I love women’s bodies: collarbones and wrist bones, stretch marks and birthmarks, dimples and freckles, cheekbones and earlobes, calf muscles and crow’s feet, saddle bags and front butts and back fat and cellulite—yes—cellulite too. These are the bodies we live in.
My ideal woman is a Grandma in a Sunday hat on a Monday morning and she’s got somethin’ to say: “Bear witness, a great pair of legs take you dancing, but a really great pair of legs take you to the bathroom in the middle of the night.”
My love of women’s bodies flourished in the Turkish baths of Budapest. Hungarians believe in the curative powers of water. A large percentage of the elderly population soaked in the nude-only, gender-separated baths for a portion of the day. And there’d I be, naked in the sulfur water, with about twenty naked eighty-year olds built like tanks who’d survived war and communism. Their breasts, long and stretched, would skim the water, like one-eyed alligators. It was always quiet in there, I think, because the pleasure was without words.
As a little girl I spent every spare moment with my grandmother. Into her 70s my grandmother cut a nice figure. She’d hike up her DDs and pin a brooch between them on her blouse. She never let her varicose veins detract from the pretty turn of her ankle. She always put on a fresh coat of lipstick before going to bed in case she dreamed of Paul Newman. She was confident enough to be vulnerable, smart enough to be silly, and beautiful enough to never-mind about the ugly. “Look,” she’d say, “God gave me no toches at all, the palm of my hand is bigger than the whole of my toches.”
The only thing my grandmother hid was her blind eye. Before the flash of a camera went off, she’d turn her head suddenly. Or she’d pull her hair over the faded eye with the broken-yolk pupil. At the time, I thought it was vanity. But now, I ask myself, don’t we all have an image of ourselves we hope to project and protect? No, there would not be a picture of her blind eye, lest anyone equate her blindness with weakness, lest anyone dwell on what may have gone differently in her life. There will only be pictures of her in her silk leopard-print dress, lovely legs crossed, head tossed back, with one eye meeting the camera with all the knowing and vision and mischievousness possible in this life.
Recently my three-year old daughter Eva has taken to my digital camera. She took a picture of me at the park the other day and I forgot about it until I had it printed out. There I was, off-center, up-close, teeth big and yellow from all the coffee I drink to keep up with her, sweaty and out of breath from chasing her, and smiling at her the way she sees me smile at her. It is my favorite picture of me.
This is what I want my daughter to know about Beauty. Beautiful bodies, legs, eyes, hands–whether they’re bruised or broken or scarred—they’re beautiful because someone we love looks at them. This I believe.
Know this about your body–the smell of you is a comfort to someone. You are beautiful too.
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