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Beach Reading, In Which We Celebrate Summer, Swimsuit Season and the Middle-Aged Female Form

A convergence: Dusty Essay, meet Start of Summer. 

Today we celebrate Memorial Day,  the (un)official start of summer, also known as the “swimsuit season” – and the bane of many women’s existence. And, on a related note, some time ago I worked with a photographer exploring the terrain of women’s bodies. The project seems to have stalled; I’ve never seen any of the images he took. But this week I came across the essay I provided as part of the project.

I figure at least something should see the light of day — and today seemed apt, as we all don the first bathing suits of the season (Plunge notwithstanding).

Here it is: My Body Image Statement, in honor of summer and middle-aged women everywhere.


This story begins on the day I realized those funky, undulating landscapes were actually paintings of my nude Great Aunt Faith.

At ten, I was none too sure how I felt about the idea that my elderly auntie had clearly posed (naked!) for these pictures as a younger woman, but I loved the lines and have never viewed hills and valleys the same way since.

So this project seemed like a natural thing to do. I like the idea of intentionally exploring the body landscape. It got me thinking about my own body lines and how I would describe my “body image”.

I’ve decided: a book.

My body—any body—tells a story. It has a narrative arc, a protagonist, and maybe a plot. It is a flesh tapestry that grows richer and more textured with time. Life events seem almost literally etched in. It tells others a little something about me.

I’ve never been particularly attentive to my body. It works pretty well; I take reasonable care of it; we’ve gotten along okay over the years. I’m not much inclined to body adornment, although I do love my earrings.

Like most women, I suppose, my body image has evolved. I’ve always thought of myself as short, but not always small. I was rounder in high school, slim since college. I’ve been more fit than I am now, for which there is really no excuse. I feel the effects of age, miss the invincibility of elastic skin. The relationship just isn’t that complicated.

But the story is great.

There is my first scar, imposed by tricycle and brick conspiring to split my chin. My wrist shows the faint trace of another scar inflicted at my first job out of college. My belly button, forever changed by a laparoscopic appendectomy. My hips, etched with stretch marks, silver tells of two beloved pregnancies and that rounder adolescence. I have my parents’ fair skin and the sun damage earned over all those days on rivers and lakes and open fields that I can’t regret.

Laugh lines and grey hair? I earned those stripes.

The crosswinds of sensuality and utility blow through my story, across my landscape, shaping me over time. I can live with that.

My body, my book.


February 2014


3 thoughts on “Beach Reading, In Which We Celebrate Summer, Swimsuit Season and the Middle-Aged Female Form

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