I remember being about 7 or 8, looking down in the bathtub, and being so excited! I had hair down below! I called it my “Teddy Bear hair,” convinced that somehow it was a magic initiation into the world of fuzzy things. Bears would love me! I could commune with nature! I sang little songs about my pubes, with extremely unimaginative lyrics. I would be the Disney Princess of pubic hair!
And then I grew up, inundated by a world of Cosmo articles that claimed to espouse equal-opportunity-pube choices, but in fact heavily emphasized the popularity of the Brazilian wax and its presumed superiority.
I had a man once tell me “I like my women shaved bare.” Oh, how nice. I missed that part where you own me just because I’m down to sleep with you.
But you know what? I shaved.
It was interesting and exotic for a few days, but the novelty was quickly overtaken by the incredible itchiness. I couldn’t wear any of my favorite underwear, because it caught on the stubbles like Velcro. Plus, I felt babyish. I missed that sense of bad-ass primal curliness that laid in wait between my thighs. I felt exposed, and not in a fun way. It may work for some women, but it definitely doesn’t work for me.
Worse, I realized I had let somebody else make that decision for me through the power of suggestion. I felt ill about it. Heck, sometimes I still feel ill about it. I didn’t speak up for myself and defend what I like. After all, if you’re lucky enough to sleep with me, you can just feel damn lucky to get to see my body in all its bad ass curvy splendor. You can take it or leave it, but I won’t change it for you.
Somebody else’s personal preference doesn’t trump what I want for my body. Ever. If I want to dye my pubic hair hot pink, look upon my work ye mighty and despair. Vajazzling? More power to me.
The one great thing to come of this is I realized it’s okay to experiment with my body my way. I don’t have to shave to know I like being unshaven. I don’t have to comply with someone’s standards to be sexy. And if that’s a turnoff for them, then that’s their problem, and I can walk away.
Society may condemn something about your body, and individual people may condemn something about your body, but nothing else matters but your relationship to your body. People can critique all they want, and while words may hurt, words don’t dictate my shaving regimen or how I interact with my body. In loving ourselves on our own terms, we open ourselves up to find people who will gladly do the same.
Disney Princess pube powers ACTIVATE!
(P.S. Everybody send their love to my mother, who still reads and supports my blog even when she has to deal with me being a sexual being or me talking about bizarre things! You’re the best, mom, and I love you heaps!)
Sometimes it takes us a while to tell a story. This story has taken me a long while to be able to find the right words. Bear with me. This is a little longer than usual. I promise, it gets back to Tinder and dating (and an amazingly bad date at that), and to how complicated it can be to balance little moments such as in dating with major stressors.
That said, let’s do this.
Everyone spoke in weirdly calm voices. In retrospect, I have no idea if the calm was only incongruous with my own thoughts, or if they were putting in particular effort into keeping their voices calm. Two minutes into my lying on the paper covered table in one of those blue open in the front nightgowns and staring at a poster of kittens on the ceiling, my doctor felt the lumpy spot I had found in my breast a few weeks before. She and the nurse put on their smiling-trying-to-keep-someone-from-panicking faces. “We’ll get you an appointment for a mammogram for tomorrow right across the street. They’ll take good care of you.”
TOMORROW, I thought. Damn. That’s SOON. Normally, if a doctor thinks I need a follow-up, I can manage to get by with a few weeks in between. I remember forcing myself to be chipper. The receptionist called the mammogram office for me, trying to be polite, describing the spot on my breast in terms of a clock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Will they find a lumpy spot. At this point, I felt like I was watching some bad Lifetime or ABC Family movie, even as I was trying to convince myself to not worry.
Somehow I drove to Target. Somehow I parked, got out of the car, and wandered past the Starbucks, the produce, the laundry baskets and into the baby section.
