No…I am not getting into what is happening politically right now….
I remember being about 11. I had a purple bathing suit with a little shimmer to it and I smiled when I put it on. I can’t tell you where I was the day that changed, but I know I was on a trip out of the country and I was swimming in a pool in a courtyard somewhere lined with lots of winding trees with big shiny leaves and trunks that reminded me of elephants. I loved to come out of the water with my head tipped just right so that my hair smoothed over me like a veil and laid onto my shoulders and back. I was smiling. My dad (whom I love dearly and do not want to paint in a bad light at all) was at the edge of the pool and he looked at me uncomfortably. I remember feeling awkward right away and it was jarring. He said ‘You are really starting to get curvy. Better watch out that you don’t let that go too far’.
Ick. That’s what I felt. Icky and guilty, somehow, for feeling so good about myself and so happy about my smooth hair and shimmering purple bathing suit. That one moment had deep impact. It was a blow.
Some time later, I was getting fitted for my first real bra at a department store that used to be a staple in New Orleans particularly, in my day, amongst the black community: Krauss. My mom took me to the mezzanine where the lingerie department was and asked the women if they would help to get me fitted. Before I really knew what was happening, I was in the changing area with my shirt off and multiple pairs of smooth black hands wrapping me in measuring tape, lifting my arms over my head, turning me around and around again gently but firmly, talking all the time about underwire and clasps and bandwidth. Strangely, I remember feeling sort of proud. All these women were determined to find the perfect structure for my growing breasts and they took it very seriously. They were so comfortable that they made me comfortable in the most uncomfortable scenario that you can imagine for a little white-girl’s-first-bra fitting. My body was being treated, not as a sexual object, not as a thing to be gawked at, not as a shameful needs-to-be-hidden thing…it was demanding attention and these undergarment-experts were stepping up to give it just that. Powerful. That’s what I felt.
Powerful and proud, somehow, for being on the edge of womanhood and needing all this fuss made to help me get there comfortably. That had deep impact. It was good. Who would think that spending time on the mezzanine at Krauss would give me my first taste of how wonderful it could be to live bigly (see how I did that…took it and gave it new life). Those women beckoned me forth into fullness. Nothing about my form was to be hidden. It was to be supported and attended to respectfully.
Gaze is something I note. I remember the gaze that came from my father. It was a slightly curled-at-the-lip gaze with worry and shades of disgust. I remember the gaze of the lingerie women too. It was clean and direct and affirming.
Stance also stays with me. My dad felt tall and lean and he had his hands in his back pockets with his elbows poking out. He seemed so above me in his stance and stiff. I remember the sun catching the hair on his arms and making them look prickly. he felt against me. The Krauss team was made up of rounded, smooth, colorful, strong ladies who moved in and out and under and around me. They were very much with me. They were encouraging me to live bigly.