When I was 8, I saw a pair of white gloves in a toy store that sang to my soul. They were long and satin and gorgeous, and I knew immediately that my life would never be complete without them. So when my mother said no and dragged me from the store, my mission was clear: make her life a living hell. I begged and I whined and I sulked, and it soon became clear to my mom that she could either buy me the damn gloves or live the rest of her life being tortured by a freckled pain in her ass. She chose wisely.
Every night I’d put the gloves on very carefully—pulling them slowly up past my elbows—and I’d slip into my black mary janes that made the most satisfying clicking sound on the tiles of my bathroom floor. I’d spend long swaths of time click-clacking around that bathroom with those beautiful satin gloves on, and I felt positively fucking regal. The fact that the bathroom was so small that I could only take a step or two in any direction, and that I was in my pajamas so I looked like I’d just fled the “special” ward of a hospital, stepping back and forth in place and gesturing wildly with my gloved hands—well that never occurred to me. It all just felt so right.
That memory has been hovering over me lately, as I’ve been going through one of those cliched “hard times” over the past few months. It’s made me realize 2 things: 1) My inclination towards madness once I decide I want something is nothing new. And 2) What if I was willing to be a bit more like that little idiot, tapping back and forth in front of a bathroom mirror for no other reason than the fact that it made me happy? Ok the second one isn’t so much a realization as a question, but whatever.
I didn’t want those gloves to impress anyone—shit, I didn’t even care if anyone ever saw me in them. I wanted them because for whatever childish reason, they tapped into some part of me that felt true. I wasn’t looking to post them or like them, I didn’t want to pin or poke or tweet or twat them, nor was I trying to further a career or fill some gaping emotional void. I just wanted them for the sake of having them—to feel the satin over my forearms and touch the sink through the fabric and complement all those fancy sounds that my shoes were making. Whatever that experience amounted to—feeling like a princess, feeling important and sophisticated and charming—it was both a means and an end.
And it makes me sad that I don’t think that way anymore.
As an adult, things are different. I’m tethered to responsibilities that I didn’t have as a kid. Not just physical and financial demands (though those are certainly substantial), but ones of personhood and meaning-making—the questions that no one can answer but me. Am i living the life I want to live? What does that even look like? Am i running out of time? Could I be doing more? What terrifies me and excites me and holds me back and lets me go? Which things do I find beautiful? Terrible? Necessary? Irrelevant?
If youth is about having the space for those questions to marinate unarticulated, growing up is something a lot less passive. It’s an active pursuit, and it takes muscle and persistence and the willingness to reach for answers despite knowing that even if you find them, they’ll only lead to more questions.
The problem is that when I stop reaching for answers—when I become complacent or lazy or paralyzed by fear—that’s when I am the furthest away from that little girl in the bathroom. Because then instead of questions, all I can hear is one resounding, demented answer: RESULTS! Results are what will make meaning for me, and the pursuit of those results will take the place of seeking answers to those important questions.
If I get published, I will feel worthy. If this post reaches X amount of people, then what I’ve written matters. If I have a man who loves me then I’m ok. If I make X amount of money, then I have X amount of value. If I achieve X, then the fear that I am not enough will go away. If I can fix that relationship, then I am lovable. If this person likes me, then I’m obviously the shit.
It’s not always as conscious and idiotic as some of those, but you get the point.
And the point is basically this: once I’ve decided what the results of something should look like before that something has even started, I’m screwed. Because what inevitably happens is that I start clinging to that pre-ordained image of what it will all look like—and I grip that motherfucker until my knuckles are white and my palms ache and I can barely breathe. And then I’ve placed myself in a world consumed with fear and guaranteed to disappoint. Because here’s the truth of it: clinging will always fail me in the end. The tighter I clutch something, the less hold I have on it. That’s the great paradox, right? It’s only when you stop caring about what comes next does what comes next end up being so beautiful.
So I’ve decided that I’m going to try to be more like that little insane-asylum escapee—the girl marching in place to the beat of her own clicking heels as she adjusts the satin gloves that she’s pulled up over her Scooby Doo pajamas.
a few weeks ago, i took a pilates class to relax and clear my mind. this happened instead.
