Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

How my mother made me love my body.

April 23, 2009

My mother’s mother was anorexic.  As my mom grew, her body became a site for my grandma’s own disgust and self-hatred.

My mom could never eat little enough or wear girdles tight enough to please her.  My grandma’s stinging criticisms and insults diminished my mom’s ability to enjoy food.  Made her worry more, enjoy her body less.

My mom pledged to break the cycle with her own daughter.  Though she dieted constantly and continued to revile her own body, my mother told me I was beautiful throughout my childhood.  And not just that I was beabodyutiful now, at a certain moment, at a particular size and shape — but that I had always been, and would always be, beautiful.

I didn’t believe it, of course.  Our culture scrutinizes women’s bodies, and I scrutinized my own.  I hated my thighs.  I hated the shape of my hips.  I hated my small breasts.

I became transfixed by the images of women I found in magazines.  I wanted to unlock the secrets of their beauty.  At one point, I literally measured the dimensions of these models — both their bodies and their faces.  After careful calculation, I concluded I wasn’t beautiful — no matter what my mother told me.

Over the years, I have slowly, slowly become comfortable with myself. Being femme and performing femininity has allowed me to see my body a site of creativity and social commentary; sex has played a complicated but ultimately essential role in establishing my body as my home.  And my sense of my own worth and my own beauty has increasingly come to rest on my internal values rather than on external sources of validation.

Ultimately, this is what my mother taught me: bodies are beautiful because they are human.  Because everyone scars differently.  Because there are twenty-six bones in a foot.  Because you sing using muscle.  Because of the mystery of an itch, and the relief of scratching it.  Because round and flat and light and dark and large and small can all be gorgeous.  Because they’re even more gorgeous if you use your hands. Because contractions are shapeshifters that bring pain, laughter, and ecstasy.

Because we live here.  Because we love here.

Thank you, mom, for this gift you have given me.  I take care of my body, tend to it as carefully as you do your garden.  I give it air, good food, water, touch, light.  You once carried my body in your own body, gave me life.  It is with joy that I am in your debt.

Start at the beginning.

December 5, 2008

I was born bald, and I stayed that way for the first year of my life. After six months of strangers cooing, “What an adorable little boy!”, my parents pierced my ears. I imagine that cool needle gun cuddling up to my soft skull was my first direct encounter with the cultural constellation of behaviors, attitudes, and feelings commonly referred to as femininity.

After such a painful and confusing start (Ouch, mom! Why do you hate me?), you’d think I would have been turned off to the whole venture. Yet a review of the photographic evidence reveals that toddler me had quite a penchant for mixing my big brother’s hand-me-down striped tees with strands of pearls; tree climbing in various improvisations of princess garb; and, rather alarmingly, blowing out birthday candles while wearing a lace veiled ’40s hat (Thanks, mom: guess you don’t hate me, after all! Or do you…).

I spent all my free time ages 2.5 to 12 drawing, and the majority of my subjects were women — imaginary and real, tall and petite, thin and voluptuous — but always elaborately adorned. Ladies in saucy strapless dresses and earrings that dangled down past their shoulders. Girls with elbow gloves and prim purses wearing evening gowns with slits up the thigh. High heels. Red lips. And every shade of eye shadow imaginable.

My life since then has been a slow process of applying that same artistic instinct to my own clothes, face, and body — and daily presenting my work to the world. I dare you to assume I can’t change a tire, talk theory, or stoke the fires of the revolution just because I’m wearing jeweled fake eyelashes. Go ahead: try me. The fact that my fascination with and deep investment in femininity is misunderstood and maligned in mainstream culture and queer culture alike is beside the point. No, I take that back. I don’t want other people’s views to be a part of my feelings about femininity, but they are.

You can’t take the audience out of the performance, can you?

I use femininity to challenge assumptions and defy stereotypes. I perform femininity with an ear to farce. I narrate femininity in the first person, but experience it within the context of history, culture, and community. I stick with femininity because it is what holds my attention, keeps me guessing, keeps me real. It’s my hobby and my home.