I look at myself, naked, in the mirror, and my pale, translucent skin shines in the dimly lit room. I think bodies are beautiful, and I think my body is beautiful. I look at my body and feel content, womanly, and whole. I haven’t always felt this way about my body.
Being naked, even by myself, was once shameful and embarrassing. I would feel uncomfortable when part of my nakedness was exposed, even if clothes were on my body, like when my pubic hair would show around the edges of my bathing suit at the beach. When I came to college, I started to worry more about my body—why was there fat starting to form in a little pouch on my stomach, and since when did my ass and thighs show the veins of cellulose running up and down them? I felt even stranger because I had decided to go off of birth control for a while and my breasts had started shrinking and acne covered my face and back. What was happening to the body I had previously thought little about? I was also being told by my friends that shaving my legs and armpit hair was conforming to the patriarchal beauty standards designed by money-making corporations, while simultaneously being told by the media that people have to shave if they want to be sexy and beautiful.
Then, I participated in an event that changed the way I look at my body. I snuck out of my dorm and crept into the night. I was excited but embarrassed as I stripped the clothes from my body. The cool night air electrified my body and I started running, leaping, laughing with the other Goshen women. We stood in a circle, most completely naked and some with just underwear on. I saw women with all different bodies, all of them beautiful and gleaming under the silver moonlight. Their bodies were shapely, rounded, jiggly, muscular, and smooth. Some women had hair covering their bodies and others did not, and some people were patchy, like myself.
We went around in a circle, each naming our favorite things about our bodies. People talked about their breasts and calves and secret birthmarks. I had never thought about my favorite body part before. I looked down at myself. I love my collarbone that juts out at an artistic angle. I love the fat that has started to form around my hips so that my once sharp hipbones are softened and mature. I like the freckles on my knees and elbows and my strong, runners’ quads. And I love the mole in the crevice where my right leg meets my torso.
My body is not the ideal body as described by the media, but the truth is that no one’s body fits that ideal. My breasts are small—so small I wear unpadded, comfortable sports bras every single day. My torso is too long, my feet too bony, my hair too frizzy. My nose is crooked, as are my teeth. My hands are dry. Freckles cover my entire face so convincingly that I assume one day my face will be one big freckle. I lack muscle definition and my legs and armpits are hairy.
But all the anxieties I once had about my body not conforming to American beauty standards lifted when I stretched into naked yoga poses with the strong women I have come to love and admire. I have never felt as free in my life as when I swung my leg over my bike seat and started to pedal. The cool wind blew through every crevice of my body as if the earth was saying, “We accept your every nook and cranny, every follicle of hair, every goose bump, every hidden area kept secret by folded-over skin, and we love you.”
I feel at peace and at home in my body. My body is what allows me to act on the thoughts and emotions my mind feels, and the two feel utterly connected. Some days I still struggle. I find myself wanting to look more sexy, more beautiful, more fit, more unique. I think everyone struggles with their body image as a result of being complex human beings. But in the complexity of humanity, I find comfort in the strong voice of women’s experience inviting me to listen to every nook and cranny, every follicle of hair, every goose bump, every hidden area kept secret by folded-over skin.