The final week of brave broads getting real with me on ASAS is upon us, and while I’m so bummed that this series is over, I am beyond excited to present these final pieces from two UH MAY ZING women. Let’s get it on!
Isn’t this an amazing print? Get it for yourself here from the artists’ Etsy page!
Cathy Teschke – Super Mom/Grandma, Volunteer, & Rock Star – Madison, OH
“Say man, don’t walk ahead of that woman like she don’t belong to you just ’cause hers got them little skinny legs. Will somebody please take the lady with the skinny legs?”
Oh, this song, “Skinny Legs And All” by Joe Tex, hurt. I was self conscious enough as a kid about being skinny and then this song was released in my freshman year in high school! That was also the same year I performed a tap dance on a local Cleveland talent show, as seen in the picture below – and being a dancer back then was not a popular thing to do. Too bad we couldn’t even wear pants to school back then (I graduated in 1970). I wore my mini skirts and pretended that I didn’t mind the teasing, however, like the “Tears of a Clown” (thanks Smokey Robinson) I was crying on the inside. I can’t quite remember when I finally accepted my skinny legs, but I know I was well into my adulthood when someone threw a compliment out there about how nice and “thin” my legs were. When did the standards change? I have no idea. All I know is I look at the picture and remember being SO embarrassed of them, on TV no less, and am happy to report that today I love my legs!
It’s just CRAZY to me that my mom, or society in general, would ever not worship legs like hers. I’ve always been so self conscious of my legs and joked with her, saying “THANKS A LOT, mom! You made me a dancer and DIDN’T give me those legs?!?” as evidenced with THIS pic:
Proof positive that my thighs have ALWAYS touched. Thigh gap? Nope. But my mom had one, and still does. Bitch. (JK.) Of course, there are a million things that make my Mama beautiful inside and out, but those gams DON’T HURT, girl, and I’m glad you love them now! P.S. WHY DIDN’T YOU SAVE YOUR COSTUME?!? I could be rockin’ vintage sequin tap pants and/or a fringe music note crop top as we speak!
This second piece is a special one – I just had to save it for last. Vanessa is a truly special person, who feels deeply, lives openly and fearlessly, and someone I look to for inspiration as a fellow artist, woman, and friend. What she wrote really touched me, and I know KNOW know that it will get you, too. Enjoy.
Vanessa Reseland – Dancer, Singer, & Actress, Brooklyn, NY
Puberty. That’s when I felt my body turn against me. Everything I thought I knew about my body, my skin, my hair, my armpits, my legs, my chest, my belly, my hips, my butt, my entity… changed.
As an 11 year old, I was fairly naïve about the changes to come. Fifth grade health class met 4 times over the year, and I mostly remember the Nurse’s tutorial on deodorant application and her acknowledgement of a box of tampons. Until I hit puberty, I had never absorbed the idea of it long enough to understand its lasting effects. I had never looked forward to having breasts. I had never thought about sexual intercourse in literal or personal terms. And, much to my school Nurse’s future dismay, I didn’t know just how bad a human armpit could smell if left unattended. At that point, I had lived my entire life with hair on my legs, with a face free of powders or creams, with hair colored only by sunshine, with a taste for birthday cake, with a body that was made for running through the sprinkler and that hated going to bed, with a mind that was for learning about Missouri history and poetry and struggled with why I had to do math homework, and with an imagination that could completely take over my sense of reality morning, noon, or night.
In 6th grade, I got my period. I went to the bathroom to pee, and I stood up to find a pool of blood in the toilet. Now, if you’ve never had a period, imagine how shocking, confusing, and terrifying that would be at first sight. However, I had learned about periods; I had acknowledged a box of tampons. I quickly pieced together the evidence of what had just happened, of the disturbance within the body I had come to know over the last 12 years. I didn’t tell anyone. I wasn’t ashamed, but it seemed too private to share with anyone, even my mom. It was me and God trying to figure this one out. I think Jesus was there too, but he didn’t say much. Along with my period, I gained about 20 pounds. I was shooting up like a beanstalk, and once, a short boy in my grade called me “The Jolly Green Giant”. Ever since Kindergarten, I had been taller than any of my classmates, but now I was also… large. Tall and wide. Fat rolls replaced my little kid tummy. My thighs jiggled. I developed two sacks of fat on my chest, and they pushed my nipples out until they were sore. My hair got greasy, and I didn’t wash it. I remember smelling a horrendous smell in Mr. Shirk’s 6th grade English class and gagging at the realization that it was coming from my own armpits. Worse, I remember smelling a smell in my 7th grade history class that, to this day, I have only ever smelled from a rotting rat carcass trapped behind drywall. It was a rock-bottom realization that if I didn’t change my maxi-pad during the school day, my vagina might as well become a rotten rat carcass. My body changed without warning me. It changed in ways that humiliated me. It left me stranded on the verge of adulthood, with no way back, and no way to understand where I was going. My body had turned on me until I was lost, alone, angry, and ashamed of what had become of the cute, little girl I once was.
