-suave upper lip check. I, thankfully, did eventually change.

A few summers ago, even after I thought I truly loved this body of mine, I was given an incredible chance to do something I’d never ever done before. I let my armpit hair grow.

At first, it was just carelessness, but I eventually got curious. What would it look like? How would it feel? Would it smell? Would it stick out of my t-shirt? All of these innocent questions about this new and exciting part of my body I’d never explored were running through my head. How could I have lived so long and never known these things about myself?

It sounds insane to the average pill-popping, TV-watching, fast-food-drive-thru-ing person to even imagine. You know the ones with growing teenagers sitting around talking about how they shave their bodies twice a day. We can’t have 5 o’clock leg shadow, ladies!

Where did all this crap even come from? Who’s driving this flippin’ carriage?

That was metaphorical, by the way-I’m not actually in a carriage…Neither are you.

Anyway. Have we ever considered that every time you put a razor to your skin, you are snuffing a part of yourself, just like you’d snuff a candle out. We have been taught to be ashamed. Ashamed of everything. Our size, shape, ratio, circumference, hypotenuse. Listen to that! We have even become geometrically unsatisfied with ourselves. Even our baby toes, hidden in the corner of a shoes most of the time, aren’t safe.

The reason I’m as pissed as I am, though today now fully aware of the amount of love I can have for myself, is because I got caught in it again. Being ashamed I mean. I thought too much and too long about my image. My strong, confident, fearless self vanished and I found myself sitting at the side of my tub, shaving off every single last hair on my body.

Now, at the time it probably sounded like I was talking to myself, which I have been known to do, but I was actually talking to my armpit hairs. I said “don’t worry little guys…you’ll be back when I figure this all out…” I actually remember feeling a lump in my throat.

That simple act, something I thought would maybe help with my confidence level, actually made things worse. I was trapped. I felt like I’d cut off a limb. I still remember shaving my legs in high school and feeling on top of the world! Clean, feminine, ideal. I couldn’t understand how everything, in a second, changed. I felt fake, like I was trying for an image I would never like, never be satisfied with, and never achieve. I was buying into something I knew was corrupt, unjust, selfish. I became disgusted with myself.

After feeling dreadful about my constant lack of self-esteem (I mean, how lame is that, to feel like shit for feeling like shit… anyway) I sat down and wrote my body a letter.

I apologized for all I’d put it through, all the things I’d said I’d hated. I did remember to tell my body how thankful I was for it. That even though I would twist and pull and paint and smudge it, stuff into tight pants or hot pink outfits or fish net stockings, even though I would go out of my way to cover it up or flatten it out or lift it, I made sure my body knew, once and for all what it had done for me, what it was doing. I told my body “you are magnificent and I really do love you”. And I knew then, it finally believed me.

We still have our ups and downs, and sometimes I bring out the razor or the mascara or the tweezers, but we have an understanding now. I am not, nor will I ever be, ashamed of my body.