The Size of my Thighs; The Art in my Heart

tape measure

“To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself.” Simone deBeuavoir

In fifth grade, I thought I was fat. One of my classmates told me I was, so it must be true. Suddenly, my geometric print leggings weren’t just unfashionable, they were now off-limits because my body didn’t deserve them.

girl mirror
“Even the models we see in magazines wish they could look like their own images.” 
― Cheri K. Erdman

To be clear, I wasn’t overweight. The script that girls are sold, though, is that you can never be quite thin enough, no matter how hard you try.

This script starts early.

When I was eleven I ordered a book from the back of Seventeen Magazine, called “The Final Solution”. It was touted as a guaranteed way to shed unwanted pounds. I wasn’t fluent enough in European history at the time to recognize the horror and terrible irony that came along with naming a diet and exercise book aimed at teens after the Nazis plan for systematic genocide.

girl barbie
“A cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but an obsession about female obedience.” 
― Naomi Wolf

That book was my companion well into high school. I would refer to it on occasion, whenever I was feeling particularly motivated to achieve some level of perfection, which I thought would translate to peace. Because God knew my black-only wardrobe and taste for obscure music weren’t doing me any favors in the popularity department. Maybe if I had a tight, toned, my-thighs-don’t-touch-or-jiggle figure I’d get there.

But, despite the messages to the contrary, there is no peace in the struggle for ‘perfection’.

In elementary school, I wore basically whatever I wanted. In middle school, I’d transitioned to baggy skater clothes, the better to hide my weird body with. By high school, I’d found some kind of middle ground: I could wear tighter shirts, if my pants were super baggy. I could get away with the occasional pair of belled leggings, if my shirt was three times too big for me. Because as much attention as I called to myself by wearing vinyl and spiked collars and anti-swastika patches, I still didn’t want anyone to see the way I was shaped.

sarah infrared
Me, at 20, convinced I was carrying at least 20 extra pounds.

Through these years I would try on different diets, often following in my parent’s hopeful steps. The Atkins diet was particularly memorable. I would eat hot dogs without the buns, dipped in mustard. Slices of packaged cheese. Artificially sweetened anything. Then, I would pee on a little strip of paper and hope hope hope that it turned a dark shade of red, indicating that my young and developing body had reached a state of ketosis.

 

Exercise came into my life only sporadically. My dad liked TV, my mother liked books, so even though we lived at the foot of the Pikes Peak, we weren’t an outdoorsy bunch. When I did get active, it would be alone, in my room, usually with a slender volume I pilfered from my mom’s bookshelf: Callanetics. The cover featured the middle portion of a slender woman in a leotard, with the title resting in her curves. The exercises themselves have merit; my approach to them, however, was rooted in low self-esteem and the search for a magic body bullet.

Aside from that, I didn’t play sports or go on hikes or really do much at all beyond reading and writing and (failing at) ‘rithmetic.

goth sarah
“Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” 
― Naomi Wolf

These were the same years that I learned to use my body as a commodity. Any contributions my personality could bring to a relationship paled when compared to the contribution this body could offer. Consequently, if I wasn’t hooking up with at least one guy, I didn’t consider myself worth much at all.

This method of trade immediately broke down when applied to my friendships and my intimate relationships with women. By and large, I wasn’t sleeping with the people in my friend group. And when it came to having a girlfriend, well, I was just so damn confused by the whole thing that I had no idea what to do.

Because this idea of sex as my primary value was so strong in my mind, it became incredibly difficult to navigate any relationship that wasn’t between me and a guy who wanted to sleep with me. I would occasionally have a kind of close female friend, but not often, and not for long. I would try to seduce most of my male friends from time to time. It took more than a decade after I got out of high school before I learned how to really have a friendship, no sexy strings attached. To this day, maintaining those friendships is a challenge. I still wonder what I could possibly have to offer.

cat barbieMy story is not unique. It is, in fact, distressingly common. Girls who wreak havoc on their hormones by going on unnecessary diets. Women who wonder what they’re bringing to the table, if they’re not opening their legs. Lives defined by the vehicle we were granted for this incarnation, rather than the soul it carries around. Bullying and advertisements, parents and peers and presidents, all telling us that we are only as good as our stomach is flat. Even that isn’t a winning score, though, because you’re still just a body. An object that belongs to someone else. Someone who knows what you need.

Here’s the thing: I’m a human being. All those people trying to tell me what I need? They’re human beings, too. And there is no way in hell they could be more knowledgeable about my mind, my body, and my needs than me.

So, hands off. This belly, these breasts, this smile and this heart are for me.

If I like you, a lot, maybe I’ll share.

bikini
The first bikini I’ve owned in nearly twenty years. And rocking it.

