It’s been a long time since I fretted too much about what I look like at the beach. I’m far enough from the self-consciousness of adolescence that I no longer believe that everyone is looking at me. So when I enjoy the sand and water during the summer, I put on whatever bathing suit I please and don’t worry about it.
I was walking with my dear one down a long shoreline with soft sand this weekend when I heard an airplane buzzing over my shoulder. I turned and looked, and there she was: a tall, emaciated blond printed on an advertising banner, laying naked in a pose that hid just enough to avoid offending whatever censors still exist in a porn culture.
She looked down at me from a few hundred feet above sea level, all fair hair and slim limbs and perfect skin, and I stood there on the sand looking up, still short, sturdy, and Sicilian.
This is what it’s like to be a woman.
No matter where you are, whether you’re feeling confident or nervous or indifferent, there is always some image lurking around the corner, that’s going to remind you that you’re wrong. Not your opinion or your approach or your attitudes, but YOU. Your very incarnate existence is wrong.
I don’t think that this is just an unfortunate byproduct of a “sex-sells” culture. I think of it as a master plan with no one particular master to blame or take on or destroy.
Day after day we have to fight this invisible master, to say “no, I don’t need to spend all my money on looking like someone else”, or “the size of my hips has no bearing on whether or not my thoughts are valued and deserve to be heard” or “I will not miss my opportunity to change the world because I was too busy agonizing over my appearance”.
Our circumstances and our habits of thought dictate how hard it is to resist these challenges. My biggest problem is that I’m diminutive and dark-haired? That hardly makes me part of an oppressed population.
The people in my orbit value me as I am, and never make me feel bad about myself. I can’t even imagine what it would be like if that flag flew down out of the sky to stand next to me and tell me over and over that I don’t look right. My heart breaks for those who hear that from the people around them.
As the enormous banner flew off into the blue summer sky, I stopped being able to see her image and all that was there was the razor thin side of the fabric she was painted on, fluttering behind the airplane which became a dot on the edge of my vision.
When we got back to our beach chairs I was tired from rocking back and forth on the unsteady sand so I plopped down,heedless of how it made me look. I dragged the 900-page Russian novel I brought with me off the top of the cooler, opened it up and rested it in on my lap, letting the sun shine down on it and on me.