the skin you’re in

When I was large, larger, largest, I spent a lot of time,
energy and worry trying to not be one of Those People, who we have no right to
judge, who we should celebrate for being so un-self-conscious and brave and
proud of their bodies, and yet we never do. You know Those People–the ones who
wear things that are tight, short, cut all the way up to here and expose all
the skin in the world, and yet do not have bodies you see on the cover of Us. The women with the big, thick thighs
and teeny tiny mini-skirts, the round and fleshy midsection and the crop top,
all the breasts in the world barely contained in a halter top made of floss and
a prayer.

I spent a lot of time wanting to love these women, who I always
assumed and hoped were doing it because they liked their curves, their flesh,
their skin, and who didn’t care what anyone had to say about them, or how
imperfect their bodies may or may not have been. Though sometimes it was hard to tell them
apart from the women who just didn’t understand their own bodies, and dressed
cluelessly and in the dark and might not have known how to read a size label or
have owned a mirror. I liked and wanted so much to be the former–totally
confident in my own body–and wanted to be anything but the latter, because that
kind of defenseless cluelessness scared me. Mostly, that ended up with me
wearing turtleneck sweaters and ankle-length skirts, and a bag on my head and a
full-length parka and mittens.

See, I always worry about humiliating myself; about leaving
myself open and vulnerable to attack, and the fastest way to be attacked, as I
may have mentioned a time or two, is to show your fat in public. But if you
wear a lot of clothing, no one can tell
that you’re fat!
It’s totally true. Except for the part where that is a
total lie. So dressing for me, all the way up and down the scale, had always
been a dilemma, a chore, a balancing act. I wanted to be cute and
sassy and show off the parts of my body that I liked–I had good boobs. I
had an hourglass boom-bada-boom kind of figure ("like a Coke bottle," an
ex used to tell me). My ankles were kind of nice, and my hands never did get
fat. Somehow, I had avoided, more or less, the Curse of the Double Chin. So that was what I had to work with. How are
you supposed to work with that?

In certain seasons, it worked out fine. The cold and dark
seasons, mostly. A tight V-neck, long-sleeved sweater, a knee-length pencil
skirt, knee-high boots, all, of course, in black. There we go–all the good
parts on display, and all the parts I thought were bad and wrong and evil were cleverly
masked by my brilliant camouflaging action that cannot be beat. I was totally a
floating head and some boobs, and you could maybe make out the outline of a
waist when the light was right, and you totally wanted me.

That does not so much work in the heat; summer in New
York, September in San Francisco were always nightmares for me. How was I
supposed to hide the fact that I was fat in things that exposed me? Hot weather felt dangerous, worrisome, terrifying. I
made compromises: I wore Capri pants, and short-sleeved shirts, and I almost
never felt pretty, but at least I never felt too vulnerable, too completely uncovered
and open to judgment. And I looked at the women my size and larger, wearing
spaghetti straps and short skirts and tiny shorts and I envied them a lot. I
looked at the women smaller than me, and skinny women and slender women and
regular-size women, with their bare limbs, and I envied them so much.

There was so much freedom for them, I thought–but what I
didn’t realize was how much power naked skin has. I had no idea how it could
make you feel, and though I have always known how much your own attitude shapes
the reactions of those around you, I don’t think I had ever truly experienced
that in such a conscious way, until recently, and I don’t want to ever go back.

I went out of town this weekend, and I knew it would be
hot. I packed T-shirts, a skirt, and at the last minute–on an impulse–I
bought a dress (so inexpensive) at Old Navy. A strappy dress, low-cut, and
right above the knees. I looked at myself in the mirror in the dressing room,
and I was surprised to see that I looked almost lovely in it. I felt good in
it. I stood there, riveted like a parakeet to my own reflection, because I did
not understand how I could be standing there so bare and exposed–my arms, my
legs, my sternum, my collarbones, the sweep of my neck and my shoulder blades.
So much skin, and none of it perfect, none of it flawless and ready to be
photographed for Vogue–but feeling so
good about myself, nevertheless. Nevertheless? No, because. Because of the vulnerability of it–that nakedness is undeniably
compelling.

I wore that dress out to dinner one night. I shrugged out
of my jacket, when we sat down to dinner outside, and both my friends looked at
me, and they said "Oh." "Oh, you look gorgeous." And I could feel the wind on my
back and on my arms, and I sat up straighter and–instead of my usual ducking
away and covering and hiding and denying everything you just said to me
because I am too embarrassed to accept your compliment, because I am too
incredulous and suspicious to believe that you could really think anything good
about me and the way I look and present myself to the world–I sat there feeling
powerful in my skin, and I said, "thank you."

  3 comments for “the skin you’re in

  1. anon
    June 6, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    I know I can’t be alone when I say that we really would love to see a picture of you. How about sharing yourself? Not for greedy judgmental eyes, but for the admiring eyes of those who GET IT (either “been there, sister, hallelujah, ain’t it great!” or are on their way there) and want to celebrate with you.

  2. June 6, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    I have a great big grin on my face – full of happiness for you and your “nakedness”. Love it!

  3. June 7, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    Well earned. Well deserved.

    Well done.

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