The other day I got into work and dressed for my workout.
I had my Pirates hat on backward.
I hadn’t shaved my legs in three days.
I put on the brightest red shoes I owned.
And I worked out in a pair of five-inch Nike Pro spandex that I originally bought to wear under my gym shorts.
I have varicose veins on my calves that seem to spread everyday. My thighs are bright white and haven’t seen the sun since September, because, you know, Maine. I’ve got Grandma Lloyd’s wild black chin hairs that I somehow miss plucking in the morning and then see at work when I don’t have tweezers. (Moral of the story is to plant tweezers everywhere).
I've never struggled with weight. But I've been ashamed of my body just the same.
I’m 40 years old.
It would be a lie to say that I'm totally ok with my body - but I'm as close as I've ever been.
People who know me well are sometimes startled to see Facebook posts of me wearing those short spandex. For years I wore long gym shorts down to my knees because I was ashamed of my bright white, large thighs with cellulite on them. I refer to my legs as tree trunks. I wore spandex underneath so that no one would see those thighs.
But I can honestly say that at this point in my life, I don't care anymore.
I want to distinguish between not caring because I'm depressed, and not caring because I've worked hard to build a strong body and finally feel comfortable enough in my own skin to wear what I want to wear.
And that whole part about feeling comfortable in my own skin? That's taken me the last 25 years. And a lot of therapy.
I don’t remember when I learned to be ashamed of my body, and in my case my overall identity, but ever since I can remember, I've been embarrassed. I went to school in the 90’s when we all wore oversize clothes. Take a look at this team picture from basketball in 1994. That t-shirt I’m wearing is a men’s extra-large.
I weighed 115 pounds.
I wore size 10 pants, sometimes size 12.
I was probably a size 4.
Sure some of that was the style of the 90's - but I was grateful for that style. I could have never worn a basketball jersey with no t-shirt underneath. If the basketball shorts were shorter, I never would have played.
Because I learned to be ashamed of my body before I knew what the word ashamed even meant.
During travel softball on hot summer days my teammates would pull off their shirts and lay in the sun in their sports bras - many girls did because it the heat was brutal in downtown Philadelphia in July.
Not me. I had an uneven tan and thought I was fat.
I thought I was fat.
I carried myself with the shame, and probably my depression, head down and thoughts turned in, feeling all of the woefully inadequate thoughts that teenagers feel. Shame is complicated, and I know for me, some of my shame was wrapped up in a struggle with my identity that I couldn't name at the time.
But I was also surrounded my a mother and grandmother that talked constantly about being fat - needing to lose weight - shouldn't eat this or that. They meant no harm, but I absorbed that language from the time I was small and it translated into the obsession that I think all women have about weight and appearance.
So today, I give gratitude that finally, at 40 years old I am comfortable with my body - my chin hairs and varicose veins and belly fat, and comfortable in my skin - I no longer spend my energy trying not to look gay. I am who I am. And that's ok.
The poem “Warning” makes sense to me now.
"When I am an old women I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn't go and doesn't suit me."
Except mine is something like this:
"When I approach middle age, I shall wear spandex
With a baseball hat on backward and socks up to my knees if I want.
And a pair of Wonder Woman Converse Chucks.
In fact, sometimes I'll dress as Wonder Woman when I work
Because life is too short to save costumes for Halloween
I shall have crazy black chin hairs and a moustache
if I go more than three weeks without a wax