 

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Shedding My Layers Part One: Polyamory

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You ask, “Why do you cry with such

sweetness all around?” I weep as I

make the honey, wearing the shirt

of a bee, and I refuse to share this

suffering. I play the sky’s harp. I

curl around my treasure like a snake.

You say, “What is this ‘I’ business?”

Friend, I’ve been a long time away

from my center. What you see here is

your own reflection. I am still raw,

and at the same time well-cooked, and

burnt to a crisp! No one can tell if

I’m weeping or laughing. I wonder myself.

How can I be separated, and yet in union?

-Rumi

“I curl around my treasure like a snake.” This line, in particular, has caught me from this gorgeous poem. It encompasses, to me, what I have so often done with my sense of ‘identity’. I have curled myself around pieces of information and used them to define me. It’s something we all do, to varying degrees. We identify as our roles: mother, husband, student. As our social standing: pillar of society, hermit, fuck-up. As our jobs. As our diagnoses. As our emotions. As our thoughts.

None of that really describes who we are, though.  This morning, I felt buoyant. That does not make me buoyant, but at one time I did feel this way. I have been a wife—that does not, in perpetuity, make me a wife. And so one. I’ve even changed names throughout my life, so that, too, is a wiggly definition. Yet, without these labels, I am left with…what?

Well, that’s what I’m starting to discover. What is under all these layers I’ve collected over the years? With each definition I shed, something new arises. A spaciousness comes to light.

I’ll give you an example, one that is really not fucking easy for me to own up to, because of the path that brought me to this point in my life.

blog 11.2When I was sixteen, I was given a book called The Ethical Slut. Many of you have probably heard of it, or read it. For those who haven’t, it’s an inspiring nonfiction work on the practice of ethical polyamory. I ate it up. I identified with the author’s views on love, and sex. This idea that we should be able to love freely and let relationships grow organically appealed to me immensely. That we shouldn’t be ‘tied down’ to one, monogamous relationship. That ‘sex is nice, and pleasure is good for you’. The information in that book took root, and from that point on I identified as polyamorous.

Fast forward a few years, to the point where I met my now ex-husband. We dated for a while, then broke up. Then got back together. Then, because of this identity—as well as another I won’t get into at this point—we broke up again. I wanted an open relationship, he didn’t. Then, we got back together, and I worked hard at pushing this identity under layers of repression. I didn’t address it. I didn’t explore it. I hid it. And six years later it exploded with the righteous fury of a really hungry zombie. The marriage ended, in part because I demanded an open relationship.

Moving forward, I tried to embrace this idea. The jealousy and discomfort that came up in the course of trying to model the kind of relationship and free-wheeling sexuality I decided I wanted did illuminate many things, but never quite became the tool of discovery I hoped for. Instead, I made myself miserable, and plenty of people I care about deeply were pretty miserable, too. Still, I pushed ahead, sure that I could just keep wading through until something started to shift and I could see the light. I kept hoping, believing, that there would come a time when me talking about polyamory to another person would feel natural, and not like I was dressing up in someone else’s clothes.

It never happened. But I wanted it to, so badly. Not in small part because I’d used polyamory as a cudgel to maim my marriage, and hurt a good man in the process. I had to be polyamorous. I had to be open, and sexy, and free-spirited because I’d built so much of my identity around this thing.

I curled around that treasure like a snake, and I was damned if I was going to let it go. It was me, after all.

Except…it wasn’t.

These last couple months—hell, these last few years—have been a thunderstorm interspersed with breaks in the cloud letting brilliant beams of sunshine in. Focusing now on the last couple months, I’ve found myself recognizing bits and pieces of clothing I’ve been wearing that don’t actually belong to me. Big bits.

Polyamory is one of them.blog 11.3

I’ve always liked to think of myself as counterculture. Too cool for school (literally). I have always kind of loved the shock factor that comes along with parts of my identity I collected, and polyamory is definitely good for a bit of taboo, a bit of titillation. But one thing I’ve come to realize is that adopting something with the hope that it will make people flinch, or lean in with a leer, is no different than adopting something with the hope that it will make them like you. It’s still acting based on what someone else will say.

Why polyamory, out of all the ‘shocking’ bits of identity I could have chosen?  Well, relationships are a sticky, tangled web. One that I have enjoyed losing myself in. One I have enjoyed escaping from myself into. For me, sex has been, at times, a weapon. An escape chute. A tool.

It has also been a joining of souls. A Divine experience. Transcendent.

