You would think a girl who spent childhood making collages with pass out literature from UNICEF and annual global poverty reports, wouldn’t find her most disturbing discovery at the United Nations in the bathroom of the main headquarters.
I am trying not to stare over as I pump a thick layer of neon soap in the palms of my hands and dip them under the soapy water.
One by one, the women stop and pause in front of the full-length mirror.
Tug at their shirts.
Suck in their stomachs.
Turn at a few different angles.
Leaving a disdained look upon the mirror as they turn away, disapproval plastered on the mirror like a lipstick kiss.
I click clack my heels daily around a monumental place where genocide, malaria, peace, war, girls’ rights and primary education are all the basic words you need in order to have a substantial conversation over coffee. And yet, I wonder the most about the women who walk around here and all over New York City, and All Over Every City, not satisfied when they greet a full-length mirror.
The women who cringe over fitting rooms and racks of skinny jeans.
Some days I want to study it. Pull up a chair into the center of any fitting room and take field notes. Or hear the story from start to finish as if it were bound and scripted for bedtime purposes. I could curl up on blue carpeting and find some librarian to read the picture book out loud to me.
“Once upon a time, there lived a young girl. And as she grew older the world grew harder. Her thighs were always too big. Her nose to long. Her ankles too fat. Her skin too blemished….”
I don’t know what the pictures might look like.
Maybe watercolor paintings of sad girls in princess dresses. With pocket-sized mirrors. Maybe Eric Carle would do the illustrations.
If I had two extra hours to my every day, I would surely dedicate the 120 minutes to tracking down a scholar who could point out to me just where women started missing parts and cutting themselves off at the knees. Where it began... Where he believes it might end...
Where we learned verbs like “comparing,” “despising,” and “sizing.” And started using our adjectives to belittle our bodies and devalue our worth.
Then perhaps that same scholar could take me on a walking tour, as if we were catching a new exhibit at the MOMA on a Friday night. Here is the woman who turns to peanut butter and wine, he would show me. And down the line you will find the young girl who rummages through clothes racks to look for self worth, only in even numbers, less than 6. Size 0. Size 2. Size 4.
I really wouldn’t need a pamphlet or a tour guide.
I wouldn’t need to plug a set of headphones into a wall to hear a young woman’s story to know “why.”
The thing about most of us is that we understand why she isn’t eating and she is eating so much. Because we all grew up together in a space that taught us every aspect of being Thin, Pretty, & Desirable for any and every occasion.
We never grew up reading beauty magazines with glossy spreads teaching us the goodness of our birthmarks and the sweetness to our gap teeth. From time to time we would find the declaration of love, but really we were just reading up on how to fix this part of ourselves, or lessen that part.
How to be smaller in the world. Take up less space. Be quiet and play pretty.
And though we grew up with a rare right to preserve and protect our bodies, we struggle to find much value in them. Little time to value the Birthmarks, the Curves. The Freckled Elbows. The Grey Hairs on Heads.
I always wondered, while flipping through the pages of different monthly issues with all the same issues on the front cover, how will I ever learn to love something that constantly needs changing? How I could ever learn to adore a body when it needed altering always. Hemming always. Trimming always.
Where there was always an end goal that a scale would define.
Where I would always be a traveller, a nomad, looking for that point of peace in the mirror.
Geneen Roth, one of my favorite authors, first planted the words of poet Galway Kinnell into her book and I read them, suddenly wishing this single verse could have been my lullaby growing up.
“Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.”
Loveliness… It could be a new favorite word. A great new leather jacket of Loveliness to wear around. And zip our hearts inward tightly.
Roth goes on to write about wings. And how we have all been given wings. And how we learn to fly, from wings.
And it’s a pretty thought.
A better ending to the picture book story with a very grim beginning, with watercolor girls fading as if they and their pages were left out in the rain. The thought of us all flying. Soaring. Above it all.
The thought of us all running into a conference room breathless, clutching lined paper and digital cameras. Throwing a pile of colored crumpled sketches and black and white photographs into the center of a table that I decided would be round.
And the thought of sifting and sorting for the very best stories of love. The very best images of self worth. The most wonderful ballads of acceptance and pacts with our bodies.
And we would send that collection off to the printing press. Binding some new magazine. Some new spread. Some better way to relearn our loveliness right where we are. Not ten pounds lighter. Not two weeks later.
Relearning loveliness. Just as we are.