When you are becoming a woman, you look to other women for guidance. Aside from my loving, beautiful, and deeply interesting mother, I looked to famous people. I wanted to be an actor from the time I was eleven years old, and before that, I wanted to be Whitney Houston, so I found a particular interest in magazines featuring the beautiful women of stage, screen, and music. I always cared more about their next project than about how skinny their thighs were, but when you surround yourself with images of women whose bodies all seem impossibly interchangeable, you become hyper-aware of how your body doesn’t match.
In the summer between 7th and 8th grade, I grew two inches and lost 30 pounds. I kept a log of what I ate each day, and I counted calories. My mom counted calories too, so I thought it was a solid plan, but where she allowed herself a daily intake of the recommended 2,000 calories, I allowed myself no more than 500. On my most memorable day, I ate an egg and half an English muffin, and I was proud of myself. I did the math, and I knew that this intake vs. output would definitely equal lost weight. It was a power struggle with my betraying body. I consider it to have been an ignorant, dangerous, yet effective means to an end. I never considered it to be an eating disorder, and I still don’t really, though I prefer not to think about it at all, because each time I look back, my heart breaks a little. During the first week of 8th grade, my 7th grade homeroom teacher, Mr. Dattilo, called me back to his classroom to ask me if I was making myself throw up. I was shocked, and I told him not to worry. I laughed because I thought it was so preposterous. I was on a diet; I didn’t have a disorder. But his concern concerned me. Suddenly, I felt the weight of my ignorance and naivete. He still cared for the chubby little girl with glasses and greasy hair who used to be his student, though she had been snuffed out by her own expectation. After that, I realized that I should probably put away the calorie log. I didn’t want to worry him anymore.
Women are valued for their beauty, it’s true. And I think they should be. Women are beautiful. Women are amazing! Women are strong creatures who walk the way no other creature can walk, and they can knock you on your ass when they enter a room. Women are tall. Women are short. Women are skinny. Women are huge. Women have fat on their bodies, and thank god, because we’d freeze to death without it. Women are beautiful. Women are soft and welcoming. Women are scary and intense. Women are smart. Women are intuitive. Women are calculated. Women are rude. Women are sophisticated. Women are intellectual. Women are foolish. Women are hurting. Women are broken. Women are healed. Women are healers. Women are loving. Women are jealous. Women are guilty. Women are funny. Women are stubborn. Women are in charge. Women make mistakes. Women forgive you. Women are bold. Women are self-conscious. Women are mothers. Women are loners. Women are determined. Women are delicate. Women are educated. Women are frenzied. Women are on top of it. Women are spread too thin. Women are children. Women are friends. Women are wives. Women are lovers. Women are complex. Women are people. Women should not be glamorized. Women should be valued.
I was doing a play a few years ago out of town, and on out of town gigs, there is lot of time to lose yourself in thought. Many of my life’s epiphanies have been experienced on the road. One of my most valuable ones, one that has solidified a freedom and confidence within myself and my attitude, happened when I looked into my dressing room mirror at half hour. I was about to apply foundation to my cheeks, and as I turned to the side to get a better light, I saw my father. My whole life, I have taken for granted that people tell me I look like my mom, but in that one second I saw my dad’s cheeks on my face. I was frozen. Like a shot of lighting, my own perception of myself changed. I was not merely myself, and I was not someone I could beat up on without consequence. I was my mother; I was my father. Such a simple statement of fact suddenly seemed incomprehensibly profound. If I am my mother, and I am my father, then I am my grandmother, and I am my grandfather. I am both of my brothers. I would never tell my mom she was ugly. I would never tell my father that his chin stuck out too far. I would never tell my Grandma that she should do another set of squats and cut out the dessert. I would never say those things because my family is beautiful. I would never say those things because it just doesn’t matter. They are good people, they are smart people, they are kind people, and I love them. I adore them.
I am made of them.
That could only mean that I must adore myself too. And suddenly, an extra 5 or 10 pounds couldn’t make me hate my body anymore. My body? My body! It’s a gift given to me by people I love, each piece a part of one side or the other and chosen by god or nature or both to help me LIVE. My only responsibility is to keep it healthy, and I do so with eagerness and gratitude. My eyes, my hair, my armpits, my vagina, my breasts, my nose, my brain, my heart… all gifts, and I suddenly treasured every part equally and respectfully. I must always remember this: My body is more than me.
Once I came to this conclusion about my lineage so fervently, I found myself to be much more productive and a hell of a lot more fearless. I started my life-long dream rock band. I worked hard on my acting career. I explored New York. I fell in love. I developed skills like cooking and riding a bike in the city. I took up causes. I shared sweeping joy with people. I went on vacations. I wore bikinis. I read books. I became more aware of the world around me. I got into political debates with my dad. I argued and made up with my mom. I finally visited my brother in Seattle. I finally got to show my other brother NYC. I celebrated the life of my Grandpa and held my Grandma tightly.
At the end of all of this, our body is only that. The more power we give it over us, the less story there is to tell when it’s gone. I want stories. And so I must always remember this: I am more than my body.
Amazing. Thank you, Vanessa and Mama – and if these pieces have inspired any of you to share your own experiences, please send them along to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and help inspire others like these brave women did. I can’t wait to share them with the world.