It was summer which for me meant playing softball non-stop. I was sitting in the dugout, sweat running down my back, cheering on a teammate as she was up to bat. The team mom had wandered into the dugout to pass out drinks or gum or whatever it is that team moms do during games. I don’t remember how the conversation turned to bodies but it did.
And I can remember it like it was yesterday, this team mom telling us girls that were her captive audience in the dugout that day:
“What you’re supposed to have is three diamonds. You should put your feet together and have a diamond of space between your ankles and calves, then another one between your calves and your knees, and then one between your thighs.”
Then she proceeded to show us what she meant. And this woman, this team mom, this mother of an impressionable middle school girl, showed us her tanned, skinny legs and how they made what was supposed to be the ideal way to look.
I remember the shame I felt as she showed us what we were “supposed” to look like. I remember turning away and pretending like I wasn’t a part of the conversation, wasn’t listening, so no one would have to know I knew what I was supposed to look like and that I didn’t look like I was supposed to.
Now as an adult, I don’t feel shame. I feel anger at that woman whose name I still remember and whose house I still drive by occasionally. How dare she tell young teenage girls what their bodies should look like. What we were supposed to be able to do. There was no mention of genetics or body types or being fit and healthy. I was supposed to have diamonds between my legs. I was supposed to look like her.
I physically can’t make any part of my calves touch. Standing completely straight, feet together, my calves are no where close to each other. It’s not because of some body malfunction (although I am quite pigeon-toed so my legs turn slightly when I stand), but because my body wasn’t made to touch there. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me.
When I stand with my feet together, my knees knock into each other, there is a gap right above them and then my thighs meet. I have a diamond in a spot she didn’t mention! Is something wrong with me?! I will never be able to stand with my feet together and have those diamonds she preached about on that hot July day. And it wasn’t just that I felt bad about myself because I was bigger (taller, heavier) than everyone else, it’s that I can recall some of the other girls on my team and know they heard what she said, too. And their bodies didn’t fit that criteria, either.
One of my softball friends was stick-thin. There was no part on her body that was ever going to touch. If I could see her today, I’d probably still be hard-pressed to find a curve on her body. And I’m going out on a limb here, but I bet that she wished some part of her legs would touch, that she could have some curves and shape and some diamonds, too.
How dare that woman get into our heads. How dare that woman tell us how we should look. Who is she to stand next to a bunch of girls who were strong and athletic and powerful and just learning about ourselves and tell us how we were supposed to be?
Now I know that this woman’s body issues were deep. That to stand in front of a dugout full of almost-teenage girls and tell us something like that speaks volumes about how she feels about her own body, what warped sense of being she has, and what consumes her. I feel sorry for her now. Sorry for her life that was focused on the wrong things. Sorry that she felt the need to tell a bunch of impressionable little girls her way was right and that we–and our beautiful bodies–were wrong. I just hope all the other little girls on the ball field that day have finally learned that she was wrong, too.