Was it in high school? Was it the girl in my ceramics class? The one dating the miscreant? The gymnast? She had muscular hands and strong arms and she was lovely in every way I wanted to be; clear skin, small nose, and a strong upper body. Her posture communicated strength, and I wanted that.
The girls with broad shoulders and narrow hips, the ones who walked with confidence, bubbling laughter, and grace, those were the ones I noticed.
I walked ugly. Acne, too skinny some times, too big others, oily hair, in pain, too timid to look at my own body and excruciatingly shy about everything. I never felt strong. Always trying to shrink away from my skin. Running away from everything the world was telling me I was supposed to be. I was At The Mercy Of.
After high school, I forgot for a while, unconscious until I found rock climbing. Climbing woke me up. I did it all the time, until my forearms burned, and I ran, biked and swam. My body changed. I started to look strong. I started to feel strong, physically. I noticed that the better my posture was, the more confident I felt, so I worked. I wanted to feel like that girl in high school looked. Powerful.
But how can you feel like someone else looks?
My forearms. They became larger, vein-y and a bit more hairy. I loved them. I loved my biceps. I am so proud of how my body developed because it is the body I wanted. The best thing about my arms, my strong shoulders, my muscular legs, is that I know these are not where I find strength. After attaining the body I wanted, I found myself because it was then I had to defend myself from people who would tell me I looked like a man, or that in actuality, I was a lesbian, I just didn't know it yet.
I had made a choice about my body based on my values and I had the confidence to defend it because I loved that. My conscious would not allow me to let other people tell me how to look or behave. It wasn't that my strong body made me strong, it was that I became a target, and I was put in a position where I would have to stand up for myself. And I stood.
My spine is alert, awake with the consciousness of choice. This is a happiness I hope to have the good fortune to reside in until I take my last breath.
When people comment on my vein-streaked arms now, I say thank you, even when they act disgusted, because I know it is not me they are reacting to, it is them. It is their weakness that cannot allow me to be different.
That's the problem with girls in high school. The pain you feel about yourself often leads you to believe they are better off than, happier than, more comfortable than. But that is never the case.
My pain has always been my pain, and it has never had anything to do with how strong anyone else has looked, or how graceful or beautiful they seemed to be.
That is the other thing about the veins in my arms. They transport the pain from my gut to my fingertips. It is a specific kind of injury that my body deals with by trying to send it out of my body through my fingers. The veins in my arms are fat with these memories. They remind me that everything about my body can be used to grow, just like every part of a chicken can be used to make soup.
My pain is the source of my strength, my beauty, my grace. I would never have come to this place of confidence if I had not resided in my pain.
My veins will some day wither to weakness, my arms will eventually return to dust. I will be nothing as I once was. This is the truth of life, that while I am living I am also dying, but in life, or in death, I will be as much of me as I can be.
Even if that is within my pain. Even if it is not.
I will never again fool myself into believing that I can feel like someone else looks.
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