Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The feminine mystique

I love the female body. I can't really say why, other than I view it as a strange and mysterious thing. Being female, you'd think I'd have it figured out by now but I don't. Every woman is different and every woman's body possesses its own set of secrets.

The first woman I ever saw naked was my mother. I was probably four or five and I used to watch her while she took her bath. She used to come home from work and soak in the tub for what seemed liked hours. It was one of those old-fashioned, clawfoot tubs with separate taps for hot and cold. I remember when I was little, I could stretch all the way out and lie down with my ears underwater. I liked the way the world sounded then, muffled and distant.

My mother would lie back in the tub with a damp washcloth over her eyes, her knees bent to fit, and I would sit watching her. Sometimes I'd try to talk to her but mostly, I just sat there waiting while she drifted in her own world. It was then that I would study her, trying to pull apart the puzzle of what made her who she was.

She had small, narrow feet that were covered in thick callouses from working so much. She always kept her toenails painted, some shade of red or coral, a delicate contrast to the roughened soles and heels. Her feet were strong, tough, almost utilitarian but ladlylike, in their own way. She always had a peculiar habit of curling and uncurling her toes, and when she flexed her foot, the muscles in her leg would come to life. They were smooth and strong and perpetually tan, peppered with shiny white scars.

Her stomach was soft and round and almost perfect if not for the jagged red scar that ran from her bellybutton to her pubic bone. This crude red mouth marked the moment of my birth, when the doctors finally cut me free of her to keep from killing her. Her breast were large and full, and hung low on her body. They were threaded through with silver-white lines, stretch marks, more evidence of childbearing. Hers was no longer a girl's body but a woman's. I was awestruck by what I saw but also a little afraid. This was going to happen to me too eventually and once it began, I knew there'd be no stopping it.

A few years later, I discovered my uncle's Playboys, and their version of what a woman should be. Here were women who were not like my mother, women whose bodies were still intact, still perfect. They were strange and exotic and exciting and beautiful. These were women who were not going to grow old or get wrinkles or stretch marks. Instead, they would remain perfect, frozen on the page, vacant, glossy, unreal. For a long time, I thought that this was what real beauty looked like.

Now, at 27, I see these women for what they are. They're all the same, with their silicone breasts and chemical tans, their teased hair and heavy lip gloss. They're real but they're not. They're beautiful but they're not. They're what the rest of us think we should be but they're not. I've learned to look for beauty in other ways, to see it in the faces of ordinary women. I see it in the faces of friends who are moving towards life full of confidence and hope. I see it in the faces of all the women of my family, who are strong and fearless in their own way. I see it in the face of my mother, who will always be beautiful to me. And I see it in myself, in this face I've tried to run from for so long. It was there, this beauty, waiting to be discovered. I just couldn't see it until now.


Blogger Justin Evans said...

I was born through c-section, too. So we're connected by a similar birth. Cool.

I know your post is about much more than that, but I just wanted to tie myself to you in some small way.

7/12/2006 1:30 PM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

Not to sound weird, but I already thought we were connected in a lot of ways, no?

7/12/2006 1:31 PM  
Anonymous fringes said...

Beautiful post as always. I love your blog even on the days you don't. Especially on the days you don't.

7/12/2006 1:36 PM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

Hmmm...maybe I should hate it more often, LOL. It's not that I don't love it, I'm just usually so much more impressed with what everyone else is writing than my own crap. I just open my mouth and this is what comes out and it always seems so clunky and unpolished but whatever. As long as you like it.

7/12/2006 1:38 PM  
Blogger Flood said...

I've been falling love with my own body, lately.

The internet is fraught with coincidences.

The other reason I like this post is you've captured some thoughts I've been having. I watched an extreme make-over show or some such thing last year and the woman ended up looking good. Her husband was unhappy. He said, I used to see her mother in her, her sisters, our children and now her face carries none of that history. He was european and I get a sense they seeing aging differently than the west.

The beauty you see in yourself now, I wish for everyone.

7/12/2006 1:40 PM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

So do I. And I feel so sorry for that husband, and his wife.

7/12/2006 1:44 PM  
Blogger kaleidoscope said...

oooo, extreme makeover is so nutty. what i really don't understand about it is how the subject's family and friends can applaud and cry over the painful, risky changes that person made to themselves...

thanks for this post. seeing beauty in someone is a way of loving them, and the other way around too, i think: loving someone is seeing their beauty.

7/12/2006 3:29 PM  
Blogger Lex Ham Rand said...

Our bodies tell so many stories about ourselves, and real bodies are so much more interesting than those who have had "a little work done" (or a LOT of work done, e.g. Kenny Rogers' eye job).

7/12/2006 5:02 PM  
Blogger Lynn said...


7/12/2006 11:39 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

What a coincidence. I too am fascinated by the female body. In fact, I spent much of my time wondering what almost every woman I meet looks like naked. Call it a hobby.

7/13/2006 6:53 AM  
Blogger Quinn said...

I find that women have inspired most of my stories, but never ones that I know very well. Probably because of that sense of history Flood wrote about. And if I know something, I have a hard time deviating from that history (why I don't write fiction about myself anymore). The intriguing female stranger fascinates me. Have you read John Berger's "Ways of Seeing"? His ideas about how women appear in society and what it means, plus his distinction between nakedness and nudeness are fascinating.

7/13/2006 7:44 AM  
Blogger Voix said...

I've always thought that women were beautiful. I hate how plastic surgery and excessive dieting has manipulated and mutilated so many women. It feels like violence to me.

This is a beautiful piece. great job.

7/13/2006 8:27 AM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

Kaleidoscope - "..loving someone is seeing their beauty." I couldn't agree more.

Rand - Celebrity plastic surgery is freakishly awful, isn't it?

Lynn - Thank you.

Scott - You are, what's the word I'm looking for? A cheeky monkey.

Quinn - No, I haven't read that book. I think you're read every book in the known world and I'm severly lagging behind. You'll have to start a list for me.

Michele - Again, that picture you posted yesterday says it all. Thanks.

7/13/2006 9:30 AM  
Blogger Radish King said...

Lovely post. The description of your mother in the bath tub is beautifully captured. It made me fall in love with her a bit.

7/13/2006 9:56 AM  
Anonymous bookfraud said...

i have nothing to say about this post because i have a feeling that if i comment on a comment on the female physique, i will find myself regretting that i had not made said comment.

nice description, though.

7/13/2006 10:09 AM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

Rebecca, me too.

Bookfraud, eh, what? I'm not sure I understand your meaning exactly but I'm going to assume that you liked the post and leave it at that. :)

7/13/2006 10:13 AM  

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