This is not my body in the mirror.
These aren’t my hips, breasts, calves, skin, or hair. The curves swallowing me whole, the sagging, the structure, and the shape, don’t belong only to me. They don’t tell my story.
My body tells the story of all the pieces of women who made me; an amalgamation of my ancestry. I am a patchwork quilt of evolution built from the genetics of women who lived remarkably unremarkable lives.
These hips, that can hold two hands between them, and do not fit into this modern world, come from two families full of twins. The jutting swell of my hips were designed to seat a child on each, carry baskets full of food, and swing with purpose to denote the seriousness of my intent. My hips were worn by the peasants in the Highlands of Scotland and valleys of Ireland all the way through my great-grandmother carrying and caring for her six daughters. These hips have purpose.
From peasant hips come sturdy legs, thighs that touch, and thick ankles that only in the last century have been seen in daylight. They look out of place in a world of shorts and small skirts, but never doubt their strength. Heels may be challenging, but they can wrap around a horse and ride for days. Never underestimate their sturdiness, children can cling to these legs and animals can run between without losing balance; their stoutness is but a small price to pay. On these legs my grandmother donned her sneakers with her suit, and commuted to the Pentagon every day, tucked them out of sight behind her desk, and typed up top defense secrets. They may not be pretty, but they did their job.
The skin so fair that my friends once described it as “the other other white meat,” has never once agreed with the sunshine. It hails from cloudy temperate climates where the sun rarely shines but the grass is always green. It flushes scarlett in anger, happiness, tears, shyness, and calm. The blood vessels which burst and scatter flecks of red across deathly white skin, and the rosacea which ruddies my cheeks and sends me floundering for lotions and potions is an inheritance straight from the British Isles from which we came. For centuries this skin has fallen victim to the sun; it’s been freckled and aged with liver spots, weathered and leathered, and succumbed to disease. No one ever told the little girls who came before me, while they read them stories about fair maidens, that their lily-white skin would kill them in the end.
These aren’t my breasts in the mirror, that fall out of tops and break my back. Instead I see them filling out shapeless rough-spun dresses as they feed the sheep and cows; wrapped tight with too-thin cloaks sailing over the Atlantic to a new world; sitting higher than gravity allows, bustled tight with hints of lace as they heave, anxiously awaiting news from the front; covered in tweed and cardigans on their way to be the first woman in the family to have a college degree. These were the breasts that sweat over the stove each morning making breakfast, pillowed the heads of crying children, and enamored and offended men in equal parts. They’ve been weighing down my ancestors for centuries during times when it was already hard enough to stand up straight as a woman.
This body, with its piecemeal parts torn from history may not be beautiful. It may never walk runways, win races, or be the idealized version of womanliness. It is the body of the women who came before me, who used it day in and day out, who needed its strength and curves, and fell to its frailties. It lived through and made histories and brought forth the next generation even when it felt like it couldn’t go on.
Looking into the mirror, I see those women, how they survived, thrived, and died.
This body is not my own. It is ours.