Editor’s note: One of today’s Women on Wednesdays posts comes from contributor Penelope. This piece is speaks to a deep issue many of us face: that we have not known ourselves before others have gotten to know us. Women’s bodies are often objectified and labeled as inherently sexual, bad, evil, sinful as well as something that must be covered, controlled, policed. For example, as mentioned in another recent piece on clothesfreelife.com, “wow: free to art” women artists were not allowed to see and articulate the female nude although men artists had been allowed to do so for centuries. Even male doctors were allowed to see, diagnose and treat us while we were rarely, if ever, encouraged to look at our own bodies. Penelope’s piece is quite timely during an important cultural, social and political transition. Finally women are beginning to have these conversations around reclaiming agency for their own bodies, looking at them and treating them on our own terms. This is something Paulette Leaphart encourages us women to do. This piece continues this important conversation.
As a young girl, I knew the awkwardness – the queasy feeling taking over your chest when certain topics float around your airspace. I have felt my skin crawl at the mere mention of the word “childbirth” sometimes even in recent times. A long time ago, in a Caribbean classroom, I was one of the girls squirming, reading Annie John, as Jamaica Kincaid so vividly recreates the ever looming inevitable, which circled almost all our heads at the time — the first menstrual cycle.
I have to admit, I was right in the middle of being under- and misinformed. I was almost afraid of my “lady bits”. I found all kinds of names for it which were neither scientific, nor traditional, but a euphemism. I can’t remember when a thing of beauty, like a yoni, or vagina, started needing a euphemism, and I don’t know when it became okay to use swear words or insults interchangeably with the word vagina, and I don’t know, but something in me, felt like there had to be more to the vagina, to my entire physical reproductive system.
I wanted nothing to do with the idea of a vagina that just randomly, without warning, starts bleeding on you one day, and then continues to do so every month, unless you become pregnant. That, in itself, was something that could happen at any time, and was introduced to us as something that was completely out of our control. There was me, the woman, and my almost-out-of-control parts, which supposedly made me so unfortunate to be a woman.
It was only after young boys had invented, and popularized the old “mirror on the shoe” trick, to check out girls’ underwear, that I thought of this new perspective for viewing my body – from the bottom up. I would lay my mirror on the floor, while oiling my skin after showers, often moving to the sound of my own beat, watching the meat on my buttox and vagina bounce in the aftershock of my movement. I was completely captivated, like a lover laying under that beautiful sight.
For months, the post-shower dance alone would go on, and I would be come more aware, and in turn, more curious, and eventually even more aware of more of my pelvic parts. I began feeling sensations in my uterus more distinctly, I felt around and became more involved, with a part of the body often ignored until it’s about to be loved up by another, or is in need of help. I was relentless in getting to know myself and my body as much as I possibly could.
Today, I am so thankful for those moments, dancing around with my mirror on the floor, getting to know myself on a real and raw basis, becoming more and more aware of more, and deeper parts of me. Getting to love all of me, by beginning to know all of me. I got the rare opportunity to develop a relationship with parts of me overlooked by anyone but a lover. I got to see myself through the eyes of a lover, and see a new perspective on my beauty and essence. I have to acknowledge those moments, of playing mirror, mirror on the floor, as a period of great growth, understanding and confidence, and speak of those times with fondness and gratitude.