I had seen the EXPOSED movement on Twitter… and it moved me with its depth and raw nakedness.  I clicked into post after post after post, looking at photographs and “listening” to story after story after story.  Journey after journey.  Journeys with the temples that we are given, through genetics and environment, from the moment we are conceived… the height, the hue, the headstrongedness to carry and care for our temples, our bodies.

Then the real journey begins.  None of us has control of this journey for many, many years… but our bodies are celebrated by those around us, those who care for us, in so many, many ways.  People cheer and photograph us as we crawl with it.  As we walk with it.  As we talk from within it and feel, sense, and love with it.  We are embraced and we embrace.  We run and laugh and play with it.  We eat with it and we grow with it.  Our bodies are kind of other-worldly while we prepare to become one with it.

Ah.  The journey becomes a oneness of body and mind.  I remember the exact moment that I became one with my body and mind, and it was not a good one-ness.  I was 11 years old, going on 12, and I was playing baseball with my brothers and a bunch of girls and boys in a big, open vacant lot in my little town in New Hampshire.  I was a tomboy, but I was beginning to notice that girls and boys were different… you know, those intrinsic little nuances.   Many of the boys could hit a baseball hard enough to break one of the many windows in the great big old hall… Centennial Hall… that bordered that vacant lot.  The great fun was when a window was shattered by a long ball.  We all scattered like little leaves in a hurricane… giggling at the deed.  (Oh, if my own kids or grandkids ever did this…)  I wanted to hit a ball hard enough and long enough to break one of those windows, to be one of the guys… but that never happened.  Instead, playing a game of pick-up baseball in that field changed my life in a way that I never saw coming.  One comment.  One casual comment by a boy.  A body comment.

I had just hit a ball as hard as I could.  I was rounding first base.  The boy said something like, “You could run faster if your legs weren’t fat.”  These may not have been his exact words.  But the fat legs words were there.  I went home that day, studied my legs in the mirror, and decided that the boy was right.  At that moment, my temple went from being fun and happy and exciting while carrying me around bases, sledding down a great big hill, playing on the jungle gym, pushing a hockey puck, riding my bike to Hampton Beach and leaping into the waves… or wearing those little white one-inch dressy Easter shoes… to something that brought self-consciousness and shame.  FAT LEGS.  Those 2 simple words defined me, and it was not a good one-ness of body and mind.

I stopped playing that day.  Really, really playing.

Did I have “fat legs”? It didn’t matter. In the mind of that boy, I did.  In my mind, I did.  Yes, maybe I had stopped growing.  And maybe the height I didn’t reach had settled into my legs.  My thighs, to be exact. Puberty is a tough time for body image.  Our minds are being bombarded with both external and internal stuff… then throw in the raging hormones.  It can be a toxic mix. That’s when the temple is examined, critiqued and often self-criticized, one brick or one stone or one beam at a time.  We are not the architects of our bodies… that has happened long, long ago, well before our journeys began.  But what we must know, always know, is that we are the bricklayers and masons and carpenters. But I wouldn’t know this for quite some time.

But did I have fat legs? I had, and still have, strong thighs. I hated them. I grew into adolescence with Twiggy and Cher.  I wanted long, skinny legs and long, straight hair.  What I got were short legs with thunder thighs.  A body that had stopped growing at 5’2″.  And I had naturally curly hair.  Ugh.  It was the 60’s.  So what did I do?  I began, at age 12, to skip breakfast and the nutritious lunches that my Mom had packed for me.  And I ironed my hair with a flat iron.  Where had that tomboy with the enthusiasm to run, jump and play gone?  She had disappeared into a hungry grump under all that burnt, singed hair in the journey of becoming a woman.  It was a miserable time.  But it was a time that I could recall for my own daughters when they were adolescents… to give them tools to build upon.  It was a time that I will recall to my 2 beautiful 9-year old granddaughters, if they ever need it.

It is devastatingly sad when playing is replaced with… well, things in all of our lives that replace playing.  It is sad for our bodies and our minds.  And I know that it is the return to playing that has made all the difference in my life.  I began running 2 years ago, at age 56.  In 2 years, I have taken my playing to run 5ks, a 10k, a half marathon and a Half Ironman.  Baby steps with a body that could hardly run 10 steps without total exhaustion.  Re-teaching myself how to swim.  Hopping on a bicycle and pedaling like there’s no tomorrow.  Changing everything through play.

And watching my body change before my very eyes.

