I See You

CONTENT WARNING: Body Image

You watch me through a window. You observe.

Imperfectly.

You wait as I peel back each layer of my exoskeleton to reveal my soft, vulnerable belly. You critique. You remember. You watch as I deliberate over another set of armour and commit to it piece by piece.

You see me, thus, day by day. Have you committed my body to memory yet?

***

When I was 15, I was part of an elite swimming squad. I trained six times a week for two hours in the pool and committed to two gym sessions on the side. I faded through three jean sizes, yet could never eat enough. I was proud of my body–of what it could do for me, what I could achieve. I was still too big though. It al- ways seemed that my wrists were too chunky and my shoulders too wide, my stomach not flat enough and my chest too flat.

In every regard, the project of my body was under review.

I stopped swimming. I prioritised school. I watched in horror as my strength and fitness, honed by years of early mornings and late nights, lapsed. I watched the numbers on the scale increase and refused to buy new jeans. I gradually committed that past body to memory. I gradually appreciated how hard it had worked. How good it had looked.

At the end of my last year of high school, I went to get my legs waxed. This was the first time that I’d ever removed my leg hair, although all through my adolescence it had been coarse, dark and dense. I had endured many questions on the subject, been subjected to many stares. Some people appreciated my abstinence as a bold feminist gesture, while others understood it as an affront to their own care- fully performed version of femininity. Meanwhile, I was confused. I liked my hair and, after many years of it cheerfully poking through stockings and blowing haphazardly in the breeze, I felt oddly attached. Yet I also recognised the aesthetic advantage of smooth shiny legs. So, when school finished, I consulted friends and booked an appointment.

The new legs were smooth and shiny as promised. They were not, however, my legs. When I got in the pool to swim a few laps I had trouble kicking. Without

hair, my legs were bereft of sense and feeling. I felt like a plucked chicken. I committed my past legs to memory, and eagerly awaited restoration.

***

My lover turned on the light. With a furrowed brow, they pointed to the purple lightning bolts that adorned my upper thigh.

“What are these?”
I laughed. “They’re stretch marks.”

“Yeah, but why?”

I strung together pieces of relevant history for my re- count. I remembered how thin I was as a swimmer. I remembered watching my body morph in the mirror. I remembered all that I’d read about the progression of the female body through adolescence. All those things I’d understood, all those moments I’d memorised.

***

I strip to shower, a daily revelation you observe. I watch you as you watch me – blue-grey eyes, inquisitive, exploratory, knowing.

Have you committed my body to memory yet?
You know only the past, and even then, imperfectly.

We smile.