Picture it: a Friday afternoon in summertime. An old house on the tip of a peninsula in coastal Maine. A mother, a father, a sixteen-year-old boy with Down syndrome, and a terribly shy fifteen-year-old girl who could count on one hand the number of Jewish peers she’d ever had (none of whom she spoke to anymore). Suddenly, thirty or so big-city Jewish kids descend upon the scene with their backpacks, sleeping bags, tents (they were all going to camp out in our backyard), and — most importantly to naive, impressionable me — their cool. They were so cool. Every single one of them. Even the losers of the group were cool. I couldn’t believe all the cool I was suddenly witness to. These kids were from New York City!
I’ll be honest: I don’t remember much about them, other than the fact that they ruined our septic system by flushing paper towels down our toilets (instead of using the porta potties my parents had paid for), and that my parents were incredibly stressed out the entire weekend, trying to figure out who was actually in charge since it was hard to tell the adults from the teenagers, and the fact that after a fairly short amount of time, I was eating, laughing, joking along with them, to my own amazement. Who would have thought that this nobody from nowhere would have had anything to say to these Somebodies from Somewhere?
But I’m sure you’re wondering where the sweatpants come into play here. After all, that’s how this whole post started, right? Well, the truly lasting impression I have of this group is that of the young women. Probably half of the group was young women, between the ages of fourteen and sixteen (I’m guessing now), and they all looked like me. This was the first time I’d seen curves on a group of women outside of my family, and it was intoxicating. I was one of those early-blooming gals; that, plus the fact that I kept blooming long after everyone around me was done made me rather uncomfortable a lot of the time. When I was about eleven or twelve, I started to realize that I indeed looked different to myself but also to the men around me. I started to realize that sometimes this worked in my favor; sometimes it worked against me. I had no clue how to navigate this, so I studied all the women and girls I could find. I watched my sister, my mother, my aunts, and every girl at my school. My heart as a writer really came in handy here; I studied them as fully as if I were creating a whole cast of characters.
The problem was that, apart from the women in my family, I couldn’t find anyone who reflected me to myself. I went to a high school where the vast majority of girls were very athletic and petite; those who weren’t were largely overweight. I was so so so unathletic, and while I felt fat, I had the perspective to realize that I wasn’t literally overweight, I was just curvy. And those in my family, while gorgeous (to my way of thinking) were all…much older, and thus, entirely unhelpful.
These girls who had suddenly found themselves at my house were like beacons to me. They were hippy and busty and sexy and curvy and they knew it. They wore what seemed to be their summer uniform the entire weekend: sweatpants with the waist rolled down and fitted t-shirts. I don’t think I can overstate the impact they had on my sense of myself as a viable sort of future-woman. Watching them was like watching my self, only a self that had not yet been realized. The way they moved and laughed and spoke (and, yes, flirted) and inhabited their shapes spoke volumes, and it gave me what felt like permission to do the same.
The day they left, I donned their uniform, just for a few minutes, just to try it out, and it felt good. It may have been the first time I’d practiced dressing to enhance this new shape as opposed to dressing in spite of this new shape. I don’t think I dressed particularly modestly before, but I dressed the way the skinny girls around me dressed, which — not surprisingly — made me excruciatingly uncomfortable and self-conscious. In this new outfit, I felt self-conscious, but in a completely different way. I felt like the way I’d been made and the way I’d been shaped had been done on purpose. I hadn’t just been thrown together haphazardly, consequences be damned. I had been formed as a continuation of a line that goes back to ancient times. I saw myself in the mirror, and I looked like my mother and like my grandmother and, probably, like her mother and all the mothers before that. I turned my eyes toward my shape instead of away, and I saw that, as a matter of fact, I could use it, and I could love it.
Fifteen years have passed, and I like to think I’m much more mature about my body now. I married an exceedingly kind man who seems to dig me, and I’ve mostly come to terms with the fact that, in almost any group, I will be the hippy one. When that designation becomes too tiresome (as it sometimes does, especially in this world of skinny jeans and bikinis with summer fast approaching), I like to stage a little mini-protest. I pull on my sweatpants, roll down the waist, and put on a fitted t-shirt. It doesn’t look as cute as it did when I was fifteen, but it serves as a reminder that my body, though not the straight and narrow I wish for sometimes, is worthy of love and grace and acceptance.
And…maybe…a tiny bit of showing off.