Saturday, June 30, 2007


On Friday afternoon they told us to come to the retreat the next morning dressed in something that our parents wouldn’t have let us out of the house wearing and something that we were still uncomfortable in.

Nine months earlier I had bought a schoolgirl outfit online because I’d wanted one for a long time and because I knew that somewhere in me a naughty girl lurked, though in all of my 46 years I had never road-tested her.

I’d seen my friend Jane dressed in something like that once; a short kilt and motorcycle boots. That was the look I loved; hip, sexy, confident and just this side of bad. But Jane was tall and skinny and had legs for days. I was shorter and stockier, muscular. I didn’t think I could carry it with the same appeal. People might grimace exactly the way I grimaced at women who dressed too young or whose own bodies spilled over their tight clothing. But my relationship with P. had unleashed something utterly free in me. The first night we were together I danced naked for him. I’d never done that for anyone. I still remember the smile on his face as I moved; total appreciation. And it had been like that ever since; I could take risks with him, it was safe and it was time to explore the schoolgirl.

My outfit came a week later. The black and red kilt was short, see-your-underwear-short, and the black top was totally pirate—just a loose piece of black fabric that tied my breasts together in a big knot, and which exposed my whole tummy. I waited until my family had left the house and I tried the ensemble on in the full-length mirror in my bedroom.

Big mistake. What was I thinking? It was so wrong. My legs were too muscular, too stocky and my stomach wasn’t sexy and concave like the girls in the catalogue. How could I have even thought I could carry this off? I was so ashamed that I took it off immediately and stuffed it in a cruel ball under a chair cushion in my bedroom. Out of sight, out of mind for nine months until last weekend, until the workshop, until I put it on, zipping up the little skirt and tying the pirate top tight. I pulled on my black cowboy boots and looked at myself in the mirror. This was it. This was the outfit I wouldn’t be caught dead in.

People at the workshop were kind. Black men love my “thick” legs, “we just do,” a really handsome man my age said. Another man whispered that my legs were stunning. A couple of women said I was sexy. And as nice as those comments were, mostly what I tasted that day was the kind of exhilarating freedom that comes from unleashing something that has been terribly, horribly, miguidedly repressed. I was enfused me with aliveness and after about an hour I had forgotten about everyone else, forgotten what I looked like to others and was instead appreciating the freedom of my strong body in those sexy clothes.

And so what happened, what I saw was that within a day I went from being a girl who wanted to wear a short skirt and boots, but who couldn’t because she didn’t have the body, to becoming a girl who could wear a short skirt and boots. It was very different from “trying” to love my body with affirmations, something I’d been working at for years. This was me taking an action, a contradictory action that had me live into a different story about me and my body, and in doing so, I made it real.

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