“c’mon girls, relax your neck and pull that bellybutton in toward your spine,” the teacher barked over loud music. “let’s go ladies! tighten those cores, tighten your glutes—and tighten that va-jay-jay!” oh for fuck’s sake.
first of all—no. just, no. and second of all—NO. never say that again. ever. anywhere. to anyone.
now let’s deal with the semantics. as a grown woman, you should be able to say the word vagina. don’t we do enough abbreviating these days? must we address our genitals like that too? tie-tie and tum-tum and cray-cray—i’ll cop to using some of those stupid phrases sometimes. and while they’re certainly not my proudest moments as a writer, asking someone if their tum-tum hurts is not the same thing as calling my vagina something that sounds like the name of a cheerful puppet on a children’s show. i’m not a little girl who hasn’t mastered the art of pronunciation yet, and neither are you.
semantics aside, there are much bigger issues here.
i work out to feel like a bad-ass. of course there are physical benefits—healthy heart and tight tush and blah blah blah. the thing that gets me to the gym when i don’t want to go (which is every time i go) is the bad-ass thing. i exercise to stop my rat wheel of a mind, tune the world out, and leave feeling stronger. do you think any of that is possible when you keep lobbing the phrase “va-jay-jay” around? does that sound like something that makes you feel ready to head out and kick the day’s ass? the only thing it makes me want to kick is you—in your va-jay-jay. and it’s not even the good kind of violent impulse that fuels my workouts sometimes. it’s the distracting and demeaning kind.
so listen closely because i’m only going to say this once: my vagina does not need to do pilates. y’know what actually, maybe that bears repeating. my vagina. does not need. pilates. it just doesn’t. no one’s does.
this has nothing to do with who’s had kids and who hasn’t—it’s not about anything physical. it’s about finding one goddamn place in my life where i’m not bombarded with the idea that as a woman, my value is inextricably linked to my sexuality—a sexuality of a very specific form and function. woman as object for consumption. shit, all i have to do is walk through the lobby of the gym and i see diet products everywhere and bright lcd screens that accost me with images of shiny, happy people using shiny, happy products. which is why when i actually get to the fitness studio, and you’re the one who is supposed to be my guide, it’s kind of important where you take me and how you get me there. and taking me there via vagina-talk is completely unacceptable.
while i’m at it, here are a few other things i never want to hear again from a teacher at the gym:
while working my ass, don’t tell me to “squeeze it like a stripper holding onto a hundred-dollar bill.” whatever the opposite of empowerment is—that sentence is it. not to mention an image i could do without.
when you’re balancing on one leg and you fall over, please don’t tell me that you have your period, which everyone knows compromises a woman’s balance. first of all, i very much doubt that’s true. and second, keep that shit to yourself. you fell over. it happens. just own it.
while working my back, don’t talk about all the women you see with back-fat to whom you want to run up and offer your card. let’s try not to confirm all of our worst fears about how women treat each other. you’re on stage, with a microphone, in front of women of all shapes and sizes—act like that fuckin matters to you.
don’t tell me that once i get into shape and start getting noticed by my friends’ husbands, then my own husband will start paying attention. really? do you get a bonus if you hit every evil stereotype of a conniving woman, talking shit and stealing husbands?
this last one has nothing to do sexual politics, but it’s reallyimportant nonetheless:
please—for god’s sake—don’t try to get me to whoop, clap my hands, count out loud, or vocalize my excitement in any way. don’t tell me to smile because frowning will give me wrinkles. YOU smile. do not ask me if i’m enjoying myself—i’ll tell you right now: no, i’m not. that’s always the answer. my muscles are burning, i can’t breathe, sweat is pouring off of me, and i’m watching the woman in front of me do it all more nimbly and without breaking a sweat. you asking me to show faux-enthusiasm for something that is kicking my ass only serves to highlight how much fun i am not having. and how can i be a bad-ass when you’re telling me to clap my hands?
as the people closest to me will attest, i am not an especially easy person to please. i know that. i realize that often my expectations get the better of me, but i don’t think this is one of those times. i’m asking for a few simple things: don’t tell me to clench anything in my ass, don’t perpetuate every nasty female stereotype, don’t talk about your period, and please—if you hear only one thing today—leave my vagina out of it.