Growing up, it never occurred to me that my body was something I was supposed to hate. I was overblessed with a great family, I was always surrounded by adults who treated me like I mattered, and I had the completely unfair advantage of being white, able-bodied, middle class, American. In my privileged little childhood, I was never given any reason to believe that my body could have anything wrong with it. But unfortunately, sometime around the beginning of puberty… I realized I was a woman.
Suddenly, the girl characters on TV didn’t matter as much as the boys. Boys kept coming to school in oversized hoodies and jeans, and the girls started wearing smudgy mascara and padded bras. Teachers started treating boys like their words carried more weight than mine did. Adult men started to look at my teenage body like I was something interesting but scary. Very slowly, over the course of a full decade, I picked up experiences that taught me that my womanness was a job, something I had to work to maintain, and something that required constant upkeep. If I made peace with one part of my body, another part started changing. There weren’t enough hours in the day to deal with all the parts of me that weren’t good. I felt myself constantly morphing into something less and less manageable, something uglier and uglier.
I pinned a lot of these feelings on cellulite. Whether I was fitter or fatter or wearing jeans or tights, it was always there, stuck to my thighs, declaring to the world that I was at least partially failing at my job as a new woman, which was, obviously, to be perfect.
I’m still not completely cured of that kind of thinking, but by the time I entered early adulthood, some of the stress from adolescence had started to evaporate away. I realized in my late teens that there were lots of ways women could look, and even though I still believed that some of those ways were inherently better, I could deal with not looking exactly like Angelina Jolie. The cellulite, though? It still crossed my mind multiple times a day. I made a weird friendship in an English class in college– one day before class started, the girl next to me laughed and pointed her chin at the seat of my chair. Both of us were wearing shorts and had placed our bookbags on our laps, and both of us had let our arms rest along the sides of our thighs. We didn’t need to discuss why we were sitting in identical positions. The mere potential for visible cellulite was dictating how we sat in class. We both laughed and shrugged, like we were wordlessly saying, “Isn’t it hilarious and sad that we let the world do this to us?”
We were two young, pretty women in the physical prime of our lives. It’s bullshit that anybody has to feel guilty about taking up space in the world, but it’s especially bullshit that people who already fit into most of society’s insanely rigid beauty standards (young, white, able-bodied, thin) still can’t feel like they’re living up to the standard. If the people who come closest to the goal are still putting their bags in their laps, that should tell you exactly how impossible it is to ever be good enough.
While I’m arguably a bona fide adult now (yikes), I’m by no means done caring about the imperfections on my body. I have stretch marks that make me cringe, I have body acne scars that I wish I could scrape off, I have a potbelly and visible veins and eyebrows that just will not be told what to do. I have, however, put the whole cellulite thing to rest. Since that day in English class, I’ve made a conscious effort to rewire the way I think about the bumps on my thighs. When I see a woman in a magazine with perfectly smooth legs, I repeat Photoshop Photoshop Photoshop in my head, like a mantra. When I’m walking down the street on a hot day, I take time to notice cellulite on men, on children, on super thin women. It was hard work to talk myself into it, but I’ve made a commitment to never again wear jeans in the summer or leggings on the beach just because the world has tried to poison my brain.
My thighs are covered in a cottage cheese-like texture. Cool. My body also houses a creative brain and pretty eyes and muscles that can do interesting things. I’m a thousand times too awesome of a person to waste any more of my energy putting bags on my lap.
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