I, like most women, have a complicated relationship with my body. And complicated doesn’t mean bad. I mean, I love this house. These limbs, this trunk, my bellybutton––I grew them myself. The scars and fingernail moons and quad muscles and curly hair are mine. All mine.
Today I read an essay by travel writer Amy Gigi Alexander––“Yes, I am a Strong, Beautiful Woman. Anywhere”––that makes me want to shout self-love from the rooftops. She writes:
Somewhere between realizing your difference and taking on the challenges required to be in a fresh landscape, you stop thinking about beauty in the way it has always been presented to you. Beautiful is not a fat-free body. Beautiful is not a face without wrinkles. Beautiful instead becomes something new: the markers change. It is now defined by scars, by lines, by experience. Such experience spreads like a map unfolding over your body, boldly remolding it without asking. There’s something about owning your body, owning your face that is powerful. It takes guts. It takes moving against the prevailing tide of a society that thinks you shouldn’t.
I want to pause and breathe in those words. Read them again. And again. As I woman, I don’t hear this enough. Beauty is a marker of change. Beauty is experience. Beauty is the story that my body tells. Beauty is the way that I can occupy every corner of my being with intention. I am beautiful. I am strong. Let’s take ownership of the stories our bodies tell.
In July 2012 I tore my ACL playing soccer in an all-women’s league in Argentina. It’s not a memory I like to recall––one twist, one pop, and my body betrayed me. The scar is there branded on my right knee: a line the color of stringy pasta and no wider than a piece of spaghetti.
The lack of mobility that came along with recovery from this surgery led me to my first (and thankfully only) encounter with a lack of will to live. As I lay immobile on the pull-out couch in my family’s living room, watching the London Olympics on NBC and nursing my right knee––this new center of pain in my body––I couldn’t stop crying. Why go on living? I asked. Who am I if I can’t move? What is left for me like this?
Fortunately the feeling passed. Hugs from family members helped. My youngest sister, then two years old, made me a Play-Doh cupcake. My mother held me as I shook with the fear of never regaining full ownership of my movement. She told me I would recover. That this pain is temporary. That I only had to work through the pain, and then something new would come to take its place.
For the next year, I poured the full of my energy into one goal: recovery. I did my physical therapy exercises three times a day. I got frustrated at my knee. I cried when it was all too much. And slowly, slowly, the joint could bend again. I regained a full range of motion. Now, two years later, I can run and jump and bike and dance––dancing was the last thing to come back.
This is only one story my body tells, only one scar that makes me beautiful. A series of parallel reddish lines on my right elbow mark a bad fall I took off my bicycle in a town just north of New Orleans where I made the poor decision to ride on a loose-gravel levee. A brownish burn mark on my right forearm tells the story of learning to bake bread for my 32 housemates at the Dudley Co-op. The skin bubbled but healed with time. I have persistent tan lines on my legs and shoulders from seven years of rowing under the sun. My hands are calloused from the millions of strokes I have taken, propelling an oar through water. A few weeks ago I treated myself to a cartilage piercing, a subtle touch to mark the transition that is graduating from college and entering the next adventure. Plus, it makes me feel like a beautiful bad-ass and I can’t help but smile when I see it in the mirror.
Wherever I am in the world, I want to take ownership of my scars and holes and stretch marks and body hair––to celebrate the stories my body tells.
I’ll end with Audre Lorde, because if I were to shout about self-care from the rooftops, these are the words I would choose:
All praise the Lorde.