The other day, while rummaging around in an old box of photos, I stumbled over this snapshot from the 1990s, and I just couldn’t look away:
For two days now I’ve been going back to it, trying to puzzle what it is about the image that haunts me so. And then today, it struck me: This might be one of the last photos taken of me when I was completely comfortable in my own skin.
Tonight, I set the photo gently beside the keyboard, where I can stare at it while I type, and I look hard into the eyes of that smiling girl.
I must have been somewhere in the neighborhood of seventh grade when it was taken, caught in in the middle of a wicked belly flop from the edge of the pool at the Swim & Racquet Club. Already I had breasts and smooth curves by then, and a ballerina’s slim arms. Still — I didn’t yet know that my body was A Thing, mainly because the boys I knew also didn’t seem to notice that my body was A Thing. I was bookish and dreamy and artistic and smart, and it would be many years before those traits would crystallize into a chic sophistication that made me seem alluring and mysterious to the opposite sex, rather than just strange and a little intimidating.
And so, for the briefest moment in time, I wore a woman’s body without being self-conscious about it.
I didn’t know, yet, that my frame would become a liability and a curse: a source of constant shame and insecurity.
Didn’t know that a thousand voices would converge to tell me that I was too fat, too short, that my skin was bad, that my eyebrows ought to be plucked, or penciled in, that my cheekbones were too low, my feet too wide, and that if only I bought a certain dress/diet pill/lip gloss/anti-cellulite cream/tanning oil/cuticle trimmer/hair remover, I would finally — finally — be beautiful.
Beautiful, and therefore loved.
But I didn’t know any of this then. And so I raised myself on tiptoe at the water’s edge and just let myself fall, grinning for the little waterproof camera that my sister clutched in two hands.
I wasn’t worried about sucking in my stomach, or keeping my straps in place. I just fell, free and wild and easy through the summer light.
And I wish I’d never come crashing through the surface of womanhood. Wish with everything within myself that I could freeze that girl in that frame, and keep her in innocence forever.
But we both know that isn’t possible.
It’s been some time since I posted regularly on the subject of body image, and I’ll be honest: it’s a hard subject for me. After finishing my project Same Body, Second Glance, I felt exhausted by the white-knuckled vulnerability it took to share those images with you, and my little blog went dark for close to a month.
But lately, I’ve been feeling drawn back to the body: to its beauty and fragility. Its strength and wonder and joy.
So. I’m letting you know.
This month, I’ve been celebrating alpha // whiskey // foxtrot’s one-year anniversary with a series of flashback posts, and while I may still share a few more of those, I want you to know that there’s a change in direction coming. And I know it’s not for everyone.
While I’m still dreaming up the details, I think you’ll find — for a time, at least — that I’ll have a lot to say about the body … a series of personal essays and meditations, accompanied by special photographs. And while I originally meant to save this series for the post-January 1 season, I feel more and more that it may come sooner than that.
Because I need the joy now.
I look down, again, at the sweet smile of that innocent girl in the photograph, and I know as well as you do that her unselfconsciousness is not something I can regain.
But the joy — the wild joy of celebrating my own physicality — that is mine to keep, now and always. And that’s a wild joy I want to share with you.
I hope you’ll join me for the journey.