There’s a photograph that was taken on Monday of my sister and me. We’re sitting on the stern of a vintage 1950s Chris Craft boat and it captures a moment of extreme privilege: a warm, sunny day on Lake George, a boat occupied by some of our nearest and dearest, nothing to do but talk, drink, swim and tan. Sarah is looking towards the Tongue Mountain range and I am holding a drink, while behind us an American flag whips in the breeze. The photograph is important, because, you know, it’s not real unless it’s on Instagram. #humblebrag
But all I could see, when I first saw the photo, was the roll of flesh under my right breast, just below my tangerine colored bandeau top and just above my high-waisted polka dot bikini bottom. Even as I type those words, I think – really? Really? That’s what you saw? Not the perfect sky with shredded cotton clouds painted onto the blue? Not the wake pattern causing small white caps behind us? No – I saw the width of my thighs and that unmistakable roll and the careful placement of my hand over my stomach.
I’m a woman. I’ve been taught to scrutinize my body before I even knew the definition of the word “scrutinize.” My mother is not to blame. I was flat-chested, 90 pounds, outfitted with braces and glasses, and wanted only to ever be the right size to fit into a pair of Guess jeans (the ultimate when I was in middle school), and we never talked about looks or weight. Grades were important. Intelligence, acts of kindness and generosity, helping out around the house, being nice to my siblings, calling my grandparents, doing my chores – those were the things that we discussed and success in them was admired.
Yet somehow the insidious messages got through, despite my mother’s best intentions. A friend’s older sister’s off-handed comment about having to run an extra three miles to make up for going back for seconds. A substitute teacher (a teeny-tiny woman going through an ugly divorce) telling a room filled with teenaged girls that if we wanted boys to pay attention to us we really shouldn’t be eating chocolate. All the advertisements for shampoos and lipsticks and face creams with perfectly proportioned women, their legs and cheekbones high as mountainsides.
I know the drill. We all do. Moderation. Throw a daily salad in there, make your protein lean, drink lots of water, walk to the post office instead of driving, try to get a reasonable amount of sleep. Don’t smoke cigarettes, because, well, you know. I know that there is strength in my arms and back, that I lift cases of wine and move concrete tables at the restaurant, and that my legs go the distance on busy nights at bV, thousands of steps through the dining room, up and down stairs, back and forth between the kitchen. And yet, despite all this, I sat on a boat with my friends this past Monday – a day that for, all intents and purposes was a nearly-perfect day – and worried about the photograph that my sister was going to post on Instagram because it showed my perfectly imperfect body.
So there’s a roll that shows when my body is tilted at a certain angle. What I realize, looking at those photos, is that it shows up as an angle of happiness as I lean back away from the breeze, my sassiness right there in the twist of my hip. It’s angle of laughter when Megan and Sarah and I sit on the stern of the boat, our backs towards the photograph, as they look out towards the lake and I turn, a smile on my face as if to say, “Who cares?”