Tomboy Awakening

Sometimes it takes a bit of, “You go first,” to get the ball rolling. I just finished You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein. And though I haven’t grown out of it, and don’t have all that much time left to, I laughed my way through her refreshingly honest and giggle generating portrayals of some of the things I fret about, and condemn myself for fretting about because I think I am the only one who is fretting about such shallow stuff. Turns out there’s a lot of common and embarrassing fretting going on. Jessi makes it funny rather than taboo. It’s inspiring even though the thing I haven’t grown out of, and Jessi seems to, from all the information I can find when I Google her, is being a tomboy. This tomboy, me, is now trapped in a senior citizen body that long boards, climb trees, rides a bike, wears the right kind of underwear only under the intense duress of situational social pressure … There’s more. I manifest a long list of tomboy traits that I usually don’t worry about. But recently I came face to face with a fret my tomboy self  had never stopped to worry about. And I suppose a real tomboy would let it go, but there’s just enough socially-conditioned female-striving buried deep in me by the world of advertising to have led to my recent preoccupation with my saggy butt. Embarrassing! But Jessi has emboldened me with her courageous willingness to talk about the unspeakable. Why not just let it go, bury the saggy butt dilemma? For a couple of days I’ve been thinking that would be the right route to take. But I decided that if I wrote about it someone might get a laugh, someone might be liberated from the saggy butt worry club, maybe me (yay!), and importantly, because I’m trying to be a writer, I would get some practice writing. Given the standard advice is, “Write what you know,” this whole saggy butt saga seems like a good way to jump into the writing life.

My saggy butt obsession snuck up on me. I had just spent five days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness with six women – paddling, portaging heavy canoes, living in tents. I was feeling pretty good about my physical tomboy self. I guess good enough that when, after we came out of the wilderness and the dare to skinny dip in the lake at the cabin of my canoe mate presented itself, I bit. Not that this is something that requires a lot of convincing me to do … but lately, when I had done the lake-swimming part it did not involve the skinny-dipping part. Maybe it was the wine … or the camaraderie of one other skinny dipper and my underwear-clad canoe mate. This again is where my tomboy-self got me in trouble. I wasn’t wearing the proper swim suit like matching underwear to choose the less than skinny-dip option. I would have been dragged down by a big, boxy, heavy, wet cotton t-shirt.  Then, a camera … and one snap of me diving off the dock sent shock waves through my perception that I was an athletic tomboy hero.

Nope, the digital file told no lies. I was a 64-year-old, saggy-butt, white-haired, white (really white) woman. Damn! But what I also saw in that picture, was my mother. Not that I ever actually saw my mother’s naked behind, I didn’t. But that butt, my butt, was the one in my mother’s swim suit – an exact replica. Flat and completely tomboy, with a little extra hanging on the bottom and sides – creeping down into the space where the svelte legs should start. This was even more disconcerting because now I also knew that a proper swimming suit wouldn’t be enough to hide the genetic problem.

What followed is truly amazing – a testimony to the power of the cultural messages that even a proud tomboy, at least this one, is too weak to escape. Immediately I started doing saggy butt exercises – leg lifts, bridges … not all that many, but faithfully, every afternoon. I also vowed not to obsess by trying to look at the progress I was or was not making, deciding wisely that I would assume I was making progress. Then Jessi burst my bubble with her chapter “The Bar Method and the Secrets of All Beautiful Women.” She starts this chapter by describing how she used to worry about being flat-chested, but some event of nature cured that for her. That cure never arrived for me. And to be honest I am glad – hence the reason I was not appropriately underweared for the dip into the lake. But, despite the annoyance of being addressed as “sir” every now and then, I can do fine without boobs. So basically, I thought my body was pretty A-OK.  I wasn’t naïve like Jessi. She writes, “I was completely unaware that butts were on anyone’s radar.” I knew they were – they’re even on mine. I admit that I’ve looked at some good male butts, one that lives with me. But what I was completely unaware of was MY butt. On the one hand that’s good. There are too few hours in the day to spend them trying to assess body parts. But that’s what made the shock so complete. Blindsided, literally.

Jessi also describes the cure for saggy butt, but it is not a few bridges. No, it’s the “bar method” –  lots of very small, controlled, tortuous ballet moves. Or so she says. I’ve never been to a bar class. (They call it “Barre” in Denver. If you’re not in NYC, I guess you try a little harder.) But according to Jessi, it’s “a class where you are in horrible pain, hate your life and might lose your lunch at any moment.” Still, Jessi reports that according to her husband it works.

Forget it! I’m giving up on my saggy butt, making peace with it. Jessi made me realize how ridiculous it is to worry about it when, hey, I’m 64 and the ice caps are breaking up and we’ve got an absolute ______   ______ (Jessi uses the “f” and the “a” words, but she’s from NYC and younger, and I grew in Utah) in the White House. What I’m not going to do is skinny dip where there are people with cameras.


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