I stood in Target staring at baby toys, trying to pick the right one for my soon to arrive bonus-nephew. Rows upon rows of stuffed animals waited on the racks, just waiting for someone to slobber on them and throw them out of the playpen. I wandered up and down the aisle in a daze. Lions and tigers and cancer oh my. No no no, think about the cute fluffy animals. It’ll all be fine. No point in worrying until tomorrow. Bears? Yes, bears. Lions and tigers and bears, oh, my. Not “cancer oh my.” Keep it classic. WWJGS? (What would Judy Garland Say)?
My phone rang, startling me out of my plush fauna revelries. It was my mother, offering to come with me the next day. At which point, I descended into panic, staring down at the rough gray carpet under the fluorescent lighting and trying to calm my mind. Taking your mom with you on a doctors’ appointment when you’re in your 20’s feels like admitting your own mortality. She was there at the beginning; God forbid she not be there at what could possibly be the beginning of the end, or at least the start of a fight against my own body.
“Mmmhmm, mmhmm, um, sure it’d be great if you could get off work for a the morning to come with me, great, thanks mom, oh so you read today’s Tinder Buttons, no I don’t want to talk about it even if you do, no, no, this is about me not you, mhm, well I should go, because I don’t want to talk about this and I’m in Target, yeah I’m ok…bye mom.”
I love you, mom, but I don’t know if I was ever so glad to hang up a phone. My brain didn’t have enough words to talk about anything of substance, let alone my freshly posted piece The In Between Place, which had already taken a considerable amount of energy to share. I went back to bears, relieved that their little sewn mouths wouldn’t try to talk to me and that their brains were full of fluff.
Which bear was it I wanted? Brown. Fluffy. Ag his mouth is a funny color. This is stressful, there are too many bears, no just buy this super cute bear so you don’t have to stand here anymore and be surrounded by fluorescent lighting and happy people who probably aren’t thinking about strange growths in their bodies or their mortality. They just want to buy frozen peas and fabric softener and maybe to pick up a pack of gum as a minor indulgence in the checkout line to remind themselves that they love themselves enough to spend that extra $1.29. I was stricken by hypothetical envy. I want to have my biggest issue to be if I want double mint or bubble mint gum. Gosh, this bear is cute. Cute is good. Cute. C-U-T-E. Two letters that are in “cancer” are in “cute.” How weird. Wait, that’s not weird. That’s just the alphabet. Maybe if I have cancer it can be cute cancer? Wait, what? That’s not a thing. You probably don’t even have cancer, let alone cute cancer. Cancer isn’t cute. Bear. Just hold the bear and carry it to the checkout line. One step at a time. Bear.
At the checkout counter, I fidgeted nervously and made too much eye contact in a vain attempt to convince the cashier that the vague glazed over look of panic in my eyes was actually good old fashioned over enthusiastic friendliness. Instead, I just came across as a super creepy smiling woman buying a teddy bear and sneaking pointed looks at the many gum options near the register.
I went home, zoned out, and then somehow magically the next day came. Fortunately, my mom happens to be not only a totally hilarious and all around fabulous lady, but she has already had breast cancer and spends a lot of her life contending with pills and things that will keep it from returning. So she knew the ropes.
A few hours into my appointment, including some time dressed in a surprisingly comfortable clinic robe and sitting in a waiting room that was vaguely spa-esque, I had a mammogram (Which, contrary to what everyone had hold me, was not at all painful and in fact oddly comfortable). Then I had an ultrasound in which I got to see the inside of my breasts. I chatted to the tech, asking about what I was seeing and the process of training to be a tech and did she like it and how many of these did they do a day. I attempted mindless conversation to keep myself from wondering about what the machine would tell me about my own body. And then suddenly there on the screen were my breasts. The inside of a breast looks like the most beautiful ocean waves or hills. There’s a whole landscape in there, a world unto myself, and it was fascinating. And in my case, it was not just fascinating-it was lump-free.
It turns out I had an agitated lymph node, but that it was all a-ok. I walked out of the clinic, passing on my way women who wouldn’t be getting such happy news, who were already fighting the good fight, or who would find themselves suddenly drafted accordingly within a matter of hours.
