Why is it that I feel squeamish about saying “vagina” in public? I didn’t realize how much of an issue this still was for me until about a month ago when on a crowded plane, my boyfriend cracked some joke with a punch line ending with the word “hoo-hoo.” Immediately turning into a word monitor, I looked at him and said “SHH!!”
As I turned to make sure that the little girl seated in the row behind me didn’t hear what he said—I caught myself. Why am I freaking out?
My first Barbie was a Growing Up Skipper doll. Skipper is Barbie’s younger sister.
A gift from one of my aunts during the 1970’s, my Skipper doll wasn’t an ordinary doll. Living up to her name, she could “grow” from girl to young woman in an instant. All you had to do was take her arms and wind them forward in a circular motion. Not only would she grow taller but her bust would get bigger. Wind her arms in the opposite direction and all of her would shrink back to original size.
At age 6, all I knew was that I had a “2-for-1” doll. Growing Up Skipper even came with an extra outfit for her older self to wear, and she had a tank top that doubled as a bathing suit. Now, when I look back I am able to see how this doll was sexualized—just like when people prematurely endow girls with certain attributes and qualities so that they seem sexier and more mature.
This morning I went to the mirror to try to figure out what this “thigh gap” trend is all about. To be honest, reading about it has been very confusing for me and I’m not sure I totally get it. I thought it must be a super-young-person thing—kind of like when my nine-year-old nephew tried to explain to me how to play Bakugan with him and I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about—but then I read that women as well as teen girls have been measuring themselves against this latest “ideal” of beauty.
Curious, I gave it a go. I stood in front of my reflection to try to find a gap between my thighs that—if it existed—would supposedly mean I was more attractive than those who didn’t have it. Standing with my feet together, I definitely didn’t have one. Spreading my legs apart a bit so my feet weren’t touching each other—leaving just an inch or so between them—I still didn’t have one.
If there was a Facebook option asking for my relationship status with my belly, I’d have to choose the one that says, “It’s complicated.” I belong to a family whose women usually grow up to have big, round, female stomachs, and while I love being part of this full-bellied tribe, I’ve often wished that our physical trademark could have been natural washboard abs.
My belly was round from the time I was a little girl. My mom says that’s how I was born to be. “You’re like me,” she told me when I was ten, patting her own bump of a “puson,” which is the Filipino word for abdomen.
I didn’t want a round belly. I wanted a flat one, like the bellies of the three detectives on the popular 1970s TV show Charlie’s Angels. Jill Munroe, played by Farrah Fawcett, had a stomach that was flat even when she wore a bathing suit—unlike me, whose tummy stuck out in my one-piece.
The only time my belly was flat was when I lay on my back. At night in bed, I would run my hand up and down my stomach, enjoying its horizontal shape and wishing it would stay that straight when I stood up.