When I was just a kid, I developed a fascination with skin diseases. At night, while teenage boys all over town perused skin magazines, I stared wide-eyed at the glossy color photographs of "skin conditions" in my family's huge medical guide. Eczema. Impetigo. Leprosy. Shingles. Rosacea. The names sounded to me like superheroes, but the photographs themselves revealed something sadly human: the flesh erupting in sudden ugly ways. I was horrified by what I saw, but strangely unable to tear my eyes away.
Over the years, I learned to associate skin with all that was negative. Skinflint. Skin-deep. Thin-skinned. Skin seemed the source of all that was stingy, shallow, and most of all prejudicial: I witnessed how one shade of skin could inspire fear, loathing, suspicion; the other envy, trust, adoration, depending on the neighborhood. Skin, according to my hippie teachers, was something best ignored. Look beyond it, beneath it, around it, they preached, to the content of your character.
But skin itself was always innocent. I didn't learn this until my freshman year in college, when I was studying to be a doctor. With science on my side, I saw skin finally for what it was: a magically recuperative, elastic, porous, and self-cleaning home for us to live inside. It was the barrier that kept all of our other organs safe and in place, protected from the elements of rain and wind and sleet and snow. It was also a source of much pleasure, the vast and multifarious terrain we stroked and kissed and tasted, even bit, to express love and desire.
I failed out of biology and switched my major to English, and I don't look at photographs of acne and cold sores anymore. Instead I like to study the simple beauty of our biggest and most visible organ for all that it can reveal. A pregnant woman glows with the life growing inside of her. A baby's skin is like the skin of an angel. The lines on an older woman's face give comforting evidence of a life fully lived. And a man who has grooves and weight to the skin of his face is someone who has thought and felt deeply. I am awed by skin's endless gorgeous varieties—from rosebud pink to coffee black, reddish brown to high yellow.
Sure, it's the first place on myself I look for potential problems. A rash here. A bump there. And I know I will continue to fight its susceptibility to harsh weather and hard times. There may come a day when I resort to heavy coats of foundation and layers of powder and ingenious medical procedures that will freeze my face in an expressionless mask of youth.
But I hope not. I hope I can stay true to the revealing nature of my skin, from my face to my toes, a visible sign of where I have been in this world—like faith itself, the evidence of things unseen.
As feats of design, breasts are elegant: firm enough to nuzzle, not so firm as to stab out tiny eyes. Form follows function when it comes to nursing infants. Then there's the clever elixir that breasts produce: It not only nourishes but confers immunities. This maternal act, however, is not all that breasts are called upon to do. Throughout history they have been symbolized, eroticized, commodified, and stigmatized. They have launched a thousand ships—not to mention ad campaigns. So burdened are they with cultural projections that it's not surprising they occasionally need a little underwire for support.
Breasts are not standard issue. They come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. Round, oval, droopy, reticent, assertive, they are a source of awe and wonder. Breasts are also team players. They come in rights and lefts, like shoes. And they don't arrive until they're needed—at puberty, as part of the package that for better or worse seals the end of childhood for girls.
How well I know. Glancing at my sophomore yearbook, I can still feel the anguish. I was on a swim team in Southern California. We wore green-and-goldstriped Speedos, which on my teammates plunged in graceful curves from shoulder to hip. My swimsuit, however, had no contours to hug. Its stripes were ramrod straight, mocking my flatness. The following year, my fortune changed—along with, appropriately, my breasts. Which is to say: I had them. My lazy hormones had kicked in. It didn't matter that I was the slowest member of the team, an inept plodder in the water. I stood proud and tall. Meager yet defiant, these two new badges gave me confidence. I was indeed a woman. And I had the evidence to prove it.
We Hear You!