All I could feel was overwhelmingly lucky.
It was at that point that all the little bits of panic, the ones I had managed to keep at bay excepting for that moment of crisis in the Target baby aisle, converged. I was overcome with joy and relief and terror for what could have been, finally giving myself permission to feel all the things and to think the darkest thoughts that only optimism coupled with all of my willpower could keep at bay. My subconscious was tired from holding back as it tried to keep my consciousness sane and functional. I was exhausted in every sense.
But I, in my infinite wisdom, still kept a lunch date I had made for the afternoon after my appointment, having made the date far before I knew this would all be going down.
I stirred my iced tea and kicked my heel against my chair leg, zoning out as he talked about the book he wanted to write and his kids.
In my mind, the conversation went a lot like this: “oh, you did time? What for? Oh, drug dealing?” Jeeze this guy’s too intense for me. Oh, Tinder. Oh fuck yes no cancer for me, thank you boobs thank you. You’re the best breasts in the whole wide world. Good job, guys. I’m going to put on the extra cute bra when I get home. Y’all earned it. “Oh, and you have five children? What are their names?” Shoes on a monkey, I could’ve died. Hello, mortality. “Wait, FIVE? Oh, and you have grandchildren? Whom you don’t care about at all? And you’re already talking about getting new furniture for your apartment in light of my existence?” Wow, at this point there are so many red flags about this guy that the room looks like the inside of a matador’s cape. He’s so young to have that many grandchildren. Huh. Yeah, I shouldn’t have come on this date. Fuck. This is why we meet in public places, and don’t tell men our last names. Also why we insist on longer conversations before agreeing to a date. Oh my God cancer. I don’t have cancer. “Yes, the lamb is very good here.” Oh, do I want more iced tea? “No, thank you.”
What I actually wanted was to run home and bake a cake for my cancer-less breasts and dance and sing a song and cry in my closet, not necessarily in that order.
What this boils down to is how on earth are we supposed to reconcile how complicated, bizarre, and painful real life can be with the friendly small talk of a first date? Or even with the ordinary moments of daily life? The dishwasher keeps needing to be filled. People buy gum. People have babies, stop at red lights, bake cookies, and sit in waiting rooms. Life goes on, even when our minds are continually grinding to a screeching halt.
Sometimes I find it incredibly offensive that life keeps going even when I’m struggling, in a way that’s wholly illogical. I remember being really depressed one day in high school, sitting in a corner of the library, and being absolutely annoyed at all the people being happy because it was exhausting to listen to other people be joyful. It left me frustrated. I felt I’d somehow failed myself in that I couldn’t just hop back on the happy train. At the same time, I wanted somehow the world to match my mood, to validate it so I wouldn’t feel quite so out of sync or so alone in that moment. Even when we reach out to a friend, that process of externalizing our emotions can be so hard. Try as you might you can’t get the contents of your mind out, let alone explain your feelings (especially when said feelings are exacerbated by teenage hormones). It makes that loneliness all the more isolating.
But we exist in a world full of other people. Our moments of struggle inevitably will not always align with the world around us or with what our schedule holds. Life can be terribly inconvenient like that sometimes, and it’s so tempting to try to not only not acknowledge that, but to not even reveal that to other people. As if that’s somehow weak to mention our struggles, or that it’s a cheap way to get at someone’s feelings, or it might be too inconvenient to other people if we burdened them with our woes.
In my last post I focused on not hiding my personality. But what about our lives? How on earth do we hide that? Should we hide that? Gradually reveal them? How quickly?
To what extent do we owe it to ourselves, our friends, and even relative strangers to keep our private life private? Is the idea of private life whatever one makes of it? Does it make it easier to have secrets, or does it make it harder? Or, perhaps, there are benefits and drawbacks to each. How long do we have to hide our most precious and powerful stories? The stories of our bodies? The lions and tigers and bears? Oh my.