I now know how to eat.  (I eat A LOT.)  I know the great patience in learning.  I’m never disappointed in myself.  BECAUSE I AM PLAYING.  AND THE BEST PART IS THAT I LOVE MY BODY AND THE JOURNEY IT TELLS.  I love my naturally curly hair.  I love my wrinkles.  They remind me of my grandmothers, who I adored.  I love my laugh lines… because I love to laugh.  I love my neck, even though my granddaughter once told me that it’s “squishy” in there.  I love my collar bones because they keep my head held high.  I love my arms… they build muscle very easily… and they let me pick up my grandchildren very high and hold them and twirl them… and my arms let me push my 9 grandchildren “way up to the sky” on the swings.  I love my breasts.  I love that they fed my baby girl Janie ’til she was 3 years old.  I loved that she named them!  I love the scar on my lower left breast that told good news. I love how I wrap them in pink… hot pink.  I love my curves.  My husband loves my curves, too.  I love how my waist goes in and my hips go out.  See ya, Twiggy.  I love that my body carried my beautiful children, even though I gained 60 pounds for each one. I love that my tummy will never be 6-pack-ish.  Or maybe it will!  After all, I hold the tools… I just have to get out my invisible chisel. I LOVE MY THIGHS… once my greatest nemesis, now my best friends.  These thighs take me on journeys I could once only imagine.  These thighs took me on a 46-mile bike ride this afternoon.  These thighs let me dance. These thighs may not fit into skinny jeans, but who the hell cares?  These thighs are taking me to another Half Ironman in Clearwater, Florida in a bit over 3 weeks.  I’m loving my glutes.  They help me run faster.  I cannot even believe I’m saying that I love my glutes.  I love my calves.  I LOVE high heels, as anyone who knows me knows… and I love my calves in high heels.  I love that some boy once told me I have FAT LEGS.  ‘Cuz that was then, and this is now.

Since being 11, almost 12 years old, I never, ever imagined loving my body.  It took my return to play to re-build my body into the temple that so many people celebrated all those decades ago.  It took being a grandma, maybe, to return to childhood and all the wonders that accompany it.  It took some pain, some agony, some angst, and lots of time… but I am now in the very best shape of my entire life.  I eat.  I live.  I love.  I play.

I may never shatter one of those windows in Centennial Hall (well, I can’t anyway, because on a recent visit back to recount the places from my childhood, I saw that 2 homes had been built on that big vacant lot.  And I would probably be arrested).  But I will never stop trying to do anything I want to do.  My journey within this temple of mine is just re-beginning.  I now have all the tools, and yep… the ability to become one in body and mind from a perfect perspective.

I love the Exposed Movement for all its depth and raw nakedness.

Exposed was last modified: October 18th, 2010 by Sharon Couto
SHOWHIDE Comments (14)
  1. thank you SO much for joining the exposed movement!!! It’s so amazing to read through your life-long reflection and for you to find your own space to love and appreciate yourself. You look fab!

  2. Mom, you look and ARE amazing. It’s incredible how one stupid comment from one stupid person can affect us so much, but it’s just the way it is. Thank you for this. I love you and I’m proud of you!

  3. I loved this post – especially because I could relate so much with it. I quit tap dancing when I was young – something that not only I loved but was good at – all because someone said I was fat. You look tremendous but more importantly, you see beauty in yourself. And that is what we should all see.

  4. I love this! I remember something very similar, because I was also a gal that stopped growing at 5’2″ right in the midst of middle school. Both my doctor and my mom commented on my thighs, but in psuedo-positive terms – “My you have strong legs!” and “I’ve never seen such muscular thighs in my whole life!” Thankfully, I used those muscles to dance and to tumble. And you use them for your amazing running! Beautiful.

  5. What a beautiful post written by a beautiful soul.
    Thank you.

    (By the way, you have the shape every bellydancer dreams of having.)

  6. This is awesome. You look amazing, and your words are simply perfect. I wish I could play along with this, but I guess I’ll have to wait oh, about 30 years ’til I’m a *retired* teacher and can’t get myself into trouble. I can only hope that I look as good as you!

  7. You are one beautiful and amazing woman, and this post was so very inspiring.

    I can completely relate. My mother wasn’t the most encouraging person in the world, and told me I was ‘destined’ to become chunky, even though I was a normal and healthy weight. It stuck with me for years – still affects me sometimes.

    Thank you Sharon. xo

  8. I thought I had commented on this but see it didn’t save. I had carried with me a comment that my heartless boy cousin would say to me every time we would go visit my grandma in another state. He called me fatty, chubby, fatso, you name it. Sure, I did have a weight problem, but he didn’t help any. In fact, I wanted to eat more to drown my sorrow. I don’t like him to this day because he grew up to be arrogant and selfish. If he only knew the scars he left on me by his verbal abuse. I’m getting upset talking about it, so I will change the subject.
    You look AMAZING and I ADORE you for EXPOSING YOU! You are still my hero.

Exposed was last modified: October 18th, 2010 by Sharon Couto