A Brand New Novel
Josephine Baker, the early-20th-century African-American dancer, comic, and singer–hugely famous in Paris. Did you know that she was also a spy for the French Resistance during WWII?
It’s National Love Your Body Day, the day on which girls and women are invited to reject the media hype about how we are supposed to look — and embrace ourselves with all our lumps, bumps, scars, and flaws.
I love my body, and its every aspect, from head to callused toes.
My feet are gnarly and misshapen, with bunions so pronounced they push my big toes inward and my middle toes toward my big toes. My feet are my legacy from my father, who died at age 50. In spite of their deformity, they take me everywhere, on long walks nearly every day that clear my mind of confusion, bring me inspiration for my work, and keep my body healthy. My feet took me 961 miles, along Montana’s Continental Divide Trail in 1989, a painful hike that taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to. Thank you for empowering me, feet!
I love my legs with their knobbly knees; their veins spidering purple beneath pale skin; their birthmark splashed like a pale blot of ink across the back of one thigh; the scar on my shin marking my weird and wonderful week at Burning Man 2010. My legs have danced me around the world, including at a floating disco on the beautiful Danube River in Belgrade, Serbia. When I am old I intend to be one of those eccentrics shaking her tail feather to the music, alone if need be, on my long, strong, scarred and veiny legs.
I love my hips, so wide that my father used to call me “Butt” (his term of endearment, said with a grin, making me blush) and the perfect shape for an easy home-birth of my amazing daughter, Mariah, whose bold voice, courage, compassion, and strength give me admiration and hope for the next generation of women.
I love my breasts, once small and perky but, after giving birth, a bit larger now – and, after years of refusing to wear a bra, much less perky. Exposed to pornography early in life and fed meat from animals injected with hormones, I developed early. I donned my first harness – oops! bra – at age nine, causing the kids in my class to tease me. I envisioned large breasts like those of the women I saw on the screen and on the pages of my father’s magazine pages. A religious child, also, I set my sights on one of two careers: Playboy bunny, or nun, “depending on how I turn out.”
Despite my self-objectification, my breasts turned out to have an important role in my life and in that of my infant daughter. They nurtured Mariah for years until she weaned herself, endowing us with a bond that we will always cherish. The milk they produced may have contributed to her gourmet tastes, as well – have you ever tried breast milk? It’s sweet, like coconut milk. Thank you, breasts, for all the joy and pleasure you have given to me and to others.
I love my hands, which write the words that flow from my imagination into my fingers, producing thousands of newspaper, magazine, and online articles over the years as well as six novels – one of which, the obligatory autobiographical tome, will never see the light of day (thank goodness!). My words have affected lives – most recently, giving women strong, powerful characters from history to love, root for, and emulate. These hands have made delicious meals to bring others together in love and friendship, have served others less fortunate than I, have played beautiful music on my piano (OK, sometimes it’s not so beautiful) and have caressed the skin of the men I have loved. I don’t paint my fingernails or manicure them because I am too busy using my hands.
I love my face, for, although it falls far short of the media “ideal,” its wrinkles are smile lines, its cheeks have rosacea from years in the warm sun, its eyes are my mother’s – a compelling gray-blue, a reminder of her whenever I look into the mirror. My teeth, soft and small, have a chip in front, caused when I drank selfishly from a water jug on a hot day, depriving my 7-year-old sister, who angrily hit the jug and broke my tooth. I deserved it. When I smile, and notice that chip, I’m reminded of my selfish impulses and I’m inspired to be more generous with others.
I even love my nose. When I was young, kids teased me about its prominence. I was called “Withchipoo,” after the hag in the children’s show H. R. Pufnstuf. Because of my nose, I felt ugly for most of my early life. Then, in my 20s, I interviewed a man for the local newspaper. He was, he told me, a connoisseur of noses. “Yours is the most beauitful nose I have ever seen,” he said. Years later, someone gave me a copy of Time magazine with a beautiful model on the front whose nose was identical to mine. Because of my nose, I learned that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, and that whom, and how, we are is more important by far than how we appear to others.
I have never conformed to the media’s beauty ideal. And yet my body has enabled me to live a full, vibrant, love-filled life. One day I was telling a lover that both my legs and my breasts had been praised as my best feature.
“They’re not your best feature,” he said. “Your brain is your best feature.”
Today, I think others would say my heart is the best. These are the parts the media forget to honor – but I honor them today, on National Love Your Body Day, both in myself and in you, perfect as you are and getting better every day.