I treasure all my stories, but the stories that are written on my body, that my flesh remembers, are the most precious to me because they are the hardest to tell. The ones that hurt. The ones that scared me or left me confused. The ones where the telling leaves you every bit as vulnerable as you felt in that moment, the memory of physical pain matched by the stress of capturing what that tale means to you. The ones that remind you that being alive is precious.
So this is one of those stories. I don’t come off as particularly sane, optimistic, or pulled together. Nor do I come off as having judgment when I picked that guy to go on a first date with (sorry, mom. I promise, he doesn’t know my last name AND I ordered dessert AND I made much stricter first date rules for myself). But I hope, if you’ve managed to make it this far in this piece, that you find comfort regarding your own body’s stories. It’s okay that they’re complicated. It’s okay that the weight of memory matters. It’s okay that double mint gum will never taste the same to me after standing in that Target aisle.
Or at least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
In other news, celebrate every single healthy bit of your body today, and any parts that aren’t so healthy and need extra love, send that love their way, be they tiny or major ailments. It’s beautiful to be alive and have the opportunity to have moments of crisis. Every bit of sadness and struggle is only possible because we’ve been happy, and because we’re gloriously, tenuously, ridiculously alive.
Mom: “You met his cats?! You went to his house? How do you know he’s not a white slaver?!”
Me: “Mom, I’m pretty sure that the white slave trade isn’t exactly flourishing in Midtown.”
For the record, the cats were absolutely fantastic.
That said, let’s talk safety. I’ve had a number of people ask me about ways to approach this crazy adventure that is online dating safely. Here are my personal rules, which continue to evolve as I explore the world of Tinder.
1. If someone makes you uncomfortable just chatting with them, trust that feeling. Sometimes that’s just being disconcerted or a bit wary or even bored. When you feel that odd little twist of a feeling that says “maybe you don’t want to do this,” listen to it. Be safe. Be happy.
You don’t owe someone your time just because you’ve talked to them and they were nice to you. Nice people can still make you uncomfortable. And that’s okay. Just because someone is nice doesn’t mean that’s someone with whom you want to spend time in person and go on a date. You don’t have to risk your happiness and comfort just to humor someone else.
The times I haven’t trusted that feeling I found myself stuck listening to a lot of masturbatory self-commendation and then got asked for a handjob in a parking lot. Um…let me think about that…no.
2. Always meet in public places at first. Always. I don’t care how hot his picture is or how nice she seems. There are plenty of hot, nice batshit crazy people out there (note: Why is guano particularly crazy? Is it for its super power fertilizing abilities?).
If the person you’re seeing can’t wait until you’ve had a cup of coffee somewhere to get you alone then you should be seeing red flags everywhere. If they’re insistent on meeting somewhere privately, take it as even more red flags, or you can whip out my favorite line, “but how do I know you’re not an axe murderer? :D” If they don’t back down or realize and respect that you have standards for ensuring your own safety, back away quickly. Seriously though, the smiley face has magical powers. It makes it less creepy, more funny. Trust the power of the smiley. Not the potential axe murderer.
Plus, there are plenty of awesome public places to go. Get creative, and think outside the box. I’ve been to drag shows, to eat my first oysters (it’s totally just an excuse to eat saltine crackers and hot sauce, and I am ALL ABOUT THAT), to hear amazing bands in very cool bars, to beloved local coffee shops. Private locations can wait until you’ve built some trust and feel confident you’re not going to wake up in a pit reenacting Silence of the Lambs.
3. Always have a point of contact. I often have two. One is my best friend; the other is actually my mother. I’ve recently decided I want to start using GPS on my phone to drop my mom a pin so she knows exactly where I am, and she always has an ETA of when I’ll be home, or I text if the plans change (I live with my parents. But that’s a story for another day). Even when I’ve been out with a guy before, and even if I feel perfectly safe, I’d always rather take the extra 30 seconds and do this. I’m absurdly naive at times, and I’m quick to give people the benefit of the doubt, even strangers. It’s a blessing and a curse. I continually have to remind myself that you don’t really know who a person is until their true colors start showing, and for some less earnest people, or simply shy people, that can take a really long time.
