A few months ago, I visited The Olympic spa in Lynnwood with my friend Frankie. What Frankie didn't tell me (or maybe she did, and I just blocked it out) was that in the very best part of the spa, the one with the baths and stream room, walking around naked was a requirement. If I had really processed this, I probably would have worked myself into such a frenzy of anxiety that I would have canceled the whole trip, but something in my brain just let this piece of information fall from my consciousness, and there I went.
During the tour of the spa that they give to newbies, they showed us the bath and tub room from a glass wall in one of the lobbies. I saw two women step out from the steam room--large, dark, corpulent women with heavy thighs and thick, pillowy breasts. I wasn't expecting to see any fully naked women, and the sight shocked me for a moment, then my brain made an adjustment, and I was not only relieved, but I suddenly felt more at home, more comfortable. When we finally made our way to the steam room, I was still nervous about being naked, but I felt okay, I felt like it was doable. I held on to the fact that it would have been impolite not to follow the rules, which gave me added encouragement.
What I noticed was that most of the women there had round bellies and big thighs, plump arms and full butts. One after the other after the other, even the thinnest among them, seemed to have a inevitable roundness to their bodies. After an hour or so hanging out in the tubs, I began to think about the images of women I see most of the day—very thin, flat and straight women, with no softness to their forms. It started to occur to me that perhaps many women are not meant to have totally flat bellies and boyish butts...perhaps the natural shape of a majority of women is round and curved. I felt like I had hit on some revolutionary concept, one that I must dash home and write about immediately.
But once I sat down to post on my blog about this momentous occurrence, actually writing about it made me very uncomfortable: What if someone from work read it, where much of the culture is centered around being skinny and fit? I am supposed to hold up to the public certain ideas about health: fat on your belly is “unhealthy”, being overweight is “bad” for you, bodies should be firm and tight, thighs reigned in, stomachs iron-flat. We're in the health field and therefore supposed to be modeling “good health” to the public-- and in Western culture, the visual metaphor for physical, mental and spiritual health is “thin.”
Since it was too hard at that time to be completely transparent, I wrote a poem as a cop-out. I realized that there was a part of me that was afraid to say that these women seemed perfect—powerful and healthy and totally at ease with themselves. What if I revealed that, in spite of the reflexive (and bonding-motivated) complaints I make about my body, secretly, in my deepest heart, I don't care about losing weight? What if I dared to make this subversive statement: I am happy with my body the way it is? That as I grow older, I feel good about carrying curves and softness, that I am privately happy about settling into a shape and size that feels more natural to me, that fits my personality, that reflects who I am now more accurately than my formally lanky, hip-less frame? That I actually feel stronger now that I have some weight to throw around? And that I see, reflected in my current body, my female ancestors, all sturdy, plump, and curvaceous, with meaty thighs and heavy upper arms; generous arms that would feel warm and loving and comforting when they enveloped you. Arms that would be dusted with pie flour and seasoned with decades of nurturing.
I remembered that years ago when I was in massage school, one of my instructors was always scoffing at the idea that a body should be “tight”. She said that were are made of about 2/3rds water, and therefore our bodies should be loose and flowing. At the spa, there was an ease to those women's bodies and the way they inhabited them that I deeply envied and have been trying to emulate every since.
But I can't say these things to anyone, so I keep them to myself. I keep to myself that standing there in the baths, frank and naked, pouring mugwort tea over my breasts, made me feel sensual and rich, fully accepting of my body, unworried for once about what I looked like, but totally immersed in what my skin was feeling, what my cells craved.
In conclusion, my fellow women friends and acquaintances (and men, too): I don't want to have painstakingly detailed conversations with you about whether or not it's okay to eat half of a chocolate chip cookie after 6:00 pm. I don't want to hear about how many millimeters of fat were reduced from your inner thighs this week. I don't care about the extra slice of meat pizza you ate yesterday.
For God's sake, you are all amazing, powerful, beautiful, creative human beings, and I don't give a half a shit about the temporary vagaries of your physical form and how well you are managing to obediently hammer your body into the passing moral and cultural ideal of the moment. I care about you. I care about what you're fucking up, rebelling against, and contributing to in the world, what your most banal dreams and nastiest fears are, if you have any good jokes, and what and who you truly love. You are NOT what you eat. So please, if you want the cookie, just shut the fuck up and eat the damn cookie—with joy, crumbs spraying out, and no apologies. Then tell me something beautiful about yourself.