“They sure do let it all hang out there, don’t they?
” I thought to myself as I slipped my 16-year-old body into my bathing suit, using the signature gym class changing manoeuvre. I tried not to stare at the wrinkled legs and saggy breasts swinging in the breeze, while I summoned moves Houdini would have admired to perform a full wardrobe change without showing an inch of skin.
I was 16 and an early bloomer. Everything was exactly where it should be, and never again would MY BODY be this perfect. If I had that body now, 21 years later, I would risk the indecent exposure charges and grocery shop stark naked, cat-walking down the frozen food aisle.
I would jaunt up and down the streets, showcasing my own ability to run without tripping on my own boobs. I would open the front door, letting the cool air swirl around me as I declined to switch energy providers. But at 16, I failed to realize just what a flawless vessel sheathed my meek soul.
I marvelled from under my sheet-sized towel at how these 70-year-old women were perfectly at ease with one leg up on the bench, allowing the action of their towel-drying to frame the jiggles of their bare, dimpled asses.
“It’s just a butt, stop looking at it, you weirdo,” I tried to convince myself. But like a shark, I was drawn to the motion.
Waves of flesh, none still in their places of origin, rippled dry, and these women did not give one solitary f**k.
I couldn’t tell if I was staring out of shock or admiration, but I couldn’t look away.
Sixteen became 17 which became adult, and grown-up responsibilities kept me from recreational pool swimming for decades. Then I was crippled by not one, not two, but four back conditions at once, leaving me unable to do much but swim. I hobbled my sore body into the afternoon adult swim, and now at 37, I once again found myself the youngest person in the room.
Again, I caught myself keenly focusing on the weathered bodies around me. Only this time, I didn’t see the jiggles. My own reflection in the mirror has given me ample opportunity to grow accustomed to the effects of gravity and time. Instead, I SAW STRENGTH. I saw agility that age has failed to dampen. I saw the power life experience brings. I could barely keep up with them.
Back in the change room, sitting on the same bench that had served as my audience seat over 20 years ago, I again saw the deep grooves in exposed skin across the room. These were not visions of beauty by model standards, but these women were stunning in their complete comfort within their own bodies. They were happy in their skin and felt no need or desire to hide it.
On my side of the room, I struggled to change behind a towel that no longer covered the surface area it had in my youth. As I struggled to free my ample upper half while ineffectively cloaking myself with what now felt like a tea towel, I looked over at my graceful elders, and said: “F**k it.”
I laid the towel on the bench, I whipped off my oh-so-fashionable bathing suit with a skirt, and I let the parts of MY EXPOSED BODY fall where they may. I was free. I felt more like Free Willy than free at last, but I was free nonetheless. As I used my towel to both dry and jiggle my body, in walked a 16-year-old girl. She slowed down and struggled to avert her eyes from the shock of my aging body. I grabbed my towel and relieved her from her view.
It’s clear I have not reached the level of coolness embodied by the 70-year-old pool ladies. Caught somewhere between sweet sixteen and don’t give a shit senior, 37 seems to be about testing the waters. And so, forget trying to recapture my youth, and the body I was too self-conscious to appreciate. My new goal is to reach 70-year-old body comfort status: feel free to stare.
This post originally appeared on Baby Post.