You don’t get brownie points in life for blindly trusting people. That’s not being nice to yourself. That’s simply not prioritizing yourself and your safety, and it’s being nice to someone else before you’re nice to you. And you deserve that much from you.
4. Have your cellphone charger with you. My phone dies all the time. It’s been known to jump from 40% battery to 1% in a matter of seconds. Make sure you have a means of contact, and that even if your technology is randomly on the fritz you can still pull an E.T. and phone home.
5. Don’t have sex with someone unless you can comfortably talk about your birth control and your STI prevention plan beforehand. If you can’t feel comfortable asking someone when they last got tested, how can you possibly feel comfortable letting them take off your underwear with their teeth? If you can’t ask them to put on a condom, how can you ask them to put their finger in that spot that you really really like?
One of the most romantic things I’ve been asked is “are you on the pill?” Not even kidding. In my dream world, talking about birth control plans would make our hearts flutter and be seen as foreplay. Just imagine Marvin Gaye seductively singing “let’s get condoms” instead of “let’s get it on” when you go to get it on.
6. That said, if you’re interacting with people sexually, take the time to get tested. I need to take my own advice on this one. It’s been about two months for me, and that’s too damn long. Even if you’re feeling super confident, take the time to give yourself and your partner peace of mind.
No one wants to end up crazy like good old syphilitic French painter Toulouse-Lautrec. Think how much more sexy art he could have made had he just been able to pop down to the department of health services and find out he had an STI before it made him nutty and then dead!
So those are my rules. They’re ever evolving. Some were gleaned from not so great experiences, others from “thank goodness I did this!” type revelations. Sometimes I break them inadvertently (mostly the forgetting to text my contact people in a timely manner). But these are the best practice guidelines which have emerged from my time online dating, and the way I’d like to move forward. These may not work for everyone, and that’s okay. But as for me, this seems to be a good plan.
I’m home in bed with an ear infection, curled up with my little sister (let’s call her Kit Kat, which is what I often call her) who’s home with a cold, too, and my mom who stayed home to take care of her today. Spending the day with these ladies and watching Shirley Temple movies has been lovely, even in my fog of grossness.
I forget about these lonely moments in which you crave real intimacy, in all its ugly glory. These moments when you want someone to come bring you a cup of tea, stick you in a warm bath, and remind you it’s time to take more medicine. Those moments when you just want someone to be warm, and snuggly, and near. Those moments where you’re so pathetic and vulnerable, and somebody still likes you anyways.
I just want someone to think I’m pretty even though I’m pale and tired and my hair is a mess.
Some of the Tinder fellows are great. Several of them I absolutely adore.
But right now I don’t want someone new and shiny. I want the comfy old sweater of love. I don’t want to impress anyone. I lack the capacity to be charming at the moment. I just want to be sick and pitiful and have someone read poetry to me while I interrupt them by involuntarily intermittently coughing and then fall asleep.
It’s easy to forget that you can’t skip to that. You have to try on the sweaters. You have to break them in. And some will be itchy. Some will be missing a button, or fit funny, or make you feel less than beautiful.
But when you find that sweater, the one that is just the right amount of warm, the one that stays soft, the one that makes you feel spectacular and safe in every way, the one that will encourage you to be yourself even as they challenge you and enable you to grow and blossom, the one where you want to do all those things for them, too, that’s your sweater.
Sweet sweater wherever you are, hello. Just know I’ve got the chills, and I’m thinking of you extra today.