At times when I’ve wanted to escape, I’ve used sex as a means to do it. I’ve used relationships as a means to do it. At times when I’ve wanted to be closer to God, I’ve used sex and relationships in an attempt to fill that uniquely God-shaped void. In the end, using sex and relationships at all has only ended in more suffering. They’re not tools to be used. They’re opportunities to celebrate, to practice gratitude and connection.

blog 11.4As I’ve grown stronger in my relationship with God, and as I’ve found a more personal relationship with Shiva in particular, this need I’ve felt to embrace polyamory has evaporated. It’s a strange feeling, but, like I said, there is a spaciousness left in its place.

I want to be clear that I am not looking down on polyamory for anyone else. I do believe that for some people it can be a holy, ethical, aware practice, and besides, that’s none of my business. I’m also not saying that I am totally closed to the possibility that at some point in the future I may find myself in a situation where having an intimate relationship with more than one person is truly my Path. But, I can guarantee, it won’t look anything like anything I’ve done in the past.

I am done using my sexuality as a place to hide, a place to escape, or a weapon to hurt. And that feels pretty fucking good.

Thank you, polyamory, for all you have taught me. I am sorry to all of those who have been hurt in the process. I ask for Divine guidance in the next steps of this journey.

Namaste.

How To Go Back Without Going Backwards

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Me. 18. Mere minutes after getting my lower lip pierced.

I write this sitting in the bed I slept in when I was 16. Sitting in the room I lived in when I was 16. Staring out the window at the same view I saw when I was 16. I’m 31, now, but coming back to my parent’s house has forced me to look at many, many aspects of myself that I’d just as soon forget.

 

I just finished watching the first season of “No Tomorrow” (which I highly recommend, cheesy romance bits and all), and there’s a scene where the main female lead breaks things off with the main male lead because he won’t talk to his father. “I can’t be with someone who isn’t their whole self.” That struck a chord with me. I can’t BE someone who isn’t their whole self. I’m not willing to live a life unexamined, just because some of the really painful bits I’ve glossed over happened ten, fifteen, twenty years ago.

When I was considering coming here, instead of going to Seattle or South Carolina or wherever the hell else, I experienced a lot of anxiety. Was I admitting defeat? Was I returning to comfort for the sake of comfort? Would I fall back into those dark, angry patterns I grew so familiar with when I was a teenager?

Upon arrival, and for a couple weeks following, these thoughts plagued me. This room is even organized more or less the same way, with the dresser next to the window, the desk on the far wall. There are different things in the closet, different art on the walls. But the most important difference has nothing to do with the window dressing.

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Dug up from my ancient DeviantArt account

It’s me.

 

Yesterday, in search of collage material, I went through some files of old paperwork, school assignments, etc., that my mom had kept over the years. I found some startling things. A missing poster, that my mother made the second time I ran away from home. A letter, begging my parents to let me quit high school, written the day after my best friend came to me in the hallway and said, “You’ll never believe how many people don’t like you!” A scrapbook I made, half finished, with the last bit of paraphernalia a postcard that said I HATE EVERYONE.

Memories of my formative years, marked by pain. Feeling ostracized. Feeling unworthy. Feelings that have followed me, even as I’ve worked so hard to gloss over those years, put them in the past, let sleeping dogs lie. All that bullshit.

Because those sleeping dogs wake up. And sometimes they bite.

blog 10.1
Standing in my room. The flowers on the dresser are still on the dresser.

 

I also found, in those scraps of writing, a girl I recognize wholeheartedly. A biting wit that takes shit from no one. A strong sense of moral ground. A desire to be better, do better, share with the world. She wanted the same things I do, now, in many ways. “Inside you,” she (I) wrote, “is all the talent and ability you will ever need.” Which comes down to saying, “I am enough.

And I am. So are you.

And you.

And you.

I came back to my parent’s home for many reasons. To help my mom with the house. To gain wisdom, guidance, and companionship from my parents, my brothers, a few old friends. But mostly, I came back to put myself back together. To reunite with the girl I, too, set out in the cold.

I’m not going to lie, it’s hard as hell. But going back is the only way I’ve found that will allow me to move forward.

Here’s to you Caiti. Sara. Zandila. Eliza. Spiro. The girl with too many names.

You have a home here.

8 Ounces and Counting

“I am a wooden pole,” you said.

“I bear weight, and gladly, but too much and I will collapse.”

And the words of the song from the man that you love slid into my ears

As if they are made for me

About me

My heart is heavy, and I have broken stronger men

It’s only a matter of time until your splinters split my palms

Until then I will hang on and I will try

   —I swear to god I’ll try—

To find strength in these shaking thighs and breathless nights

If we are very, very lucky all this effort will result in biceps made of steel

A belly tight enough to move mountains

And I will lift my own heart before the weight snaps us in two