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Location: Midwest, United States

"Power lines, my travlin' partner on this ride. Dripping, pulling - up and down, in this sing song, their lullaby blends with the swaying train. I curl myself into this journey; folding myself up into this pocket of time. Old familiars greet me - that swing set in the back yard, the ruins of an old church covered in new birth and old - mixed with unremembered newness." Journal Entry, October 13, 2005~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~All words are copyrighted by GoGo on a Page/gogoroku.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Body Image Part I

It was the summer of 1988 when I first remember being displeased with my body. This was a drought year. The summer was hot and dry. It hardly rained and when it did, the waters barely quenched the thirst of the sun burnt foliage. I remember everything made a cracking sound – the grass, trees in the wind, and leaves. This was also the summer that I had electively decided to not wear shorts too afraid others would see my milky white skin and knobby knees. I had spent the last two years very sick. Sinus infections, migraines, and constant colds had the physician place me on antibiotics. Suddenly, my skin no longer tanned. A moment in the sun guaranteed severe sunburns. Unfortunately, this was also the season when every gyrl I knew obsessed about tans, dark rich, and the furthest away from the horror of milky white skin. Moms were letting their daughters go to tanning booths and gyrls were beginning to discuss things like whether or not they tanned topless.

Now, I am no victim. I am simply describing life from a adolescent's point of view. My life at the time felt miserable, almost impossible at times, but personally I would not have tanned anyway. There is something about it all that never felt quite right for me. My grandmother was a sun goddess, wearing tube tops and breaking hearts from her olive skin even in her sixties. With the help of moisturizers, exfoliates, and super strong consealers, this woman had the shiniest leathered skin I had ever seen, and to be quite honest, the leathering helped to keep her skin nice and taut. With that said, none of this devotion to beauty set well with me. I’d like to think it was because I had somehow evolved above the genderfication of women. At least I had told myself this at the age of 12 to hide the real reasons I couldn’t relate to tanning or makeup or shorts.

I should stop a moment and say I never used the words genderfication at 12…I learned that word in college. At twelve, it came out in words like, “I think intelligence is more important than make-up” OR “I’m no Barbie, thank you.”

Anywho, here I am 12-years-old and suddenly my body felt ugly and wrong and completely different than anyone I knew around me. If I presented pictures of myself at that age, the reader would see a thin, beautiful gyrl. I didn’t see it at the time. I was fat, my skin was translucent, and my hair…okay the pictures would totally show the horror of my hair. It was the 80s. In truth, I had somehow learned that innately, I wasn’t worth the attempt to be beautiful. To feel beautiful felt damn near impossible and to hear it felt like rain itself in a drought season – desperately needed and most unlikely. I didn’t tan because I couldn’t, didn’t want to, but above all didn’t think it’d make a difference anyway. That’s a pretty sad state of affairs.

It was such a micken hot summer. The world was going to shit in a hand basket (love the cliché). Mother Nature had hiccupped searing the world an ugly brown in July. I had come into a new body that was grouse. To top it all, I choose to punish myself for this new found body image with blue jeans the entire summer. Ew. I also punished myself with a perm, but that’s another story.

Of course, had we polled all the gyrls my age, I am sure the majority would have reported the same woos. None of us talked about it though. We compared and judged and down right hurt one another with our own insecurities. Hell, at 30 I still find women who try to hurt others with their own insecurities. Or see hurt from others because of insecurities. Even moms participated in the insecure fights comparing their daughters, judging others. How many daughter went home to decompress some pang to only hear Mom reinstill the perpetual body battles, "Oh, look at her butt." There is nothing like the insecurity brewing up in self-righteousness. Sorry, editorializing.

Why am I writing this? I found that 12-year-old today. She had written me. I found her in a box, under some old V.C. Andrew novels. A letter faded and stuck between a couple Dragons of Pern books. Moisture had sealed her like the center of an Oreo. A letter. I had asked my future self to somehow send word that this ugly I felt would go away. Stained yellow paper, mildewed, and smelly, my handwriting has gotten much better. My use of commas has not. I unfolded her, wrapped my fingers delicately around the edges, peeling the pages apart. There were a hundred words struggling to understand body image and hoping that this me now had somehow transcended the drought filled days. Even then, I had hoped I could teach backwards all the things I learn forward.

Today is a rainy day. Storms flow across the sky in intervals, darkening the sky and refreshing the air. I remember my 12-year-old stuck on mildewed parchment. I remembered it wasn’t all bad that summer or year. I had read my first 1,000 page novel. I had won first chair in band. I had played Sherlock Holmes in a class play. My BFF and I had written a novel together, complete with Melrose Drama and murder uncovered. I remembered things got better, though still struggling with those two nasty words – body image – time had brought back the rains, my sense of equilibrium and beauty from my milky white skin. I also struggle with harder concepts like why I prefer Jane over John. Hmm.

Ironically, I also received a letter from my 12-year-old cousin this week. Her words reflective of the same messed up adolescence trying to figure out who she is while understanding why the world of Barbie perfection and molded expectations of her body doesn’t fit real well. I sat there today, reading my letter, grabbing my counsin's letter and reading that, and I decided to write another letter…



Blogger sister AE said...

Gogo - thanks for stopping by my site. I decided to see what you were writing and, WOW, what a powerful memory you have too!

At first it reminded me what it was like when I came home from college. Having spent the spring largely inside studying, I was pretty pale when I got home for the summer and my mom would tell me to go sit outside to get rid of my "prison pallor."

Then your story brought me back to my own 12th year. I remember being miserable. Was it the hormones? Are all 12-year-old girls depressed? I felt unhappy and lonely and I felt no one understood me.

But I, too, gradually discovered my strengths and the things that made me happy. And a few friends who didn't think I was from outer space.

I hope your cousin enjoys her letter. And I hope you tucked that letter you found away somewhere, to be re-discovered yet again someday.

8:51 PM, May 01, 2007  
Blogger kookiejar said...

Wow! Beautiful post! Don't worry about the commas.... keep writing! : )

3:00 PM, May 03, 2007  
Blogger Jane said...

I struggle with body image still at the age of 42. Growing up, I was painfully underweight and flat chested. I tried everything to gain weight. Alas, I remained dorky and gauky until I was in college. I'm learning to like this skin though. Somedays I still feel like that gauky pre-teen :))

12:21 PM, May 09, 2007  

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