I am twelve or thirteen and getting ready to head outside for a day of playing with my best friend, Chris. I throw on a t-shirt and shorts and am ready to run out the door when my mother pulls me aside. “You need to wear a bra”, she tells me, “go change before you go out to play.” I feel my face flush red. I don’t want to wear a bra. I don’t want to feel these things developing on my chest. I run into my room and change everything I am wearing so Chris hopefully won’t ask any questions. Later on his sister sees the strap and calls attention to it. There is good-natured teasing and I just lose it. Full-on screaming and rage at her, at them, for bringing it up, for mentioning it. No one is quite sure where the rage comes from. I feel so deeply embarrassed about having to wear a bra. I can’t articulate why, I just know I am not happy.
Later that summer I am swimming at my aunt’s house. I am uncomfortable in my bathing suit. It fits differently than it did the summer before. I am constantly adjusting it, trying to find some comfort. My mom and my aunt are laughing at me. “She’ll appreciate those someday.” I think to myself, “No. I really won’t.” I can’t remember what I say out loud, if anything, but again I am filled with that deep embarrassment.
For years I wore extra-large t-shirts even though I only weigh 125 pounds. For years I wear jeans that are as baggy as I can find them. I wear baseball caps and tuck my hair up into it until I am finally out of the house and can choose how to cut my own hair. I take great pains to hide my body. I am uncomfortable in my own skin. Nothing fits right, nothing feels right. If I could simply be my brain and soul; a bodiless being I would choose that in a heartbeat. But I don’t seem to have that choice.
Flash forward a decade and I am up early. I barely slept the night before from a mixture of nerves and excitement. I am bearing my chest to a virtual stranger so he can use a marker to trace where he will cut. I am nervous, but I am also so relieved. This is ownership right here, this is doing what I need to do. This is claiming my body. I woke up a couple of hours later, groggy but so relieved. When they take off the wrapping five days later I can’t contain my smile. Even though my chest is bruised and the scarring is ugly, even though I haven’t showered in a week and I feel gross, even though everything is still tender I look in the mirror and think “Yes. This is what it should look like. This is what I should look like.”
It’s been another decade. I run my hands over my body, tracing the scars across my chest. They run a little darker at the center to light and almost invisible on the sides. I feel the skin, the places where it’s still a bit numb or where there needs to be more pressure. I run my hands over the flatness and I smile. I follow the trail of hair down my stomach. I am on my bed without a shirt on and feeling like everything is right in the world. I am not ashamed of my scars. I have found new things on my body to feel shame about; my acne (and the scarring from it), the extra weight I carry around my middle. Sometimes I feel ashamed of the way I can’t fill out my boxers or jeans like I want to. I worry about sex and what I can and can’t do with my body, with how it looks, and how it feels. But these insecurities are nothing compared to the ones I used to have.
My body is mine, now. I’ve been building it over the last decade into a home for myself, a place where I can rest and feel at peace. A place that feels like it belongs to me.