Posted by a Contributor in November's Magazine
Um, hi dad. I uh, I can’t talk just now. I’m on my way to an appointment.”.
“That sounds important. What kind of appointment?
Say the hairdressers. Say the dentist. Say the gynaecologist if you must. Just say something.
“Erm, ha ha! No, it’s nothing important at all…”
Because of course you can’t say you’re on the way to one of those boudoir makeover and photography sessions. You know, where you get your hair and make-up done then get your picture taken looking like – in the most natural scenario in the world – you happened to be walking past a chaise longue in your undies then felt suddenly very tired and needed to drape yourself all over it. That you won a voucher, and you thought it might be a good way to celebrate your birthday (and the fact that you have just finished writing your book). But most of all because you thought there might be a story in it, and well, you can’t resist a story.
But was there a story? After all, with my writing I have to decide how much to lay bare and how much to conceal, that tricky tightrope of vulnerability and honesty teetering between empowering and downright scary. But it was more than that. A couple of days earlier a news story had come along that doesn’t just put a lump in your throat but actually makes you feel like you might throw up. Women forced by police officers to remove their burkinis – a brutal act of oppression and domination poorly masquerading as an act of defiance against oppression and domination. Because nobody has the right to say how much women should cover up or expose except women. With our clothes as much as with our secrets it is the power to choose that matters. These are strange, dark times indeed and it seems as if wars and battles we don’t really understand are being waged with fear and shame of women as their major weapons. I am not sure if our bodies have ever been so political.
And yet so alien.
A few days after my delightfully bizarre encounter with ambient lighting and a chesterfield sofa I wound up in another odd scenario, sat with my feet in a foot spa, mud-mask on face, trying to negotiate being recruited into what sounded like a pyramid scheme (selling foot spas, face masks, hopes, dreams, and belief in a brighter, wrinkle-free tomorrow) without mentioning I’m a socialist. I tried to avoid eye contact and looked down at my hands, one of which had some kind of magic serum on and was nowhere near as lined as the other, spookily smooth and child-like. Just like that. One squeeze of cream and you wipe away a decade or so.
I felt I was in that film where Goldie Hawn has a hole blown through her middle and Meryl Streep falls down stairs a lot. I looked up the price of the products I’d been covered in, a week’s wages worth. One cream combatted the 9 signs of ageing at home I use a moderately over-priced alternative that only combats 7 of those signs. Numbers 8 and 9 must be developing a passion for Tupperware and Googling ‘sexy but comfortable shoes’. This is clearly where I’ve been going wrong.
But seriously, what are we actually aiming to combat? The relationship between our bodies and our stories is fascinating, why on earth would we attempt to conceal it? Do we value experience and wisdom and love and laughter and sorrow and all the things that mark themselves on our skin so little we would sooner hide them, becoming expressionless cyborgs?
We tend not to look at ourselves that closely. Most of us don’t get our kit off for the sake of our personal enlightenment or the entertainment of the good readers of The Leither. However it isn’t such a bad idea to get up close and personal with ourselves from time to time. Look at me. The lines around my eyes tell you how much I’ve smiled or sometimes how much I’ve cried. My hips tell you I’ve had children, my cleavage that I’ve fed them. My belly that I feed them still – on crumble, crackling, toad-in-the-hole, all those things that make them strong and make me rounder. This is my body, with my life written upon it.
I felt quite emotional when I saw the boudoir pictures. I might have been prepared to see myself as beautiful, I had vaguely opened my mind to that. But what I hadn’t expected was that I looked strong. As if that’s the one thing that will creep up on you in life that can’t be airbrushed in or botoxed out. All those things that shape us one way or another bring strength with them too. Strength that women all over the world share in bodies and lives they have the right to expose, cover, share or withhold…according to their choosing.