Continuing on from the subject earlier, I remember seeing this photo of Simone de Beauvoir when I myself was in my early 20s and thinking, “I cannot wait to be that age.” I personally find the filling-out of an increasingly middle-aged woman to be beautiful. And I think more so than the actual appearance of her body in this photo, what struck me (and a lot of other people who have written commentary on it), was the utter lack of inhibition or shame at showing it. Of course, she didn’t know that the photo was being taken, to be fair, but she was aware that she was standing nude in front of another person — she had just stepped out of the bath, and as she rarely shut the door while bathing, no matter who was present, wound up in this position in front of the photographer Art Shay. When she realized he was taking photos, she turned around and famously said, “You naughty boy,” and then went back to what she was doing. I think that comfort with her body is what is really beautiful. And I also connected that with her age. And what I love about this particular nude is how it’s one of the truly rare examples of a female nude which is not performing for the male gaze, despite being literally directly under it.
At any rate, as I get older, I also find myself being more and more at peace with my body. It has changed a lot. But I refuse, this late in the game, to not move toward that comfort that I saw in this photo that I aspired to. I have a born and bred sense of modesty in public that comes from years of Southern Baptist upbringing, but it’s different from shame. When I sit alone with myself, I refuse to hate my body. My thighs spread when I sit down, and my stomach is soft to the touch. My shoulders are wide and square and strong and masculine. My legs have muscles like a horse. And I refuse to be ashamed of any of it. On some days, I may not be able to manage to love it. But I refuse to be uncomfortable in it.
It’s my body. It’s why I’m alive, and it’s how I experience everything. That’s why it exists, to drink coffee and eat warm food and feel weather and to be touched in love. It’s given me a lot. It doesn’t exist to be looked at, but to be lived in. It deserves to be loved and respected, regardless of what shape it takes.