I was raised with the idea of valuing abilities -- that who you were is mostly an amalgam of what you can do, and do well. Since then, my matrices of what makes good have been expanded, reordered, even: how; the manner in which; the kindness and sincerity that can be literally life saving; the shits you give, not what kind you can make; my journey from ravenclaw to hufflepuff. I could talk about this all damn day, but I won't.
This said, at no point have I truly centered on appearance as the determining factor in self worth. This seems to be at conflict with the world around me, and I tend to do my part in sabotaging the prevalence of the conversation by simply not having it. It's a thunderdome and I don't like to shout. Howeverandbutso, I got some feels.
Maybe it was being raised by a strong woman who lifted boats above her head, carried the ailing and elderly with compassion and with the strength of her legs, and danced her jiggling belly all across that floor. Maybe it was being myopically concerned with feudal systems and sketching beetles and memorizing the cadence of rhymes, and passing the test, and by passing I mean acing or else who even are you; maybe my mind was full of the garden and the seeds I got to plant and the trees I'd climb and look down from and the sea I swam in every day. Maybe it was, less lyrically, not having a live tv in our house. I simply was ignorant, shielded from a lot of the women laughing while eating sad salad while we, women, grew turnips in our little suburban wild, wearing sweaters we'd made that did not flatter and stacking firewood. I can't say.
I am grateful for all this. I'm also tired of being told how weird it is. I really just can't agree? I think that uncommon is fair -- it is, tragically, uncommon for us to dress children in clothes that they like in a variety of colors and shapes and sizes, and to praise them for how they do things, and what they do. Teaching littles these past four years, I've been slam-dunked into a world of the traditionally feminine and nurturing; I've been expected to wear nice blazers (we get puked on, y'all) and told, verbatim, to "smile even when you don't mean it, you look too serious." I'm in a privileged enough position to flaunt my abilities (I can teach) and my contract (here I am, my conventional cis white femme looks got me this far, and now it's legal) and push those envelopes. I've been called mannish and direct.
More heartrending though is the children. Mostly, I bike to work, get sweaty, wear workday clothes (soft, clean, modest) and practical, ugly clogs for standing and squatting and standing some more. Somedays, I'll come in swathed in a flowing turquoise dress, with earrings, with hair shining (I showered!), and a premonition of spring. Without fail, the army of little girls dressed head to toe in pink descends with praise: ooomg you're sooo beauuutiful. Normally compliments make me rumplestiltskin disappear in a flaring poof of discomfort, but I've learned to say, "thank you, I like this color, too" or, "yes, we are both wearing dresses!" and to accept the warmth of their excitement; I remember thinking my elementary teachers were the most amazing creatures in the world. But the varied interest troubles me; I wonder if they retain memory of their role models on the flannel soft grunge days when I am just as present, just as caring, just as capable; and what about the boys, dressed all in sharks and skulls? Who can they call beautiful in the hopes of someday becoming?
I know that it's trite and will weaken everything I've said, but #whatever: I truly believe everyone is beautiful. Not all the time, and in all ways, but it's the portrait artist lens of seeing people for the way they turn their head, for the strength in their smile, for a broad back, for the incredible softness they carry. I can't fully internalize the thin is perfect mantra, though I obviously am well versed in its canon by exposure to this so dominant religion. I bear witness to the many different, imaginary, stupid problems we each face as our bodies preface our identity through the world; when a stranger approaches, we first see them and their form, and immediately go from there. This is obviously an issue of race, of sexism, of classism, and some extras on the side. But I think plenty has been said here before me; let the record state that I too feel it is bullshit.
My own body has changed some, not in particularly impacting ways since puberty. I have, to my best understanding, the same body as my mother. Small and wiry, late blooming, strong thighed, quick to build. This is arbitrary. It is also arbitrary that during the last ten years, aerobic super model neon spandex fashion went on the outs and being tiny and a little weird was like, so hot; I've gotten attention from this and deserved none of it, I've been frustrated and charmed by the allowances my body elicits from others. During my childhood and adolescence, my mother became severely depressed and gained a lot of weight, fast; she was always still strong and agile, but the sadness coalesced around her like a protective layer. When she died, my 18 year old body similarly armored itself, and for a few years, I was bigger, more solid, more to move. Change is terrifying, and loss ... is everything. Bodies aren't foolish. They know. Through a grief that could not be rushed I healed with a body that was still healthy, still young, still sexy, still strong and fast, and larger. It should also be noted that this is just my body's mechanism; other people lose weight when they're stressed and gain robust size when they're happy. Etc, etc, etc. Since then, I've gradually recentered to what I looked like before, and behaviorally, come closer to that lightness as well, with some additions (sadness, forgiveness). This makes sense; this is a natural cycle, fitted to the circumstances of my life. What I hate is that people evaluate or even praise me on it appears via my biceps. When you say, you're so fit now/thin/norm-core, I hear, I valued you less when you were bigger and if another change comes, I will accordingly deflate my opinion of your worth again.
Which brings us back to worth, and identity, and why this has been ragging on my mind lately. What connotes does not follow. Context is story is everything. We contain multitudes, and deserve the space we take up. Whatever the fuck size that is, however it is maintained, dressed, presented. I guess I don't have a thesis statement; but just a rambling narrative, and a plea, which is to be kind. Perceive beauty in your world. Love well, and often. Give kids whatever clothes they're drawn to, toss them into the vastness of the sea (for perspective, for salt) and reinforce kindness and joy, endlessly, whenever you can, even when it's a stretch.
A blog of mostly poems, some prose. Recent works will be added to the top, and older pieces are backdated. Please write me a note if you have any questions, etc!
All works are original and copyright Sarah Hirsch, 2017. Please contact me directly if you would like permission to use any images or words. Thank you!
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