The Evolution of Being in the Female Body
Posted on September 21, 2016
These days when someone–usually younger than me–catches wind of my age they’ll inquire to discover what wisdom I might have collected over the years. They want advice on how to make it through life, presumably unscathed; an impossible feat. While I have my share of lessons learned, what has been the most profound center of my attention as I get older is my body.
I’ve discovered peculiar things about being a woman by perceiving what it is to evolve in the female body. My very own flesh, bones, organs and make-up of feminine humanity give evidence to many things: the first being that I am a woman. The second being that I am a multiethnic, black woman. The third being the manifestation of my parents’ love, a love I inhabited as a fetus. Then newborn, infant, child. Even as an adult existing outside of my mother I still inhabit their love. I represent the blending of their DNA, baring evidence to my father’s jet black, curly hair; my mother’s cleft dimples; my father’s broad smile; my mother’s captivating brown eyes. Yet, for all of its complexities and the depth of its beauty no one ever told me what it would mean to occupy the female body. No one walked me through the wonder of being anatomically woman.
Like most girls in the United States I sat through grueling sex education classes that told me one day I would go through puberty and with puberty I would notice changes in my form. I would grow breasts. I would, perhaps, get a bit taller. I would find hair in places where hair once did not exist. I would experience menstruation. And if I found myself physically and emotionally ready to carry a baby that would bring with it changes, too.
Then there was society’s teachings of what it means to live in the female body: to be objectified for the male gaze. To serve as a domestic commodity, an indentured servant to society’s whims of policing femininity. Everything from what I ate to what I wore either gave credence to or demoted my ability to live in my own body–to call myself a “real woman.” The dangers of this polarized scale of woman-ness excluded the breadth of what it is to live within myself. For a woman, there is much journeying between first periods and baby making.
My first kiss was inaugural to accepting my body as different from the boys I hung out with. It was a balmy summer day, the kind of day when the heat is so intense you’re heavy from carrying yourself through the humidity. Brian and I had holed up in the stairwell of his apartment building eating popsicles between sips of Quarter Waters to keep cool. Our friendship was of the endearing kind. We became inseparable when my older brother no longer shared his space with me because he had too discovered the difference between boys and girls. Brian laughed at all the jokes I laughed at. We climbed trees together. We rode bikes through back alleys like we owned them. And when the sun hid itself behind the moon, we sat outside counting the number of lightening bugs that blinked in the shadows of the stars. We were two hearts finding fondness in friendship; two bodies–male and female–not fully realized.
As he moved down a step to sit next to me, I could hear Brian pant through sips of his drink. He teased that I was letting all of the popsicle juice–the best part of popsicle eating–drip on the building floor. I turned to look in his direction when he leaned in and planted his lips to mine. Neither of us knew what to do in the moment. We just sat with our mouths pressed together and our breathing steady. I grew sensitive to the blood moving through my veins. Each vessel rushing my cardiovascular tubes, pushing my heart to its optimal rate. The synapses in my brain firing up my cerebral cortex, triggering the amygdalae. My nose inhaled deep, full waves of air. I enjoyed the way Brian smelled: a mix of summer pines and adolescent sweat. It was then I realized that I liked boys–that I liked kissing boys, mainly boys named Brian. More than that, I liked the way my lips felt to the touch. They were soft, plump and filled with the blood that had pushed its way from my heart. I was pleased with an extension of me connecting to another human.
It would be a long time before I would kiss again. The uncovering of my feminine figure became dormant under homework, dance recitals and teenage-girl routine. Years would pass until I would come to see that my body was both strong and weak at the same time. I learned to walk in groups on college campuses out of fear that my body would be violated by someone larger than me. In lecture halls I stretched my brain with higher learning, engaged in Socratic debates through honors programs. I beat my body into the submissive practice of staying up all night so that I might advance my peers.
In my early twenties I danced in night clubs with my closest friends. Our hips swayed to the decadence of the beats vibrating the dance floor. I learned to hug these same friends, to fold them into me–pressing them into my own being–as we walked through our twenties and all the bullshit that comes with being young women. Heartbreaks and whatnot.
By 25, I would stand at the altar with my first husband. He took me in pieces: first my heart, then my hands and finally as we said I do I signed over the autonomy of my being to be joined with him. For one year he sojourned from the crest of my nose to the lower of my back, discovering all of me in all of the pieces I had given him as friend, wife and now eternal lover. We tried and failed at creating a life that would live inside of me. It was this failure that showed me the fragility of being a woman. The closeness to him, followed by the severing of every dream he had written across my stomach with the tip of his finger was a deep blow. My body, plagued by depression and anxiety, shrank in the bed we once shared.
From divorce I came to appreciate the privilege of having a body that is healthy. My legs learned to run as a way to heal. In this way the strongest parts of me were compensating for the weakest–my heart. The filling of my lungs with air from the change in the atmospheric pressure as I climbed hills empowered my feet to beat against the concrete. Mile by mile my frame, which was once lithe, was now athletic. A champion.
When I found faith my lips cracked from prayers spoken through tears that dried my face. My knees blistered from the weight of my divine petitions. I pushed my body to the bounds of spiritual transcendentalism, fasting for three days and nights to get outside of myself and a little closer to God. My body became a temple.
This, so far, has been the evolution of 7 billions of contained atoms known as Shakirah. My eyes a little more sunken in, framed by crows feet that say I’ve been living a full life. A life with tears, and joys, a life with a body that has kissed and been kissed, loved and been loved. A life with so much more living to do in this body.
The greatest of which will be to give myself over to my deepest vulnerability. A body that my future husband and child will find sustenance in: both nourishment and delight. I will be, for my family, a place of comfort.
Me, with my hips expanded; my back straight; my feet rooted; my heart open. This body that has been bent but never broken. It will be called home.