[Content Note: Fat bias; body policing.]
2008. I wear a bathing suit in public for the first time in many years, because Iain surprises me with a holiday for my birthday on which there will be swimming. Which I love. I haven't been swimming in years. I have been to the beach—there is a beautiful beach just minutes from our house. But I have gone to the beach in shorts and a t-shirt, and I have waded in the water, and I have not swam.
I am tired of not swimming.
I put on my new bathing suit, and I walk outdoors, and I feel the breeze on my skin. It is like a memory coming back to me. My skin reacts with goosebumps, although I am not chilled. I stand for a moment, with my face lifted toward the sun, and let my skin reacquaint itself with the breeze crawling around me. My entire body feels like a foot freed from a too-tight sock at the end of a long day.
I walk to the water and I slip into its cool embrace and I float. The wind caresses me, welcomes me back. I feel tears begin to slip down my cheeks, and I quickly wipe them away, so no one will see my private regret that I have denied myself this pleasure, this permission to feel the breeze, for so many years.
2010. I am running errands, and it is the middle of summer, and it is hot. So hot. I am wearing a tank top I love, knit chevrons of turquoise and navy and white and gold, covered by a cropped sweater. I cannot bear the heat, but I don't go out with uncovered arms in public. My arms are too fat.
Suddenly the urge to be less hot overwhelms my self-consciousness about my fat arms. I ditch the sweater and walk across the parking lot with my arms uncovered. A black woman who is almost my exact same size, wearing a tank top under a jean jacket on this hot day, is walking to her car, parked beside mine. We smile at each other. "Cute top!" she says. I tell her thank you so much, and I give her a grateful smile that she understands. I want to hug her. I want to tell her that she can never know what it means that she said that exact thing in that exact moment.
I walk to the front door of the store, swinging my fat arms with the stride of a person who is allowed to take up space in the world. Like a person who is wearing a cute top. I feel the breeze on my bare arms.
2011. I cut off my hair. I tell my hairdresser I am okay with accentuating my round face, and I am okay with my double chin being more prominent, and I am okay with the melasmas on my cheeks and neck, and I want short hair. I advocate for the short haircut I've been told fat women aren't supposed to have.
I walk out of the salon with my fancy $20 haircut, and I feel the breeze on the back of my neck.
2013. I get my first tattoo. And then my second. They are places where they are seen, seen on my fat body, and I have the uncustomary experience of having people look at my fat body with admiration. I didn't expect this, and I'm not prepared for it. I am shy when people touch my arms and tell me that something on my body is beautiful.
A few weeks ago, I go to the doctor, and two of the nurses admire my tattoos. They ask for the tattoo artist's name and information, which I happily share.
I leave the doctor's office and go to the drugstore to fill a prescription, where the pharmacist admires my tattoos. On the way home, I go through a drive-through at a cafe for iced coffee. When I reach out my arm to pay, the young white girl working the window asks if she can see my tattoo, the one with the Virginia Woolf quote. I extend my arm and she leans in to look at it. She takes my hand between hers and holds it, my arm extended from my car window to the drive-through window, and I feel the breeze drifting across my skin as she tells me that my tattoo is beautiful.
She passes me paper and a pen through the window, and I write down the artist's name and number for her.
I drive home with the windows down. The warm air comes through the windows. I feel it on my bare arms, my tattooed arms, and on my face, and on the back of my neck. All of this skin that I hid under hair and clothes, because I was told that I should. Because I believed that I should. Because I was apologizing to people who hate my body, who want to deny me the breeze.
I love the breeze. I missed it so.