I’m a total foodie. I read Saveur every month like it’s a new book of the Bible (and I grew up Methodist, so we take that kind of thing seriously). I can wander the farmers market, Trader Joe’s, or Whole Foods for hours in bliss. I grew up stirring up biscuits and cornbread with my mom and grandmother and concocting strange and beautiful things with my dad, and now I’m teaching my siblings the art of sugar cookie baking and perfect mac-and-cheese making. So when I meet a guy who is also a foodie and has spent his life in kitchens, and he says my “adorkable-ness” inspires him, sometimes this happens:
Guy: You make me want to bake a poundcake.
WHAT. YES. YES. GREAT COMPLIMENT. This is romance at its finest people. ROMANCE. BE STILL MY HEART. I actually fell over sitting on my bed. This compliment literally bowled me over. And I was an English major, so I know how to use the word “literally.”
This man has a way with words. And hopefully poundcake.
Jesus had to postpone, for a completely legitimate and very important reason. He is just as disappointed as I am to delay our date.
That said, I wasn’t exactly on my game for getting ready tonight anyways. I sprinted up the stairs 20 minutes before I was supposed to leave screaming “I FORGOT TO SHAVE MY LEGS. SHAME. SHAME UPON MY HOUSE. SHAME UPON MY FAMILY.”
I hopped out of the shower to find a text postponing our date, and I shouted “my date’s cancelled. I shaved my legs for NOTHING.”
My mother, ever astute, replied, “No you didn’t. You can still enjoy them.”
This was a revelation unto me.
I’ll go through so much trouble just to sit there on a date and know my legs are shaved, just in case I decide to let someone touch my legs.
I’ve spent a lot of my life professing that if someone gets to touch my legs then they can feel damn lucky, whether they’re shaved or not. And that’s true. I’ve gone on plenty of dates without going to the trouble of shaving my legs. Have no fear-I really feel no shame if I don’t shave my legs for a date. There is no actual dishonor on my house, my family, or my cow. At the same time, I love the way my legs feel when they’re smooth.
I like to lie down on my softest sheets and pretend I’m a starfish and rub my legs all over the bed like I’m making a snow angel. It’s basically 700 thread count heaven.
But I forget that that counts just as much as the feeling of someone else’s hands on my legs, if not more so. My happiness counts just as much as someone else’s delight in touching my smooth legs.
So why won’t I invest the time in my own enjoyment? In my own body, for my own sake? Why does hypothetical potential touching on a date hold so much more sway over my time than just what makes me happy? Have I placed myself so far down on the list of priorities that men I’m just getting to know take precedence?
Why don’t I wear my sexiest underwear just because I want to? Why don’t I let myself enjoy those 30 seconds of looking in the mirror and the knowing all day that’s what’s under my jeans and my t-shirt? Why don’t I do my makeup so I can enjoy exploring my face and celebrating the arch of my eyebrows and the lengths of my lashes? Why don’t I paint my nails so I can enjoy the flashes of color as I type? Why don’t I spritz on my favorite perfume so I can bask in how fantastic I smell? Why don’t I wear those spindly black heels to get coffee when it’s just me and a copy of A. R. Ammons’ selected poetry?
When did we let other people become more important to us than ourselves? It’s not selfish. It’s care-taking. It’s celebrating our bodies and our joys. We are worth our own time, our own energy, our own efforts. We are worth not being overlooked, even by our own selves.
This is my challenge to myself for this week and my challenge for you as well. Do something for yourself that reminds you that you are worth your time. Be a priority for yourself.
Let’s channel the L’Oreal campaign here: because we’re worth it.
Me: Things I know I want: new heels, the OPI Hawaii nail polish collection for spring, ponytail holders that won’t break, a margarita, a puppy, a new piercing, my sister to quit elbowing me in the ribs, Ken Burns’ The Civil War on DVD, softer towels, world peace, legalized gay marriage, open minded churches that draw more directly from church structure in the New Testament, my mom to quit thinking she’s not beautiful, funding for grad school, someone to build a blanket fort with me, good coffee, a plane ticket to Michigan, and play-doh