A youthful look at loving changing bodies

Date: January 1, 1970
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“23 is a perfect age for sex.À I knew his name, that he worked in stocks, and that he seemed to be particularly fond of skimpy, tight shorts that really do few men justice. However, that was the extent of it, but for him, that was all it took to sum up his interest with this statement.

“So you want to do something with me tonight?” A question? A statement? I hesitated, unsure of how to politely break the news to him. What made it worse; I wasn’t wearing my ring, something every girl should own. A recent young South African emigrant to Israel, I find it a most convenient tool to introduce my non-existent but very loving boyfriend back home.
“Oh I’m sorry, I’d love to but ….” and that is when I usually shove my right-ring finger into the conversation. But no such luck. He took charge and began planning an elaborate date for the two of us. When I began to explain I’d just met him, he decided it was time to cuddle. Lucky me.
And so began our little wrestling match. With each push, I edged further away. Until finally, and this is when I am convinced there is a god or higher power of sorts, he got the message and in true drama queen style with black shorts clad bottom wagging behind him, he marched off. However, not before a spectacular rendition of a monologue that belongs on the school playground, “Oh well, it’s your loss.”  
I have never fantasised about my dream wedding. I have not planned the dress, the colour scheme, or the guest list. Sometimes I think that prince charming is a cruel joke; the invention of Mattel because of course Barbie needed a playmate (or should that read soul mate?). I assume that one day I will want to marry, but I am in no hurry. It’s not that I do not enjoy meeting new people, but wrestle cuddling with a complete stranger crosses the line. I call it harassment.
Yet, a short while later, I was standing in front of a mirror in the public bathroom. Even though I had enough attention for the day, it somehow wasn’t enough for me to just wash my hands and fix my hair. I found myself doing a thorough body audit. Hair. Skin. Top. It needed adjusting. Jeans. And then butt.
Yes, in the public bathroom mirror, I stood checking out my own butt and how it seemed to make the rigid blue fabric pucker. I chided myself for the recent emigration-inspired weight gain. It was almost as though for those few minutes my butt belonged to a mannequin on display in a shop window. For those few moments, neither the butt nor the jeans were mine but objects to critique.
It’s not that I’m unusually vain. This is a common sport. Just walk into a women’s bathroom and you will see us engaged in this vicious contact sport of monitoring our every angle. Men also join in on this sport. I think they learn the rules when they hit puberty and for most, it continues even once they hit the married man stage. There is always something to look at, to check out. A cute little butt. Lucky 11 in her dainty stilettos. The low neckline. The hint of forbidden cleavage.
I too indulge in my fair share of window-shopping. I too look at a cute man or a well-chiselled, masculine face. A hint of expensive cologne. Yes, I notice and look. However, somehow it’s different. I don’t spend much time in the men’s bathrooms, but I doubt the same intensity gets played out in front of their mirrors. They aren’t the ones on display.
Some do exfoliate. They may even use eyeliner or skin cream with anti-aging serum, but these are choices, not masks in preparation for their appearance onstage. For women, it’s a production – manicures, nail polish, the hair, makeup, and clothing. And then it all has to match. A perfectly sculptured piece of art.
Most women seem fine with this. They carry compact mirrors in their bags to freshen up at will, convenience or need. Some even indulge in sneak peeks as they walk past some shops windows. Worse, this all has to meet the approval of other women. They are experts of auditing fellow female bodies. There is nothing kind or forgiving about the once over from another woman.
So, we take note of every flaw – the few extra rolls, the loss in elasticity, dry skin, evil cellulite, and stretch marks. We confirm our findings. We turn to mirrors, to other women, to Botox or a simple detox. And polished we leave our homes like trinkets ready to be placed on shelves. Then along come men who gawk, and stare, and yes, even cuddle wrestle with complete strangers on the beach.
Sometimes, I have to question whether we women have allowed this. Have our severe, critical body audits given men the impression that such behaviour is acceptable? That this is what we want? And no – I’m not saying I asked for it, but perhaps women should stop shifting all the blame.
I think it’s time to audit the body audit. It’s time for something kinder. Something that embraces stretch marks and a few extra kilograms gained. That stops putting our bodies and ourselves on shelves as shiny little trinkets.
We are women and these are the bodies we live in. And yes, they will grow and change with us. One day I may marry, may have children, but one thing is certain, if I am lucky I will grow old. The stretch marks, cellulite, and even fat rolls are part of a body that’s lived in. So why not learn to love them?
South African freelancer based in Israel. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.

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