I think I have a date next week. It makes me feel nervous…and kinda fat.
Throughout my entire life, I have struggled a bit with body image. Not excessively – no eating disorders or anything. But I have certainly been somewhat self-conscious about any imperfections. It’s too bad, of course, because when I look back at old photos I think “Oh, man! If I looked like that now, I’d be naked all the time. At the beach. At the grocery store. All. The. Time.”
In high school, I had a firm size 5 body. And I rarely was willing to wear a bathing suit in public. In those days, my issue was with my very pale skin. I lived in Florida where the pretty girls were blonde and tanned. I had red hair and very pale skin that burned and peeled. The fact that my figure was nice enough was moot because it was also really really white and no amount of laying out on my parents’ roof slathered in baby oil seemed to help.
Actually, in college I was fairly aware that I had a nice body and I did show it to a few people in private. Still, my imperfections loomed large in my mind – I was more of a size 7 by then and still had the white skin and was still in Florida. I wouldn’t have flaunted it in public much…unless I had been drinking heavily (it was college after all) but I did have varied private showings. I miss college. College was fun.
From 25 to 34 I was still dating but I was a serial monogamist. I was rarely single for very long. Occasionally the lines between when a relationship ended and the next one started would blur or overlap. But I was always with one guy. He saw what I had to offer and generally was appreciative though I occasionally still suffered secretly about the parts of me that would never look like the girls in the magazines.
So silly. I really should’ve worn nothing but a bikini from 18 to 34. What in the world was I thinking? NOW I know. Now that it’s too late. Isn’t that always the way? I should’ve spent my 20’s frequenting wet t-shirt contests. There was certainly no lack of those in Florida in the 90’s. Do they still do that? Too late now. That was many many years ago. Four and a half combined years of breastfeeding ago. There will be no wet t-shirt contests now. No need to thank me.
Then, for 8 years, I was married. And I thought I could stop worrying about that stuff. That was naïve.
So here I am – unexpectedly in the position where I suppose I will be dating again. I feel a little like I’ve never done it before. And, in a way, I haven’t. I have never dated as a 43-year-old. I have never dated as a single mom. I began seeing my husband in 1999 so I have really never dated in the 21st Century.
It’s scary, right? I’m looking at dating again in a body that is time-worn and a little battered. A body that I allowed to be used for something as violent as gestation and childbirth – twice – with the understanding that I was with one person who had seen both the before and after and loved me unconditionally and was grateful enough for those babies to overlook any collateral damage. It is a rude awakening to find yourself alone in a body you don’t recognize anymore and realize that you may have to show it to someone new and ask him to want it. Terrifying.
But that’s surface stuff, right? I’m supposed to recognize that when I was in my 20’s I had infinitely less to offer. I know. I know that that is true. I’m working on digging a little deeper.
And when I do I can recognize, at least intellectually, that the bodies we live in are flesh and blood topographical maps of the journeys we’ve taken – the lives we have lived, the battles we’ve fought, and the gifts we’ve been given. So this map includes the birth of a little girl who is now seven and smart and sassy. And a little boy who is four and almost died once upon a time – who relied upon me for nutrition and antibodies for a little longer than I was comfortable with – but who is still alive and thriving, in part because of me. There are scars and changes inside and out – the result of decades of losses and triumphs, deaths and births, tragedy and serendipity. It’s all there – just under the surface. Occasionally ON the surface.
I imagine circling the areas of interest with a red marker. Here is where the skin was stretched beyond its elasticity. Here is where you can still see remnants of the trust that was broken. The tears fell here and here and…let’s see…right here on the night she died…on the day he was diagnosed…on the afternoon he left. And these here? They were at least an inch farther north ten years ago.
There are enough changes to make looking in the mirror an occasionally surreal experience. That person – that one reflected back at me – regardless of the fact that history might tell you otherwise – has really never dated. I’m not 100% sure I even know her all that well so it will be a fascinating experiment to introduce her to others as if I’m an expert.
I’m still grappling a little with this blog, too – trying to figure out what to reveal and what to hide. It’s kinda like we’re dating. The thing that I know that I like about blogging – the reason I believe in it as both an exercise and an art form (yeah…I said art form) – is that I fully embrace the ultimate goal that we all, all of us here, hope to have some moments of discovery together – about ourselves and each other.
So, this is where I am right now. This is what I am figuring out and learning to embrace and somewhere out there in cyberspace, it is something that someone else is struggling to figure out, too. There is art and beauty in the moment we connect. I hope we connect.