Her eyes were a blue of Mediterranean water, and it seemed that they were the brightest of her life right now, that time had only sparkled them further. She spoke with a slow accent of Georgia in the fifties, every day words like essay and thesis and tonight’s reading became so rich, like all of the great Southern writers of the past were right there in the classroom with us.
You know those people that you just really like, but you don’t exactly know why? She was one of those. I liked her, I wanted to talk to her or just look at her. She taught a class called Writing the Body, and it was one the most memorable classes of my college experience.
We wrote about bodies, bodies in turmoil, deformed bodies, bodies that didn’t have legs, anorexic bodies, bodies that were sick, crippled bodies, the female body, bodies with silicone in them, bodies in the media, beautiful bodies, dead bodies. As a yoga instructor and lover of physical movement, I was constantly interested, always curious about what my teacher and fellow students had to say in that class.
We were giving oral presentations on the research papers we had been working on for months. One of my classmates, who always got nervous speaking in front of the group, but I didn’t know why because she said the most interesting things, walks up to the front of the room when the teacher calls her name.
She takes her notecards in one hand runs her thumb through the side of them, like a flip book. Okay, she says, we’re gonna go around the room, and everyone just say something that you’d like to change about your appearance. It could be anything at all.
My stomach feels light. I can’t help but think of the scene from Mean Girls, when they’re all looking in the mirror–my pores are huge, my thighs are this, my hair is that, and then they all look at Lindsay Lohan to say something bad about herself too, and she chokes up and explains how she has bad breath in the morning. I look over to the friend that we all have in every writing class, the one to shoot glances at and roll our eyes at when someone says something mean, stupid, or otherwise unnecessary, but she doesn’t look back at me.
Something about this feels wrong, I think. Doesn’t this just perpetuate our hatred of our bodies? My stomach telescopes, and I swallow loud.
And so starts the self-hatred session, of people taking turns talking about how their nose is so big, their butt too small, how they’re too skinny or too fat, how their hair is prematurely grey, what ugly feet they have, their crooked teeth and straight hair. My palms sweat, heat gets trapped under my shirt. This is so sad, I think. It’s my teacher’s turn now. She says, well, I’ll participate too, because I think it’s important. I would change my wrinkles.
I stare at her and blink fast a few times. Wrinkles, I think. Don’t hate your wrinkles. I like your wrinkles. I want to tell her I like her wrinkles.
My chest tightens, collapses in on itself, concave.
I jolt out of internally debating whether or not I should tell my teacher that I like her wrinkles as I realize it’s almost my turn to share something I would change about myself. I don’t really want to change anything about myself, I think. That feels true, when I say it in my head. I don’t want to get plastic surgery or lose weight or flatten my tummy. But I also don’t want to be that one person in class who says they wouldn’t change anything, and be looked at like some stuck-up girl from California who is overly confident and thinks she’s just perfect. I know I’m not perfect, when it comes to my appearance, my actions, my heart. But changing myself? I don’t know. I don’t think I would. That doesn’t feel right. And it doesn’t feel right to be sitting with a group of people, men and women, black and white, old and young, and say the thing we hate most about our body.
Just make up some answer, I think. Say something generic. Say you’d get a boob job. No, these people know me better than that. Say that you’d change your broad shoulders, I bet that’s what other people think is flawed about you. But no, George, that isn’t true, you wouldn’t change that, because they help you climb and you don’t really even really care about them anyway. Speak your truth, I tell myself, go for the jugular, be brave. If they look at you like you’re a snooty bitch, whatever, that’s their deal.
My friend to my right admits he would really like to get his tattoos removed and lowers his head, stares straight into his lap. Eyes shift from him, to me, it’s my turn. My face flushes with hot blood. Stomach drops, tightens, breath shallow. Heart in my ears. I pause, swallow hard.
I wouldn’t change anything about myself, I say.
And it feels as true as it did when I thought it in my head. My voice is clear and doesn’t crack, the same voice on the first day of class that had people saying, you ain’t from around here, are you girl?
The other students, my friends, my teacher–silent. Waiting. Waiting for me to say something more. But I don’t feel like I have to.
After about ten long seconds–Really? My teacher asks, slow and breaking the word into three syllables. There’s nothing, she asks, nothing you would change, nothing you wish to be different about your body?
No, I say.
She laughs a little, shakes her head, looks down at her paper. Pauses. Have you ever dyed your hair, Georgie? she asks. I tell her yes. Her eyes, blue like a little girl’s hair ribbon, look up at me as she questions. Well, she says. How is that not changing your body? I appreciate her challenge and think silently about it. The other students in the room are nervous for me. My belly is soft now, breath slow, heart beating, quiet but electric.
I think to myself, she’s right, dying my hair was changing my body. But I don’t hate my natural hair color. I actually really like it. I dyed my hair out of being bored really, out of wanting to have fun with my girlfriends on a Sunday night. I love how in the movies, girls dye their hair when they’re going through a break up, a way to say hey world, I’m different, I’m new, I’m over him. That seemed fun to me.
I shouldn’t have to defend myself, I think. I don’t have to explain why I dyed my hair.
I don’t have an answer for you, I tell my teacher.
Well, alright, she says, palms flipped up to the ceiling, shaking her head.
I smile and shrug my shoulders.