Confessional

This is me, before I wore my body like a ball & chain … {on innocence lost … & joy reclaimed}

The other day, while rummaging around in an old box of photos, I stumbled over this snapshot from the 1990s, and I just couldn’t look away:

swimming

For two days now I’ve been going back to it, trying to puzzle what it is about the image that haunts me so.  And then today, it struck me:  This might be one of the last photos taken of me when I was completely comfortable in my own skin.

Tonight, I set the photo gently beside the keyboard, where I can stare at it while I type, and I look hard into the eyes of that smiling girl.

I must have been somewhere in  the neighborhood of seventh grade when it was taken, caught in in the middle of a wicked belly flop from the edge of the pool at the Swim & Racquet Club.  Already I had breasts and smooth curves by then, and a ballerina’s slim arms.  Still — I didn’t yet know that my body was A Thing, mainly because the boys I knew also didn’t seem to notice that my body was A Thing.  I was bookish and dreamy and artistic and smart, and it would be many years before those traits would crystallize into a chic sophistication that made me seem alluring and mysterious to the opposite sex, rather than just strange and a little intimidating.

And so, for the briefest moment in time, I wore a woman’s body without being self-conscious about it.

I didn’t know, yet, that my frame would become a liability and a curse:  a source of constant shame and insecurity.

Didn’t know that a thousand voices would converge to tell me that I was too fat, too short, that my skin was bad, that my eyebrows ought to be plucked, or penciled in, that my cheekbones were too low, my feet too wide, and that if only I bought a certain dress/diet pill/lip gloss/anti-cellulite cream/tanning oil/cuticle trimmer/hair remover, I would finally — finally — be beautiful.

Beautiful, and therefore loved.

*

But I didn’t know any of this then.  And so I raised myself on tiptoe at the water’s edge and just let myself fall, grinning for the little waterproof camera that my sister clutched in two hands.

I wasn’t worried about sucking in my stomach, or keeping my straps in place.  I just fell, free and wild and easy through the summer light.

And I wish I’d never come crashing through the surface of womanhood.  Wish with everything within myself that I could freeze that girl in that frame, and keep her in innocence forever.

But we both know that isn’t possible.

*

It’s been some time since I posted regularly on the subject of body image, and I’ll be honest:  it’s a hard subject for me.  After finishing my project Same Body, Second Glance, I felt exhausted by the white-knuckled vulnerability it took to share those images with you, and my little blog went dark for close to a month.

But lately, I’ve been feeling drawn back to the body:  to its beauty and fragility.  Its strength and wonder and joy.

So.  I’m letting you know.

*

This month, I’ve been celebrating alpha // whiskey // foxtrot’s one-year anniversary with a series of flashback posts, and while I may still share a few more of those, I want you to know that there’s a change in direction coming.  And I know it’s not for everyone.

While I’m still dreaming up the details, I think you’ll find — for a time, at least — that I’ll have a lot to say about the body … a series of personal essays and meditations, accompanied by special photographs.  And while I originally meant to save this series for the post-January 1 season, I feel more and more that it may come sooner than that.

Because I need the joy now.

*

I look down, again, at the sweet smile of that innocent girl in the photograph, and I know as well as you do that her unselfconsciousness is not something I can regain.

But the joy — the wild joy of celebrating my own physicality — that is mine to keep, now and always.  And that’s a wild joy I want to share with you.

I hope you’ll join me for the journey.

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55 thoughts on “This is me, before I wore my body like a ball & chain … {on innocence lost … & joy reclaimed}

    • Me too, Derrick … It’s so expressive and joyful. I remember hamming it up for the camera that day. It was one of those little disposables that come in a sealed clear plastic box so you can take it in the water. My sister, my best friend Gretchen and I spent all day at the club shooting silly photographs, just giddy with anticipation at seeing them developed, especially the underwater shots.

      Digital photography has made surprisingly gifted photographers out of all of us amateurs, but I miss the anticipation of seeing film developed weeks later.

      Hope you’re having a beautiful day across the pond!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

        • ^^ I totally get that. Have you ever seen Jim Brandenburg’s North Woods Journal, from the November 1997 National Geographic?? Jim spends a period of time in relative isolation in Maine’s North Woods, and he only allows himself to take one photo per day (on film!). It is absolutely astounding work — and proof that such photographers were gods compared to us mere mortals raised in ease of digital imaging.

          I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy, if you don’t own one already. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  1. It’s clearly been a journey of some challenges to get where you are today, but from your posts I would say that you have emerged with a beautiful and thoughtful ability to reflect and to see life for what it is rather than worry what some people say it ought to be. Fantastic picture too, and that intelligence was clearly there all those years ago

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a journey. You make me realize we all are so self aware of our bodies that it starts to work against us. If only we could embrace the idea of being unique individuals and go from there instead of letting our culture rule our thoughts on personal beauty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed. Indeed…

      It took me a long time (& a lot of photographs) to realize how completely I see myself through the eyes of other people … It’s a woman’s cultural curse, in so many ways.

      But these days, slowly, I’m learning that I am fully capable of seeing my own beauty, on my own terms. I can’t begin to tell you what a joyful thing that is.

      Thank you for being here. I look forward to sharing more with you! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. shirulidash says:

    What matters isn’t what was or could have been. I believe that if we choose beautiful, and I don’t mean pretty, we shall be beautiful. Choosing. That’s the answer. Nice post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, my!! I’m pretty positive that you’ve heard all sorts of wonderful compliments on your blog already but I must say that I absolutely love your writing style! It is so transparent and your vulnerability is admirable! I am ever so glad that you were freshly pressed so that I could find you! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I must admit, I commented on your other post because I stumbled across it in the reader and I didn’t know much about your background. Since you were nice enough to send me some nice replies, though, I was interested to find out more about you. Having read some of your other posts, I now have a better understanding of your body image project. I wish you luck with it.

    Your photograph is great, by the way. I wish I had one of myself in which I managed to look so quite so poised. How on earth did you manage to smile and fall at the same time? That’s quite a skill. I only hope there was water underneath you or at least a trampoline.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Mesmerizing photo. I love looking at old pictures whether mine or others. Old pictures almost always convey a sense of serenity, peace and happiness, and I can never tell if its indeed true due to the relative simplicity of old times, or if its an escape mechanism of the present.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As someone with an eating disorder (binge eating disorder, no less, which for me, is the most shameful thing of all), your reflections about body image really struck a cord. Over the past year I’ve been learning about how to be vulnerable, how to accept myself, how to love myself. It’s weird and unsettling… learning that I didn’t really understand anything about leading the sort of life that’s really worth something MORE. And I still don’t totally understand but at least now I have an idea of how good it could be. And maybe none of this makes sense, but I love your picture, the way you write about it, and yourself, and your journey. The way you are open and real. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hey Alfa “Zulu”. Just browsing around. Don’t know enough about you and your life to really qualify for an opinion.
    Yet, looking at the young girl/woman’s picture above ready to drop flat on her belly into the water (Auch! That must have hurt) Let me just remind you one very simple thing: She is You and vice-versa. Same eyes, same smile. (Darker hair…) 😉
    That smile is there, inside. 🙂 And I still see the same in your current photos.
    We don’t change really. I’m still the little 8-10 year olds boy I was a long time ago. None the wiser, but still. Whenever in doubt with your current self, take that photo out. And look at yourself in the eye.
    🙂
    Be good
    Brian

    Liked by 1 person

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